If you asked St. Louis Blues’ fans what single person was most responsible for the team’s turnaround this season, you might get a few answers. You’d certainly hear Craig Berube, the interim head coach who took over for the team at its low point. You could hear about Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan O’Reilly, or Colton Parayko, a few of the players who have been major contributors this season. You might even hear a select few credit Doug Armstrong for not panicking and trading his stars when all hope looked lost.
While all of those men deserve some credit, in truth, there is only one answer to the question: rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington. His arrival directly coincides with the team’s 180-degree turnaround, and his play has been so impressive that it has some wondering whether he could take home the Calder Memorial Trophy at the end of the season.
Binnington’s Incredible Season
Entering the season, Binnington was not even looked at as a contender for NHL starts. He was fourth on the team’s goaltending depth chart, behind starter Jake Allen, backup Chad Johnson, and perceived top prospect Ville Husso.
When the Blues waived Johnson, and Husso was injured, Binnington got his opportunity. But it would take quite a while for the team to give him a shot. He played in two games in December, but he wouldn’t get his first start until Jan. 7, a 25-save shutout of the Philadelphia Flyers.
From there, it was off to the races. Binnington has started 26 games and is an outrageous 21-4-1. He currently leads the league in goals-against average (GAA) at 1.81, is second in quality start percentage (QS%, .692), save percentage (SV%, .930), and goals against percentage (GA%, 77%). Though it is only eighth in the league, his 14.56 goals saved above average (GSAA) is equally preposterous for someone who has started only 26 games.
Those numbers speak loudly, but are they enough to win him a season-long award for rookie of the year? Let’s consider his numbers against two leading candidates, starting with one of his netminding peers.
Binnington vs. Hart
There is another goaltending rookie who is getting a lot of recognition: Carter Hart of the Philadelphia Flyers. Ironically, Binnington’s debut came against Hart and the Flyers. As good as the latter has been, the former outperformed him in that game and has outperformed him ever since.
Binnington and Hart have started a similar number of games, which makes these comparisons easier. Hart is 16-11-1 in 28 starts. He has a .920 SV% and a 2.76 GAA. He’s got a .500 QS%, his GA% is 88%, and he has 9.74 GSAA.
All of those numbers are truly terrific., but they are also clearly inferior to Binnington’s. Hart is younger and had much more hype as a prospect entering the season. It’s entirely possible he still has a much better career than his St. Louis counterpart. As far as the Calder Trophy is concerned, however, it is not a close contest.
Pettersson’s Trophy to Lose?
There remains one other strong contender for the Calder Trophy, in fact, for much of the season he’s been the runaway favorite: the Vancouver Canucks’ Elias Pettersson. The young Swede has had an amazing season, and with 64 points in 66 games, he will be tough to catch.
Though injuries have shortened Pettersson’s season somewhat, he has still put up amazing numbers. At almost a point per game, he leads all rookies in that category, as well as in both goals (27) and assists (37). He also leads in power-play goals with nine, and his 20 power-play points and seven game-winning goals are both tops amongst rookies as well.
The debate between Pettersson and Binnington comes down to the age-old debate between goaltending and scoring. Which is more important? It’s hard to say. In this case, the difference may come down to playing time, as discussed by ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski in his last “NHL Awards Watch” piece at the start of the month:
With Pettersson potentially playing in the neighborhood of 70 games and currently sporting 56 points in the 55 he has played, [Binnington’s NHL playing time] won’t be enough to dethrone him.ESPN’s Greg Wyshysnki
Pettersson has been the Calder favorite since very early in the season, and he remains the favorite. It’s highly likely he’ll go on to win the award. But that should take nothing away from the incredible rookie campaign that Binnington has put together. The Blues wouldn’t be a playoff team without him.
What does the future hold for the young goalie? That answer is still very much in the air. With the number of games he’s started, he has converted his contract into restricted free agent status, meaning the Blues have control for the summer. They will almost certainly bring him back, but what they will pay is anyone’s guess.
The answer will likely depend on how he performs in the playoffs. Unless a screw has gone loose in either Berube or Armstrong’s head, Binnington will be the Blues’ postseason starter. If he performs well there, he’s built enough of a resume to earn a shot as the team’s starter going into next year. We don’t know the rest of the goaltending picture, but with his rookie performance, Binnington has forced his way into the frame.
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.