It didn’t take long for Jordan Binnington to transform back into ‘Winnington.’ Following an ugly Game 1 showing on the road against the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference final, he turned in a sturdy Game 2 effort, stopping 24 of 26 shots. Logan Couture solved him twice, but no other Shark could dent Binnington’s armor.
Since the start of the season, Binnington is now 11-2-1 in decisions following losses. While his playoff save percentage has sunk to a ho-hum .909, the 45-start profile across the entire season is that of a bona fide NHL starter. It may be tempting to wonder if Binnington could wind up a flash in the pan in the mold of Andrew Hammond, but to think of Binnington that way is simply inaccurate. He might not have been a Grade-A prospect in the vein of Carter Hart or Ilya Samsonov, but Binnington was always a good prospect carrying reasonable expectations. He played in a Memorial Cup with the Owen Sound Attack. He cracked Team Canada’s roster for a World Junior Championship. The Blues drafted him in the third round, which is reasonably high by goalie standards nowadays. Out of 19 goalies picked in 2011, Binnington was chosen fifth.
He always had a reasonable shot to reach the NHL but was too often simply blocked. It reached the point where, last season, he wound up playing for AHL Providence, the Boston Bruins’ affiliate, on loan because the Blues had to share unofficial affiliates with Vegas and Colorado and didn’t have room on the roster for him.
It thus isn’t as much of a surprise as it may seem that Binnington has been so successful as a mature rookie. Among goalies with 1,000 or more minutes played at 5-on-5 this season, he ranked second in goals saved about average per 60 minutes. Nothing about his profile suggests he’s been lucky. If we thus accept that he should be expected to remain an above-average starter or better going forward, what might his next contract look like? Even though he’s a rookie, he’s burned through his entry-level years and becomes an RFA this summer.
So what should Binnington get? Here are a few contract structures to consider, including player comparables.
The Andrew Hammond ‘Prove it’ bridge contract
Hammond went 20-1-2 with a 1.79 goals-against average and .941 SP during his incredible late-season run in 2014-15, propelling a mediocre Ottawa team to the playoffs. The obscure journeyman parlayed that success into a three-year extension carrying a $1.35-million cap hit. That AAV constituted 1.85 percent of the cap at the time, so if we use the projected 2019-20 number of $83 million, we get the equivalent of a $1.54-million AAV for Binnington.
Not going to happen. Binnington is arbitration eligible, so there’s no way his AAV comes in that low.
Also, Hammond’s number remained relatively low because he wasn’t re-signed to be Ottawa’s starter. When the playoffs rolled around in 2014-15, Craig Anderson returned from injury and shared the crease with him, so the Sens were signing Hammond to be a platoon partner. He’s started a total of 26 NHL regular-season games since.
Binnington will be re-signing with the Blues as their unquestioned starter and should command at least triple Hammond’s “surprise success story” AAV. For pure PR purposes, the Blues might want to give Binnington something north of Jake Allen’s $4.35-million cap hit, too.
The Connor Hellebuyck long-term contract
Hellebuyck came to the NHL with noteworthy pedigree. Before he played his first big-league game, he’d gotten tapped by Team USA to start at the World Championship on a team of NHLers – and he dominated. He was always projected as a potential star in the NHL, so his success wasn’t considered a surprise. He started promisingly as a rookie in 2015-16, posting a .918 SP in 26 appearances, regressed badly as a sophomore and then exploded to co-lead the NHL in wins and finish second in Vezina Trophy voting last season. Given the pedigree and two strong seasons out of three, Hellebuyck had easily delivered a big enough sample size of success to command a long-term contract as an RFA – even if the shot-quality data indicated he was pretty insulated by his defense last year and could regress if the defense regressed, which is exactly what happened this season.
Hellebuyck scored a six-year deal with a $6.17-millon AAV. This type of pact would be the best-case scenario for Binnington’s camp. But by the time Hellebuyck signed July 12, 2018, he could hang its hat on the second-place Vezina finish, the All-Star Game appearance and the shared lead in wins with Andrei Vasilevskiy. Binnington’s sample size is smaller, and while he’s a Calder Trophy finalist, the award will likely go to Vancouver center Elias Pettersson. If Binnington can help the Blues reach their first Stanley Cup final since 1970 or capture their first championship in franchise history, it would certainly help his odds of scoring a long-term extension. The Blues, however, aren’t absolutely swimming in cap space. They don’t project to be jammed up against the cap but do have to sign RFA blueliner Joel Edmundson and left winger Robby Fabbri and make a decision on UFA left winger Patrick Maroon, among others, so a Hellebuyck-like cap hit for Binnington would leave little room for Armstrong to pursue additional roster upgrades in the summer.
The Matt Murray ‘Happy Medium’ bridge contract
Murray had pretty strong prospect pedigree. He was picked in the third round of his draft year out of the OHL. Murray broke into the NHL as a rookie sensation with a small sample size, then led his team on a deep playoff run – all the way to a 2016 Stanley Cup victory. Other than the ending, which isn’t decided yet for the 2018-19 Blues, Murray’s debut profile is awfully similar to Binnington’s, isn’t it?
The summer after that first Cup win, Murray became eligible to sign an extension as an RFA. The deal would kick in starting in 2017-18. Murray signed the extension October 20, 2016. At that point, he’d started 34 games between the regular season and playoffs, compiling a .926 SP. The Penguins were pretty sure they had their guy – he’d just won a Cup and would win another the next spring – but understood the sample size was also fairly small and that they had some choppy salary-cap waters to navigate on their star-studded roster. The result was a bridge contract: three years at a $3.75-million AAV. It ate 5.14 percent of the cap at the time.
Binnington has appeared in 47 career games between the regular season and playoffs, compiling a .921 SP. Given his solid B+ pedigree, he’s a reasonable candidate to sustain his NHL success. Might the Murray pseudo-bridge deal make perfect sense for player and team, then? It would keep Binnington’s cap hit below the Hellebuyck threshold, giving Armstrong some breathing room; it would still give Binnington the life-changing raise he deserves; and Binnington, 25, would be a UFA when it expired since his UFA year is 2021, giving him a chance to “bet on himself” and a massive long-term extension. A three-year, Murray-style deal at 5.14 percent of the projected cap would mean a $4.27-million AAV for Binnington.
Bump it up to a nice, round $5-million, or $15 million over three years, and it sounds just right. If the Blues are supremely confident in his future, however, they should consider a longer-term deal to eliminate the risk of losing him as a UFA in a couple years.