Alex Pietrangelo

Binnington’s next contract is a challenge for Blues

6 Comments

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.

***

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 Buzzer: Binnington wins it all for Blues

2 Comments
  • For the first time since coming into the league in 1967, the St. Louis Blues are Stanley Cup champions. The Boston Bruins carried the play during what turned out to be a key first period, as even with that advantage in overall performance, the Blues went up 2-0 through the first 20 minutes. The Bruins never truly recovered, and the Blues were able to lock it down in Game 7.

St. Louis Blues 4, Boston Bruins 1 (Blues win series 4-3, thus winning their first Stanley Cup.)

Jordan Binnington was the star of this one, particularly when the level of play was especially lopsided early on. He was very close to pitching a shutout, allowing only a Matt Grzelcyk goal with about 2:10 remaining in the contest, when it was far out of reach. After holding onto that 2-0 lead through the first two periods, Binnington made a few other key saves, and the Blues turned Game 7 into more or less a blowout in the third. That allowed time for the shocking to sink in: the Blues were going to win it all, finally.

Three Stars

1. Jordan Binnington

Who else could it be?

Honestly, Binnington was so great in Game 7, there was the feeling that he might swipe the Conn Smythe.

That didn’t end up happening, and that’s fair, as Binnington had plenty of ups and downs. Those low moments don’t really matter now, and maybe most importantly, the tough times didn’t rattle Binnington. Yes, it was an almost-too-easy narrative that Binnington bounced back … but, again, it really says a lot that he didn’t blink as a rookie, no matter the stakes. Clearly. He was fantastic in a winner-takes-all situation.

Binnington finished Game 7 stopping 32 out of 33 Bruins shots. Really, Binnington was close to getting a shutout, and that would have made for an even better story. It doesn’t take away from his great performance, as he was clearly the top star.

2. Alex Pietrangelo

Picking the second-best player of Game 7 is a little tougher.

Let’s go with Pietrangelo, though. Much like the third star, Pietrangelo generated a goal and an assist in Game 7. Pietrangelo gets a slight edge for scoring the game-winner, and it was a nice one. Two goals proved to be too high of a mountain for the Bruins to climb, and for the goal to come in the waning moments of the already-frustrating first period was a killer.

Pietrangelo’s been splendid for much of this run, really. The Blues didn’t have an outrageously obvious top player of this run – though ROR is worthy – but they had a slew of really good ones, from Pietrangelo to Vladimir Tarasenko and beyond. Here’s hoping Pietrangelo and other top stars are remembered for standing out, even without the Conn Smythe.

3. Ryan O'Reilly

If you have any issues with O’Reilly being third instead of second, consider that ROR won the Conn Smythe Trophy. He’s doing well, and maybe letting an expletive or two or three fly.

O’Reilly deflected in the 1-0 goal, ending a considerable Blues shots on goal drought, and giving St. Louis a stunning lead. O’Reilly also generated a secondary assist on Zach Sanford‘s goal. About the only thing ROR “lost” was the faceoff battle, going 5-7.

Factoids

  • Again, the Blues ended a 52-year drought by winning their first-ever Stanley Cup. Check out the list of longest droughts now that St. Louis is no longer on it.
  • The Blues are the first team in 30 years, and only the fourth since 1943-44 to win a Stanley Cup without having a single previous champion on their roster. The 1989 Calgary Flames were the last ones to do it.
  • The Blues won the Stanley Cup after ranking last as late as January, but their accomplishment is rare for a team that would have been ranked last earlier. Sometimes you just have to soak it all in:

Yeah.

MORE FROM GAME 7

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

Getty
5 Comments

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.

Blues defense benefiting from HOFer Larry Robinson’s experience

Getty Images
1 Comment

BOSTON — It never helps to have a little experience helping guide you through new situations. For the St. Louis Blues defensemen, none of them had ever played in a Stanley Cup Final before this postseason. So as the team’s blue liners got a taste of the rough and tumble fourth and final round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they knew they could rely on one specific person who owns plenty of experience in that situation.

When Craig Berube took over from Mike Yeo in November, Larry Robinson moved from senior consultant to hockey operations to assistant coach.  A nine-time Stanley Cup winner as a player and coach, his addition to Berube’s staff brought plenty of knowledge to the job. 

“To have a guy like that with that experience around, you can’t beat it. He’s an unbelievable man,” said Berube.

It was a position, however, that Robinson only took on until Christmas as he cited the travel being too much for his 68-year-old body. As the season has progressed, especially now in the postseason, the Hall of Famer has been with them through their journey.

A 10-time All-Star, two-time Norris Trophy winner, and Conn Smythe winner, Robinson is a resource for any of the Blues’ defensemen to use for advice. He’s seen it all and any bit of information he can pass on that will assist, he will.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“He’s been great for me. It’s just another sounding board,” said Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo. “When you’ve got nine Stanley Cups you’ve got a lot of information to provide. He’s fun to have around. If you’ve ever had a conversation with him, his demeanor and personality fit great with our group. I know for us, on the back end especially, he’s been fantastic for us.”

Now an eye in the sky during the playoffs, Robinson communicates things he sees from up top between periods. But it’s the defensemen who as a group have benefited most. With five players at least 6-foot-3 and Robinson listed at 6-foot-4, he knows the ins and outs of playing the position as a bigger player.

