The St. Louis Blues haven’t had to worry too much about goalies in recent years. In 2014, Jake Allen became a consistent starter for the team. Before that, Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak did a good job in the crease. Even Carter Hutton, who was signed by the team prior to the 2016-17 season, has seen a good amount of success as the backup. Ignoring the misfires of players like Anders Nilsson and Martin Brodeur, virtually every goalie the team’s had since 2010 has at least been decent. That won’t change anytime soon either. The St. Louis Blues goalies are all promising. The only issue is, the Blues have too many promising goalies.
As the years go by, the team will have at least three goalies in their system who deserve NHL playing time. The Blues will have to rid of at least two goalies to avoid having four fight over being Allen’s backup.
St. Louis Blues Goalies Have Looming Problems
Allen has solidified his spot in the Blues NHL lineup. He set himself apart from the other five goalies in the Blues system and even his predecessors. In the past year, Allen made his way into the top five of multiple all-time stats. His contract also guarantees him the spot. The 27-year-old is signed through the 2020-21 season, making just over $4 million a year. Unless he falls apart completely, he can expect to have that deal met in the 2021 off-season too. This leaves five goalies to fight for one spot.
Hutton has been an interesting pickup for the Blues. When he was signed, it seemed like he was nothing more than a placeholder. He would sit on the bench in a ball cap until one of the younger goalies was NHL-ready. Hutton has done so much more than that, though. Especially in the middle-months of this season. While Allen was going through his typical mid-year slump, Hutton stepped up tremendously. With the Blues defense struggling, Hutton has taken on a lot of responsibility. He took it in stride, though. His yearly performance was summed up perfectly when he played the New Jersey Devils on January 2. He had countless save-of-the-year quality saves, including one in overtime that seemingly defied the laws of physics.
The issue with Hutton is his age. He’s 32 years-old, and won’t be seeing any more long-term contracts. He’s also been fairly inconsistent throughout his career, which just hurts his cause. Hutton was signed to an AHL contract out of college and has scraped by as a backup goalie his entire career. When you look at his track record, his play this year seems even more eye-boggling. But if he doesn’t stay at this level, he could easily see his career come to an end in a few years.
Fitzpatrick is another big name in the Blues organization. Fitzpatrick was the highest ranked goalie from North America the year he was drafted(2016.) He even topped Philadelphia Flyers prospect Carter Hart. though those rankings would probably look a little different now. Still, the Blues spent their second-round pick in 2016 on the goalie.
Fitzpatrick has had a roller-coaster of a career in the QMJHL. When he was drafted, a lot of people suspected he could be the next big thing. He was a tall and athletic goalie who seemingly didn’t have much to work on. Goalies can go up and down when they’re young, and ‘Fitzy’ is a perfect example of that. In 27 games this season, he’s had a GAA of 3.55. This is the fourth highest amongst QMJHL goalies who have played at least 20 games. His save percentage also ranks as the second lowest amongst goalies with 20+ games. Fitzpatrick could turn it all around in the AHL next season, though.
Opilka has had a rough start to his professional career. Coming out of a solid career with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL, and a few great years with the U.S. National Team, it seemed like Opilka was going to embrace the AHL role. That plan was sidetracked a little, though, when Opilka was placed on the injured reserve before the start of the year. The 20-year-old has faced a lot of hip issues in the past few years. In the 2016 summer, Opilka underwent hip surgery. The surgery forced him to miss a month of play in his last OHL season. Opilka was put back on the IR in August with another hip injury. The team didn’t give a timetable for his return, but he did undergo his second surgery in just over a year.
Looking past his injury issues, Opilka is a promising goalie. He’s a mature goalie, at least compared to Fitzpatrick. Opilka had a much more consistent career in Canada’s major-juniors. Opilka posted a goals-against average of 2.70 and a save percentage of .906 in the 2015-16 season. He recorded 44 games played in that year, his rookie year in the OHL. In that same year, Fitzpatrick’s GAA was 0.76 points higher, and his save percentage was 0.07 points worse.
