There, a year earlier, Binnington had befriended Andy Chiodo, a goalie whose professional career was concluding and whose work ethic he had come to admire. With his career teetering, Binnington confided in Chiodo, by then a goalie coach for Nichol, a desire to improve his discipline and lifestyle habits.
“That summer was really powerful,” Chiodo, now the Penguins’ goalie development coach, said in an interview last week. “He was open about what he wanted.”
From May to September, five days a week — and sometimes six — Binnington worked on body and mind. Surrounded by N.H.L. captains and Cup winners, he learned critical differences: between training and exercising, eating and fueling, practicing and preparing with intent. He thwarted McDavid and Dallas Stars star Tyler Seguin on the ice and won his peers’ respect in the weight room.
In one conversation with Binnington, Nichol relayed how Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, when asked whether he was bothered by teammates criticizing his perceived lack of a social life, said he could excel at football for only a finite period; he could drink all the beer he wanted later.
Nichol also shared how when Watt used the weight room during a visit to Toronto, he asked if he could come earlier than his normal 6 a.m. session because of a 9 a.m. engagement about an hour away. Told yes, Watt proceeded to estimate the duration of every task — breakfast, a coffee stop, the length of his drive, accounting for potential traffic — before settling on 4 a.m.
“To see a guy like that — his entire life revolved around his training,” Nichol said. “For Jordan, it was the realization that I’m not the fun police. He’s a guy that’s had his fun. In order to achieve the things he wanted, it had to be a full-time effort.”
By then, though, another young goalie, Ville Husso, had vaulted ahead of Binnington in the Blues’ organization. At the beginning of last season the Blues demoted him from the American Hockey League to the ECHL, but he refused to go.