Examining Miller-Halak trade

Ryan Dadoun
What does this blockbuster deal between the Buffalo Sabres and St. Louis Blues mean for fantasy owners?

The storyline Friday morning was that Ryan Miller would make his final start in a Sabres uniform at home that night.  He never got that chance.

Mere minutes before the game started, the Buffalo Sabres traded Miller and Steve Ott to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Chris Stewart, Jaroslav Halak, prospect William Carrier, a first rounder in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, and a 2016 third-round pick that will become another first-round selection if Miller re-signs or the Blues reach the Western Conference Final.

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That’s a lot of moving pieces and the fantasy implications are significant, so we’re going to break down this trade player-by-player, starting with what this means for the Buffalo Sabres:

Jaroslav Halak – Halak was hit hard by injuries last season, but he’s bounced back with a 2.23 GAA and .917 save percentage in 40 games in 2013-14.  There’s no question that he’s a solid goaltender and arguably an underrated one, but this is a bad fit for him.  Halak is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and it’s not a given that he factors into the Sabres’ long-term plans even if he does want to say.  Seeing as this season is about the future of the team rather than the present, Halak’s playing time might be fairly limited down the stretch.  Even if it’s not, his GAA and save percentage are likely to suffer noticeably as he moves from one of the best defensive teams to one of the worst.

Jhonas Enroth – The starting goaltending gig with the Buffalo Sabres isn’t exactly the most desirable job in the NHL right now, but it would be huge for Enroth.  The 25-year-old has been stuck under Ryan Miller’s shadow for years, but now the once promising prospect has an opportunity to show what he can do as the team’s starter.  At worst, Enroth should split time with Halak fairly evenly after starting in just 19 of Buffalo’s first 59 games.  He’s not going to blow fantasy owners away in March, but if you’re desperate for goaltending, he might prove to be the best option available.

Chris Stewart – Stewart’s situation is one worth monitoring very closely.  He was averaging just 14:42 minutes per game in St. Louis, but his playing time should increase substantially in Buffalo.  He has just 26 points in 58 games this season, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get about 15 points in Buffalo’s final 22 contests when his new role is factored in.  Just keep in mind that his plus/minus will simultaneously crater.  That all being said, there’s reason to believe that Buffalo might turn around and trade him to the Ottawa Senators or another team.  If that happens, then Stewart’s fantasy value will have to be re-evaluated again.

William Carrier – Carrier was taken with the 57th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.  He’s a versatile player who is can contribute with or without the puck.  He’s far from being a top-tier prospect, but he’s worth keeping an eye on because he might turn into the type of forward that will provide fantasy owners with a decent amount of points and penalty minutes.  If anything, this trade helps him because he’s moving to a franchise that’s far more interested in building for the future right now.

When it comes to the rest of the Buffalo Sabres players, we’re going to have to wait and see.  In addition to a possible Stewart trade, they might ship off forward Matt Moulson and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff.  Those moves would have huge ripple effects on the rest of the team, but it’s hard to go into further details without knowing what the Sabres would get in return.

With that in mind, let’s move on the St. Louis Blues:

Ryan Miller – From a fantasy perspective, the big winner of this trade is Miller.  He’s one of the top goaltenders in the league, but he’s been stuck behind a terrible team.  St. Louis has one of the NHL’s best defenses and even before they added Miller, they were regarded as serious playoff contenders.  With the Blues, Miller’s March GAA could be below 2.  If you’ve been putting up with Miller all season, you’re about to get rewarded in a big way.

Brian Elliott – Elliott only started in 20 of St. Louis’ 58 games prior to this trade, so it’s not like he was getting a ton of playing time to begin with, but this move only hurts his fantasy value.  When he was competing with Halak, Elliott could at least steal the starting job for small patches of time.  Now Elliott will only start when Miller needs a breather.  Elliott’s a better than average backup, but we can’t recommend holding onto him in standard leagues at this point.

Jake Allen – Allen made a name for himself with his solid play in St. Louis last season and he’s dominated in the AHL in 2013-14.  The plan was for him to join the Blues next season and maybe even contend for the starting job, but now that scenario is in doubt.  Miller’s contract is set to expire at the end of this season, but after paying quite a bit to get him, the Blues are almost certainly interested in re-signing Miller.  If that happens, then Allen’s value in keeper leagues will take a major hit.  Those that have been stashing Allen away might want to start thinking about their alternatives.

Steve Ott – Ott was averaging 20:42 minutes per game in Buffalo, but he’s not going to get anywhere near that with the Blues.  He’d be lucky to end up on St. Louis’ second line and we think it’s more likely for him to serve as a bottom-six forward.  With that in mind, he probably won’t do too much offensively for the remainder of the season, although his plus/minus rating should improve from its current minus-26.  In standard leagues, he was a fringe player at best when he was with Buffalo and we don’t think this trade will do anything to change that.

As far as the rest of the Blues go, everyone’s fantasy value is up marginally just by sheer virtue of them being a better team now, but that might not been seen outside of their individual plus/minus ratings.  Ott will largely fill the void left by Chris Stewart and what that means in terms of goals scored will be negligible.  With that in mind, we don’t think any of the Blues other forwards or defensemen will be significantly impacted by this trade from a fantasy perspective.