Jordan Binnington has been a revelation for the St. Louis Blues this season. A 25-year-old rookie who didn’t make his first NHL start until January, Binnington somehow managed to record 24 wins, a .927 save percentage, and a league-leading 1.89 GAA this season and has led the Blues to the Western Conference Final thus far in these playoffs. Binnington will be 26 before next season and has just 33 career appearances, yet he is a Calder Trophy candidate and undeniably St. Louis’ MVP in this amazing turnaround season. So how do you compensate a season like this? The Hockey News’ Matt Larkin wondered the same thing and explored three comparable contracts that the Blues may explore this off-season. The first belongs to a player with many similarities to Binnington, NHL journeyman Andrew Hammond. Hammond’s breakout season with the Ottawa Senators in 2015 was even more impressive than Binnington’s, that is until he lost his job to a healthy Craig Anderson in the postseason. A 26-year-old “prospect” with only 24 NHL appearances to his name, Hammond received just $1.35MM per year over three years from the Senators following his big season. However, Larkin points out that Hammond was not expected to be the starter in Ottawa, whereas Binnington is undoubtedly going to begin next season ahead of Jake Allen on the Blues’ depth chart. He also notes that Binnington has arbitration rights this season and no reasonable arbitrator would be convinced that Binnington is worth an equivalent contract to Hammond’s, which would only be about a $1.5MM AAV. On the other end of the spectrum, Larkin uses Winnipeg Jets’ starter Connor Hellebuyck as an example. Hellebuyck, another older prospect out of UMass – Lowell, Hellebuyck joined the Jets in 2015-16 at age 22 as the backup, struggled the next year as the part-time starter, and then had a breakout campaign last year in the final season of his entry-level contract. Winnipeg responded with a six-year deal worth more than $6MM annually for Hellebuyck. However, by the time he signed his extension, Hellebuyck had played in 149 games over three seasons, a much larger sample size than Binnington’s. He was also younger and entered the NHL with far great expectations compared to Binnington’s relative obscurity through a long AHL career. Thus, Hellebuyck also fails to be a convincing comparison for Binnington. Larkin finally settles on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Matt Murray. Murray also came out of nowhere as a rookie, albeit a 21-year-old rookie, to start 13 games down the stretch and then lead the Penguins to a Stanley Cup behind a stellar postseason. Despite Murray’s lack of NHL experience, the Penguins had seen enough to reward their young keeper with a three-year extension worth $3.75MM per year. While Binnington is significantly older and a less heralded prospect, he has a larger sample size and slightly better regular season numbers than Murray, making the deal a fair comparison. Under the current salary cap, which is likely to increase this summer, Murray’s deal would equate to about a $4.25MM AAV for Binnington. So what should Blues fans expect in a Binnington extension? The safe bet is somewhere between three and four years at $4-4.5MM per year, but a Stanley Cup title could still push that value even higher for the breakout keeper.
- According to Shawn P. Roarke of NHL.com, Carolina Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour says there is a “pretty good chance” he goes back to Curtis McElhinney in net for an elimination Game Four against the Boston Bruins on Thursday. McElhinney has played well this postseason in relief of Petr Mrazek, including in Game Three. McElhinney made 29 saves and allowed just two goals on Tuesday night after Mrazek surrendered ten goals combined in Games One and Two. At this point, McElhinney does seem to give the Hurricanes the best chance to win against Boston, but is there more at stake here? Whether McElhinney or Mrazek are in net, the odds of Carolina winning Game Four are slim and the chances they win four in a row to advance are much, much worse. When the ’Canes are inevitably eliminated, they face a reality of both Mrazek and McElhinney being unrestricted free agents. If forced to choose between the two, one would certainly think that the team would prefer to bring back Mrazek, who outplayed McElhinney this season – and is nine years younger. However, they take the risk in going back to McElhinney, who lost nevertheless in Game Three, that Mrazek no longer feels like the top option in Carolina and looks for other opportunities on the open market. After a strong season, the Hurricanes can’t afford a downgrade in net, so unless they are open to spending more on a free agent upgrade to Mrazek – a Robin Lehner or Semyon Varlamov for example – they’ll need to be careful with how the approach his confidence as this playoff run winds down.
- Is new Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland happy to enter next season with Mikko Koskinen and (Group 6 free agent) Anthony Stolarz in net? If not, he could have a hard time attracting free agents and might instead look to his old team for help. Steve Yzerman may also want to bring in fresh blood in Detroit, but the Red Wings are locked in to Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Bernier next season to the tune of $7MM. The ink is still drying on Howard’s extension with the team and his loyalty likely lies more with the city of Detroit than with Holland. After a nice season, it would be a surprise for Howard to be dealt away. However, Yzerman will likely be willing to move the disappointing Bernier and Holland would seemingly be interested. After all, it was Holland who signed the journeyman to a three-year, $9MM contract just last summer. He very well may feel that Bernier can still live up to that contract, even after a poor first season with the Red Wings. It would not come as much of a surprise if Bernier outperforms Koskinen next season, so if Holland can re-acquire the veteran net minder on the cheap, it could make sense for the Oilers.