The St. Louis Blues have altered their goaltending situation going into 2020-21. It’s a calculated risk, but a risk nevertheless.
However, what the trade also signaled is the Blues are ready to give Ville Husso a legitimate shot in the NHL. Perhaps he will not get equal time to Binnington, in fact I doubt he will, but they need to let him get some games.
“Ville Husso is a player that we’ve had high hopes for,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said in a team press conference after the trade (reported by Tom Timmermann). “And we believe has earned his right to compete for an NHL job and to do that, you have to create opportunities.”
Husso needs to be NHL ready right now for the Blues to have success. That is for two reasons.
The first of which is the Blues need to not rely on Binnington so much. The Blues need to be a team that can rely on both goaltenders because they have proven over time that nobody seems to play as well when they have a starter and backup that will only play a handful of games.
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Coincidentally enough, the last time the Blues tried this, it blew up in their faces. They tried to go with Allen as the main starter and use Chad Johnson as a rare, spot start backup.
Allen had a rough start to the season and Johnson was not capable of giving him much of a break. Most assume Binnington will not go down that path, but the playoffs against Vancouver might suggest otherwise.
We have no idea if Binnington was one of the sick players or if he was one of the players that rumor suggest were not fully invested during the break. We do know he, himself, said he was in full offseason mode in late spring/early summer.
Regardless, none of this is to suggest Binnington does not have the talent to be a starter. The issue is more with durability.
Today’s goalies are typically quite thin and Binnington is definitely that, being listed as 174 lbs. That might be with his gear on.
While today’s athletes need to be as fit as possible, there is something to say for the old style. Martin Brodeur was never as trim as the New Jersey Devils might have liked, but he was durable. The same could be said for Grant Fuhr. When he hit the NHL, they actually made him lose weight, but he found that right balance in the end and almost started an entire season’s worth of games for the Blues later in his career.
Binnington is not there. He is just not a goalie you want to be using for 60-70 games.
Binnington played 50 games out of 71 in 2019-20. He also had a pretty good drop in numbers.
Nobody expected Binnington to continue his unbelievable pace from the Stanley Cup season. However, he went from a .927 save percentage to .912. His goals against went from 1.89 to 2.56. Binnington’s quality start percentage dropped from .667 to .565.
Those aren’t catastrophic drops, but dips in numbers that might be related to overuse. Binnington played a crazy amount of hockey, playing 58 games from January through June of 2019.
That was after never having been a starter for a full season anywhere really. The Blues then played him the vast majority of the season in 2020 and got less production.
St. Louis cannot afford to make a similar mistake this year. You don’t want to interrupt any stellar runs if Binnington gets hot, but they need to give him rest days.
He is not Yadier Molina. The Blues cannot afford to let a goaltender’s willingness to play cloud their judgement or make demands.
Additionally, the second reason they need Husso to play is to find out what he is. 15-20 games is likely not going to be enough.
St. Louis needs to give Husso around 30 games to figure out how he will adapt to the NHL game. They have him under contract for a little longer, but they only have Binnington under contract for one more season.
The Blues have played this game before, so it’s not as though they could not give Binnington an extension and still make a move later. However, if they still believe Husso is the goalie in waiting, they need to figure out what kind of flexibility they have at that position.
If Binnington shows any continuation of the issues he had against Vancouver and Husso cannot give him a break, the Blues are in a terrible spot. That is not to say we should think Binnington will not rebound, but goalie’s are headcases.
Brian Elliott was on the cusp of having his career end when the Blues had to send him to the AHL to clear his head. Allen has the talent to be a starter, but he’s typically had issues playing in the winter months like December or January.
We put a lot of stock in Binnington’s mental fortitude, but there’s such a small sample. We don’t know how he handles adversity in the NHL quite yet.
So, the Blues need to know if Husso can handle the NHL too. You need to figure this out while Binnington is still on his bridge contract, which ends after the 2021 season.
If Husso gives every indication he can and will be a solid NHL goalie, it gives the Blues more room in negotiations with Binnington. If Husso is shaky at the NHL level, Binnington can basically hold Doug Armstrong’s feet over the fire regarding an extension price and term.
Clearly, you don’t want to just throw Husso to the wolves. If he doesn’t seem quite right, they can’t just keep throwing him out there. On the flip side, you need to see how he will bounce back after bad games, to see whether he’s like Binnington who usually bounces back or like other goalies who let bad games pile up.
Just in a general sense, the Blues need to have two goalies to keep people fresh. Most teams that are contenders have a capable backup.
Say what you will about Jaroslav Halak, but he takes the mental and physical load off Tukka Rask. Andrei Vasilevsky’s numbers have been better when he’s played fewer games.
Conversely, even when the Montreal Canadiens were good, Carey Price was often burned out. Pro athlete or not, it’s difficult to ask a goalie to play 60-70 regular season games and then 20-plus playoff games as well.
The Blues need Husso to be ready. He needs to get games.
If St. Louis tries the Price route with Binnington, they’re not going to be rewarded for it and that’s no slight against him.