There are several “locks” when looking at the St. Louis Blues 2021-22 and beyond, but one position that can positively be scratched in ink is the goaltending position where Jordan Binnington is the go-to guy.
The 27-year-old 6’1″ southpaw from Richmond Hill, Ont. took a bit of a scenic route to the Gateway city, but then immediately established himself as superhuman in Blues Nation, playing 32 regular-season games and posting a 1.89 goals-against average (GAA).
All Binnington did in that stretch was turn a Blues’ team headed to an early date on the golf course, ranked at the bottom of the Central Division, to a third-place regular-season team and ultimately leading them to the first Stanley Cup in the team’s 52-year history.
Number 1: Jordan Binnington
The two seasons since delivering the Cup — both partial campaigns have been far from stellar for the Blues, but there are no fingers pointing at the solid goaltending provided by Binnington. In regular season play, he has posted a 48-27-15 overall record with a .912 save percentage (SV%) in 2019-20 and .910 in 20-21.
The postseason numbers are not nearly as noteworthy, an 0-9-0 record with SV% well under .900 after returning from the long COVID mandated break in 2020 and just under .900 this past season. That swoon was team-wide though and rather than a team being let down by its goaltender, he was the busiest player on the ice in all four contests.
He is the uncontested number one at the goaltending position for the upcoming season and likely a few more past that.
Here’s how things shape up behind Binnington:
Number 2: Ville Husso
The 26-year-old Finn, a fourth-round (94th overall) pick by the Blues in 2014 made his way to the NHL this past season following the trade of Jake Allen. His debut fell well below the “stellar” mark but there were also some positive signs for a backup in his first season.
Entering this past season as the best of the rest, his rookie season could have been better, but he should enter training camp as the man to beat for the backup spot. As long as the Binnington can stay healthy and strong between the pipes, the expectations for Husso will not be overwhelming. The team will certainly be looking for an improvement, but that’s natural for a goalie in his second NHL season.
The good thing about Husso is he seems to have all the tools he needs to be a solid NHL goaltender, his primary drawback at this point being consistency. Again, that is not so uncommon for a player making the jump from AHL to NHL.
Husso is not the only player who endured a sub-par 2020-21 season. Injuries and COVID protocols took a toll on the club and several players endured sub-par performances.
The Up and Comers: Joel Hofer/Colten Ellis
Another fourth-round pick, Joel Hofer was picked 107th overall by the Blues in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. The 20-year-old Winnipeg native returned to the WHL where he appeared in 115 games, posting a 57-40-10 overall record with a .910 SV% and a 3.04 GAA.
Hofer excited Blues fans with a 5-0 record and a dazzling 1.30 GAA and .946 SV%, leading Canada to the Gold Medal at the World Juniors tournament in 2020.
After making his pro debut in 2019-20 with a game played for the San Antonio Rampage, Hofer made the full-time jump to pro and played 10 games with the Utica Comets, the AHL team shared by the Blues and Vancouver Canucks.
Hofer will benefit with the Blues as the only affiliate of the Springfield Thunderbirds this season and he has a shot at being the number one goaltender there. Based on the road traveled by both Binnington and Husso, the Blues appear to be a team that likes to give goaltenders plenty of time on the farm before making the jump to the Lou.
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It might be interesting to see the decisions made if injuries or illness play a part in St. Louis. They will not want to rush a player like Hofer into a spot he might not be ready for, but there will certainly be eyes on his progress. He did get a chance to see what life with the Blues would be like when he was added to the taxi squad for the brief post-season run this season.
Colten Ellis was called to the podium in the third round, 93rd overall in the 2019 NHL Draft and since then, the 20-year-old native of River Denys, N.S. has been honing his craft in the QMJHL. After playing three games with the hometown Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in 2017-18, he has had stops in Rimouski and most recently Charlottetown where he compiled an amazing 23-1-0 regular-season record with a 1.78 GAA and .926 SV%.
The Blues helped Ellis celebrate that solid season, signing him to a three-year contract.
As of today, Hofer and Ellis are the only other goaltenders for the Blues under contract apart from Binnington and Husso. They should provide a solid, albeit young tandem in Springfield for the next few seasons.
Free Agents: Jon Gillies/Evan Fitzpatrick
Evan Fitzpatrick was drafted by the Blues in the Second Round, 56th overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Also a product of the QMJHL, Fitzpatrick played in Sherbrooke and Acadie-Bathurst for a couple of seasons before making his pro debut in the Fall of 2018. He has split time between the AHL in San Antonio and Utica and the ECHL with Tulsa and Brampton.
The 23-year-old 6’3″ lefty from St. John’s NL is a Restricted Free Agent and has yet to re-sign with the Blues.
The Calgary Flames selected Jon Gillies in the Third Round, 75th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. The 6’6″ native of Concord, N.H. played in the USHL with Indiana and after being drafted, he spent three seasons at Providence College before making his pro debut in 2015-16 at Stockton.
Gillies appeared in 12 NHL games with the Flames and was the primary goaltender for the Stockton club for four seasons before signing a one-year contract with the Blues this past fall. He played five games in Utica and is currently an unrestricted free agent.
Conclusion: More of the Same for Now
There are so many questions for the Blues now in the offseason from two winless playoff campaigns. On one hand, many of the players were responsible for the team’s first Stanley Cup just two seasons ago, but on the other hand, the team has had no playoff success at all since then.
Goaltending is the most secure position on the team as long as Binnington can stay healthy. He is the obvious starter and for now, Husso seems equally as secure as the team’s backup goaltender. Improvements are expected and likely from Husso. Meanwhile, the next era would appear to belong to Hofer and Ellis. They are likely a season or more away from wearing the blue note full time and for now, they will be the anchors in Springfield, pushing each other to AHL and eventually, NHL success.
If it all unfolds the way the Blues’ brass hopes it will, the goaltending position for the Blues should be solid for the next decade or so.
Closing in on 60, Jim has been a fan of hockey, since the age of five and he has finally capped it as a THW Writer on the St. Louis Blues beat. Growing up in small town Ontario, he never got far as a player, but has spent most of the past 40 years writing about the game from the youth hockey to junior hockey and now, pro levels. A move to the Midwest (Wisconsin) in 2000 shifted the focus a bit. Working at small newspapers, Jim relished a chance to focus on hockey alone and has dabbled in that with a pair of websites, midwesthockey.info and saukhockey.info.