Why the Blues Should Consider Playing Chicken With Jordan Binnington's Contract

The Blues probably have their long-term answer in net. But the sample size is just small enough, the slumps just frequent enough, that it may be wise to collect data on Binnington as long as possible.
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For an outside observer, Jordan Binnington’s wild Saturday night was thrilling theatre. Pulled from the St. Louis Blues’ net after allowing four goals on 19 shots, he left the ice in the loudest way possible, swiping and punching at three San Jose Sharks players, first defenseman Radim Simek, then defenseman Erik Karlsson, then rival goaltender Devan Dubnyk. The Blues ended up rallying to win an epic 7-6 affair, one of the most entertaining games of the year.

But while the drama was exciting to watch, it had to be a bit stressful for the Blues and GM Doug Armstrong. Nights like that, and meltdowns like that, from Binnington cloud the team’s future plans for him in a crucial contract year. Binnington, a pending UFA, was cruising along to an 8-3-2 record and .920 save percentage in his first 13 games but has stumbled to 0-3-0 with an .865 SP over his past four appearances. On the year, Binnington now owns the 19th-best SP among goaltenders with 10 or more games played. Among 28 goalies with 500 or minutes played at 5-on-5 this season, he sits 15th in goals saved above average per 60 minutes at -0.06, and that’s despite having the eighth-lowest expected goals against per 60 among that group.

Just when it appeared Binnington had shaken off last year’s ugly playoff showing and was cementing himself as a trustworthy long-term starter, worthy of a big extension in his walk year, the shaky version of him has resurfaced. By all accounts, the Blues intend to re-sign Binnington, 27, with the latest estimates landing around a $5.5-6.5-million AAV for five to seven years, per The Athletic's Jeremy Rutherford. Typically, however, when teams commit five-plus years to starting netminders, they've logged hundreds of NHL starts by the time they reach unrestricted free agency. Binnington sits at 97. .So what, exactly, do the Blues have in their late-blooming Stanley Cup winner?

Binnington’s 2018-19 or, more specifically, 2019 ranks among the all-time great single-season goaltender performances. He led the league in 5-on-5 SP and finished second in the NHL in goals-saved above average per 60. He had five shutouts in 32 appearances. He allowed two or fewer goals in 73.3 percent of his starts. He wasn’t an absolute world-beater in the post-season but was a steadying presence more often than not on the championship team and tended to follow poor performances with stellar starts. He finished second in Calder Trophy voting and fifth in the Vezina vote. He might have contended for the Vezina win had he played a full season.

Before the 2020 post-season bubble tournament, Binnington delivered a perfectly respectable sophomore year, too. Across his first two seasons, he graded out top-10 in GSAA/60 among the 69 goalies who logged at least 1,000 minutes at 5-on-5, albeit Binnington faced fewer shots per 60 than any other goalie on that list. Based on volume of shots and shot quality, Binnington’s workload rated as the league’s fifth-easiest over that span. Still, not all goalies flourish with great defense in front of them, as the lack of work can affect their rhythm, so Binnington’s work was commendable.

Yet the bubble was not kind to Binnington, particularly when the round-robin gave away to the first-round playoff series between the Blues and Vancouver Canucks, during which Binnington managed a jaw-dropping .816 SP in four losses, allowing six, five, four and four goals. The Blues’ weren’t as strong defensively as normal, and Binnington imploded while facing a reasonably challenging workload against a team with serious offensive skill.

If we follow Binnington from his 2018-19 campaign to now, his puck-stopping efficiency appears to be declining year to year. His 5-on-5 SP has slipped from .941 to .923 to .917. His 5-on-5 high-danger SP has dropped from .866 to .865 to .835. His medium-danger SP has cratered from .948 to .918 to .862.

A lot of Binnington’s trends wouldn’t look so bad if not for his recent slump, but it’s still a pattern that bears watching after a similar collapse during the 2020 playoffs, and a tantrum like what we saw Saturday isn’t exactly the best idea for someone in a contract year.

Is Binnington still the franchise’s long-term answer in goal? Probably. But is the sample size still small enough that it may be worth waiting until after the regular season to sign him, even if that means risking him increasing his worth and hitting the open market? Maybe. We’ve seen a lot of good from Binnington, but he’s just two years removed from not even having a place to play in the AHL, let alone the NHL. So it could be wise to collect a couple more months of data and make sure he’s still what the Blues believe he is. If he ups his price tag with scintillating play between now and then…that's a good problem to have.

Advanced stats courtesy of naturalstattrick.com

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