“He’s going to earn a big pay raise this summer and we’re looking forward to paying him.”
That isn’t something you’ll hear many sports executives exclaim publicly, but that’s exactly what St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said of Jordan Binnington one day after the rookie goaltender led the team to its first Stanley Cup championship.
Binnington’s pedestrian .914 playoff save percentage and 2.46 goals-against average doesn’t quite do his post-season performance justice.
The 25-year-old Richmond Hill, Ont., native stopped 32 of 33 shots Wednesday and had a shutout going until Matt Grzelcyk went bar down on a futile goal with 2:10 remaining in the third period.
“His confidence, his swagger, his belief in himself … unbelievable,” Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo told reporters following the game.
Binnington, a pending restricted free agent with arbitration rights, is a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie alongside Vancouver Canucks forward Elias Pettersson and Buffalo Sabres blue-liner Rasmus Dahlin.
While he may not be the favourite to win that trophy, his spot as a Calder finalist is made all the more impressive when you consider he didn’t make his first start until Jan. 7. Binnington earned a 25-save shutout over the Philadelphia Flyers that night and carried that momentum all the way through to hoisting the Cup.
“This group just got closer and closer as we went on,” the understated Binnington said of his rookie campaign. “They welcomed me in well and I just tried to do my job, battle and keep my mouth shut.”
Binnington had a 24-5-1 regular-season record, an NHL-best 1.89 GAA plus five shutouts, yet perhaps his most impressive trait was an incredible ability to bounce back after a loss.
The Blues had a chance to win the Cup at home in Game 6 but the Bruins managed to put four pucks past Binnington. Boston generated several solid scoring chances early in Game 7 but Binnington’s post-loss resolve never wavered. He stopped all 12 shots he faced in the opening stanza and made a handful of 10-bell saves.
“You saw last night the saves he made in the first period to keep the team afloat until we found our legs and I thought we played really good after that, but without his efforts and the way he responded in the regular season and in the playoffs after a loss shows a lot about his mental toughness,” Armstrong told Hockey Central at Noon on Sportsnet 590 The Fan. “He’s earned everything, all the credit he’s getting.”
Binnington became the first rookie netminder to earn all 16 of his team’s wins en route to a Cup title and the first rookie to lead his team to a Cup win since Matt Murray did it with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016.
Murray ended up winning the Cup in 2017 too – after replacing a struggling Marc-Andre Fleury in the Eastern Conference Final – and it earned him a three-year, $11.25-million contract and a $3.75-million annual salary cap hit.
Binnington outperformed and took the starter’s job from Jake Allen, who has two years remaining on the four-year, $17.4-million extension ($4.35-million cap hit) he inked in 2016.
At the end of the day, Binnington only has 33 regular-season games on his NHL résumé so his next cap hit is a mystery at this time. One certainty, though, is it should far exceed his 2018-19 cap hit of $650,000.
Other notable pending RFA goalies include David Rittich of the Flames, Linus Ullmark of the Sabres, Joonas Korpisalo of the Blue Jackets, and Malcolm Subban of the Golden Knights.