Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues.
Come out of nowhere, steal the No. 1 job, win a Stanley Cup and get a nice payoff all inside six or so months.
It seems hardly believable. Impossible, really.
Yet there stands Jordan Binnington, a 26-year-old formerly journeyman goalie who, prior to puck drop in a Jan. 7 game against the Philadelphia Flyers, was simply a nobody in the NHL world.
Two-and-a-half hours and 25 saves later, Binnington had his first NHL win in his first NHL start and his first NHL shutout all under his belt. A flash in the pan? Far from it, apparently.
Binnington would feature in 29 games in the second half of the season for the Blues. His 24-5-1 record with a .927 save percentage and five shutouts during that span would pull the Blues all the way from the league’s murkiest spot in the basement to third-place in the Central Division.
And from there, he’d start all 26 games the St. Louis Blues played in the playoffs on their magical run to the Stanley Cup. Binnington would set rookie records for wins in a postseason and, ultimately, lift Lord Stanley with a 16-10 record, including a 32-save, .970 performance in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final to cement the Blues worst-to-first achievement.
[MORE: 2018-19 review | Three questions | X-Factor]
These things simply don’t happen, and yet Binnington willed it into existence with a ‘Do I look nervous to you?’ attitude that was only backed up on the ice.
Binnington’s emergence earned him a two-year, deal worth $4.4 million annually, making him the highest-paid goalie on the Blues (a mere $50,000 more than Jake Allen) and No. 1 status between the pipes heading into the 2019-20 season.
He’s earned it. And now the hard work begins.
There was no pressure on Binnington last season. Every win was met with awe, not expectation. If he had come in and failed, he wouldn’t have been labeled as a bust. If he had crashed out in the first round of the playoffs, he still would have been considered a success.
Winning the Stanley Cup? It’s still hard to fathom, really.
But now Binnington has some statistics to his name. The bar he set for himself is in the realm of the NHL’s elite. And somehow, he has to now make that translate into a full slate of NHL starts — perhaps as many as 60 next season.
That’s where the pressure lies.
Binnington is unproven as a full-time NHL starter, like Carter Hart in Philadelphia. Both had great seasons, but both only played half the year. So questions remain.
There’s nothing, at least at the moment, to suggest that Binnington can’t handle it. Sure, his save percentage dipped in the playoffs, but he handled the pressure of a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final with apparent ease.
He appears to be a true iceman when it comes to that.
Nevertheless, he’s now playing for a bigger payoff in two years after having bet on himself over the next two seasons. His long-term financial gain also hangs in the balance.
Binnington gave fans what they craved and now they’re only going to want more.
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule
Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck