Legend Martin Brodeur has two straight wins for St. Louis. But every game he starts takes crucial experience out of Jake Allen’s pocket.
The St. Louis Blues have taken the “win now” philosophy to a new level.
On the surface, the Martin Brodeur signing makes sense. The Blues are as deep as any team in the NHL, and they’re sick of watching idle in the spring as the Blackhawks and Kings step over them. They’ve gained a crucial missing element this season now that Vladimir Tarasenko has blossomed into an elite goal scorer, clicking with Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz. They’re ready to compete for a Stanley Cup.
So when goaltender Brian Elliott sustained a lower-body injury serious enough to keep him out weeks and maybe months, GM Doug Armstrong didn’t hesitate. He went out and got a winner. He got the winner in Brodeur. Marty’s one-year contract with St. Louis oozes win-now, as it’s loaded with incentives, including a $10,000 bonus for every point he helps the team earn.
He’s helped the Blues to consecutive victories. Each Brodeur ‘W’ warms the heart and makes Armstrong look smart for betting on a savvy 42-year-old. But each Brodeur ‘W’ almost comes at a cost. What does it do to the talented kid named Jake Allen?
Remember him? The team’s top goaltending prospect? The guy who made Ben Bishop and Ryan Miller expendable? He posted a .944 save percentage in three October starts. He slipped to .909 in November but went 6-1-1. Since St. Louis made the Brodeur signing official, Allen has surrendered seven goals in four periods. He got the hook Saturday afternoon after allowing three goals in the first frame versus the New York Islanders before Brodeur won the game in relief.
The No. 1 worry in my mind when the Blues inked Brodeur was what it might due to Allen’s pysche. Allen is 24 and just cutting his teeth as an everyday NHL netminder. Bringing in the winningest goalie of all-time isn’t the same as bringing in Ilya Bryzgalov, Tomas Vokoun or even Tim Thomas. Brodeur signing means he’s going to play, at least a little. There was the immediate possibility a youngster would hear footsteps the moment the ink dried.
The evidence is circumstantial but, sheesh, Allen sure looks rattled already. And while Brodeur’s consecutive wins are a nice short-term story, they could create a much bigger long-term problem. If Brodeur ends up stealing the job outright, can St. Louis rely on a 42-year-old to be The Guy for them in the playoffs? Brodeur hasn’t posted a save percentage higher than .908 since 2009-10. He sits at .904 so far with the Blues. Hats off to him for an amazing career, but at this point, a team wins more in spite of his efforts than because of them.
Every game Brodeur starts is 60 minutes of missed experience for Allen. The Blues may want to win now, but they don’t have to. Their core, including Tarasenko, Schwartz, Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk, is young. They need to develop Allen, and they have time to. Instead, he has a legend breathing down his neck. That would intimidate any young goaltender, as much as he might tell media how excited he is to learn from a future Hall of Famer.
It will be interesting to see who starts the Blues’ next game Thursday. Another Brodeur start and win would bring St. Louis more short-term jubilation, but the more important thing to focus on is Allen. When does he play next, and how does he respond to last weekend’s hook and subsequent benching?. He’s the key to St. Louis’ long-term success, and Brodeur’s presence threatens to ruin him.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin