A few months ago, we took a look at the St. Louis Blues’ goaltending situation throughout the organization, starting at the top with Jake Allen. We intended to check back in periodically to update the discussion as necessary.
In just those few months, that update has become very necessary. Allen is no longer the No. 1 goalie, the former backup, Chad Johnson, is no longer with the organization, and the Blues have struck unexpected gold with the hottest goaltender in hockey. Let’s take a look at where the goalies sit now, starting with a new, definitive number one.
Nowhere is the transformation since the last edition of this article more apparent than in the crowning of a new No. 1 goaltender, Jordan Binnington. He had never made an NHL start when we last discussed the Blues’ depth in net, and now he has firmly entrenched himself as the NHL starter.
Since his debut, a shutout against the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 7, Binnington has been unstoppable. In 19 games, he is 15-3-1, and he has a .933 save percentage (SV%) and a 1.68 goals against average (GAA), leading the league in both categories. He also has five shutouts, which ties him for third in the league, despite only having played half the season.
Coupled with Allen’s poor play, which we’ll discuss momentarily, Binnington has indisputably taken command of the NHL net. It’s quite the transformation for a career AHL goalie who entered the season as a backup to Ville Husso with the San Antonio Rampage.
In all of this, Binnington certainly isn’t nervous (don’t even ask him that). He has the poise and calm that are essential to success at the NHL level. St. Louis has some interesting decisions ahead, with Allen on a rough contract and Binnington a pending restricted free agent, but unless there’s a serious change of direction, he will undoubtedly be a part of the team’s future.
Good news for Binnington means bad news for Allen. The long-embattled Blues netminder seems less and less likely to have a future with the team that drafted him in the second round back in 2008. It goes beyond Binnington’s strong play: for the second season in a row, Allen’s numbers have not been adequate for a starting NHL goalie.
This season, he’s posted a 2.98 GAA and a .901 SV%, numbers that rank him 40th and 33rd respectively amongst goalies that have played 20-plus games. Last season, his numbers weren’t much better: his .906 SV% put him 44th, and his 2.75 GAA ranked him at 29th. It’s clear that no team can thrive with that kind of performance in net.
Debate rages on amongst Blues fans about what Allen is exactly: some incorrectly believe he’s the worst goaltender in the league. Others believe, just as falsely, that he’s a perfectly fine goaltender whose team continually fails him. The reality is somewhere in the middle; however, one thing is certain: Allen’s is a contract that the team would very much like to unload, and they will likely look to do so this summer, either via trade or buyout.
AHL Goaltenders (San Antonio Rampage)
Entering the season, Husso was looked at as the goaltender of the Blues’ future. That picture has changed distinctly with the explosive arrival of Binnington, but the prospect’s poor play in the American Hockey League hasn’t helped.
The Blues began their relationship with the San Antonio Rampage this season, meaning that the team is essentially an expansion franchise. As such, they got off to a very rough start, of which Husso may have been the primary victim. Though the team has rebounded somewhat, the goaltender’s season has not.
Husso has played just 23 games, with a GAA of 3.45 and an .881 SV%. The low number of games played is due in large part to a serious ankle injury, from which he missed almost two months of action. He has returned from that injury in the past week or so, but there isn’t enough data yet to know how he will recover.
The future is still bright for the Finnish netminder, but the narrative has certainly changed. When Johnson was brought in on a one-year contract, it was believed he was merely biding time until Husso arrived to back up Allen and potentially take his job in the long run. Now that Binnington appears to be top dog, will the Blues be comfortable with two youngsters holding the net?
Even if the answer is yes, there’s no guarantee Husso’s performance would justify moving forward with that strategy. Unless he goes on an incredible run in the final few weeks, it’s likely he’ll spend another season in the AHL, hopefully with a stronger squad and better health.
Here’s a newcomer to the list: former San Diego Gulls goalie Jared Coreau. When Binnington seemed destined to stay in the NHL and Husso went down to injury, the Blues traded to add some relief in the form of Coreau. He’s the definition of a journeyman, and the Rampage are merely his latest stop.
