There are two ways to look at the Blues’ decision to invest $36 million in Jordan Binnington over six years in a contract extension that activates next season.
1–Goaltenders are volatile beasties. They can eat your money. They can make you go loco with their mood swings and unpredictable fluctuations in performance. Be careful … very careful … before making a long-term financial commitment. The happy, purring goaltender that you love so much today? Well, in a couple of years, he may look like Jack Nicholson in “The Shining.”
2–When you know this is your guy, then he’s your guy. Period. No fear. Make the deal. Because you’ve already watched him handle the most extreme pressure in the sport to win a Stanley Cup, the first in franchise history after 51 seasons. He saved your 2018-2019 season, and he may have saved the sanity of an agonizing fan base. You’ve seen him settle himself during manic phases. You’ve appreciated how well he’s repaired the cracks in his confidence. And that should give you confidence in him.
“I would say Binnington wins games,” Blues manager Doug Armstrong told me the day before finalizing the six-year pact with his goaltender.
Armstrong was a guest on my 590 The Fan KFNS radio show, and I asked about Binnington’s recent form. There’s been a dip in save percentage, and a downturn in stopping highs=-danger shots.
“Sometimes numbers aren’t reflective,” Armstrong said. “We feel he gives us an opportunity to win every night … the long and short of it, I’ve got no concerns over Jordan Binnington. We understand he’s our No. 1 goaltender and he’s proven it.
“You look at how when he came here, we won a championship. Last year we had the second-best record in the NHL when the Covid hit. No concerns over Binnington. We know he’s the guy.”
I was a tad surprised by some of the negative reaction to the Blues-Binnington agreement. Too many years. Too big of a risk on a goaltender that has only 99 career NHL starts. The Blues shouldn’t base an important contract decision on a relatively brief career. Stuff like that.
Is the contract a risk? Sure. But any long-term deal carries risk. The last time Armstrong gave a lengthy contract to a goaltender — Jake Allen, $17.4 million over four seasons — results were mixed.
Binnington would have been an unrestricted free agent after the season. If The Binner had walked, the Blues would have gone shopping for a starting goaltender. And that wouldn’t be cheap. Unless the Blues planned to plug in a sequence of rental goalies (as well as Ville Husso) to save money, it wasn’t going to match Binnington’s track record here.
While it’s true that Binnington has started only 99 regular-season NHL games, his experience level was greatly augmented by his 16-win run during the 2019 Stanley Cup Tournament.
What Binnington and ‘mates accomplished was the greatest singular achievement in the history of St. Louis professional team sports. For the first and only time since coming into existence in 1967, the Blues won a Stanley Cup.
Binnington made a lasting mark on STL history as the first Blues’ goaltender to win a Stanley Cup. And he wasn’t just along for the ride; he helped lead the charge.
I’m a stats guy. I pay close attention to analytics. I try to base my opinions on facts and stats. But Binnington defies my normal operating procedures. He’s in a special category. He’s the Kurt Warner of the Blues, and that really means something.
That said, if Binnington had turned into a pumpkin after the Stanley Cup triumph — exposed as a one-trick mediocrity that couldn’t hold up — I’d feel differently about this. But Binnington wasn’t a fluke.
No argument here; Binnington’s performance in the 2020 postseason “bubble” during Covid-19 was subpar. But it was a weird time, and as a team the Blues could never check back in mentally after checking out. I just can’t get angry about the bad-bubble Blues, including Binnington. It’s a toss-out for me.
This season Binnington has a fine .920 save percentage at 5v5. His .835 SV rate on high-danger chances ranks 7th among 20 goaltenders that have at least 700 minutes at 5v5. His Goals Saved Above Average rate on 5v5 shots (and high-danger chances) could be better — but in both cases he’s still slightly above the league average.
In 2018-19 Binngton had an exceptional Quality Start percentage of .667. The rate fell off to .560 a year ago but was still above the league average. This season Binngton’s QS percentage is back up to .632; it ranks 7th among 22 goaltenders that have started at least 15 games.
