Great teams are often defined by great goaltenders. What would the New Jersey Devils or Colorado Avalanche of the 90s and 2000s be without Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy? Successful NHL franchises are built from the net out, and, therefore, goaltending can be the hardest and most important position to get right. Unfortunately, some franchises have had worse luck than others.
The St. Louis Blues are a franchise that has often been snake-bitten in net. Though they have had a number of all-time great goalies between the pipes, many of them played in St. Louis towards the end of their careers, or for brief stints often caused by mismanagement. Still, a brief glance at the Blues’ goaltending history page shows a number of Hockey Hall of Fame members and other legends, including Brodeur himself, who played the final games of his career with the Blues during the 2014-15 season. The challenge of this article is to sort out which goalies lived up to their reputation with the Blues, and which others, reputation or not, deserve to be counted among the best of all time in St. Louis.
Curtis Joseph may be one of those players whose reputation surpasses his resume a bit, as great a career as he had. His legendary nickname, “Cujo,” based on the Stephen King monster, perfectly matched his aggressive style in net and made for some of the most iconic goalie masks of all time.
For all those reasons, Joseph is a fan-favorite goalie in St. Louis. He is second all-time in wins for the franchise, with 137, and second in games started, with 280. He led the league in goalie point shares for three consecutive seasons with the Blues, from 1991-1994. Displeased about a first-round exit from the 1995 playoffs, much-maligned general manager Mike Keenan traded Joseph to the Edmonton Oilers, and fans were left to wonder what might have been.
Grant Fuhr is an all-time great goalie in the history of hockey, who backstopped the Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the 1980s. Along with Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, and other greats, he won four Stanley Cups in his time in Alberta. He left Edmonton in 1991 and would spend time with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Buffalo Sabres, and the Los Angeles Kings before arriving in St. Louis in 1991 at the age of 33.
Though he would only spend four seasons in St. Louis, and would never post a save percentage (SV%) above .903, Fuhr’s legendary 1995-96 campaign alone earns him recognition on this list.
Fuhr notoriously showed up to camp significantly overweight, got suspended, and then came back to play 79 games in the regular season, 76 of them consecutively, both NHL records. Unfortunately, his season ended after Nick Kypreos collided with Fuhr in the crease.
Fuhr would never quite be the same goaltender after the collision. He would play three more seasons in St. Louis, reduced to a much lighter 73 games the following season, and is now fourth all-time on the Blues’ win list (108) list after Jake Allen passed him in the 2017-18 season.
The one and only “Mr. Goalie,” Glenn Hall, finished out his career as the first ever goalie for the Blues. He arrived in St. Louis in the team’s inaugural year, and served in net in each of the team’s first four seasons, helping the team to three-straight Stanley Cup appearances.
Hall won the Vezina Trophy for his efforts in the 1968-69 season. But his most amazing accomplishment in St. Louis was winning the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1968. He is one of just five players to win the trophy on a losing team, and he joins Reggie Leach (the one non-goalie in the fivesome) as the only players to win the award without winning a single game in the Stanley Cup Final.
There’s no question that Glenn Hall is a legendary goalie. Had his tenure with the Blues been longer, he certainly would have made the top three. But as great as his career was, he only spent the twilight of it in St. Louis, and as he’s most famous for his time with the Chicago Blackhawks, he’ll remain an honorable mention on this list.
3) Jordan Binnington
Even without yet having played in a full 82-game season in the NHL (he debuted as a rookie midseason, and the following two seasons were cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic), Jordan Binnington unquestionably occupies a place on this list. The story of his rookie season alone probably earned him a place.
He debuted on Jan. 7 with a shutout. Then he went on a miraculous run. He finished the regular season 24-5-1 with five shutouts, posting a .927 SV% and a 1.89 goals against average (GAA). It was enough to make him a Calder Trophy Finalist. Then, he became the first rookie goalie ever to win all 16 postseason games en route to a Stanley Cup. Binnington’s story is truly unique, the kind of stuff movies are made of, and he’ll always occupy a significant place in Blues history for that.
But don’t assume that his best days are behind him. Though he might not return to the incredible numbers of his rookie season, he’s established himself as a consistent NHL workhorse. Starting the third-most games of any goalie over the last two seasons, he has put to rest any questions about being a flash in the pan. And now, his future is certain. The Blues signed Binnington to a six-year contract extension during the 2020-21 season. Assuming he completes it, he will almost certainly become the most-tenured Blues goalie of all time. And there is a very good chance that when his career is done, Binnington will be at the top of this list.
2) Brian Elliott
It may be hard to believe, but Brian Elliott’s tenure in St. Louis is unquestionably one of the greatest in the history of the team. Over his five seasons, he earned points in almost 70 percent of his games, winning just over 62 percent of them. He accomplished all of that, despite only being invited to Blues camp prior to the 2011-12 season to compete with presumptive backup Ben Bishop.
In addition to his winning percentage, he led the league in SV% in both his first and last season with the team, winning the Jennings Trophy, along with partner Jaroslav Halak, in his first season. Over his five seasons, he posted an incredible .925 SV% and a 2.01 GAA, both of which are franchise records.
His 104 wins are fifth all-time amongst Blues goalies, but his 25 shutouts, almost one in every four wins, leads the pack, five ahead of Halak in second place. When Jake Allen seemed to have developed into a true number one, the Blues decided to part with Elliott. Even in his departure, he helped the team: the Blues got a second round pick back when they traded Elliott to the Calgary Flames, and they used it to select Jordan Kyrou, who is now their top prospect.
Elliott may not be the goaltending legend that others in this group are, but his tenure with the Blues was nothing short of incredible. The man known as “Moose” became a true fan favorite in St. Louis, and he deserves recognition on this list.
1) Mike Liut
Mike Liut is arguably the greatest goaltender of the 1980s. He leads the decade in saves, wins, and shutouts, and all of that began with the Blues, for whom he played from 1979 until he was traded to the Hartford Whalers in the 1984-85 season.
Liut’s crowning achievement was his 1980-81 season. He went 33-14-13 in 61 games. He led the league with an incredible 33.46 goals saved above average, a stat measuring the number of goals a netminder prevents compared with the league average. It was enough for Liut to finish second in the Hart Trophy voting, losing out to Wayne Gretzky. But the goalie got another prize: the Lester B. Pearson Award (now the Ted Lindsay Award), naming him the most outstanding player as voted on by his peers, the players.
Liut remains the Blues’ leader in wins (151), saves (9,165), and minutes (19,973). Unfortunately, the frugality of then-Blues owner Harry Ornest forced the team to part ways with Liut in his sixth season with the team, but that shouldn’t change his reputation. Though his Canada Cup fiasco and overall lack of hardware has kept him out of the Hall of Fame, there’s no question that his time in St. Louis is the greatest of any Blues goaltender.
A Bright Future for the Blues
There’s no doubt that the Blues’ goaltending history is speckled with frustration and disappointment. But the future might shimmer with glitter and gold. Not only is Binnington very likely to continue his trajectory to be a franchise great, but the Blues have two goaltenders who could become his successor in Joel Hofer and Colten Ellis. Both goalies have amassed very impressive junior hockey careers, with Hofer becoming a superstar during the 2020 World Junior Championship, and Ellis setting records in the QMJHL with the Rimouski Océanic and Charlottetown Islanders. In five years, the names on this list will most likely be listed in a new order. But in 10 or 15 years, the names could have changed altogether.
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.