As we all know the Vegas Golden Knights announced that they have signed a multi-year (5 years) affiliate agreement with the Chicago Wolves. They were able to do this because the deal between St. Louis and Chicago had run out this year. This deal leaves St. Louis without their own primary affiliate though not without an affiliate proper. St. Louis will still be able to send their players down to Chicago as Vegas will need some assistance this year filling out the AHL Chicago Wolves roster as there will need to be 12 forward spots and 6 defensive spots filled up. There are only two goalie spots though and that is the main issue for St. Louis looking forward to the 2017/18 season.
There are currently three goalies under contract for the St. Louis Blues right now: Jordan Binnington, Ville Husso, and Luke Opilka. This means that the Blues have to find spots for their three goalies to develop next season without having a primary AHL affiliate. The easy answer is not just put them in Chicago because Vegas will at least have four of their own goalies signed to NHL contracts for the NHL/AHL teams. This means two Vegas Golden Knight goalies will be in Chicago at least at the beginning of the season barring injuries. So what happens with Binnington, Husso, and Opilka?
Best Case Dreamland Scenario
Vegas plays nice with St. Louis and runs with Vegas goalie no. 3 (VG3)/Husso as the tandem in Chicago, Binnington is loaned out to another AHL team, and Opilka is sent down to the ECHL. This is the best case scenario because the Blues best goalie prospect Husso is put in the best situation. He’ll fight with VG3 for starts and earn quite a few of them therefore allowing his game to grow. When there is an injury with a goalie in Vegas, VG3 will be called up making Husso the king of the crease in Chicago with VG4 being the designated Chicago Wolves back-up. Binnington might not be happy but at least he’d still be in the AHL and the first goalie call-up. Or they could go the Islanders model and just have three goalies in the NHL. Opilka would be in the most comfortable situation as he’d get to adjust to the pro game in the ECHL with minimal organization movement though it might be better to go back to the OHL since he lost almost half a season to injury this past year.
The OK, Pretty Realistic Scenario
Binnington is loaned out to another AHL team while Husso stays in Chicago along with both extra Vegas goalies and Opilka is sent to the ECHL or OHL. This is ok because this might be the most realistic chance that Husso gets good ice time in the AHL. Being a part of a goalie trio at any level is never ideal. It makes practice a pain because there’s a good chance one goalie is going to see fewer pucks than the other two. It makes splitting starts even worse because you never know if the coach trusts all his goalies enough to play one after the other or if he’ll just run with one goalie leaving the other two to fight over scraps. This will be the challenge for Ville Husso if this is what happens. He’ll need to fight older, more established goalies for starts such as Jonas Korpisalo or (potentially) Jeremy Smith both of whom have stellar AHL reputations. Take into account that Vegas will ask for priority given to at least the Korpisalo type goalie and you’re looking at a sharp uphill battle. It’s not impossible though for Husso to overcome these obstacles, just difficult.
The “It’s not the worst idea ever” Scenario
This is the scenario that I envision could happen if Vegas/Chicago says “we’re running with the two Vegas guys plus one goalie signed to an AHL deal for depth” which leaves St. Louis making some bold-ish moves. First off they put Binnington in with an ECHL team. He’s obviously too good for the ECHL but if there’s a long term injury somewhere in the AHL he could be loaned there ala Tom McCollum this past season. The toughest pill to swallow though is the Husso decision which would be to loan him back to Europe to play in Finland/Sweden/Russia. The upside of the move is that he’d at least be given a good amount of starts along with facing high quality of competition than he’d see in the ECHL. The biggest issue though is that Husso came to North America to get used to the NA style of ice/play and immediately being sent back would defeat the purpose of having him in the system. Opilka either joins Binnington in the ECHL or is sent back the OHL for one final season.
The “We Had No Choice” Worst Case Scenario
If going by what Chicago/Vegas hypothetically say above about they’ll deal with their own goalie situation by themselves leaving the Blues goalies out on the curb we are left with the worst case scenario, both Binnington and Husso in the ECHL. As said above Binnington is already too good for the ECHL but at least he’d be the first call-up to the NHL along with the first goalie loaned out to an AHL team. The biggest problem here is Husso. This past season he showed he’s ready for a bigger role in the AHL so a season in the ECHL won’t be the boost in development many are hoping he’ll take this season. It would be a sharp downgrade in quality of competition along with defeating the purpose why he is here. Husso would have a legitimate grievance with the Blues organization if they sent him to the ECHL after leaving Finland to join the Blues this past season for the purpose of developing in the AHL while showing he doesn’t belong in the ECHL.