The immediate aftermath of the St. Louis Blues trade for Ryan Miller on Friday night is that general manager Doug Armstrong is all in on winning the Stanley Cup this season and willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen. It's that by acquiring Ryan Miller and forward Steve Ott, also part of the deal that sent Jaroslav Halak, Chris Stewart, a prospect and draft picks to Buffalo, he has made the Blues, already one of the top teams in the NHL, the clear favorite in the Western Conference and one of the top Stanley Cup contenders in the entire league.
After all, goaltending was the one perceived weakness in St. Louis, and Miller is a household name around the league that not only has a stellar reputation, but is also having one of his best seasons to date while playing behind the worst team in the league.
This should make the Blues better, and let's face it, it probably does.
But how much better are the Blues now than they were 24 hours ago when Jaroslav Halak was still their starter, and before they completed what very well could be the biggest trade of the 2014 deadline?
From a numbers perspective, let's just start with these two: .920 and .918.
Those are the save percentages of the two goalies involved in this trade over the past five years.
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That's remarkably similar (for what it's worth, the .920 belongs to Miller) over an extended period, while Miller has a slightly larger edge this season (.923 to .917). Taking into account that Halak spent his season playing for one of the best defensive teams in the league and Miller played for what might be one of the worst teams the NHL has seen over the past decade, and the gap probably goes even further in his favor.
So yes, we've established that Miller, even if by a smaller margin than we might think, is a better goalie than Jaroslav Halak.
But what does that do for the Blues this season? Whatever edge Miller gives them in the regular season is not going to be the difference between them making the playoffs and not making the playoffs. It might be the difference between one or two extra wins in the regular season, but that's about it.
But again, the regular season isn't the issue. This is about winning a Stanley Cup and what happens in the playoffs. HIstory will ultimately judge this trade by what happens in the postseason and whether or not the Blues get anywhere near the Stanley Cup.
And that's where things get a little cloudy and fall into a pit of unpredictable chaos, especially when it comes to goalies where one can get hot at the right time and put a team on his back and carry it to glory.
Or, at the other end of the spectrum, hit a slump at the wrong time and single handedly sabotage his teams chances.
We've seen Miller during the former, specifically the 2010 Olympic hockey tournament that has forever cemented his status as a big-game goalie. Put together a run like that, in any setting, and it never gets forgotten. He's done it before, and he's certainly capable of doing it again. But thing is, Halak has shown that he's just as capable (just ask the 2010 Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins) of doing it. And because goalies are unpredictable beasts that can drive even the best general managers and coaches to madness, we never know when it's going to happen or who is going to be the player doing it.
It's not that the Blues gave up too much. The prospect and draft picks are essentially the hockey equivalent of lottery tickets, and I'm always suspicious when a contending team willingly gives up a player (Stewart) off of its NHL roster in the middle of a playoff race. They know that player better than anybody, and if they feel they don't need him to win the Cup, that should be telling. Especially when in Stewart's case it seems the team has been trying to trade him for about two years now.
It's not even that Miller doesn't make them better.
It's just a question of how much better he actually makes them, and pumping the brakes when it comes to automatically putting the Blues in the Stanley Cup Final.