Is There a Goaltending Controversy in St. Louis?

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: there is debate on who the St. Louis Blues should be starting at the goaltending position. A constant theme throughout the franchise’s history, goaltending has often been what has held back the Blues organization, forcing the fans in St. Louis to wait over fifty years before the club’s first Stanley Cup. That championship in 2019 was won on the back of then-rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington, who appeared to finally give the Blues a long-term answer in net. Fast forward almost three years later and it is now Binnington who is struggling while “backup” goaltender Ville Husso is playing lights-out.

The Case for Binnington

After being drafted by the Blues in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Binnington had to wait for the better part of a decade before getting his first shot in the big leagues, not making his first career start in the NHL until January 2019. After a shutout in his debut, Binnington and the Blues became a story out of Hollywood as they famously went from last in the league to Stanley Cup Champions in the matter of six months. Binnington followed up that championship with an All-Star appearance in 2020 and earned himself a six-year contract extension worth $6 million per year. Nobody in St. Louis questioned the move at the time, though that is slowly starting to change.

While the Blues have had a great first half of the year, Binnington’s numbers have been less than stellar. In 23 games played, he sports a 3.27 goals-against average along with a .901 save percentage. If he can’t turn things around, he’s on pace for his worst season in the NHL. With all that being said, Binnington is the one goaltender in Blues history to reach the promised land and it almost feels like a disservice to him to count him out so soon. Fresh off the aforementioned contract extension, Binnington isn’t likely to go anywhere soon, so it may be best to keep giving him the bulk of the starts and let him regain the championship form that we’ve seen in the past.

The Case for Husso

While Binnington is on pace for his worst season yet, Husso is having a breakout year in his second season at the NHL level. After an average rookie season seeing limited action in 2020-21, Husso is among the league leaders in both goals-against average at a minuscule 1.90 mark and save percentage, which is an impressive .941. Husso’s play has particularly picked up as we’ve approached mid-season, earning himself more and more starts. When the Blues were struggling in 2018-19, it was Husso that was supposed to be recalled from the American Hockey League, however, an injury gave the opportunity to Binnington who never looked back.

Now Husso and Binnington are a tandem again, though this time it is Binnington who is the presumed starter with Husso nipping at his heels. With Husso on the final year of his entry-level deal, salaries say that Binnington should be getting the majority of starts down the stretch and into the postseason. However, hockey will forever be a results-based business, and if Husso continues to play like one of the best goaltenders in the sport, he may force the Blues into an uncomfortable decision.

While Binnington has the luxury of contract security, due to service time in the minor leagues combined with two seasons in the NHL, Husso is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency at the end of this year. Conventional wisdom says that when you have a goaltender playing hot on an expiring contract, the best move is to trade him while his value is still high. However, with the Blues very much in the middle of a championship window, trading away a goaltender who is playing this well could prove to be costly. It will be interesting to see how the Blues approach the trade deadline at the goaltending position and it could tell us how the organization views the position going forward.

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