Robert Thomas

Binnington’s next contract is a challenge for Blues

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As the champagne is still drying for the St. Louis Blues, let’s consider a good problem to have: how much will they pay Jordan Binnington, the 25-year-old goalie who emerged from relative obscurity to save their season, and then help them win their first-ever Stanley Cup? And for how long will they pay Binnington?

It’s a challenging situation, even if the NHL’s other 30 teams won’t spare the Blues a Kleenex.

Let’s break the situation down, including what’s going on around Binnington.

RFA, not UFA

One of the biggest factors to consider is Binnington’s RFA status.

As Puck Pedia notes, Binnington needs two more seasons of play to become an unrestricted free agent.

That’s a fascinating cutoff point, as Jake Allen – the former Blues starter Binnington dislodged – will see his $4.35 million cap hit expire after the 2020-21 season. Later on in this post, we’ll get to Allen and other contextual factors, as the Blues’ overall cap situation certainly impacts the situation.

One other key note is that Binnington is arbitration-eligible. That mitigates some of the advantage the Blues have with Binnington becoming an RFA, as Binnington checks some pretty big boxes that would likely stand out to an arbitrator:

Binnington’s numbers, and background

Despite already being 25, Binnington’s NHL sample size is small. Yet, what Binnington lacks in quantity, he makes up with brilliant quality.

In 32 regular season games (and 30 starts), Binnington managed absolutely splendid numbers: a 24-5-1 record and .927 save percentage. While his playoff save percentage was more modest (.914 in 26 games), Binnington was tremendous in Game 7 against Boston, and ended up finishing second in the Conn Smythe voting.

So, Binnington only had an abbreviated regular season, yet became a Calder Trophy finalist, then almost won the playoff MVP as he earned all 16 playoff victories during the Blues’ championship run. Yeah, that’s the sort of stuff you can lead with in contract negotiations, unless Binnington’s reps just want to show a Game 7 highlight reel, then lean back in a rolling chair.

(Contract negotiations should always include rolling chairs, right?)

No doubt about it, that’s still a small sample size, but Binnington isn’t directly comparable to a flash in the pan like Andrew Hammond. While Hammond’s stats at other levels weren’t very promising before his Hamburglar run, Binnington’s largely put up strong numbers at the AHL and other levels; he simply hasn’t always received opportunities to prove himself.

Also, Binnington has some decent pedigree as a third-rounder (88th overall in 2011), especially when you consider that goalies rarely go in the first round any longer.

Not a ton of comparable situations

A comparison to Matt Murray is probably the most natural. It’s not totally 1:1, mind you. Murray was younger, and the Penguins signed him to an extension heading into the season where his rookie deal was expiring. Also, while the Blues have an expensive veteran (Allen, $4.35M per year for two more seasons) and the Penguins had one (Marc-Andre Fleury), the situation is much clearer in St. Louis than it was in Pittsburgh. Binnington is The Man, and if Allen remains with the team through his current contract, it could be due to a lack of willing trade partners, not a belief that Allen is actually the real No. 1.

(If Allen ended up being that top guy after all — don’t forget, goalies are wildly unpredictable – he’d become the Craig Anderson to Binnington’s Hammond.)

Bridge or something longer?

There are reasons point to, but also away from, a shorter “bridge” contract.

To an extent, something in the two or three-year range would make sense for both sides. The Blues could mitigate the risks that come with investing in a goalie who has a limited sample size at the NHL level, while Binnington could salvage most, if not all, of his UFA years with a shorter deal. A brief contract might make it easier for Binnington to digest a smaller AAV; theoretically, he could really make the big bucks if he proves himself for a couple extra years.

Yet, there are reasons to chisel out a longer pact, too.

For Binnington, he’d gain the financial security that comes from getting hefty term, which is something that must really resonate with a player who’s had to fight to prove himself as a professional hockey goalie. Binnington might be OK with potentially leaving some money on the table for added peace of mind.

