It would be very easy to argue that Carter Hutton was one of the biggest reasons that the Blues got as close to the playoffs as they did last season. Jake Allen’s well-documented shaky season made Carter Hutton’s stellar season necessary.
After a season that saw Hutton put together a 17-7-0 record in 32 games played with a 2.09 GAA and ,931 save percentage, there’s absolutely no reason that the pending UFA wouldn’t test the UFA market. Lo and behold, he’s doing just that:
No surprise given his season (.931 SP in 32 GP) but UFA goalie Carter Hutton's camp has heard from 8 teams today as the UFA speaking period opens. Obviously need to cut that list down and expand discussions over the next few days.— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) June 24, 2018
This, of course, puts the Blues in a tremendously uncertain situation. After two back to back seasons where Allen demonstrated serious consistency issues, the Blues will find it next to impossible to trade him, and they absolutely will not be able to unload him to acquire a starting goalie. They need a competent backup.
Here’s where it gets murky. Hutton is obviously the top UFA goaltender available right now heading into free agency. There are options for backups, such as Petr Mrazek, but literally no one on this list of pending UFA goalies is a comparable option to Hutton. Anton Khudobin is the most palatable option on the list. Khudobin also stands to be the biggest candidate for “backup goaltender who becomes a capable starter behind Jake Allen’s January breakdown.”
That’s the rub. Do you bring in someone with NHL experience? It’s about as proven as it can be that Allen does not respond well to competition in net. The slightest whiff and he slips - adversity is not his friend. Frankly, it tends to be his own creation. So, would the team benefit from bringing in one of their AHL goaltenders such as Jordan Binnington or Ville Husso? Husso is the better of the two, but the Blues may want to give him a little more experience in the AHL. On the other hand, he could blow everone away at prospect camp this week and the team could decide that he’s ready for the big show.
As much as it could potentially benefit the Blues to bring up one of the AHL goalies as to not muck with Allen’s head, it’s not appropriate that their personnel decisions could be contingent upon whether or not their starting goaltender can handle his job. Unfortunately, that’s the corner that the Blues have painted themselves into, especially with no starters coming onto the UFA market (Kari Lehtonen doesn’t count). They’re stuck with Allen. They have to choose between a backup plan for his mid-season brain farts or something that can give future goalies some experience. Regardless of their decision, Allen’s not going to bail them out, which forces the Blues into the undesirable and highly unorthodox position of planning in advance for their goaltender’s inevitable slump.