St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong has a goaltending dilemma. After a struggle-filled regular season, Jordan Binnington, the same goalie he paid handsomely after he helped win the team’s first Stanley Cup, lost his starting role to Ville Husso. After a few bad playoff games, Husso was benched in favor of Binnington, and now, he is an unrestricted free agent and may be gone for good.
Armstrong certainly wants to keep Husso if he can. He said it himself, but he also knows that given the quality of regular season Husso had, has the opportunity to secure both more money and more playing time by going elsewhere, as reported by Lou Korac of NHL.com.
There are two main issues in the way of Armstrong re-signing Husso. First, this year’s free-agent class is very thin on goalie talent. Excluding Jake Oettinger, who’s a restricted free agent, the only other notable goalies on the market are Darcy Kuemper, Jack Campbell, and Marc-Andre Fleury, all of whom don’t have much reason to leave their current teams. After them, Husso and Washington’s Vitek Vanecek are the only remaining free agents who both won at least 15 games and had a better save percentage than the league average last season.
Husso is projected to get a contract around $5 million in average annual value (AAV), which would put him in the neighborhood of Thatcher Demko and Linus Ullmark (from ‘What I’m hearing about the Blues’ UFAs: Latest on Perron, Husso, Leddy, Bozak’, The Athletic, 6/15/22).
The second issue is Binnington, who’s entering the second season of his six-year contract worth $6 million AAV. It doesn’t make much sense for the Blues to spend nearly $11 million per year on goaltending, especially with more pressing needs on the team, particularly on defense. Furthermore, with his outstanding performance in the playoffs, it seems that he has re-established himself as the starter. Given that, it would be much more reasonable to let Husso walk and spend that money elsewhere.
So, in the event that the Blues don’t keep Husso, where would he go? Let’s take a look at what would be the most likely spots for the Finnish netminder to end up.
Current Cap Space: $35.6 million
For the first time in a long time, there are reasons for optimism with the Buffalo Sabres. The overall record may not indicate it, but they quietly had a very good second half of the season for a rebuilding team. Since the beginning of March, head coach Don Granato’s squad went 16-9-3, and that was thanks to the development of the young core, as budding stars like Tage Thompson, Owen Power, and Rasmus Dahlin all have proved they can be pillars the franchise can continue to build around.
The only position group that doesn’t have one of those pillars is in goal. While Husso, 27, isn’t particularly young, he’s significantly younger than those Buffalo started last season. Both 41-year-old Craig Anderson and 32-year-old Dustin Tokarski are unrestricted free agents (UFA). If Buffalo wants to take the next step in its development, finding its next franchise goaltender would be the next step. With some of the most cap space in the NHL, the Sabres can easily afford to take a chance on Husso.
Detroit Red Wings
Current Cap Space: $35.8 million
Speaking of young stars, Red Wings general manager (GM) Steve Yzerman seems like he’s ready to take the next step with his team. He started by firing Jeff Blashill in late April. Next on the agenda is figuring out what’s going on with the goalies. Yzerman drafted one in the first round of the 2021 Draft in Sebastian Cossa, but until he is ready for the NHL, someone will need to take the reins in net. Currently, that’s Alex Nedeljkovic, who just finished his first season in the Motor City. While he finished as a Calder Trophy finalist with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2020-21, his numbers took a big hit in his sophomore season, as his save percentage dropped significantly, and his 3.31 goals-against average was in the bottom ten for goalies who played at least 20 games.
The Red Wings have plenty of money to spend and could easily give Husso the projected $5 million. The few UFAs on the team are mostly aging veterans — such as Sam Gagner, Marc Staal, and Danny DeKeyser — and aren’t seen as part of the long-term future of the team. Furthermore, both Thomas Greiss and Magnus Hellberg are unrestricted, while Nedeljkovic has one year left on his current deal.
However, Yzerman’s willingness to sign Husso depends on his confidence in Nedeljkovic. If he thinks that Husso is the goalie to make his team competitive — at least until Cossa arrives — then it wouldn’t be shocking to see Nedeljkovic relegated to a backup role.
New Jersey Devils
Current Cap Space: $25.3 million
The New Jersey Devils have been trying for a few years now to get their rebuild off the ground. After a few first overall picks and one massive contract to Dougie Hamilton, they desperately need goaltending. After seven tries, they could not settle on a starter last season, and none of the goalies that head coach Lindy Ruff put on the ice were very good. There’s no better way to explain the Devils’ goalie carousel than this:
|Name||Games Started||Save Percentage|
For context, the league average for save percentage in 2021-22 was .907. Players like Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes aren’t getting any younger, and the Devils need to find a capable netminder for them before it either stunts their development or they leave for a more competitive team. With this year’s free-agent class, Husso makes perfect sense as a target in free agency.
If the Devils don’t want to waste another year of Hughes and Hischier’s development by giving them subpar goaltending to play in front of, they need to make that move now and there isn’t a better backstop they could realistically get than Husso.
Current Cap Space: $7.1 million
The Edmonton Oilers are the NHL’s best example of a team that’s just a goalie away from being a serious contender. While Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl put up historic numbers and dragged them to the Western Conference Final, a lack of solid defense and goaltending made them no match for the Colorado Avalanche. While the defense in front of starter Mike Smith wasn’t great, allowing 19 goals in four games is not going to cut it.
However, having superstar talent comes with a price, as McDavid and Draisaitl combine for over a quarter of the team’s overall cap space. The Oilers also still have to deal with the dead cap from both Milan Lucic’s retained salary and the buyouts of James Neal and Andrej Sekera.
In a world without the salary cap, the Oilers would undoubtedly throw a big contract to a goaltender to get them over the hump. However, the money simply isn’t there. In order for Edmonton to give Husso his projected $5 million AAV contract, GM Ken Holland would have to work miracles with the cap. To name a few, Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, Derrick Brassard, and Brett Kulak are all free agents, and nobody knows what’s happening with Evander Kane’s contract, either. Combine all that with the one year remaining on Smith’s deal, and there isn’t much room at all for them to make an upgrade in net.
Every team mentioned above is in desperate need of a goalie. Given the amount of cap space some teams have and the lack of quality goalies on the open market, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Husso get paid even more than the projected $5 million AAV. That could be the Sabres, Devils, or a mystery team that could make a run at him out of the blue. There’s no way to tell where he’ll end up, but it’s seeming less and less likely that place will be St. Louis.
Jacob Stinson is a writer for The Hockey Writers covering the St. Louis Blues. In addition to his work for THW, Jacob also covers Michigan State hockey for WDBM 88.9-FM and studies journalism at Michigan State University.