Let’s face it, too. The Blues have been looking for a go-to goalie for ages, particularly since Jake Allen hasn’t panned out as the guy, as they had hoped.

It will likely boil down to the details that maybe are only discussed behind closed doors, or perhaps occasionally leaked to the media. Will the Blues be tough negotiators, prompting Binnington to lean toward a shorter deal, as to get the added power of UFA status? How much more or less money would Binnington receive if the term went longer?

That all boils down to the priorities for both sides.

Cap considerations

Cap Friendly estimates that the Blues have about $18.73M in cap space heading into the offseason, with 16 roster spots covered. Again, the Blues may prefer to get Allen’s $4.35M off the books, but that’s likely easier said than done.

While the Blues have some choices to make as far supporting cast members with Patrick Maroon among their UFAs while Joel Edmundson and Oskar Sundqvist stand out among several RFAs other than Binnington, the other biggest decisions linger after 2019-20.

Alex Pietrangelo ($6.5M) will command a hefty raise. Brayden Schenn won’t be as cheap as $5.125M after his contract year, either, and Jaden Schwartz‘s friendly $5.35M cap hit expires after 2020-21. There are also quality young players who will get more expensive in the near future, from Vince Dunn to Robert Thomas.

So, Blues GM Doug Armstrong must weigh all of those considerations while pondering what to pay Binnington, and for how long.

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Again, this isn’t a bad problem to have. And, if you look at the salary cap era, other teams have faced far more agonizing cap crunches than the Blues face this summer.

Still, just because this isn’t the most challenging situation, doesn’t mean that it isn’t a puzzle for Armstrong to solve.

MORE BLUES STANLEY CUP COVERAGE:
• Jay Bouwmeester finally gets his Stanley Cup
• Blues fan Laila Anderson gets moment with Stanley Cup
• Ryan O’Reilly wins Conn Smythe Trophy
• Berube helped Blues find identity after early-season struggle
• Blues latest team erased from Stanley Cup drought list

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Stanley Cup Final: Blues make lineup change; Grzelcyk game-time decision

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It looks as if the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins will both be making some lineup changes for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final Wednesday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC; Live Stream).

Let’s start with the significant news on the Boston side where the Bruins might have all of their top defenders in the lineup for the first time since the beginning of the series. After missing the past four games, Matt Grzelcyk has been cleared for action and is officially listed as a game-time decision. If he plays, and it seems extremely likely that he will, he would replace Connor Clifton.

Grzelcyk has been sidelined since early in Game 2 when he was on the receiving end of an illegal check from Oskar Sundqvist, resulting in a one-game suspension for the Blues’ forward.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

It remains to be seen how much of an impact he can make since he hasn’t taken any contact since the injury, but the Bruins have definitely missed his ability to move the puck.

“I think your adrenaline will carry you through,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy on Wednesday.

“The one thing about Matt if he does go in after missing some games is he’s been skating with us. It’s not like he just jumped on the ice yesterday. He’s been participating, albeit non-contact, so there is a little bit of a different animal there. At this time of the year you’re not into a lot of contact in practice anyway so he’s just going to have to understand, because he did obviously live the first whatever it was, game and a half with St. Louis, he knows they are physical. He’s been there. He’s been watching. He knows he’s gotta get back in a hurry, make good decisions with it, take a hit to make a play if that’s what is required, which it usually is against this team. That’s the challenge in front of him. We’ve had discussions with him about it and he’ll be ready for it.”

Two of the three Bruins’ losses in this series came in games where they were forced to finish with five defenders due to injury with Grzelcyk exiting Game 2 and Zdeno Chara being forced to miss most of Game 4 after being hit in the face with a puck. While Chara has not missed any further game action, Grzelcyk’s absence has been significant.

