Blues Lacking NHL-Ready Goaltending Prospects

With the surging play of Jordan Binnington this season, the need for goaltending depth has gone under the radar for the St. Louis Blues. Thomas Greiss has been fine in net this season as a backup, and for the first time in a few years, they have gone away from a 1A/1B system and into a clear starter and backup at the NHL level.

Binnington offers no concerns at the NHL level, and with his new contract keeping him in St. Louis until the end of the 2026-27 season, there won’t be any concerns between the pipes at the Enterprise Center for a while. What is concerning is the new era of how NHL tandems are established and how quickly the Blues could fall behind if they don’t start developing goalies via the NHL Entry Draft.

Joel Hofer Stands Alone in Blues Goalie Prospect Discussion

The Blues’ farm system does not rank well in comparison to other NHL teams, and they rank at the bottom when it comes to teams from the Central Division (from ‘St. Louis Blues rank No. 29 in NHL Pipeline Rankings for 2022, The Athletic, 8/22/22). Among goalie prospects in the St. Louis organization, Joel Hofer is the only netminder worth diving into when it comes to prospects who could help the team in the next three years.

Hofer is a former fourth-round pick by the Blues in the 2018 NHL Draft. The 22-year-old has just two games of NHL experience and has allowed six goals on 50 shots in his young NHL career. Had it not been for COVID and a wave of injuries, Hofer would still be looking to crack the NHL.

Joe Hofer Portland Winterhawks
Joe Hofer, Portland Winterhawks (Gord Rufh/The Hockey Writers)

The good news for the Blues is, that he has been playing in the American Hockey League (AHL) for the last two years and has been putting up decent numbers this season in Springfield (from ‘Joel Hofer stops 40 shots but Springfield Thunderbirds fall to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in shootout,’ Mass Live, 11/26/22). He has great numbers so far this season in Springfield, and his totals are similar to the success Binnington was having while the Blues were going through their early-season losing streak.

Through 13 games this season, Hofer sits with a 4-6-6 record, a .923 save percentage (SV%), and a 2.43 goals-against average (GAA). These numbers would be career bests since he played for the Pursuit of Excellence varsity team during his 17-year-old season.

However, the issue remains with the lack of goaltender depth. If Greiss or Binnington go down with an injury, the team would be better off making a short-term trade for a proven NHL goalie rather than throwing Hofer in the mix.

The Blues Should Look South For Goaltending Blueprint

The perfect balance that the Blues should shoot for with their goaltending situation is what they came across in their game against the Florida Panthers. The Panthers carry two All-Star caliber goalies on their roster in Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight.

Sergei Bobrovsky Florida Panthers
Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Blues cannot afford to give $11 million to two goalies, especially with the pending unrestricted free-agent status of Vladimir Tarasenko, Ivan Barbashev, and Ryan O’Reilly. However, Binnington is signed for an extended period of time, so St. Louis will have to The good news for the Blues is they are already halfway there.

Bobrovsky broke the bank with his seven-year $70 million contract in 2019, and although he has not played up to his $10 million average annual value (AAV) at times, having a star goalie in net is an important piece to any Stanley Cup contender’s puzzle. The Blues have this piece with Binnington, and they have him locked up at a reasonable salary of $6 million AAV.

The difference between the Blues and an elite-level team like the Panthers is a young goalie superstar in the making like Knight or the Philadelphia Flyers’ Carter Hart. Despite these two players being labeled as generational talents in net, the Blues still lack goalie prospects who can come in and contribute right away.

Ville Husso was the most recent example of this trend, as the tandem of Husso and Binnington was able to send the Blues to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They were not spectacular by any stretch during the 2020-21 season, but Husso’s performance netted him a comfortable three-year $14.25 million contract with the Detroit Red Wings.

Related: 3 Things Blues Fans Should Be Thankful For in 2022

The Blues’ constant success makes it even more difficult to accomplish the task of drafting and developing an elite goalie prospect, especially with the departure of Bill Armstrong, who is now the Arizona Coyotes’ general manager. If Binnington is not playing at an All-Star level, then the conversation of the Blues having two great goaltenders is not worth having. However, with his current pace, the need for a young, cost-controlled goalie becomes even more important. Having this goalie profile will allow the team to be flexible in other parts of the roster.

However, great teams find a way to draft great NHL players in the middle of the first round and in the later rounds of the draft. It only takes one great prospect to turn an organization around, so the Blues should do everything they can to ensure they get an elite goalie through the draft at some point.

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