If you check out some of the season forecasts, it appears that the Blues lost the offseason and are in trouble because of it. They didn’t make big, splashy, buzzworthy moves that pundits crave. Where were the trades? Where were the mega millions additions through free agency?
The Blues let the popular power-play shootist David Perron take his stick to Detroit as a free agent. Valuable goaltender Ville Husso was traded to Detroit in a preemptive move, enabling the Red Wings to sign the large Finn to a contract extension before he could test the free-agent market.
Severely limited in salary-cap latitude, the Blues settled for some free-agent forward depth and opted to enter the new season with the same cluster of decent defensemen.
The Note’s brassiest move of the summertime was signing talented young forwards Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou to bounteous new contracts that will pay them $65 million each through the 2030-2031 season.
Over at The Athletic, their advanced-metrics savant (cough) downgraded the Blues – giving your beloved hockey team only a 47.1 percent chance of making the playoffs and relegating them to a likely fifth-place finish in the NHL Central. Take comfort in knowing that the Swami’s forecasting model has consistently failed the accuracy test with the Blues, but I suppose he’ll get it right at some point over the next decade or so. But the Blues have defied The Athletic’s out–of-whack prophecies so many times, and I must say it’s always fun when it happens.
Two thingies: (A) I like underdogs. If the tools with the predictive tools want to underestimate the Blues, that’s swell with me. (B) None of this matters.
This matters: Jordan Binnington.
It’s gonna come down to you, pally.
This is your time. Again.
Can the Blues depend on him?
Cujo (Curtis Joseph) wasn’t Cujo. Not in the rabid, foam-at-the mouth way. Binnington isn’t Cujo and can’t be Cujo because you are not permitted to give a great nickname to another goaltender. But Binnington can go Loco, and you never know what personality will appear on a given day as he ranges between euphoria, depression, and violent tendencies — and sometimes all three traits appear in the same game. I don’t mind Binnington’s Rage Against The Machine act. It’s entertaining. But we don’t care for head-case drama and the bad, goofy goals that slither by him.
In early 2019 Binnington took over as the starting goaltender – more by necessity than choice – and went full Kurt Warner (circa 1999) to shock the Blues and the NHL with a remarkable display of winning, clutch-money, hero-worthy goaltending. After a half-century of postseason flameouts, the Blues finally captured the Stanley Cup … and lo and behold, a quirky, bird-legged goaltender led them to it.
In due time Binnington was rewarded with a copious contract that signified “Our Franchise Goaltender.” But let’s follow the tracks …
Five-On-Five Save Percentage
Quality Start Percentage
Goals Against Average
Goals Saved Above Average
2018-19: + 13.7
2019-20: + 3.3
2020-21: + 2.6
2021-22: minus 6.4
Binnington lost the No. 1 gig to Husso last season, and Husso stabilized the team for a long stretch of games. The nine 20-goal scorers kicked in, and Husso covered for a spongy defense by finishing third among regular NHL goaltenders in save percentage on high-danger shots.
That’s how your Blues accumulated 109 points (9th overall, 4th in the West) despite being ranked 23rd in the NHL in expected goals-scored share at 5-on-5.
Just when we thought Binnington’s career went off the tracks and into that dark place where goaltenders take their broken psyches … wait, what’s this? … Hey, look! … He’s BACK!
Husso suddenly got the yips during the Blues’ first-round series against Minnesota, sealed the goal and the triumph, and moved onto the second-round showdown vs. Colorado. He made a thousand saves, or so it seemed, and had carried the Blues into position to upset the mighty Avs. That’s when Nazem Kadri did the deed, and took Binnington down and out of the postseason with a crash dive into the net.
Binnington limped off and went off by tossing a plastic water bottle in Kadri’s direction during a postgame TV interview.
Without Binnington in net, the Blues succumbed to Colorado in six games. Season over. But before being taken out of the series on a dirty play, Binnington had rediscovered and restored his 2019 form. Until Kadri intervened, Binnington’s exceptional work neutralized Colorado’s immense talent and put the Avs at risk.
In five postseason games the comeback brat (that’s a compliment) had a 4-1 record, .949 save percentage, an NHL-best 1.72 goals-against average, and a perfect Quality Start rate of 1000%. Was he back? Really back? Or was this just a brief flashback?
Here we are.
We’ll find out soon enough.
Unless the Blues sharpen up a few areas, they’ll need outstanding goaltending to cover the flaws. Last season the Blues ranked 25th with a 46.2 percent share of high-danger scoring chances at 5 on 5. Their defense made it too easy for opponents to get to the sweet–spot scoring areas, and that could be a problem again this season. Husso did an excellent job of limiting the damage with his superb save percentage on high-danger shots, but he isn’t around to do it again.
And if the Blues’ goal-scoring total and power-play potency drop this season, it puts more pressure on the STL goaltending to suppress scoring by their opponents. Last season the Blues ranked a pedestrian 18th in the league by allowing 2.55 goals per 60 minutes at 5 on 5 but didn’t pay a heavy price because of their offensive firepower. With Perron gone, that may be more difficult to pull off this season.
When the Blues open the regular season on Saturday night with a game against visiting Columbus at Enterprise Center, Binnington is more important to the franchise than he’s been since his beguiling snatching of the Cup in 2019.
Binnington is coming off his worst NHL regular season. His backup is Thomas Greiss, a 36-year-old relic who played poorly last season. This only adds to the uncertainty.
Last season – albeit for an awful team in Detroit – Greiss ranked 44th among 48 NHL goaltenders with minus 12.53 Goals Saved Above Average. (Minimum 1,500 minutes in all situations.) But he’s had success in the past. As a New York Islander in 2018-2019, Greiss teamed with Robin Lehner to win the Jennings Trophy, which goes to the team that allows the fewest goals during the regular season.
I guess we can say that both Binnington and Greiss are trying to prove they can summon their 2018-2019 performance level and remain reliably strong all season. Good luck, because the fate of the Blues will likely depend on their goaltending.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or through the 590 app.
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All stats used here were sourced from NaturalStatTrick, Hockey Reference Or Evolving Hockey.