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The Case to Be Made for Jake Allen

The Blues are a Cup-caliber team now. They need a backup.

St Louis Blues v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Blues are facing the harsh realization that captain Alex Pietrangelo is on the line this off-season. With a flat-cap imminent, the team is going to be stuck in a nasty money situation that could require some tough decisions to work out of. General manager Doug Armstrong even acknowledged this, saying the team is going to need to get creative to keep their ship afloat.

Some of the fanbase’s favorite names to be dealt away include Alex Steen, Jake Allen, and Tyler Bozak. All three have expensive deals that could provide a bit of cap relief in the case of a trade. However, there’s a good case to be made for each of them, explaining why they should stick around for next season. View the case for Steen here.

The St. Louis Blues Need a Backup

The Background

Every Blues fan is well versed with Allen by now. Not only has he been with the team since the 2012-13 season, he’s also become one of the most notorious names on the lineup. The once highly-touted goalie prospect tried his damnedest to solidify his spot as the Blues starting goalie but couldn’t win over the spot or the fans. This is largely thanks to a weird mid-season slump that he went into every year. It was the strangest tendency of any player in the league, as Allen always seemed to start the season strong before absolutely disintegrating in December. Sometimes, his slump would last through the playoffs even.

It was a tremendous Achilles Heel for Allen and one that proved that a change was needed in the St. Louis crease. Thankfully, Jordan Binnington perfectly enacted that change. After being held to the minors for six seasons, Binnington finally received his call-up in January of last season and didn’t disappoint, as everyone reading this surely knows. Binnington was one of the key factors carrying his team to their first Stanley Cup win ever and has been just as strong this season.

This has allowed Allen to take a backseat role. While he still started a modest amount of games, he no longer carried the stark responsibilities that come with being the starter in St. Louis. This platoon/backup role is where Allen has always preferred to be; elaborated on here.

The Numbers

Finally in a role he’s comfortable with, Allen absolutely thrived this season. His basic stats are even enough to show that. Playing in 24 games, Allen set a 2.15 goals-against-average and a .927 save percentage, good for second and fourth in the league respectfully. While there are surely sample size-related issues with these rankings, they serve to show how potent Allen was this year.

As do the advanced numbers. Allen’s GSAx (goals saved above expected) ranked eighth in the league. This stat looks at the numbers of goals a goalie allowed, compared to how much they’d be expected to allow based on the shot quality and quantity they faced, as described as Twitter user @JFresh. Ultimately, this stat shows Allen as one of the best goalies in the league, significantly higher than players like Robin Lehner, Binnington, and high-end youngsters like Elvis Merzlikins and Ilya Samsonov.

Allen was... good. Really good. His FSv% (Fenwick save percentage) similarly argues this, ranking him 10th in the league. This stat looks at the goals allowed by Allen, relative to the number of unblocked shots he faced. Again, it argues that he was a brick wall all season long. As does his WAR (wins above replacement), which ranks 20th among all 80 goalies to take the ice this season. This ranking seems a bit less exciting but it still has Allen ahead of Lehner, Carey Price, and John Gibson. His GAR (goals above replacement) and SPAR (standing points above replacement) rank 19th in the league, again ahead of many perceived superstars.

The Card

Like with Steen, one of the best ways to visualize Allen’s absolute boom this season is through his player card, provided through the terrific work by @JFresh on Twitter:

Again, like Steen’s did, this chart says a lot. But most notable is Allen’s simple explosion this season. In the new role, the goalie went from below-average in GSAx, EVSv% (even-strength save percentage), and quality starts to ranking well above the 80 percentile in each stat, over the 90 percentile in the former two. Really. The dramatic increase in each stat only goes to solidify Allen’s return to form, if the statistical rankings weren’t enough. He was, quite literally, one of the best goalies in the league.

Of course, the left-most chart doesn’t seem to argue this same sentiment. It instead has Allen ranked at the 60th percentile in terms of EVGAR, SHGAR, and WAR. But this isn’t through any fault of his 2019-20 season. It’s instead a sentiment to how poor his prior two years were, as the chart represents a three-year spread without showing the year-by-year numbers.

101 goalies played in both the 2017-18 and 2018-19 season and of the bunch, Allen ranked 58th in GAR and 56th in WAR, well into the bottom-half’s percentile in the span. This severely hinders the left-most graph. These two poor seasons also limit Allen’s market value over the three-year span. But even with these two below-average seasons in mind, Allen’s amazing play from this season still makes him worth a $6 million cap hit, far above his current cap hit.

What This Means

Really, there is absolutely no reason to trade Allen. He is getting off of the best season of his career, without argument, and one that saw him perform at a level equal to the league’s elite. Having a player with the ability to provide so much talent is absolutely invaluable, even if said player only appears in 25 games to backup an equally-dominant starter.

Other Issues

But there are plenty of other reasons to keep the star-power of Allen in a Blues jersey. Most notably is the team’s complete lack of any other NHL-ready goalie. Many fans have cited Ville Husso as a potential call-up but, thanks to a never-ending series of injuries over the last two seasons, Husso is far from ready for the big stage. His 2018-19 season spelled this out, as the goalie battled through persistent injuries and, in the process, set a terrible .871 save percentage and 3.67 goals-against-average.

As many scouts claimed, Husso simply didn’t look like himself after his bout with the injury bug. He was noticeably unconfident in net and looked fazed. While this improved a bit this year, Husso was still far from his usual form. He set a .909 save percentage and 2.56 goals-against-average, just under average for AHL goalies and far from convincing anyone that he’s NHL-ready. Husso has plenty of issues to sort out before he gets to suit up for his NHL debut and replacing Allen, one of the league’s best goalies this year, with the below-AHL-average Husso would be like replacing Wayne Gretzky with his brother Brett. (Maybe a hyperbole but how often do you get to bring up Brett Gretzky??)

Other goalies in the Blues system share this same sentiment. Joel Hofer and Colten Ellis are absolutely incredible prospects but neither has played outside of major juniors and Evan Fitzpatrick hasn’t played well enough to even manage an escape from the ECHL, much less warrant an NHL call-up.

Any transaction involving Allen would need to bring in a new goalie. And with an absolutely barren goaltender free agency pool this off-season - headlined by horrible has-beens Craig Anderson and Jimmy Howard - the new goalie would need to be acquired via a trade. This would likely limit any potential cap-savings the Blues could get, adding plenty more difficulty to any potential deal.

Really, Allen needs to stay. In fact, unlike with Steen, Allen’s worthiness isn’t even a debate. He was one of the best goalies in the league this season by nearly every single statistic, even those that account for playing time. He exploded this year, becoming the best backup in the NHL without any question. The Blues would be shooting themselves in the foot by replacing him with any other player that they may get. Dealing away one of the best goalies in the league just to save a few-million dollars is foolish, especially when alternatives are available.