What to do with Jordan Binnington

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We all know the legend that is Jordan Binnington. The goaltender for the St. Louis Blues was originally drafted by the club in 2011 and did not receive his first NHL start until January 2019 and once given the opportunity, never looked back as he led St. Louis to its first Stanley Cup championship five months later. One miraculous season changed the entire career for Binnington, who started the 2018-19 season fourth on the team’s depth chart. The playoff success inevitably led to a contract extension, a six-year deal worth $6 million per year, starting with the 2021-22 season.

Contract controversy

As so often happens in hockey and particularly in St. Louis, the large contract given to a goaltender is already raising some eyebrows not even one year in. While Binnington started the 2021-22 campaign looking like the championship-calibre goaltender of old, his play has faded through the middle part of the season, leading the team to rely on “backup” goaltender Ville Husso, who he himself is in the midst of a breakout season.

It is difficult to imagine what is going through a goaltender’s mind while they are going through a slump. With the team looking like one of the best in the Western Conference, it surely has to weigh heavy on Binnington that he is not making the saves he’s made in the past. Known throughout the league as a fiery competitor who can cross the line at times (Colorado’s Nazem Kadri and the entire San Jose Sharks roster can attest to this), Binnington has been able to get away with pushing the envelope because he has backed it up on the ice. When the standard of play drops as it has so far this season, the large contract and the on-ice altercations begin to be magnified.

It should be noted that Binnington’s subpar numbers can be a little misleading. While he has struggled to keep the puck out of the net lately, that has not been the case for the entirety of the season. Early in the year, the Blues were dominating opponents early in games and would have lapses defensively late in games, leading to garbage time goals that have inflated Binnington’s season stats. Any Blues fan will tell you that the team’s biggest weakness this season has been their defensemen, a group that looks much different than the one who shut teams down on the way to the Stanley Cup three years ago. The departure of Alex Pietrangelo and the retirements of Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson have forced the Blues into wholesale changes defensively, which can contribute to Binnington’s struggles. However, if Husso continues to play at an elite level, that excuse will quickly fall upon deaf ears.

Where to go from here

So where does that leave Binnington and the Blues? With five more years on a contract that is simply too expensive for a backup, the two sides have no choice but to see this rough period through and hope for better results on the other side. However, with the Blues gearing up for another playoff run, every point matters. If Binnington continues to struggle and Husso continues to shine, it is not out of the question to see Husso between the pipes come playoff time.

With Husso set to hit unrestricted free agency at the end of the season, the play of both Binnington and Husso down the stretch could dictate the Blues’ long-term plans in the net. As things stand, Binnington is locked in as the goaltender of the future, while the younger Husso has the reigns in the immediate future. As backwards as that sounds, it’s just another page in the incredible story that is the career of Jordan Binnington.

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