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Jeff Gordon is an online sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Jordan Binnington on a 50-dollar bill

Jordan Binnington on a 50-dollar bill. (Post-Dispatch illustration / AP photos)

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong must solve his salary-cap puzzle from the goal line out.

His biggest piece, by far, is goaltender Jordan Binnington. As a restricted free agent he will multiply the $650,000 salary he earned last season after finally graduating from the minors. That math will dictate what’s left for others.

The bargaining process continued Friday, when Binnington filed for salary arbitration — along with defenseman Joel Edmundson, the team’s second-largest puzzle piece, and forwards Oskar Sundqvist and Zach Sanford.

The Blues had about $14 million in cap space Friday afternoon, enough to keep most of their Stanley Cup-championship roster intact. But even with veteran defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson taking salary cuts, there probably isn’t enough for everybody.

(Fans proposed trading goaltender Jake Allen to create cap space, but that wasn’t happening. Allen is a good fit for the team. There wasn’t a trade market for him this summer because few teams sought a change in goal. And replacing Allen would have been costly.)

This cap crunching brings us to winger Pat Maroon. He accepted a pay cut last season to come home to St. Louis and be with his son, Anthony. He also hoped to command bigger dollars on his next contract after earning $1.75 million this season.

Maroon, 31, is an unrestricted free agent drawing interest from other teams. Fans want to see the Big Rig stay, because he is one of their own, the kid from Oakville who came home to help the Blues win.

He provided a key element to this team’s winning chemistry. He symbolized this team’s “heavy” playing style. He knocked the Dallas Stars out of the second playoff round with his double-overtime goal in Game 7.

His commitment to the community was illustrated, again, with his outreach to the family of slain North County Cooperative Police Officer Michael Langsdorf.

As we said, though, Armstrong has a puzzle to solve and it starts with Binnington.

NHL contract bargaining is based on comparable deals. That is the guiding principle in the arbitration process, too. And there is no obvious comparison to guide this case.

Goaltender Matt Murray signed a three-year, $11.25 million contract after helping the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup as a young pro. But he was nowhere near unrestricted free agency then, so he lacked leverage.

Binnington signed his first pro deal when he was 19, and he turns 26 next week. He was no ordinary rookie. John Gibson (Ducks) and Connor Hellebuyck (Jets) each got better than $6 million per season on long-term deals at a similar age. They had a more extensive NHL track record than Binnington, but not nearly his postseason success.

So what will Binnington do? He can bet on himself with a shorter deal and go for the giant money later. Or he could grab financial security now with a longer deal.

Armstrong could challenge Binnington to show more by offering a short-term deal. Or he could hedge his bet with a longer term that buys into Jordan’s unrestricted free agency years.

That could have value. After all, unrestricted free agent Sergei Bobrovsky, 31, got a seven-year, $70 million contract from the Florida Panthers despite his poor playoff track record: 11-18 with a 3.14 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage.

The New York Islanders gave inconsistent, injury-prone unrestricted free agent Semyon Varlamov a four-year, $20 million contract after letting Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner jump to the Chicago Blackhawks for a one-year, $5 million deal.

Those moves create interesting context for the Blues’ negotiation. My suggestion: $22 million for four years, a tidy reward for the Cup run that also would grant Binnington unrestricted free agency at age 30. Just trying to help.

Edmundson is another tricky case. Armstrong didn’t offer him long-term money last summer, noting that the team missed the playoffs. Now the Blues reign as champions and Edmundson has standing.

Solid defensemen often get overpaid in this league. Scarcity is on their side, and that should help Edmundson.

On the other hand, Edmundson was up and down the lineup this season. Sometimes he was in the Top 4, sometimes he was on the third pairing and sometimes sat out.

Combine these factors with the team’s excellent defensive depth (hello, Derrick Pouliot) and prospect Niko Mikkola’s emergence and you can see the potential for a bad salary fit — at least in Armstrong’s view.

As for Maroon, he sits in a big pile of puzzle pieces with other forwards. Sundqvist could get a multi-year deal with a notable raise after his breakout season. So could cohort Ivan Barbashev, though he lacks the arbitration hammer.

Sanford has a lesser track record, so his arbitration rights probably don’t help much. Robby Fabbri also lacks juice after his unremarkable comeback from two major knee surgeries.

With Robert Thomas ready to play a bigger role next season and Jordan Kyrou looking to stick in the NHL — assuming a full recovery from knee surgery — there’s quite a crowd up front.

So if another team is offering Maroon multiple years with a nice raise, he might want to grab that financial security rather than waiting for Armstrong to solve this puzzle from the goal line out.


Gordo grades the Blues players

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