It’s true that Binington’s 5v5 save percentage has gone down in each of the last two seasons. As a rookie, Binnington had a .941 save percentage at 5v5, but that was a bit of an outlier. He followed with a .923 SV percentage at 5v5 last year; it’s .920 so far this season. And while Binnigton’s save rate (.835) on high-danger chances is down by 30 percentage points compared to last season, he’s still above the league average in this area.
Binnington is standing guard for a battered team with an overcrowded injury list, a smallish group of defensemen and an inexperienced rookie backup goaltender. Binnington logged a ton of minutes before catching a break this week, but he’s held strong. My point is: there’s no cause for alarm here. Binnington’s performance has to be viewed through a team-wide lens, and the Blues have been rocked by injury-related trauma and chaos.
The career body of work offers a more credible examination. Since Binnington made his first NHL start for the Blues on Jan. 7, 2019, here’s where he ranks in key categories among 20 goaltenders that have played a minimum of 3,500 minutes at 5v5 over that time:
4th in save percentage, .928
5th in Goals Saved Above Average, 19.5
1st in high-danger save rate, .860
1st in high-danger goals saved above average, 21.11
Binnington is also 6th among 39 goaltenders (minimum 75 starts) with a .606 Quality Start percentage.
Binner, Winner: He has 63 regular-season wins in 99 starts since making that first career start. Those 63 victories rank 7th among all NHL goaltenders, but that’s misleading — the six goaltenders credited with more wins have started an average of 131 games over the same stretch.
Binninngton’s contract extension has an annual average value of $6 million. That’s tied for 9th in AAV goaltender compensation with Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom. This seems to fit … at least to me, anyway.
I also look at it another way: based on what Binnington’s salary over his first three seasons with the Blues, and adding in the six years to come, his average salary over nine seasons comes to $5 million per year. As long as Binnington plays reasonably well that’s a good value for the Blues.
The age issue doesn’t bother me; Binnington will be 33 in the final season of his new contract.
“Jordan obviously is a top goalie in the league. He’s got the pedigree of a champion,” Armstrong said. “To have him locked up through, really, the meat of his career, six years starting at (age) 28, it’s a good feeling.”
Now it’s up to Binnington to fulfill his end of the deal. He has abundant pride. Underdog pride. I don’t think that will leave him. But he’ll also be under increased scrutiny because of the big contract, and every slump will have whiners calling Binnington “overpaid” or worse. He’ll have to deal with it, and dispose of it. But when you’re the only Blues goaltender to win a Stanley Cup, you can handle anything. The Binner is an all-time special Blue. And that’s worth something. Actually, it’s worth a lot.
And the incredible success of 2019 never changed Binnington, never puffed up his ego, or turned him into a guy who thought he had it made. Binnington will never forget his years of bouncing around in the minors, sinking lower on the Blues’ organizational depth chart, trying to maintain hope and belief as he longed for an opportunity.
Just like Kurt Warner — who had nothing and then everything — Binnington will approach his work and responsibility with memories of those humbling, frustrating times. Warner never lost his hunger, not after winning two NFL MVP awards, not after winning a Super Bowl, not after being named Super Bowl 34 MVP, not after setting Super Bowl records. Kurt would never allow himself to be complacent, not for a minute. And Binnington is wired the same way.
When you have a star player who makes it to the top after so many hard years of pushing for a chance and refusing to give up — there’s an edge about them. There’s an underdog soul. A fighter’s spirit. They’ll take nothing for granted, because they’ll always know what it felt like to drift into near oblivion.
Those are the guys you want to invest in. They’ll always feel like the underdog, determined to prove themselves again and again … every time they compete. Instead of counting every dollar in their big contracts, they want to earn every dollar of those contracts. it’s a matter of pride.
A long time ago the Rams forgot who Kurt Warner was, and what he did, and what he stood for. They let Warner go. He revived his career at Arizona and became a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
When the Blues had their own Kurt Warner in Binnington — a seemingly out-of-nowhere hero and champion — they were smart enough to keep him in St. Louis. The Blues know what they have in Binnington. They know what he stands for. It’s the talent, yes. But it is also about character.
Thanks for reading …
Please check out Bernie’s 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 live online and download the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com … the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.