The Vancouver Canucks are one of the NHL’s most exciting teams. Full stop.
For anyone paying attention, the Canucks have quietly put together one of the most effective rebuilds in the NHL and have a young-core surrounded by capable veterans who have propelled the team from bottom-of-the-pack to legitimate playoff contenders.
The rebuild has been a product of both homegrown talents and acquired assets blending together to make an electric team capable of entertaining and succeeding on any given night.
The position that best exhibits this combination of homegrown talent blended with acquired talent would be the goaltending position. A tanden that includes Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko, the former being traded to the Canucks as part of the Roberto Luongo trade and the latter being drafted by the team in 2014.
Though things looked good for the Canucks and their goalie tandem during the 2020 NHL Postseason, the burning question for the team is in regards to Markstrom.
What Will the Canucks Do With Markstrom?
The Canucks comfortably rolled out Markstrom as their starter for 43 games during the 2019-20 season with Demko spelling him for 27 leading up to the NHL’s pause in their season.
In that time, Markstrom would put together a 23-16-4 record to go with his .918 save percentage and 2.75 goals-against average. He’d also post an 11.40 GSAA (goals saved above average).
Demko would go 13-10-2 in his starts and would have less-than-optimal peripherals, including a .905 save percentage, 3.06 goals-against average and -3.67 GSAA.
For all intents and purposes, Markstrom, a pending unrestricted free agent heading into the postseason, was likely to see himself earning an extension in Vancouver until Demko could concretely prove that he was the goalie of the future. He’d go 8-5-1 with a .919 save percentage and 2.85 goals-against average during the playoffs and performed exactly as the Canucks expected.
Due to injury, however, Markstrom would be forced to the sideline and Demko would have to step up and play when the games mattered the most. The 24-year-old would play in four games in the playoffs, including the Canucks’ final three games against the Vegas Golden Knights.
This was the coming out party for Demko that the team was hoping for. He’d stop 123 of 125 shots faced in those three games and would prove that he could succeed under pressure in the NHL, similarly to how he had proven he could do so in the NCAA with Boston College.
In college, Demko would win the Mike Richter Award as the NCAA’s goalie of the year in 2016. He’d also be named a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award that year and would be considered one of the best young goalie prospects on the planet at the time.
It’s a small sample size, but Demko would finish the postseason with a 2-1 record and a .985 save percentage and .64 goals-against average.
While it may not be wise to give Demko the keys to the city based solely on a four-game playoff run, the Canucks don’t have the luxury of keeping Markstrom in the fold for the short-term until they know if Demko is ready.
The Canucks know exactly what Markstrom is as a goalie. He’s been as consistent a goaltender in the NHL as it gets and his peripherals have been roughly the same since the 2015-16 season
Risks to Consider for Markstrom & Canucks
It’s safe to say that at 30 years old and with such uncertain times given the current climate of the world, Markstrom can’t afford to gamble on a short-term deal, especially given his history of injury. For the veteran netminder, this may be his one chance at capitalizing on his value and earning a big contract that can take him until his potential retirement.
The concerns that are there for Markstrom on a short-term deal are also very real for the Canucks, however, and it could give them pause when negotiating a long-term deal. At 30 years old, Markstrom has inherit risk. He also has risk given his injury history, as mentioned. The Canucks also have a plethora of players to re-sign this offseason, including Jake Virtanen, Tyler Toffoli, Tyler Motte, Josh Leivo, Oscar Fantenberg, Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher.
While the team may not bring all of those players back, they have to consider their cap allocation when figuring out a deal with Markstrom who could easily command somewhere in the realm of $5-6 million or more on the open market.
The Canucks would have to either be confident enough in Demko to take over as their starter or they’d have to find a suitable goalie on the open market or trade market who could come in at a cheaper rate than Markstrom who could serve as an insurance policy for Demko in the short-term.
It’s a slippery slope and there’s risk on both sides for the Canuck. Signing Markstrom to a long-term deal and allocating that money to a good-not-great goalie on the wrong-side of 30 with an injury history is risky. Doing so when a 24-year-old in Demko could potentially be pushing for a starting job is in the wakes is also a factor.
Demko, however, hasn’t proven himself to be a reliable starting goalie in the NHL for an extended period of time yet. Any external goalie brought in could be a suitable insurance policy, but there’s also no guarantee that such a player exists, wants to play in Vancouver or would even play up to Markstrom’s level in Vancouver.
The grass isn’t always greener and sometimes going with the more reliable and known commodity is the better decision to make. This is why the Canucks will have to think long and hard about their decision this offseason because it could be the difference between the Canucks building on their 2019-20 success or regressing and failing to capitalize on the situation.
Being a general manager in the NHL is anything but easy and these are the situations that can make or break a general manager in the NHL. Every decision made can cause a ripple-effect that could have long-standing effects on a team; this decision is no different.
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