“If he’s able to come back and help us tonight, he’s an incredible puck mover,” said Bruins defender Charlie McAvoy. “He’s just kind of had that fire in his eye for the playoffs. He’s been playing awesome for us, and we’ve missed him terribly since he’s been out. He just gives us that extra jolt when it comes to breaking out. He’s a gifted puck-mover. If he’s back to night, I think he’ll do his job and help us out even more.”

On the St. Louis side, forward Ivan Barbashev will be returning to the lineup after missing Game 6 due to a suspension for an illegal check to the head.

He will replace rookie forward Robert Thomas on the team’s fourth line next to Alex Steen and Sundqvist.

That is not the only change the Blues will be making.

Coach Craig Berube also said that Joel Edmundson will be drawing back into the lineup in place of Robert Bortuzzo.

Why the change? With Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko playing so many minutes on the right side Berube wants to go with four left-handed defenders in his lineup.

“With Parayko and Pietrangelo on the right side, they’re just eating so many minutes up; there’s not a lot of minutes over there,” said Berube. “So, we decided to go with the four lefties, and what he can bring, he can bring a lot. I mean, he’s got some real good upside, shoots the puck well, big guy, big body, physical player, but he does do some things well in the offensive zone, so I like his shot.”

Edmundson played sparingly over the first four games of the series, recording zero points and finishing as a minus-3 in his limited minutes. Bortuzzo scored a goal for the Blues in Game 2 of the series in Boston and also scored a game-winning goal in the Western Conference Final series against the San Jose Sharks.

Edmundson will skate on the Blues’ third defense pairing alongside Vince Dunn.

“I played in I think three Game 7s now so this is going to be my fourth. None of them compare to this one,” said Edmundson. “Obviously it’s going to be the biggest game of my life. But everyone’s excited.”

Edmundson said his first reaction upon finding out that he would be in the lineup was to text his parents, who were already planning on attending the game. One member of his family not attending the game? His brother, Jesse, who has apparently been bad luck throughout the series.

“They were coming,” said Edmundson when talking about his parent’s plans. “My brother (Jesse) stayed back because he thinks he’s bad luck. He’s been bad luck throughout the series, so he stayed back, he’s taking one for the team.”

Whatever it takes.

More Blues-Bruins Game 7
• Blues vs. Bruins: Three keys for Game 7
• The Wraparound: It is all on line for Blues-Bruins 
• Which Blues, Bruins player will get Stanley Cup handoff?
• Conn Smythe watch
• Stanley Cup roundtable discussion

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Thomas to return to Blues’ lineup for Game 6 vs. Bruins

ST. LOUIS — Robert Thomas will make his return to the St. Louis Blues’ lineup for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final Sunday night (8 p.m. ET; NBC; live stream).

With Ivan Barbashev suspended following his hit on Marcus Johansson in Game 5, Thomas will likely find a spot on the Blues’ third line with Tyler Bozak and Patrick Maroon. Sammy Blais would shift down to the fourth line alongside Oskar Sundqvist and Alexander Steen.

“I’m good to go. I’m ready,” Thomas said. “It feels great to be back out there with the guys and I’m good to go for tonight.”

The 19-year-old Thomas has not played since taking a hit in the second period of Game 1 from Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug.

“It’s the hardest thing to watch your teammates go out there and they put us in a great position,” Thomas said. “I’m happy to be able to get out there and hopefully help them out.”

Thomas had been dealing with a wrist injury during the playoffs, but Blues head coach Craig Berube said that his four-game absence had nothing to do with the play and that there was always a chance he could return later in the series.

“It was always in the back of my mind and obviously his mind, too,” Berube said. “He wants to play, he’s a gamer, tough kid, so he was always willing to play. But I think the time off has helped him, and he’s more prepared now.”

The Bruins will be making one change to their Game 6 lineup as well. Head coach Bruce Cassidy said that Karson Kuhlman will enter for Steven Kampfer, bringing them back to 12 forwards and six defensemen after going 11/7 in Game 5. Matt Grzelcyk remains out as he still has not cleared concussion protocol.