This doesn’t mean Fitzpatrick is the worst goalie. Opilka plays a much different game than does Fitzy. He relies on his athleticism and quickness in the crease more than anything else. Opilka is a smart and versatile goalie. He adapted at every level he played. Sadly, his injuries delayed his growth. When he finally breaks the AHL lineup, he’ll easily make an impact. He’ll be comparable to Ville Husso in net, and in potential. The biggest worry with Opilka is his hip issues, though. If he is able to overcome the injuries, he’s on the path to becoming an NHL starter and is the best option when it comes to replacing Allen.
Husso is one of the most highly anticipated Blues prospects. The Blues drafted him in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Draft. The organization had Husso on their radar but didn’t think he’d fall to the fourth round. When he did, they didn’t waste any time selecting him. The Blues were very excited to add Husso, and rightfully so. In the proceeding years, he was a star goalie in Finland’s SM-Liiga. In the 2015-16 season, he recorded the lowest goals-against average in the entire league. His 1.91 GAA was especially surprising considering he was one of the youngest goalies in the league, and the only one 20 or under to record more than 30 games played.
Husso has been just as stellar in North America. Last year, in his first full year in the States, was on par with what the Blues expected. Husso ended the year with the 15 lowest goals-against average in the league. While being in the top 15 isn’t mind-blowing on its own, Husso was one of only two 21-year-olds to be in the top 20 of that stat. Husso also had the 14th highest save percentage, again being one of the youngest. His workload hasn’t been any easier with the San Antonio Rampage this year. On January 20, Husso faced a whopping 53 shots in a 2-1 overtime loss; and this type of performance isn’t out of the ordinary for him.
Husso is the oldest of the four goalie prospects, which works to his disadvantage, but he also has the most promise. He has continued progressing nicely this year and could be seeing irregular NHL time as soon as next year. His potential is the highest of any goalie prospect, and a lot of Blues fans and staff think he could be the real deal.
Who Should Be Dealt?
To put it simply, not Husso. All of the Blues goalies are promising, but none like Husso is. He has had a few hiccups but is perfectly in line to be an NHL starter. With that being said, two other goalies have to go. It’s a tough pick. Between Fitzpatrick’s size and Binnington’s experience, the Blues have a lot to choose from. Still, picking Carter Hutton and Evan Fitzpatrick as the oddballs isn’t too hard.
Why Carter Hutton?
Hutton has had an amazing year backing up Jake Allen. His ability to answer almost any challenge has been uncanny. Sadly, it’s looking like this is just a last-hoorah for Hutton. The team signed Hutton in the summer of 2016, and his contract is expiring at the end of this season. With so many promising goalies in the minors, it’s very unlikely the Blues hang on to an aging goalie. In fact, Hutton could be facing the question of retiring as early as this summer.
If he’s able to continue playing like this, Hutton might get another year at best. While he’s done great things in St. Louis, he was never meant to be a consistent backup. He was a placeholder, while the team waited for their younger players to mature. He did his job perfectly, which makes picking him even harder.
Why Fitzpatrick Should Go
Fitzpatrick lacks one thing that every star NHL player needs: Consistency. He simply has none. He’ll have games where he looks like an NHL-ready goalie, doing whatever he has to stop the puck. Then, two games later, he’ll let in over five goals and look terrible. This pattern has followed him through his major junior career, and his stats are also getting worse.
Now is the ideal time for the Blues to deal Fitzpatrick away. While he is starting to show he’s not as elite as the team though, he hasn’t entirely disproved himself. Any team looking for a young goalie would love to have Fitzpatrick. He could be the asset that gets the Blues the final pieces they need to be a Stanley Cup team.
Goalies are hard to judge, and Fitzpatrick is no exception. His value is still very high and is seemingly going to peak within the next year. The Blues should be looking to get a middle-line forward or consistent defenseman and Fitzpatrick should be the piece they give up for it.
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