Barulin: a name Blues fans are forgiven for forgetting
After a year where the St. Louis Blues gambled and lost on bringing in prime-of-his-career goaltender Ryan Miller at considerable cost, and coming into one with all of the Jake Allen hype one name lurks in the background. Konstantin Barulin, the KHL’s top goalie is technically fourth in the Blues’ goaltending development chain. It’s not entirely accurate to say he’s fourth in the depth chart, because it’s highly unlikely he’ll ever make the trek to North America. A goalie with the potential to solve their netminding issues, the Blues’ Doug Armstrong made a strong pitch a few years back but was unsuccessful luring the then-25 year-old netminder from the mother country. Today, his cushy job as starter for the KHL’s Avangard makes that proposition even less likely. Noteworthy is the fact the Barulin never signed a contract with the Blues, and word has it he would demand a one-way deal should he ever have a change of heart.
Barulin’s demands complicate the situation
A few years ago between the time when Chris Mason and the Blues couldn’t come to a contract arrangement and management went after Jaroslav Halak instead, Barulin may have had an opportunity to get a number one spot handed to him. Given Halak’s 2010 postseason success in Montreal against powerhouses Pittsburgh and Washington, the idea that the Blues wouldn’t pursue him when the Habs exposed him to trade was unlikely. Therein lies the rub — Barulin demands the starter’s role if he were to come over. His salary in the KHL is not unreasonable, averaging around 2.5 million — less than most bona-fide NHL starters make. However, the Blues are now in a situation where they will not give up on Jake Allen, with proven tendy Brian Elliott sharing net time. After the recent Ryan Miller debacle, the Blues seem content with the safe and cheap play. It could be that Barulin’s rights are traded at some point given his recent plaudits and presumably increased value. With the promising Jordan Binnington waiting in the wings , even if the almost-30 year-old Barulin came over it’s impossible to project where the Blues would want to place him in the depth chart — and what he would be worth to the team financially. To Barulin’s credit, it seems the former issue is of more value than the latter, but that doesn’t help the prospects of making the trip over.
The KHL’s instability might offer a solution
Although the KHL is not the NHL in either talent nor playing style, many consider it to be the second-best and a place many NHLers go to for playing time — or a payday. Examining Barulin’s numbers indicate he would be a competent starter in the NHL, even if he wouldn’t necessarily match his success in Russia. His career stats are an impressive 111-69, with a paltry 2.12 GAA and .927 save percentage — enviable at any level. These numbers are great for him but ultimately depressing for Blues fans, with the knowledge they drafted an all-world netminder that probably won’t wear the note unless his playing situation dramatically changes or his team folds — something that happens with regularity in the KHL. The KHL constantly experiences the ebb and flow of teams folding — even the venerable Moscow Dynamo — in exchange for new startup expansion franchises. This unstable atmosphere makes the situation in Phoenix seem casual, with teams disappearing virtually overnight. For now however, Blues fans can admire their prospect from afar, dreaming of what might have been.