One of the Blues’ Stanley Cup heroes is back in the fold for the next two seasons at a very reasonable cap hit. There is some risk for St. Louis, but a lot more flexibility – and it allows them to avoid a trap that has hit recent Cup champions.
Jordan Binnington sprawls for a save|Patrick Smith/Getty Images
How do you keep the good times rolling after winning a Stanley Cup? Stay away from big contracts. The St. Louis Blues did just that on the weekend by inking star goalie Jordan Binnington to a most sensible two-year deal that will pay the netminder an average of $4.4 million per season.
What works here is the fact the risk comes in the brevity of the contract, not the length. Binnington will be eligible for unrestricted free agency once this new pact comes up and if he continues to play like he did in 2019, he’ll double his price tag in the summer of 2021. But that is much better than the alternative.
As amazing as the rookie goaltender was in the second half and throughout the playoffs, Binnington’s body of NHL work is still quite small – he still hasn’t played every team in his own division, for example. There’s always the outside chance that teams simply don’t have a book on him yet, something we saw recently when Andrew Hammond ripped off an incredible run in 2015 with the Ottawa Senators before falling back to earth soon after.
On the other hand, maybe Binnington just needed his chance in the limelight. There are countless stories of goaltenders making their NHL impacts later due to a variety of factors, with Dominik Hasek and Tim Thomas being two of the most notable.
For the sake of pragmatism, let’s slide Binnington in the middle of the Hammond-Hasek scale for now; we simply don’t know what he’ll be like next year and frankly, neither do the Blues, so this is a good hedge. If Binnington turns out to be a Vezina challenger in the next two years, I’m sure St. Louis would be more than happy to pony up a big contract extension in 2021 to keep him in the fold long-term. By then, teams – and player agents – may know what the new American TV contract with the NHL will be worth, with many anticipating a boost to the salary cap as a result.
But there is a reason to be cautious with long-term deals nonetheless and it specifically seems to affect Cup winners. There has been a trend of rewarding stars on championship squads with big contracts, but the results are less than stellar.
Chicago is the best example: In 2014, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane signed matching eight-year, $84 million extensions that kicked in for the 2015-16 season. Since those contracts took effect, the Blackhawks haven’t won a playoff round (and it’s not the fault of Toews and Kane on the ice – they’ve both been great).
Similarly, Los Angeles gave captain Anze Kopitar an eight-year, $80 million extension in 2016, which was quickly followed by a swoon for the Kings (and now Drew Doughty’s massive extension is kicking in at $11 million per year for the next eight seasons).
Only the Pittsburgh Penguins were able to avoid this fate and part of it can be attributed to the fact Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin kept their cap hits down to $8.7 million and $9.5 million, respectively.
So good on the Blues and Binnington for striking a nice balance on this deal. Binnington gets a very nice payday and certainly more money than he probably expected to be making at this time last year, while St. Louis gets flexibility in the future. It’s going to be very difficult for the Blues to repeat as Cup champs, given the competition in the Central Division itself, but GM Doug Armstrong has at least ensured that his organization will be nimble when it comes to the cap. And that salary cap has proven to be harder than a lot of on-ice opponents for some recent champions.