It seemed as though it was not that long ago that we were discussing the log jam that the St. Louis Blues organization had at the goaltender position. Things changed in a relatively short amount of time.
The Blues have had some great goalie tandems in the past decade or so. It always felt like there was someone waiting in the wings too.
Now, for the first time in quite some time, everything is straightforward for St. Louis. They have one guy, Jordan Binnington, that is unquestionably the starter, a clear backup and one prospect that is likely still a year or two away.
It’s an odd position, though not unprecedented. Still, it’s strange to not have a plethora of guys that might be the next one.
In the few seasons leading up to the Stanley Cup win, the Blues were flush with goaltending talent.
There was the tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott that won the Jennings Trophy while Ben Bishop and Jake Allen were waiting in the wings. Allen and Elliott took the team to the conference final with Jordan Binnington, Pheonix Copley and Anders Nilsson all as potential next-men-up.
Allen and Carter Hutton were ruling the crease shortly after. The Blues still had Binnington, drafted Ville Husso, Evan Fitzpatrick, Luke Opilka, Joel Hofer and more, all of whom had the potential to be the next Blues goalie.
Given how things played out, we often forget that Husso was actually the next in line in 2018-19. If he had not been injured when the Blues were decimated by goaltender injuries, Binnington may never have taken over and who knows how the season plays out.
Just over the past year, things have really shifted. The log jam is all but gone.
Husso is gone to Detroit. Fitzpatrick is with the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL and an NHL free agent, having his rights with Florida elapse.
Opilka was forced to retire before he even got started due to hip problems. Only Hofer remains and he seems to be the next one in line.
The common thinking is that current backup, Thomas Greiss, is a placeholder. Hofer will likely be promoted to the NHL in 2023-24, unless something odd happens.
The worry is that there isn’t much behind him. Colten Ellis is talented and promising, but raw and unproven.
There was initially some hype behind Vadim Zherenko when he was drafted. The Blues still retain his rights, but he’s gone from the Russian tier-two league to the Finnish league and has yet to set foot on North American soil to play a league game.
Will Cranley was the latest netminding draft pick. He actually got some pro experience, playing a game for the Utica Comets back in 2021. Nevertheless, he remains in junior hockey, switching from the Ottawa 67’s to the Flint Firebirds for what is likely his final season in the OHL.
Who knows how that all plays out. Goaltenders are a wild and fickle bunch that tend to take longer to develop, but also have the prime of their career later than an on-ice player.
Everyone thought Binnington was a career minor league player or potential backup until he grabbed the proverbial brass ring. Fans were split on the decision to send Bishop away for Allen, but both had decent success and Bishop was forced into early retirement due to injuries.
For years, Husso was the goalie of the future. It was the Blues version of Colby Rasmus where you basically got tired of hearing it and wanted them to either bring him up or get rid of them if they weren’t ready.
Now, it’s basically down to just Hofer for the future. Binnington is the guy for the next five seasons, at least in terms of his contract, but we’ve seen teams make plenty of switches regardless.
Maybe someone else steps up. Perhaps it’s Ellis.
Maybe a prospect from another organization gets a look with the Blues and takes hold. You never can tell.
It was just more comfortable with that safety net of what felt like 10 goaltenders of the future all waiting in the wings. Now, we have to hope that Doug Armstrong’s scouting staff has it right.