David Backes will sit once again, but he’s ready to support his teammates as they look to stave off elimination and force a Game 7 Wednesday night in Boston.

“We’re here to win,” he said. “If my part’s grabbing the pom-poms again, I’ll shake those things ’til all the frills fall out of them.”

Blues-Bruins Game 6 is Sunday night at 8 p.m. ET on NBC and the NBC Sports app.

MORE BLUES-BRUINS COVERAGE:
Three keys to Game 6 of Stanley Cup Final
Blues looking to seize opportunity, close out storybook season
Pucks tell the story of Blues’ rollercoaster season

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Lineup shuffling benefits Blues in Stanley Cup Final

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Had Oskar Sundqvist not gotten suspended and Robert Thomas ruled out with a nagging injury, Zach Sanford might never have gotten a chance to show his stuff on hockey’s biggest stage.

If Vince Dunn not taken a puck to the mouth during the last round, Robert Bortuzzo might not have had the chance to score a key goal in the Stanley Cup Final.

This is the magic of the St. Louis Blues in the playoffs and even more specifically their series against the Boston Bruins. They’ve dressed a lottery ball machine amount of lineup combinations this postseason and because of suspensions and injuries in the final will have their sixth different lineup in six games.

Instead of interrupting continuity that’s usually paramount in the playoffs, the Blues’ game of musical jerseys with players in and out of the lineup has given them a variety of looks for the Bruins to contend with and contributed to St. Louis being on the verge of winning the Stanley Cup.

”You never want to see guys get suspended or go down with an injury,” forward Patrick Maroon said Saturday. ”But Zach Sanford, Sammy Blais and Robby Fabbri have done a really good job filling in. Thomas was playing until he went out. They’ve been here all year, and they know what it takes to win.”

Maroon is one of only 12 skaters plus goaltender Jordan Binnington to play in all 24 of St. Louis’ playoff games so far. That number will dip to 11 with Ivan Barbashev suspended and the very real possibility Thomas is ready to return after missing the past four games with what’s believed to be a hand/wrist injury.

Injury attrition can take its toll this time of year, something the San Jose Sharks found out when the Blues eliminated them without Erik Karlsson, Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl. The Blues have kept on chugging through the injuries and gotten impressive performances from players shuffling in and out of the lineup like Bortuzzo or returning off a long layoff like Sanford and Fabbri.

Barbashev isn’t available for Game 6, and coach Craig Berube said other decisions will be made closer to puck drop. Top-line forward Vladimir Tarasenko and bottom-six grinder Alex Steen are expected to play after missing practice for maintenance, but there are other questions about who’s in and out and St. Louis won’t have much of a drop-off either way.

”We have good depth, which is very important on the back end and up front,” Berube said. ”A guy like Sanford coming in and doing a good job for us after being out for some time, and Sammy Blais, just different guys. It’s really important.”

Sanford has had some significant jump in his legs the past three games after sitting out six weeks as a healthy scratch. Dunn showed little rust from missing almost three weeks before getting back in for Game 4.

And there has been no pouting from guys like Bortuzzo and fellow defenseman Joel Edmundson trading places on the ice and in the press box.

”There’s been different circumstances for different things,” Bortuzzo said. ”You’re going to get in there and you’re going to be excited to play. You’re going to be refreshed regardless of what’s going on.”

The Blues had already done a strong job in the first three rounds of wearing down opponents as series dragged on, and they’re in the process of doing the same to Boston. They play the same style, but the Bruins never seeing the same St. Louis team twice in a playoff series that usually breeds familiarity and contempt makes it even more difficult to prepare.

Boston could dress its same lineup from Game 5 because forward Noel Acciari is expected to play after leaving in the third period Thursday and Marcus Johansson had no lingering effects from the hit on him Barbashev was suspended for.

