The St. Louis Blues’ 2020-21 season had its highs and lows, but ultimately ended in disappointment after the team fell in four games to the Colorado Avalanche in Round 1. In this series, we’ll look back on the season player by player, and evaluate each player’s performance as an individual, with an eye towards their future with the team.
In today’s NHL, having a quality backup goaltender is a luxury, and often a trait shared by the very best teams in the league. Good backups allow your starting goalie to rest, of course, and are a reliable alternative in the event of injury. But the very best backups can have an intangible effect, driving their fellow netminder to play his best so he doesn’t lose his job.
Over the summer before the 2020-21 season, the St. Louis Blues traded Jake Allen, their own longtime backup and platoon goalie, to the Montreal Canadiens. They did that for two reasons: to shed Allen’s $4.35 million salary cap hit, and to give an opportunity to goaltending prospect Ville Husso. The compressed 2020-21 season would be Husso’s first chance to prove himself at the NHL level. Unfortunately, if he proved anything, it may be that he isn’t up for the challenges of a full NHL role.
What Went Right
Husso’s Strong Finish
The most promising single moment of Husso’s season was also the last moment of his season. In his final game, he recorded the Blues’ lone shutout of the campaign, notching 31 saves on May 12 against the Minnesota Wild. Admittedly, the late-season game held no stakes for either team, both of whom were resting players; however, it was a fortunate opportunity for Husso to leave a positive taste in the mouth of the Blues’ front office.
Husso had a strong finish to the season in general. In his final four starts, which accounts for just over 25 percent of his starts, he went 3-1-0 with a .924 save percentage, a goals-against average of roughly 2.25, and the one shutout. It was a helpful contribution to the Blues’ playoff push and a promising sign from a struggling goaltender. We’ll discuss at the end of the article whether it will be enough to lengthen his tenure in St. Louis.
Helping the Blues Win
Ultimately, a goaltender’s number one responsibility is to do enough to help his team win. Husso managed that in his rookie season. Despite paltry overall numbers, he managed a 9-6-1 record in 17 games played. Even starter Jordan Binnington didn’t manage a winning record (counting overtime losses as losses), so there is something to be said for Husso’s ability to manage the victory, or the team’s willingness to rally around their young goalie.
What Went Wrong: Husso’s Sub-NHL Numbers
It’s always difficult to evaluate a goaltender by numbers alone, as his team’s performance around him has so much to do with his success. But a glance at Husso’s numbers in 2020-21 show a goaltender who may not be cut out for primetime exposure. The Finn managed just an .893 SV% during the season, with a 3.20 GAA. Only 7 of his 15 starts were “quality,” a metric that measures how many of a goalie’s starts surpass the league-average SV% for the season. Any quality start percentage (QS%) under 50 percent is considered bad, and Husso finished at 46.7 percent.
Husso also finished at minus-6.62 goals saved above average (GSAA), which ranked him 58th in the NHL at season’s end. He finished 46th in the league in Goals Above Replace (GAR) amongst goalies who faced 400-plus Fenwick events (unblocked shot attempts). There’s no need to belabor the point: Husso’s numbers weren’t good enough for a backup goaltender on a team that aims to be a top NHL contender. The only question remaining is how the Blues will react to the information.
- 9-6-1, .893 SV%, 3.20 GAA
- Minus-6.6 GSAA
- Notched the Blues’ only shutout in the final game of the season
- 47th amongst goalies (500 FA minimum) in WAR
- T-3rd amongst goalies in PIM (4) with Darcy Kuemper and Jake Oettinger
Final Grade: D
Husso did have a strong finish to the season, relatively speaking, and ending with the shutout was certainly a positive. But ignoring his poor numbers and focusing on the positives is searching for excuses. 26 isn’t old for a goalie, but it’s also old enough to start to make your mark at the NHL level, and Husso did not in his first season. His numbers just weren’t good enough, even for a backup.
What’s Next for Husso?
Husso has another season remaining on his contract, and he’s certainly affordable, at just $750,000. If the Blues make moves to spend their roughly $15.2 million of projected cap space, they may choose to give him one more opportunity to prove himself as a cost-saving measure. But if the Blues are seeking to build the best team possible for 2021-22, then they will need to bring in an alternative as their backup goalie. There aren’t a lot of goalies on the NHL’s top free agent list, although a reunion with former Blues netminder Jaroslav Halak might make sense. But general manager Doug Armstrong has two options for his backup goaltender: if he’s concerned with cost, Husso may well get another shot. But if he wants the absolute best option, it may be time to move on.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.