July 11 2014 10:19AM
At the start of the offseason I think I was one of the few supporters of the notion of heading into the upcoming 2014-15 season of play with the combination of Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom manning the crease. What is there not to like? In them you have two young goaltenders, both with good track records of success in the AHL, that would cost pennies and allow the team to deal with bigger issues (like icing a true second line).
But alas, hockey management typically is much more risk-averse than us armchair general managers and Vancouver management did not feel secure with this combination, clearly. While I understand their line of thinking that doesn't mean that I agree with it. I don’t want to spend much time on the Miller acquisition because that has already been dealt with ad nauseam on this platform; rather, I want to take a deeper look at the younger of the two goaltenders, Jacob Markstrom, as we start looking ahead towards next season.
Jacob Markstrom, the goalie acquired as half of the Luongo trade, is still quite young for the position he plays. He’s only 24.5 years old in a league where goalies typically don’t even step up to the NHL until their mid-twenties and the average age of a starter is 29. That makes his past track record of success all the more impressive.
Markstrom played 3 seasons in the SEL for Brynas facing a total of 2,318 shots against and walking away with a .920 save-percentage. That's not a huge sample size but it is starting to approach a level where we can say with confidence that he was legitimately quite good.
He then went on to spend 4 years in the AHL, where he played 131 games and put up another impressive .917 sv% against over 4,000 shots. All of this has started to become overshadowed by the .896 save percentage he has mustered up thus far at the NHL level, though.
Before completely dismissing Markstrom as a bust that can't convert those attributes that used to make him so successful to the NHL level, let's keep in mind the sample sizes we're dealing with here:
As a general rule of thumb: we are all terrible at analyzing goalies. They are very susceptible to variance within their performance and our the metrics we have to gauge these performances for goaltenders clearly aren't up to snuff yet. But what many studies have shown is that it takes a goaltender somewhere in the ballpark of 3,000+ shots before we can start to have a sense of what their true talent level is.
Markstrom has only played in 47 games in the NHL, including relief stints,
where he has only faced 1,282 shots against. That’s only 40% of what is needed to properly evaluate him. That means that it's quite possible that Markstrom is an
average or better goalie, and that it just hasn't had enough time to make itself evident. Remember that Cory Schneider posted an .877 save percentage in his first 8-game showing in the NHL as a 23-year old, and didn't really start to make a name for himself at that level until he was 25.
for Markstrom, given the numbers he has posted and the track record of
management it is unlikely he will be given the opportunity to face another
1,800 shots. Not in Vancouver, at least.
The Canucks have essentially created a log-jam in their goaltender depth chart by the signing of Ryan Miller. It's likely that we will see Miller and Lack starting in the NHL which still leaves Demko, Cannata, Eriksson, Markstrom and possibly Corbeil still in the system.
signed to the Utica Comets last year and was frankly terrible. He couldn’t hold an ECHL or a Central Hockey
League job so I doubt he will be back this year (but I have heard nothing
official on this). Demko is almost
guaranteed to return to the NCAA (where he should) to finish off his schooling
and continue to develop there. When speaking about him during this week's summer summit, Trevor Linden said of the team's 2nd rounder: "we drafted young Thatcher Demko who’s 18 years old and he’s going to spend 3-4 years in college, and then a couple of years in the AHL."
Joe Cannata and Joacim Eriksson were the goaltenders in Utica last year. Given that Eriksson just came to North America last year and it took him half a year to adjust I would think the Canucks would want to keep him in a starting role to continue to develop. Joe Cannata backed him up for the entirety of the season and was not really that good last year. He's fine enough as an AHL backup and arguably should be in the ECHL for more development time.The problem with that is that the Canucks ECHL affiliate, the Kalamazoo Wings, have a joint affiliation with the St. Louis Blues which causes some political issues on which goaltender will get the starting role.
in mind I'm not sure where Markstrom could go in the AHL. It’s possible that he could share the starter
role in Utica but it’s arguable that you’re hindering the development of
Eriksson, who needs the starts more at this point of his career. Especially since Eriksson has a clause in his contract that he could exercise were he not happy with the situation in Utica. Plus, there's an argument to be made that Markstrom can't personally gain much more from the AHL competition.
That seems to leave the Canucks with one option: trading Jacob Markstrom. Unfortunately, given that he's a) a goalie, b) has a poor save percentage in the NHL thus far, and c) reportedly wants out, the Canucks don't exactly have a great deal of leverage with which to work. Considering that he was one of the two pieces that the organization has to show in return for the best goaltender in its history, it's a bad spot to be in.
The Way Forward
This is a situation I am extremely interested in watching develop to see how it's handled by the Canucks. Given their track record of dealing with issues surrounding goaltenders, there's a lot of potential here. And not the good kind; moreso the "oh boy, the rest of the league is going to be talking about this for a while now" kind.
I still personally believe in Jacob Markstrom as a goaltending prospect. With the caveat there being that he needs to be given more opportunities to play in the NHL before writing him off. While the Canucks as they currently stand don't necessarily have a natural opening for Markstrom at either the NHL or AHL level, he's not the worst fall-back option to have for now. Either Miller or Lack could easily get hurt early on in the season, and Markstrom could step in and potentially thrive. Similar instances of this have happened before and will happen again.
I highly subscribe to the theory that NHL players are the best of the best, and while they may look average in the NHL they have most likely dominated or played extremely well in the minor leagues against weaker competition in the past. There's a reason they've gotten to the level where they're at now.
Jacob Markstrom has done exceedingly well in both the SEL and AHL; we don't have enough evidence to know whether that's as far as his talents will translate, or whether he'll eventually wind up adding another notch to his belt of levels of competition he has handled.