Since arriving in San Antonio, Coreau has been adequate. He’s posted a 3.12 GAA and a .894 SV% in 21 games. Considering that he’s been forced into extra action due to Husso’s injury, it’s been a fine performance, well worth whatever “future considerations” the Blues might exchange for him.
Coreau is not part of the Blues’ long term future, but he deserves a salute for holding down the fort in Husso’s absence. He belongs on this list for now.
Evan Fitzpatrick (Tulsa Oilers, ECHL)
The Blues have another bright goaltending prospect in Evan Fitzpatrick of the Tulsa Oilers. At just 21-years-old, he is already in the ECHL, and has even spot-started at the AHL level. His record there hasn’t been great, with a 3.23 GAA and a .876 SV%, but the ECHL is a high-scoring league, with most teams scoring over three goals per game.
Additionally, he’s missed some stretches of games because he’s been called into backup duty in the AHL. There, he’s started three games, and actually has a strong 1.90 GAA and a .907 SV%. Sitting behind Husso, Binnington, and Coreau at different points, he hasn’t been called into much AHL action, but he’s performed well when he’s had to. It hasn’t been ideal for his development, though, as regular playing time is preferred for a player at his age.
Fitzpatrick’s future remains bright. He helped backstop his team to a Memorial Cup last season, and has rightly gained notoriety for it. It is tough to project with certainty which of he and Husso have the better chance at a successful NHL career, but either or both could certainly reach that level.
Joel Hofer (Portland Winterhawks, WHL)
Now we turn to Joel Hofer, the goaltending prospect whom the Blues selected in the fourth round of this past summer’s draft. At 6-foot-4, he stands out in any crowd, but it’s his play in net that has turned heads lately.
When last we checked in on the Blues’ goaltenders, Hofer was with the rebuilding Swift Current Broncos, a team that won the WHL Championship the season before, while he was a backup. Because they had graduated many of their top players, however, the Broncos were a much worse team this season, and Hofer’s numbers looked deceptively poor as a result.
Since we last wrote, Hofer has changed teams, moving from the Broncos to the Portland Winterhawks in a major trade. The Winterhawks believed Hofer would be a critical piece in their championship pursuit, and he hasn’t disappointed. Since arriving, his GAA has dropped nearly a goal per game (to 3.14) and his save percentage is up to .908. Neither of those numbers seem extraordinary, but remember that this is the CHL, where scoring is much higher.
ICYMI: We have added two players to our roster before the trade deadline hit yesterday!
Joel Hofer from the Swift Current Broncos
Josh Paterson from the Saskatoon Blades
— Portland Winterhawks (@pdxwinterhawks) January 11, 2019
Hofer is still very young, and it’s difficult to project a goalie’s future so far out. But even at such a young age, he has shown a championship pedigree and has been a hotly pursued trade target. The Blues may have found yet another gem here.
Back in November, we began this conclusion by saying: “the Blues’ NHL goaltending situation has been and remains a mess.” It seems that that is no longer true, thanks to the impressive arrival of Binnington. Allen and his contract remain an issue, but if the youngster continues to play anywhere near as well as he has so far, the biggest question, “who is the Blues’ goalie of the future,” may have been answered.
Beneath the NHL, there is some chaos, but a lot of promise as well. Husso has had a tough season, struggling with a poor team start and a serious injury. He’ll look to get his future back on track in the final few weeks. Coreau has been an adequate addition, but doesn’t have a role in the team’s future. Fitzpatrick has been whipped around between the ECHL and the AHL but continues to have a bright future ahead, as does Hofer, the newest prized goaltender of the Winterhawks.
The goaltending position is one that is notoriously hard to project, and therefore it is good to have quantity as well as quality in one’s goalie ranks. The Blues certainly have both, and a team only needs one good hit a decade at this position to create a strength there. There is no reason to believe that at least one of Husso, Fitzpatrick, or Hofer should not be able to make a great career in the NHL, and as they wait to find out, Binnington seems more than capable of holding down the fort.
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.