Long before he was derisively referred to as “Johnny Smokestack,” Brent Johnson was meant to be the goaltender the St. Louis Blues had been waiting for. He was going to be a solution to the problems caused by Roman Turek’s inattentiveness and his skills were going to be sufficient to back the St. Louis Blues to the promised land.
Johnson took over the Blues net from a veteran goaltender who wore number one, who had astronomical regular season numbers but limited playoff success, and who was ultimately traded to the Calgary Flames. He shouldered his team on his back with a dominating performance against a Central Division foe in the 2002 playoffs, but ultimately that energy gave out and the team was vanquished in the second round.
When Johnson was ultimately given the net to make his own, he was paired with a journeyman backup (Fred Brathwaite) who was intended to provide guidance and stability. Ultimately, that backup was forced into a larger role than intended until the team realized that outside reinforcements were necessary and traded for a veteran starter (Chris Osgood) who could shift Johnson back to the “1B” role that was best for him.
Johnson was the chosen one. He was the goalie the team relied on, and the insistence came over and over that he was up to the job. Joel Quenneville hitched his wagon to Johnson and kept turning to him until it became clear that he simply couldn’t handle the load. Quenneville was fired on February 25th, 2004. Eight days later, Johnson was shipped off to Phoenix.
When you look at Jake Allen’s story so far, it reads an awful lot like Brent Johnson’s. The starter (Brian Elliott) who he nudges out of the way. The veteran backup (Carter Hutton) who’s eventually asked to take on an expanded role. The stunning playoff success (last year’s first round matchup with the Minnesota Wild) that offers a glimmer of hope that there may be more to offer. The inconsistency that forces the team to maddeningly ask the same questions year in and year out.
Allen has appeared in 195 games for the Blues; Johnson played in 143. Allen has a career 2.44 goals against average and a .914 save percentage; Johnson had a superior 2.26 GAA but an inferior .903 S%. Johnson averaged a shutout roughly every 11.9 games as a member of the Blues. Allen’s average? Approximately one every 12.2 games.
When the Blues finally gave up on Johnson, it was a week short of his 27th birthday in his fifth season with the team. Allen is 27 now. This is his fifth season.
Jake Allen clearly has the skills to play as a goaltender in the NHL. Brent Johnson did too. After leaving St. Louis, he had a respectable career as a backup in Washington and Pittsburgh, but no team made the mistake again of thinking Johnson would be stable or consistent enough to serve as the starter for an extended stretch.
Mike Yeo may be considering Joel Quenneville’s patience and wondering whether he would be wise to show the same. He may already be looking down the line for a veteran goaltender to bridge the gap to a developing prospect (Marc-Andre Fleury to Ville Husso?). The team, despite what they are and aren’t saying to the media, has to be registering concerns about Allen and should be combing its past for clues to its future.
Relying too heavily on Johnson cost the Blues dearly once. They’d be wise not to allow the same to happen again.