St. Louis Blues Have A Jordan Binnington Problem Ahead

St. Louis Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington (50)Mandatory Credit: Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports
St. Louis Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington (50)Mandatory Credit: Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports /

The 2021-22 St. Louis Blues are doing pretty well for themselves. They set a team record for most goals in a season and the most consecutive games with a point.

The only reason they finished third in the division was because the Colorado Avalanche were a juggernaut all season and Minnesota matched St. Louis’ hot streak down the stretch. If not for playing in one of the tougher divisions, as always seems to be the case when the Blues are good, St. Louis might have been even better in the win column.

However, 2021-22 was not a great year for Jordan Binnington. He lost his swagger, his confidence and also lost the net due to Ville Husso starting to live up to his potential.

Binnington finished the regular season 18-14-4, essentially going .500. He had a 3.13 goals against and a .901 save percentage.

Those of us that defended him often remarked how poorly the defense played in front of him, how many quality chances they gave up against him and how little offense they score for him. That is all true, but, based solely on the eye test, Binnington just was not the same.

Binnington went 18-14-8 in 2020-21, but it was still different. His goals against was lower, the save percentage slightly higher and he was simply keeping the Blues in every game. Additionally, Husso was not good last year, to the point many thought St. Louis needed a new backup for 2021-22.

Even the staunchest Binnington supporter should have had no qualms about Husso getting the start when the 2022 playoffs began. Husso went 25-7-6 with a 2.56 goals against and .919 save percentage and often had to deal with the same defensive effort and/or lack of goals. The Finnish goaltender was just better and earned the starts.

However, as cliche as it sounds, you throw that out in the playoffs. Husso earned the series start, but Binnington has earned his place in net.

He played three games in the Minnesota Wild series and won all three. He was one of the three stars of each night as well.

So, it’s his net going forward, right? Well…don’t be too hasty to re-crown him.

The Blues basically have a very large Binnington problem. Maybe not now, but soon.

As far as the 2022 playoffs are concerned, the Blues should stick with Binnington for now. They can easily go back to Husso if there’s a bad game or some such thing, but it’s Binner’s crease for now.

Once the offseason rolls around, the Blues have decisions to make. In essence, the Blues are now where the Pittsburgh Penguins were back in 2017.

To refresh your memory, the Penguins had won two Stanley Cups with Marc-Andre Fleury in net. Yet, they had also recently won a championship with the younger, cheaper Matt Murray.

The Penguins made the choice to send Fleury to Vegas and ride with Murray. Murray’s stats were never terrible, but he fell of his rookie pace and has all but fallen off the face of the Earth in Ottawa.

The Penguins are hoping Tristan Jarry is the next “man”. His numbers really haven’t been much better, but the wins are there, so there’s less tension and pressure on him.

Doug Armstrong will soon be faced with similar paths. Binnington is under contract for a long time at a somewhat hefty price.

Meanwhile, Husso is a free agent in the summer of 2022. He’s not proven enough for teams to throw big money at him, but he’s going to get a significant raise from his current cap hit of $750,000.

So, what do the Blue do? Do they roll the dice and hope Husso is not the next Murray?

Do they risk Binnington going somewhere else and leading them to a Cup Final the way Fleury did in Vegas? Maybe they let one or the other go and still hope that Joel Hofer is not that far off.

I don’t envy the choices. All have possibilities to keep the Blues contenders and all have the chance of being epic failures (and all things in between if we are honest).

The additional problem with Binnington himself is that the comparison to Fleury goes beyond just the potential to be let go even with a Cup to your name. While wins follow Fleury, so does inconsistency and we are seeing the same from number 50 with the Note.

Fleury does have more years under his belt, but their numbers are quite similar. Fleury has a career .913 save percentage and 2.57 goals against, while Binnington is .911 and 2.58.

Their inconsistencies match somewhat, with Binnington slightly better. Binnington has 85 career quality starts and 18 really bad starts. Fleury is at 431 and 122.

Compare those numbers to career starts in the regular season and Binnington has quality starts in 52% of his games and Fleury in 46%. Fleury had really bad starts in 13% of his games and Binnington in 11%.

So, while Binnington has a slight edge in terms of giving you a quality start, they’re both as likely to have very bad games.

Their playoff roller coasters are just as alike. I won’t give you all the numbers, but let’s just say that for each Cup win both goalies have, they have roughly double or triple the amount in terms of first-round exits.

The goalie is rarely solely to blame for a first-round exit, but both Binnington and Fleury played their parts. Binnington was clearly not prepared for the Vancouver series in 2020, nor did he seem to have motivation to get back into uniform. He seemed equally overwhelmed by Colorado in 2021, but the entire team was overwhelmed in that series.

Fleury’s worst postseason saw him with a .834 save percentage and 4.63 goals against. Binnington’s worse postseason had .851 and 4.72 for numbers. Meanwhile, both players were huge reasons their teams won championships.

The bottom line, and the scary thing, is the Blues have a decision to make based on an inconsistent player. Both in the playoffs and the regular season, both Fleury and Binnington can steal you an unwinnable game and then cough up a loss in a sure-fire win.

The contract stress on the team is/was similar too. The Penguins first lengthy deal for Fleury paid him $5 million per season and then an extension bumped that up to $5.75.

Due to the market, the Blues were forced to give Binnington $6 million per season. At the time it was smart because it locked in a price instead of having to give that slight raise in a few years time.

The problem is that it locked in that price. Like Fleury in both Pittsburgh and Vegas, the contract became heavier than what he was providing.

The unenviable issue the Blues have is the same one that almost every team Fleury has been on faced. They have younger, cheaper options but run the risk of giving up on the unknown.

The Penguins went with Murray and he’s not even there any longer. The Golden Knights went with Robin Lehner and he has been both a physical and mental enigma

Chicago is Chicago and that deal was almost always made to trade him off. Minnesota has Cam Talbot, but they may have burnt that bridge too.

St. Louis has to tread carefully no matter what path they take. Stick with Binninton and Husso may go elsewhere and be the goalie they envisioned even before Binnington – don’t forget that Husso was the next man up and only injury prevented him from getting a call up in 2019.

Stick with Husso and trade Binnington for cap space and maybe he regains form, only to torment Blues fans for years like Curtis Joseph. Or, maybe the best case scenario is whomever you choose is a placeholder for a few years and Hofer surpasses them all. Or, perhaps they all flame out and the Blues are more like the Philadelphia Flyers once again, with a revolving door of goalies.

It doesn’t make for good sports talk column writing, but I honestly don’t know what the team should do. I’m a fan of Binnington now, but I would respect if they found a way to properly send him elsewhere.

The Blues could surely use $6 million in cap space. St. Louis is right up against the cap every year without doing the more nefarious tactics of teams like Tampa or Vegas.

That kind of money can get you two quality players or one star. The Blues will need help defensively in 2022-23 or they’ll need cap space to re-sign Nick Leddy.

You also need a backup goaltender. $6 million is too much to pay for a backup, Hofer needs games to develop and not sit the NHL bench and Husso might price himself out if another team comes along.

For now, let’s not worry about it. Binnington or Husso – I don’t care, as long as the Blues are winning and continuing on in the 2022 chase for the Cup.

Whenever that ends, be it in July of 2022 with a parade or with sadness in May with a loss in the next round, there is no doubt the near future is cloudy. Binnington provides a lot of promise and potential. He also poses a rather large problem for this team going forward.