“It’s an advantage for us when we’re out there,” said 6-foot-4 Colton Parayko on working Robinson to improve his stick work. “It helps us where we can control the forward a little bit, which is important for us.”

Ask any of the defensemen and they’ll tell you that the way Robinson delivers his messages is in a clear manner and that the players aren’t overloaded with too much information. He knows just how to get his point through when he sees something that needs to be addressed.

Vince Dunn is the youngest and shortest defensemen on the Blues at 22 years old and 6-feet tall. This is his first postseason, and it’s been an eventful one. Having Robinson around and his years of experience behind the bench and on the ice has been very beneficial.

“He’s been amazing to have as a mentor,” Dunn said. “He knows there’s a lot going on with coaching and just learning from the other guys, too, who are on the team. He doesn’t try to push you too much but he’s definitely there for someone to talk to. He has a lot of very smart things to say that maybe you don’t really think about and other guys don’t think about because he’s been around for so long.”

Knowing they have such an asset at hand, the Blues players don’t hesitate to reach out to Robinson with any questions, or inquire about a good story from his 20-year NHL career. Robinson will also approach them if he sees something that he’s noticed in their games. 

Every conversation has had a benefit for the defensemen.

“I think more than anything he wants you to feel confident about yourself and put yourself in good areas, just make the game easier on yourself,” said Dunn. “He doesn’t try to teach you how to shoot all over again or skate all over again, it’s little things that you don’t really think about out there. Those things make a huge difference when you’re on the ice.”

Game 5 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final airs Thursday on NBC at 8 p.m. ET (stream here).

————

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.

Pregame chat, unique stick help O’Reilly deliver dominant Game 4 performance

13 Comments

ST. LOUIS — Ryan O'Reilly‘s traditional pre-game chat with his dad hammered home a simple message: Leave it all out there, stop overthinking the game, and trust yourself more.

Brian O’Reilly’s words on Monday afternoon resonated as his son’s two goals helped the St. Louis Blues top the Boston Bruins 4-2 in Game 4 to even the Stanley Cup Final at two games apiece. Game 5 is Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBC) at TD Garden.

O’Reilly opened the scoring 43 seconds into game — a play he started by winning an offensive zone face-off. Vince Dunn‘s shot was tipped by Zach Sanford in front and stopped by Tuukka Rask‘s right pad. Unfortunately for the goaltender, the rebound went right to O’Reilly’s stick as he was spinning off Bruins defenseman Torey Krug. The wraparound was converted with help from his incredibly unique blade.

Sportsnet

“It’s obviously a weird stick,” O’Reilly told the “31 Thoughts” podcast back in October.

Because O’Reilly likes to make plays with the heel, he uses a straight blade that features a hooked toe. He says it gives him more control of the puck, and it certainly showed as he avoided Rask’s skate and tucked home the first goal of the game.

Teammates have tried out O’Reilly’s stick, but the reviews aren’t positive. Some like to joke that the toe is like that because he stuck it in a door. But Warrior actually sent him a plastic blade, and after using a heat gun he was able to find a curve to his liking.

“I don’t dare touch his sticks,” said linemate Zach Sanford. “I let him do his thing. Those are his.”

“He makes it work,” said Patrick Maroon.

The game-winning goal, which O’Reilly delivered with 9:22 left in the third period, was the result of Alex Pietrangelo’s awareness that the Bruins were changing and O’Reilly’s decision to drive to the net and hope for a rebound. 

The “pass off pads” play is something the Blues work on in practice. The idea is to create havoc in front of goal, and with a player driving to net they often lead to dangerous scoring chances.

“The way it developed we knew we were going to have something to the net with Petro coming down there,” said O’Reilly, who hadn’t scored since Game 1 of the Western Conference Final. “I’m just trying to do what I can to get to that back side and it was a great bounce. It happens sometimes and you just try and throw it on the net. Sometimes you get those bounces. [I] was just lucky to be on that end of it.”

The feeling many had heading into Game 4 was the same as it was when Game 2 approached. The Bruins had dominated the previous game and there was a feeling that they would continue to build off that victory. Instead, as they’ve done so many times this season, the Blues reset and bounced back. 

Game 4 was the most consistent game of the series for St. Louis thus far. They were relentless in establishing their forecheck, delivered 44 hits, remained disciplined and gave Boston only two power plays. There were a few extended periods of time Monday night when they had the Bruins hemmed into their own zone keeping the pressure on, much to the delight of the 18,805 fans in attendance inside of the sold-out Enterprise Center.

Now it’s a best-of-three series and the next time the Blues play at home — Game 6 on Sunday — the Stanley Cup could be awarded that evening. Two more efforts like what they executed in Game 4 and St. Louis will be yelling “Play Gloria!” for years to come.

“From start to finish, guys kept playing, and when they made a push [we] responded well and we kept going one shift at a time,” said O’Reilly. “As a group we brought that and it worked tonight.”

Game 5 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final airs on NBC at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday (stream here).

MORE BLUES-BRUINS GAME 3:
Blues even Stanley Cup Final vs. Bruins in Game 4
Stanley Cup Buzzer: O’Reilly makes difference for Blues
Bruins’ Chara to be re-evaluated, status for Game 5 unknown

————

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.