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Jordan Binnington’s Race Towards the Calder

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Can he get some votes?

Toronto Maple Leafs v St Louis Blues Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Jordan Binnington continued the prolific start to his rookie season with his ninth consecutive win on Tuesday night. This brought his overall record to 13-1-1 in his first 15 career starts. Binnington has been carrying the St. Louis Blues on his back in these starts and is a key reason that the team currently enjoys an 11-game win streak. The streak has established the Blues as a top team in the league, as they clawed their way into true playoff contention.

On top of carrying the Blues on his shoulders, Binnington has also made himself a true contender for the Calder Memorial Trophy. He joins Elias Pettersson as the only true rookie-of-the-year candidates, despite a strong pool of talent this year. If he can continue this record-setting play, Binnington could very easily become the 16 goaltender to win the award, joining the likes of players like Martin Brodeur, Ed Belfour, and Terry Sawchuk.

The Argument

Binnington has been virtually impossible to ignore since being recalled by the Blues on January 5. It’s clear why he’s a Calder-candidate. With a 4-0 win against the Minnesota Wild, he recorded his fourth shutout in 16 games. This tied three other goalies, including Jake Allen, for shutouts in a single season. Of those goalies, none were able to record all four in fewer games than Binnington. In fact, the only other modern-era goalie to record four shutouts in their first 14 career starts has been Antti Niemi, who did it in 2009-10.

His four shutouts also tie Binnington with Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss for the second-most shutouts so far this year. Looking beyond shutouts, Binnington still ranks highest in almost every noteworthy category, when looking at goalies with at least 10 starts so far this year. This includes goals-against-average and save percentage, where he currently tallies an amazing 1.61 and .937 respectively.

The stats don’t show Binninton’s true prowess, though. In his first test as an NHL starter, his ability to stay calm-and-collected has been borderline uncanny. Nothing seems to phase the 25-year-old, he just wants to play hockey. On top of his inhumanly calm demeanor, he’s also shown off elite agility and awareness in net. These combine with a great ability to read the play, and set up angles, to make Binnington a one-of-a-kind goaltender.

What It Will Take

The road to the Calder will take more than what Binnington has shown thus far, though. The most recent goalie to win, Steve Mason, had to go as far as breaking the record for most games started in a players’ rookie season. He set the record during the 2008-09 season, with 61 starts, shattering the previous record by 21. Since then, only Sergei Bobrovsky and Mike Condon have been able to record more than 50 rookie-starts.

While Binnington likely won’t shatter a record like Mason did, he does have one thing that Mason didn’t: genuine Stanley Cup aspirations. The 08-09 Columbus Blue Jackets, where Mason made his NHL debut, was a measly group that rode on the coattails of a red-hot Rick Nash, and a 13-8-4 finish to the season, to just barely make it into the playoffs. They were a quick exit, though, being swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the first round.

On the contrary, the Blues are starting to look like one of the best teams in the league. The team’s offense has finally clicked on all levels. Above all else, the top line of Brayden Schenn, Ryan O’Reilly, and Vladimir Tarasenko has been particularly amazing. The trio has combined for 45 points during the team’s 11-game win streak. Having a roster that clicks so well, capped off with an unbelievable top-line and even better starting goalie, is clearly a dream come true in St. Louis. They’ve fought their way into a clear playoff spot and have quickly become a favorite to win the Stanley Cup. Per Bovada, via OddShark, the St. Louis Blues rank fifth in the Western Conference in Stanley Cup odds. They fall behind San Jose, Nashville, Calgary and Winnipeg. When you consider that the Blues were one of the worst teams in the league in December, ranking fifth in Stanley Cup odds is ludicrous.

Drawing Comparisons

Even with the dazzling play from everyone in front of him, Binnington is still the main reason the Blues are in playoff contention. This could be the silver lining that wins Binnington the award over players like Pettersson. If so, it’d be very comparable to Andrew Raycroft’s Calder win in 2004.

Raycroft set above-average numbers, including a 2.05 goals-against-average and a .928 save percentage, during his rookie year. He manned the net for a Boston Bruins team with a very strong top-six, including a rookie Patrice Bergeron. While the Bruins offense was enough to get them just about anywhere that year, a lot of credit fell onto Raycroft’s shoulders, hence his rookie-of-the-year title.

If you look at Raycroft’s season from January 5 onward, it mirrors Binnington’s current situation surprisingly well. In the 15 games Raycroft played between January 5 and February 20, he set a record of 12-3-0 with two shutouts. This amazing stretch would continue for the rest of the regular season, ultimately giving him a record of 20-8-3 between January 5 and the end of the year. On the back of Raycroft, the Bruins were able to win out a very crowded Northeast Division and ultimately rank second in the Eastern Conference.

Competition

Pettersson is still a massive hurdle for Binnington, though. The Swedish prodigy has netted 54 points in 49 games and looks to be truly transforming the game. He seems to be the epitome of the new generation of hockey, flashing a truly amazing level of skill. With that said, Binnington could still easily beat him out.

Pettersson’s missed games could be the an issue, losing precious time to dazzle the league. He is also playing on a team with an uncertain playoff hopes, fighting for a wild card spot. With not much other star talent on the Vancouver Canucks, Pettersson could make-or-break the Canucks playoff hopes with how he finishes off his rookie year.

Above all else, though, is the fact that the league seemingly caters to dazzling goalies over dazzling players when it comes to Calder voting. Raycroft proved this in 2004. His astonishing end-of-the-year heroics beat an equally amazing Michael Ryder, who scored 63 points in 81 games. While not as impressive as Pettersson’s current season, Ryder was still a clear star and Calder-favorite during his rookie year. Yet, the league chose the red-hot goalie over Ryder, proving the value of his amazing second-half. With Binnington’s current stretch being the new-and-improved version of Raycroft’s year, it’d be no surprise to see the league again favor the goalie.

Binnington has already clearly gained the starting role from Jake Allen. Now, all he needs to do is continue following Raycroft’s footsteps towards the end of the year. If he is able to stay hot and replicate that great stretch from 2004, there would be no doubt that Binnington is more than deserving of the rookie-of-the-year title. This is only compounded by the fact that Binnington played in the AHL for the first half of this season, whereas Raycroft had 47 NHL games before he made the immaculate 31-game-run that Binnington is recreating. Ultimately, everything is shaping up for a clear Calder Trophy win for Binnington, as long as he can stay hot among a star Blues lineup.