Let’s go back to the far-off time of 2019. It was a different era back then for the NHL and the St. Louis Blues.
Taylor Hall was coming off a Hart Trophy-winning season for the New Jersey Devils. The Tampa Bay Lightning were tying all-time regular season wins records and were certain not to get swept in the first round.
Also, some guy named Dr. Fauci just sounded like a minor character from “The Sopranos”.
That was also the season a rookie goaltender named Jordan Binnington lead the Blues on an improbable run from last in the NHL to Stanley Cup champions.
After years of having a revolving door of goalies from Jaroslav Halak to Martin Brodeur to Ryan Miller, it seemed the Blues finally had the franchise goalie that would help them win it all.
Fast forward to now and the Blues’ Cup-winning window seems slammed shut, at least for the now. Ryan O’Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Ivan Barbashev have since been shipped off. Binnington and Colton Parayko remain the only main pieces from that Cup run.
The St. Louis Blues goaltender has descended into NHL villainy.
It might be only four short years, but how the almighty Binnington has fallen. His reputation has changed, and not for the better.
First, there were those tweets that came out around the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs. The NHL mostly turned a blind eye to them. Granted, dumb tweets from a “player who wasn’t even in the league” are far from league priorities.
Then there was water bottle gate last season when Binnington seemingly threw a water bottle at then-Colorado Avalanche forward Nazem Kadri off-screen.
Even if you don’t want to defend Binnington (which is completely understandable), I can at least say I understood whatever frustration he was feeling. Remember, it was a borderline dirty Kadri hit that knocked Binnington out of the playoffs with an injury.
Throwing a water bottle was a childish reaction to understandable frustration. Binnington also did no damage control calling the moment a “god-given opportunity”.
As the Blues sputtered out of contention this season, Binnington’s antics continuously crossed the line.
During Wednesday night’s nationally televised game against the Minnesota Wild, Binnington appeared to engage the Wild bench in some fighting words after giving up three unanswered goals and the lead.
Tempers continued to flare, and after giving up a fifth goal in the game, Binnington threw a blocker hand punch at goal scorer Ryan Hartmann.
Binnginton would be ejected (and in a terrible look, tried to hype up the crowd as well) but not before Marc-Andre Fleury skated down the ice in preparation for a goalie fight (Rick Flair was there and wanted to see a goalie fight, what a missed opportunity).
The Wild voiced displeasure in the post-game for what has been a pattern of unsportsmanlike behavior from Binnington. Hartman added, “He’s been doing stuff like this for a while,” while Fleury commented, “I’m not surprised. I’ve seen Jordan do a few things in his career”.
Binnington said he respected Hartman but also accused him of diving. That little stunt secured Binnington a date with the NHL’s Department Of Player Safety. In the past few months, it also earned the seal of disapproval from his coach Craig Berube.
Just like Harvey Dent says in the cinematic masterpiece “The Dark Knight”, “you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain” and Binnington has entered the territory of the latter.
The league, the players, and the fans have grown tired of his controversial acts. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise the Blue haven’t locked Binnington up long-term.
One Twitter user compared Binnington to Brad Marchand, saying that the NHL needs villains. The difference is Marchand has the skill to back it up. Marchand is a consistent threat to score 30 goals. His pesty behavior fits well with the Boston Bruins lineup and game plan (although licking opponents is where we draw the line).
Binnington on the other hand is on a team in the midst of a rebuild, or retool, or whatever you want to call it and lacks individual success. His stat line for this season is 3.39 goals against average and a .892 save percentage.
Those numbers are far off from the 1.89 goals against average and 0.927 save percentage he posted on St. Louis’s magical run in 2019 and have gotten worse every year since.
Maybe that’s the difference between a “pest” and a “villain”. A “pest” is someone whose antics help their team win, like Marchand. A “villain” is someone whose antics detract from and hurt their team, like Binnington.
“Pests” can also be effective to their own degree. A “pest” makes some effort to operate within the rules of the game. “Villains” clearly aren’t thinking when they do half the things they do, with the punch on Hartman being a perfect example.
The Blues are clearly in a transition period. The more Binnington acts up, not to mention the more his stats decline, the less of a reason the Blues have to bring him back as they seek to reopen their window to contention.
Binnington has become a villain and there’s no more denying it. If he played well, then maybe some (but not all) of his antics could be tolerated.