While the Bruins promoted Johansson to their top power-play unit to get that unit going, the Blues have to adjust without Barbashev, who’s a key penalty killer.

”He’s physical for us,” forward Brayden Schenn said. ”He does a good job on the PK, scoring some goals. We can’t worry about him being out. You’ve got to worry about someone else stepping up, stepping in and filling his role.

That has been key to the Blues’ run the past two months, in large part because of injuries and Berube shaking things up with coach’s decisions for performance. The suspensions of Sundqvist and now Barbashev forced Berube’s hand even more, but it hasn’t led the Blues to abandon their bruising approach.

”If that was a thing, then we’d have slowed down on our physical game and that’s not us,” Carl Gunnarsson said. ”I think we’ve just got to keep on going, just going to keep it clean and keep doing what we’re doing.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Blues, Bruins turning to their depth for Game 3

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ST. LOUIS — John Moore has experienced entering a Stanley Cup Final in the middle of the series.

In 2014, while with the New York Rangers, he returned to the lineup for Game 2 against the Los Angeles Kings after serving a two-game suspension. Five years later, the 28-year-old defenseman is in another “next man up” situation, one that the Boston Bruins have gotten used to this season.

Matt Grzelcyk did not travel to St. Louis for Games 3 and 4 against the Blues after being boarded by Oskar Sundqvist of the Blues in Game 2. Sundqvist was suspended one game. Moore will take Grzelcyk’s place Saturday night.

“The forecheck was a strength of theirs [in Game 2] and a weakness of ours — breaking pucks out,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “[Grzelcyk] is good at the big escape and the big clean pass to get our forwards moving. We lost some of that element.”

Once again, Cassidy has to dip into his depth in an attempt to grab a 2-1 series lead (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN; live stream) at Enterprise Center. Moore will likely fill in on the third pairing with Connor Clifton, and depending how the game goes, it’ll be interesting to see how the minutes are distributed on the back end.

For the Bruins, it’s been easy to slide in a new player when needed. The veteran core has seen their share of injuries over the years considering it’s a war of attrition to make it to the Cup Final.

“Well, I think for our team, our guys are so inclusive that they’re going to make that guy feel welcome,” said Cassidy. “Coming into good lineups, that certainly makes it easier. And it’s also on the individual. If he’s the type who a little more laid back, probably a little easier this time of year.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“I feel like we’ve had that happen to us a number of times this season,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. “Very early on, I think, in November, we probably lost three regulars on the back end and probably two or three regulars on the front and each time we had guys really stepping up playing big minutes and big roles and did a great job for our team. 

“I think that it’s not any different this time. We saw it in the playoffs a number of times guys played big, really answered some of the questions that we are answering today of how they’re going to be. They always respond well and this team always relies on the depth that we have.”

The Bruins (22) and Blues (21) have both needed to rely on extra bodies in these playoffs. As Cassidy deals with his own situation, Craig Berube will turn to Robby Fabbri and Zach Sanford to replace the injured Robert Thomas and suspended Sundqvist for Game 3.

Much like the Bruins, the Blues have had to use the “next man up” mentality. Despite two changes ahead for Game 3, the Blues are confident in their depth and they’re confident multiple new faces in the lineup won’t disrupt any part of their game plan.

“I think we have a good team. Anyone’s able to come in,” said Blues defenseman Colton Parayko. “We’ve done it all season long. Guys have stepped into different roles. Guys have done different things at different times. That’s the character of our group and it’s definitely not being tested.”

Blues-Bruins Game 3 is Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET from Enterprise Center on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

MORE BLUES-BRUINS GAME 3:
The Wraparound: Stanley Cup Final returns to St. Louis
Blues’ Oskar Sundqvist suspended
Blues’ Tarasenko sniping at Ovechkin-like level
Grzelcyk’s absence could be significant for Bruins
Blues’ top line getting best of Bruins’ top line so far

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.