The St. Louis Blues are not currently in the market for a backup goalie, or so reports would indicate. Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic has indicated that teams are calling after the team’s backup, Jake Allen, who has two seasons remaining on his contract at an average annual value (AAV) of $4.35 million.
According to these reports, the Blues are not interested in trading Allen, preferring instead to move forward with the tandem of him and Jordan Binnington, who worked together excellently after the latter arrived. But cap space is a valuable commodity in today’s NHL. If the right trade crosses general manager Doug Armstrong’s desk, he’ll need to take it, and he’ll need a backup thereafter. Here are three options St. Louis might consider.
Former Carolina Hurricane Curtis McElhinney has been a career backup who has put up his best numbers in recent years. The Toronto Maple Leafs were forced to waive him right before the season due to a logjam in net. The Hurricanes gladly jumped at the chance to add him, and he rewarded their faith.
In 33 games, the veteran netminder went 20-11-2, posting a .912 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.58 goals against average (GAA), along with two shutouts. He was also featured in five playoff games, going 3-2 with a .930 SV% and a 2.01 GAA. It was an extraordinary season, and now he is an unrestricted free agent.
McElhinney might be interested in an opportunity to start, but at 36 years old, there’s some question whether any team will give him the chance. Given the momentum he’s built in recent seasons, he’ll be one of the best backup options available. It might cost $2 million or so to add him, but if the Blues move Allen, that would be a significant discount. McElhinney could provide a calm, veteran presence to help Binnington with the transition to a full season.
It’s tough to pin down exactly what kind of goalkeeper 30-year-old Keith Kinkaid is. Two seasons ago, he was the New Jersey Devils’ unexpected shining star, starting 38 games, going 26-10-3, and posting a .913 SV% and a 2.77 GAA. But he absolutely fell apart in two playoff starts, losing both, with a .804 SV% and a 5.08 GAA.
This season, he looked more like the playoff version than the 2017-18 regular season version. He started the same number of games, 38, but his record was an abysmal 15-18-6. His numbers didn’t look any better, with a .891 SV% and a 3.36 GAA. Most disturbingly, his goals saved above average (GSAA), a statistic aimed at measuring a goalies saves in comparison to his peers’, was -21.92. That was third worst in the league.
Still, the Devils’ defense didn’t help Kinkaid at all, and his history shows that he deserves another shot. Unlike McElhinney, he could probably be had at a song, easily under $1.5 million. If saving money is the priority, Kinkaid might be a good bet. But the Blues might prefer to have a safer alternative to Binnington, who, despite winning a Stanley Cup, still has a relatively small sample size of NHL starts.
Finally, there is the Blues’ internal option. If the team decides to move Allen after July 1, they may choose to turn to their AHL starter, Ville Husso. The 24-year-old Finnish goalkeeper was once seen as the franchise’s “goalie of the future,” but the meteoric rise of Binnington put a hitch in those plans. Still, he is very young for a goalie and has a bright future ahead of him.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t only Binnington’s rise that slowed Husso down last season. He struggled with injury, and when he was healthy, his numbers were poor. He played in 27 games, and had a .871 SV% and a 3.67 GAA. It was his struggle and injury that gave Binnington an opportunity to show his skills, which in turn led to his call to the NHL.
No one is too worried about Husso’s future. He was on the AHL’s all-rookie team the season before last and put up incredible numbers, with a .922 SV% and a 2.42 GAA in 38 games. Still, it makes the most sense for him to start the season in the AHL and try to get himself back on track.
The Finn is an unlikely replacement for Allen even if he is traded. But he would be a cost saving option. The team would be putting a lot of faith in him, but, then again, putting faith in an unheralded minor league goalie has worked out well for them in the recent past.
Allen for Another Season?
Ultimately, this may be a moot point, because it seems like Allen isn’t going anywhere. But the team still has seven restricted free agents to sign, and if any of those negotiations, especially the one with Binnington himself, get out of hand, the Blues may need to clear up cap space.
If Allen does start the season with the team, it’s possible he wouldn’t finish it with them. A team in need of a goalie replacement due to injury would certainly be quick to call Armstrong and see if he’s changed his tune. In that event, it likely would be Husso who got the call in relief.
If something develops unexpectedly, and at this time of year it certainly could, these seem the three likeliest options to replace Allen. But whoever the backup is, there’s no question that Binnington has earned the permanent starting job.
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.