Blues & Binnington Strike Perfect Deal

When the St. Louis Blues’ signed goaltender Jordan Binnington to a six-year, $36 million contract extension on Thursday, reactions were myriad. While most in the Blues’ fan base were pleased to see that their first-ever Stanley Cup-winning goaltender, and probably the greatest story in the history of the franchise, would be staying around long term, a few local fans and many critics from other fan bases were less than enthused.

In this article, we’ll evaluate every facet of the deal, looking at Binnington’s statistics, his place amongst his peers, and the comparable goaltender contracts. While the contract is expensive, it is an adequate agreement for goaltenders of his caliber, and in truth, he becomes the first long-term goaltending solution the Blues have ever had.

Binnington’s Excellent Stats

Ironically, the first game Binnington played after signing his new deal, a 5-4 loss against the Vegas Golden Knights in overtime in which he faced 40 shots, was his 100th NHL start. So he earned this deal much sooner and with much less of an NHL track record than most goaltenders. But we still have a fair amount of statistics to go off of in those 100 starts. Binnington is 63-24-11 in the regular season in his career, with a .915 save percentage (sv%) and a 2.38 goals-against average (GAA). Of course, those numbers are heavily influenced by his incredible debut Stanley Cup season, in which he went 24-5-1, with a .927 SV% and a league-leading 1.89 GAA, along with 13.7 goals saved above average (GSAA). That start helped him become just the sixth NHL goalie to record his 40th win before his 60th start.

Jordan Binnington St. Louis Blues
Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Naysayers point to Binnington’s two professional seasons since his debut as a reason to doubt his longevity. But if you subtract the numbers from that first season, Binnington is still a strong goaltender. In the two seasons after his incredible debut campaign, he is 39-19-10 with a .911 SV% and a 2.60 GAA. He has 3.9 GSAA, and a quality start percentage five points above league average at .580. That number is even stronger this season, resting at .632. According to The Athletic‘s Jeremy Rutherford, Binnington has some very impressive stats since joining the league, especially in relation to his peers (from ‘‘Our goal is to keep him here’: Blues goalie Jordan Binnington’s bet on himself looks like it’s going to pay off,’ The Athletic NHL, Feb. 18, 2021):

  • Starts: 62 (6th in the NHL)
  • Wins: 37 (4th in the NHL)
  • GAA: 2.53 (2nd in the NHL among goalies with 55-plus starts)
  • SV%: .913 (4th in the NHL among goalies with 55-plus starts)

Only Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning, unquestionably one of the NHL’s best goaltenders, bests him in each of those stats, and last year’s Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck is the only other goalie ahead of him in three of the four categories.

The only major mark against Binnington is his horrendous performance in last season’s playoff bubble, where he went 0-5 with an .851 SV% and a 4.72 GAA. But the circumstances of that postseason make it hard to analyze fairly. Moreover, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong indicated that 20 percent of the team may have contracted the coronavirus in the team’s training camp before the postseason. While we have no direct evidence suggesting Binnington is among the one-in-five players who suffered from the virus, the empirical evidence of his play suggests something was off. And even if he remained healthy, if 20 percent of his teammates suffered the illness, he was playing behind a severely undermanned team.

Mirroring Markstrom’s Deal

Approaching the end of a two-year bridge deal, Binnington was set to be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) after the season. Armstrong spoke candidly with Rutherford about his intentions to pay his goalie like a true number 1:

If you look at this age and you look at what he’s accomplished, you know most teams have a No. 1 guy, and we have a No. 1 guy… So our goal is to keep him here, obviously… (Binnington) bet on himself, and he’s going to get paid like those guys expect to be paid and will get paid like the guys that have had success. I think around the league, he’s looked at as a good No. 1, and that’s the way we’ll look at him as.

Doug Armstrong speaking to The Athletic‘s Jeremy Rutherford

Given the goaltenders he’s in league with, the most obvious comparable for signing Binnington was Markstrom, who was a UFA last offseason. And as it turns out, the Blues were able to extend Binnington with a contract identical to the deal Markstrom signed with the Calgary Flames last fall. Both goalies will be on six-year, $36 million contracts starting next season (Markstrom will be in year two of his).

Jacob Markstrom Calgary Flames
Jacob Markstrom, Calgary Flames (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

Though Markstrom has been arguably the slightly better goalie over the course of the last three seasons in total, Binnington has two factors that ought to have pulled contract negotiations in his favor: his Stanley Cup Championship, and the fact that he is three and a half years younger than Markstrom. In fact, to negotiate an equivalent deal with that age difference, and to forego the no movement clause that the Flames allowed their goalie, is actually quite an accomplishment for Armstrong and his team.

Entering next season, Binnington will have the ninth-highest salary cap hit amongst goalies, tied with Markstrom and directly ahead of Jonathan Quick and Martin Jones, both of whom he is clearly better than at this point in their careers. It is less than the contract Matt Murray signed with the Ottawa Senators this summer, which could prove disastrous for the Senators. It is exactly the neighborhood of salary Binnington should be in: among the unquestionable number 1 goalies, but not up with the truly elite. The Blues could not have expected to offer much less and retain his services this offseason.

Blues’ Greatest Goaltender

Many Blues fans are concerned about term with Binnington, and some remain unconvinced that his mesmerizing rookie numbers were more than a flash in the pan. But those numbers were historic. Since then, he has regressed, but he’s still significantly above average. Moreover, this is a franchise that has never had a long-term goaltending solution in its history. Nothing proves that faster than that Binnington is already fifth in franchise history in goalie starts and will easily be fourth by the end of the season as long as he stays healthy. Currently, his former teammate Jake Allen is the franchise leader with 271 games. When Allen signed his four-year extension in 2016 it seemed like he might be the long-term solution, but it wasn’t long until his future was constantly in question.

Jake Allen St. Louis Blues
Jake Allen, St. Louis Blues (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

When Allen signed that extension, the Blues had not yet seen him as a full-time starter. It was a deal signed purely on potential, and he struggled to maintain control of the starting job. Binnington has been the unquestioned starter for most of his 100-game run so far, so the franchise can be much more confident in extending him now. And while fans might be uneasy about paying a goaltender this much for this long, it’s clear from his comps that he could not have been had for much cheaper. The alternative would have been losing him and needing to find another solution altogether.

By signing Binnington, Armstrong avoided any of those questions. For the foreseeable future, and until the end of the team’s current competitive window, they have a starting goalie. He has already helped the team win a Stanley Cup, he is full of competitive fire, and by his own admission, he still has “a lot more to prove.” Signing a goaltender is always a bit of a gamble, but in this case, it is clearly a risk worth taking. The Blues signed their goalie to as good a deal as could reasonably have been expected.