In sports, it’s inevitable that when a player signs a brand new contract, he faces renewed scrutiny. So since St. Louis Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington signed a six-year, $36 million contract last month, it’s no surprise that fans are paying extra close attention to him.
Unfortunately for fans and for Binnington, that scrutiny has revealed a goaltender who is severely struggling in the current moment, on a team that is 2-7-1 in its last ten games and riding a six-game losing streak. Right now, the Blues simply are not getting enough from their top netminder, and some fans are even starting to question whether he ought to be the starter at all.
Binnington Struggling Since Contract
Binnington signed his contract extension on March 11. Since then, he’s played eight games, and in those eight games, he is 1-5-2, with a .893 save percentage (SV%) and a goals-against average (GAA) just under 3.00. Those numbers are substantially worse than his overall season numbers, at 10-11-5 with a .904 SV% and a 2.79 GAA. On the season, he also carries minus-3.8 goals saved above average (GSAA), by far the worst mark in his career.
There’s little question that Binnington needs more support from the team around him. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Blues are ninth-worst in the league in Corsi for percentage (CF%), a metric that measures a team’s overall possession and pressure against the opposition. But much of that has to do with the team’s performance offensively. Stripping down to defensive-focused metrics, the Blues are doing alright: they have allowed the ninth-fewest shots against their goaltenders (825), are dead middle (16th) in expected goals against (xGA) with 63.44 and are 16th again in high danger chances against (HDCA) with 295.
Unfortunately for Binnington, that last number is more of a curse than a blessing. The Blues have the fourth-worst high-danger save percentage (HDSV%), at .794, meaning that their goaltenders do worse against those high danger chances than all but three other teams (the Washington Capitals, the Anaheim Ducks, and the Philadelphia Flyers). Their team SV% is also fourth-worst, at .911. Throughout his career, Binnington has been known for his confidence and his ability to bounce back from bad performances. Lately, though, he’s struggled to block even the simplest shots against, as in this recent goal from the stick of Nathan MacKinnon, which ended up being the game-winner.
According to Evolving-Hockey, Binnington has faced the fifth-most xGA of any singular goaltender. Even so, he is 26th amongst goaltenders with 500-plus Fenwick against (unblocked shot attempts either on or off net) with minus-4.24 goals saved above expected (GSAx). Even with his recent struggles, Binnington isn’t playing substantially worse than a league-average goalie. The problem is, the Blues just agreed to pay him like a top-tier goalie for the next six seasons, and he needs to start showing that he’s worth it.
Husso Not Ready to Challenge
After a gutsy performance in a heartbreaking loss against the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday, in which he stopped 32 of 34 shots against, some fans began to call for the Blues to “ride the hot hand” and let backup goaltender Ville Husso take the net. Even though he’s overcome some of the struggles he saw early in the season, it’s far too soon to think he could replace Binnington for more than a game or two.
Among goalies with 200 or more Fenwick against, Husso ranks 50th with minus-6.2 GSAx. He ranks 59th in that group with a .892 SV%, and has minus-5.36 GSAA (55th). By every measurable statistic, Husso has been worse than Binnington, even while facing fewer HDCA per game (5.4 compared with 5.2, a small difference). Of course, he’s the younger player and the backup, and should be expected to improve as the season goes along, but fans looking to Husso for immediate relief will likely be disappointed.
Blues Need More Saves
The Blues’ offense is really struggling, which we will address in another article. But right now, the goaltenders are underperforming the defense in preventing goals against. It’s a tale as old as hockey, but it’s no easier to swallow over time: the Blues need more saves from their goaltenders. And as the starter and the newly-paid centerpiece of the future, Binnington needs to lead the charge.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.