Jordan Binnington is one of the great stories from this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, but not even the St. Louis Blues’ brain trust tries to say he was ever their goaltender of the future.
A stroll through hockeydb.com is all the proof needed on this front.
First, the native of Richmond Hill, one of Toronto’s bedroom communities, is an NHL rookie at the grand old age of 25. That does not happen if someone is one of a team’s top prospects, but it certainly does if you are considered the No. 4 goaltender in the organization, as Binnington was almost from the day he was taken by the Blues in the third round of the NHL entry draft in 2011.
Binnington’s status is confirmed by his list of stops over the next eight years. He bounced from his junior team, the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack, to the AHL to the ECHL and back to the AHL for an extended apprenticeship.
Last season, Binnington refused an assignment back to the lower-tier ECHL and, because the Blues did not have an AHL team at the time, he wound up with the Providence Bruins, the Boston Bruins’ AHL team. Yes, you read that right, the Boston Bruins’ farm team.
Binnington made 28 appearances last season for Providence with a goals-against average of 2.05 and save percentage of .926. Two of his teammates were defencemen Connor Clifton and Matt Grzelcyk, whom Binnington is now facing in the Stanley Cup final.
How Binnington ended up stabilizing the Blues’ long-term goaltending problems and then becoming a contender, first for the Calder Memorial Trophy, the NHL’s rookie of the year award, and now the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP, is a happy accident.
Despite being a consistent playoff contender, the Blues’ goaltending never provided complete satisfaction. For several years from the time Binnington was drafted, the duo of Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak shared the job with cameo appearances from Martin Brodeur and Ryan Miller. Elliott and Halak were good most of the time, but never quite good enough to put the Blues over the top.
The heir apparent was Jake Allen, who was taken in the second round of the 2008 entry draft, 34th over all. He was given the quality minutes in the minors and the looks with the big team. Between 2011 and this season, the extent of Binnington’s NHL experience was 13 minutes during one game in the 2015-16 season.
Then the Blues drafted Ville Husso out of Finland in 2014. Now, with Allen sharing the top job with Elliott, the Finn became the goalie of the future. After Elliott moved on in 2016, Carter Hutton and Chad Johnson spent time in the Blues crease.
Through it all, Binnington grew a thick skin and somehow held on to the self-confidence that marked him from his days in junior. Brodeur, who spent time as a Blues player-development executive, once told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman his least favourite duty was having to tell Binnington at the end of training camp he was headed back to the minors. He never took it well.
The trouble was, after a promising start as a partner to Elliott, Allen was never consistent enough to hang on to the top job, even after it was handed to him in the 2016-17 season. The Blues finally had enough this season and turned to Binnington in January when Allen faltered again.
Once he landed the opportunity, Binnington never let go, running up a 1.89 goals-against average and .927 save percentage in 32 games. It is not too difficult to make a case that he is more responsible than any other single player for the Blues going from last place over all in January to the Stanley Cup final.
Along the way, Binnington became notable for one thing – his coolness under fire. Well, make that two things – also his responses when asked about nerves. “Do I look nervous to you?” Binnington said to one reporter, which quickly became the quote of the second half of the regular season.
He also created a stir on social media for his reactions to the various dramatic finishes the Blues made to playoff games this spring. Almost every video clip was the same as the one posted when teammate Pat Maroon scored in double-overtime to put the Blues into the Western Conference final. The overhead camera shows Binnington simply skating out of his net, not even waving his stick.
Those who know him say this response was forged by his years of being ignored by his own team. Binnington became determined to funnel that frustration into a strong belief in himself, strong enough to control his emotions until his team wins what matters, the Stanley Cup.
Binnington admits he does the slow slide out of his net in those moments knowing the camera is on him. But that is as far as he goes.
“I do it on purpose,” he told The Athletic. “I just try to keep it interesting and give people something to talk about. I like when people make their own stories out of it, so I’ll let you guys keep wondering what’s going on here.”
As for that “Do I look nervous” crack, his old Providence Bruins teammates are pretty sure Binnington was employing his deadpan humour.
“He’s a funny kid,” Clifton told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He got mixed reviews on [the nervous response]. “But I knew he was kidding. I laughed … I knew his personality.”