The St. Louis Blues had a tumultuous season between the pipes last year. Jordan Binnington struggled during the regular season, unable to find his footing. In the first season of a six-year, $36 million contract extension, it became a major concern for the team. Fortunately, backup and longtime prospect Ville Husso rose to the occasion and became the starter during the regular season. He got the Blues to the postseason, where Binnington returned to form and carried the team until he was injured.
Now that the offseason has arrived, though, the blessing of Husso’s success has become a curse. The Finnish netminder is likely to hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent (UFA), and in a goalie-poor offseason, he will likely get the opportunity to be a starter for another team — an opportunity every goalie wants. If Husso leaves, the Blues will need to replace him. Let’s look at several options that might be able to take his place.
The fan-favorite option is Charlie Lindgren, affectionately known by Blues fans as “Chuckie Sideburns.” The 28-year-old Lakeville, MN native had a phenomenal season across the board. In the American Hockey League (AHL), with the Springfield Thunderbirds, he played 34 games, carrying a 2.21 goals-against average (GAA) and a .925 save percentage (SV%), with three shutouts. In the postseason, he played eight games, with a .914 SV%, a 2.79 GAA, and a shutout, helping Springfield reach the Calder Cup Final. But fans are most familiar with his brief stint in St. Louis, when Lindgren played five games, boasting a 1.22 GAA and a .958 SV%. Many fans believe Lindgren, who is also a UFA, will be a much cheaper replacement for Husso, allowing the Blues to spend their money elsewhere.
Fans are correct that Lindgren is a cheaper alternative, but there’s a reason for that. At 28, he has only played 29 games at the NHL level and has a career .913 SV% and a 2.74 GAA. Yes, he looked terrific in a brief stint with the Blues last season. But can the Blues really enter next season with him as their primary alternative, should Binnington struggle again or suffer an injury? It would be a cheap option and one that Blues fans could get excited about. But it feels like a big risk for a contending team to take.
If Lindgren is inexperienced but cheap, Braden Holtby could be at the opposite end of both spectrums. The former Stanley Cup winner signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Dallas Stars after an inglorious stint with the Vancouver Canucks. He played well, with a .913 SV% and a 2.78 GAA, with a .591 quality start percentage (QS%) and 4.1 goals saved above average (GSAA). Holtby checks a lot of boxes for the Blues. He brings playoff experience and has played well as a backup at times. He’s a beloved locker room guy, and he likely won’t threaten Binnington’s hold on the starter’s net. He’d be a perfect fit in many ways.
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The big questions with Holtby are cost and his desires. Does he want to play in St. Louis? And if so, at what price? He’ll probably have many suitors in a goalie-starved market, and the midwest might not be his preferred destination. But he’d be a great option for the Blues. If he could be had for anywhere near the $2 million average annual value (AAV) the Stars signed him for, even if it required an extra year on the contract, it would be too good an option for the Blues to pass up.
Quick Hit: Marc-Andre Fleury
It’s impossible to ignore that future Hall of Fame goaltender Marc-André Fleury is a free agent, and there are those who think he could be an option for the Blues. But it’s tough to imagine its actually happening. The legendary goaltender will be playing in possibly his final NHL season, and he’s shown a reticence to move his family too much in the past. Plus, it’s dubious to assume he’ll be happy to take a clear backup role, anyway. If the Blues have any advantages, it could be Fleury’s close friendship with David Perron, but they’d have to re-sign his fellow Quebecois first to take advantage of that.
In a similar mold to Holtby, Jaroslav Halák is a goaltender with tons of NHL experience, and a deep familiarity with St. Louis; plus, he may be more affordable than Holtby will be. He does not have the ultimate postseason success on his resume, but he’s had a terrific NHL career. He’ll be affordable, and he is well-known to Blues fans, given that he played with the franchise from 2010-2014, winning a Jennings Trophy with Brian Elliott in 2011-12. Could a return to St. Louis late in the Bratislava native’s career be in the offing?
Halák did not leave St. Louis on the best of terms, a casualty of the trade that brought Ryan Miller and Steve Ott to the Blues. But he has rebuilt a career for himself and might be ready to put the expression “time heals all wounds” to the test. He provides the experience and durability that the Blues will want in a backup if they surpass Lindgren and explore the open market. It would be up to Halák whether a return to the team that once spurned him appeals to him.
The San Jose Sharks currently have three NHL goaltenders, a situation they’ll need to resolve before the season. As a team trying to keep one eye on the future, the most likely candidate for a trade is James Reimer, the 34-year-old veteran. He served as their starter last season, playing in 48 games, with a 19-17-10 record, but a .911 SV% and a 2.90 GAA. Those numbers aren’t stellar, but for a team near the bottom of the standings, they could be far worse, especially considering his .652 QS% and 5.9 GSAA.
Reimer would be a perfect fit for the Blues: cost-controlled, on a short-term contract, experienced, willing to take on a backup role, but able to step up if the team needs him to. The question would be what it would cost to get him. The Sharks aren’t in a position to demand a king’s ransom, though, so acquiring Reimer could be a very sensible move for general manager Doug Armstrong.
Quick Hit: Adin Hill
Behind Reimer, the Sharks have Kaapo Kahkonen and Adin Hill. Given that they traded Jacob Middleton to acquire Kahkonen at last season’s trade deadline, it seems likely that Hill would be traded instead if they want to hold onto Reimer. Hill has decent career numbers and is very slightly cheaper than Reimer, but might cost more to acquire, and might earn looks as a starter with another strong season in St. Louis. If he is the goaltender the Sharks decide to put on the market, though, the Blues shouldn’t hesitate to try and acquire him.
Husso Likely Leaving
The Blues will have three options to replace Husso if he does head for greener pastures this offseason: promote from within, sign via free agency, or acquire via trade. We’ve looked at at least one option from each category, though this is not an exhaustive list. Armstrong will likely get creative to find the best and most affordable fit for next season. But he’ll almost certainly have to do it. The goalie market is too poor and Husso played too well last season to imagine that he’ll return to St. Louis next fall.
Stephen Ground is a veteran of over three years at THW, focusing on the St. Louis Blues, NHL goaltending, and the annual World Junior Championship. He is the co-host of the Two Guys One Cup Podcast, a hockey podcast focused on the Blues.