ST. LOUIS — Jake Allen's summer was on level terms with his Blues teammates this past summer when he got the take part in celebrating the first Stanley Cup in Blues history and had his day with it, as did his teammates.
It also included a shorter than usual summer that's brought players back quicker than usual, but in Allen's case, there was a lingering question everybody wanted to know not too long after the Blues' historical season ended: would Allen be back for a seventh season with the Blues and 12th in the organization?
With Jordan Binnington's emergence that resulted in unseating Allen as the No. 1 netminder and led to last season's improbable run to the Cup, there was the question of whether Allen would look for a trade to try and go somewhere and establish himself as a No. 1 goalie again, and would the Blues want to move Allen's remaining $4.35 million cap hit, which has two years left on it, to alleviate cap space.
The answer: an unequivocal no.
"No, I knew internally all along this summer that I wasn't getting dealt," Allen said Thursday at Enterprise Center. "They told me that. There's people that talk and things like that, but I know they don't want to get rid of me. It was good to be reassured that way and I knew that I was coming back so it just put my mind at ease and could really focus on being the best Blue I can. There's definitely a lot of chatter with the way the summer went and the run that 'Binner' went on, but internally, I knew that I was coming back and I wasn't worried about it at all."
So Allen, who was 19-17-8 with a 2.83 goals-against average and .905 save percentage in 46 regular-season games last season and made one cameo appearance during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, in Game 3 against the Boston Bruins in the Cup Final, comes in knowing the situation: Binnington, who received starter's money this summer when he signed a two-year, $8.8 million contract as a restricted free agent, would be the starter and Allen, 29, fights for the cage whenever he get the opportunity.
It's not a situation he's often been familiar with, and certainly not here in St. Louis, but by his own words, it's one he's comfortable with.
"Yeah, I think I am," he said. "I think this is the perfect situation for myself and the group. I really do, no matter what number of games we each play. But I think we're both proven, good goalies in this league. When you look back on it, I think that's when the teams have been having the most success is when the two guys have been buzzing at the same time. If we can keep that up all year, you see how tight our division is again. It doesn't matter if we just won the Cup, it's going to be an absolute battle just to get into the playoffs. That's going to be the (No. 1) goal and go from there."
Allen did, in fact, formulate a solid 1-2 punch with Binnington in the second half of the season; he was 5-3-4 with a 2.21 GAA and .927 save percentage from Jan. 14 on. Before that, Allen was 14-14-4 with a 3.07 GAA and .896 save percentage.
"I felt that I had a really solid second half to get us where we are," said Allen, who will see his first preseason action Friday in Winnipeg. "I think we're going to need that for a full 82 (games) this year. ... I thought I had a really, really solid, probably my best hockey as a Blue in the second half. I know I only played 12-15 games, but I thought I just tried to carry as much of that into the summer and into this season as possible and basically just tried to stick to that program as me and Dave [Alexander] have been working with. It feels good out there. I'm looking forward to just slowly ease my way back into a game. It definitely feels like it's been a decade since I played, especially with not playing all playoffs. It'll be fun tomorrow.
"I don't know if it's a matter of pushing each other. You just want to be in the net and when you see one guy playing well for the team, you just want to do the same when you get in there. You don't want to have a slip. I think that's a key to success. Obviously 'Binner' had a tremendous run last year and deserves everything he's got. But I think we both played a big role in those."
In today's game, it's not a question of how do you get two goalies time in the cage, It's more of when do you do it. With the demand of the schedule these days and the high intensity of the games, it's imperative to have two quality netminders.
The Chicago Blackhawks just added Robin Lehner, who was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season, to tag team with Corey Crawford. It's just the nature of the game these days, and the Blues made it known rather early that Allen was not on the block.
"I think it's important for sure (to have two quality goalies)," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "It's a tough league, travel. It seems like you play every other night. It's a lot of hockey. The game's changed over the years. It's just intense every shift. It's fast, the goalie's got to be quick, they're working all the time in net. It's important that you have two capable goalies that can play a lot of games. When you're fresh and you're rested, you're going to play better.
"He was a big asset last year. He was a big part to us winning. He really was. There's no reason to trade him."
Allen, who is 136-88-23 with a 2.54 GAA and .911 save percentage in 265 regular-season NHL games (250 as a starter), has been in this situation before. But he was the one that had guys like Brian Elliott and Carter Hutton vie or the cage with him as the top guy. Now it's his turn to try and push the 26-year-old Binnington and grab as many games as he can.
"Yeah, I think we've had that ever since I've been here with myself and Brian and Carter and now 'Binner,'" Allen said. "I think it's really important. I've said this before, very few guys are in the league that are Carey Price-esque that's going to play 65 to 70 games. I don't know how many more times in the next 10 years you'll find that. Hopefully there is because I love watching goalies that can do it. I think it's very important and I feel a lot of optimism going into this year with me and 'Binner.'
"Maybe Allen gets the call 25-30 times this season, and if he wants to be the "starter" in the league again, and if he wants to do it somewhere else, it'll be up to him to go out and be the best "backup" and see how many calls general manager Doug Armstrong fields on him later in the season or the off-season next summer. But in the meantime, the goal is to help the Blues try and repeat.
"I want to be a goalie in this league for a long time," Allen said. "I'm 29 now and I still feel like I have a lot of good years ahead of me. I want to prove that to myself and this organization and to the whole league. It's been a wild ride. This is my (12th) year in the organization. I think 'Petro' [Alex Pietrangelo] and I are the longest guys in the organization right now. It's pretty amazing how far we've come. I feel like I've been a big part of that, but I still have a lot more to give. I'm ready to roll and it's going to be a fun year. ... I'm ready to rock."
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