Jacob Markstrom: The Odd Goalie Out

Josh W
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.

The Statistics

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.

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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:

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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.

Unfortunately 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 System

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. 

Corbeil was 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.

With that 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.

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I am a Van Fan in Bytown. Living in Ottawa for work, I research Sports Analytics and Machine Learning at the University of Ottawa. I play hockey as well as a timbit but I compete in rowing with hopes of 2016 Olympic Gold. Follow me on twitter at @joshweissbock and feel free to send any questions or comments my way.
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#1 Simon
July 11 2014, 10:49AM
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If the Canucks look to trade a goalie they'd be better off trading Lack. Markstrom probably has a higher ceiling and it would allow him to get games in the NHL this season (and not sit on the bench for 20 straight one would assume).

I also don't think the Canucks would lose that much by having having Markstrom as the backup over Lack. Sure, Lack is better for now, but it's not like the difference between the two is going to cost the team anything significant. Besides I can't imagine Lack wants to hang around as a backup until he's 30 and Miller's contract is over anyway.

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#2 NM00
July 11 2014, 11:56AM
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While I doubt it happens, I also believe the better option is trading Lack.

I posted this in one of the Miller threads and it remains relevant...

Over their AHL careers, Markstrom has a .917 save percentage (stopped 3756 of 4094 shots) and Lack has a .923 save percentage (stopped 3095 of 3355 shots).

However, Markstrom also started in the AHL at a younger age (20) compared to Lack (22).

Factoring out Markstrom's first AHL season as a 20/21 year old, he has a .922 save percentage (stopped 2705 of 2935 shots).

Markstrom's AHL work from his 21/22 season through his 23/24 season is pretty much on par with Lack's AHL work from his 22/23 season through his 24/25 season.

Contractually, I also think it would be easier to avoid another so called goalie controversy going with Markstrom since he remains under team control for three more years.

At which time Miller will be a free agent and, if he performs well, Markstrom can take over the f/t starter role with an approproiate salary/cap hit.

If he follows the Schneider succession plan (Markstrom is 24 just as Schneider was in 2010/2011), he could start as a backup in year one, split duties in year two and take over as the starter in year three with Miller on the final year of his contract.

It would more or less be similar to how Rask took over for Thomas and, I'd argue, is the ideal way to bridge from one starting goalie to the next...

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#3 Ralphy
July 11 2014, 01:07PM
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When you listen or read a Benning interview, he telegraphs what he's going to do. He talked Miller - and goaltending in general - up a week or so before he signed him.

He said Vey is going to start as a third line centre and make his way up to a second line centre.

And the big thing - he said the Canucks are going to be composed of players the team can win with.

If Benning and Linden are looking at Markstrom or Lack, I can't imagine either player fit in that bucket so they are both disposable.

The chatter about what to do with Markstrom is interesting but I think mgmt. has moved on and will get what they can for him.

To the best of my recollection, Joe Collborne was the most recent highly rated prospected who didn't meet expectations to get traded. Flames paid a fourth rounder for him.

I'd be surprised (pleased mind you) if the Canucks got more for Markstrom

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#4 Matt
July 11 2014, 02:28PM
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There are more than just numbers when it comes to goalies...

I'm surprised that all Canuck fans seems to think so highly of Markström. As a swede, I've seen him in our Elitserie (as it was called back then) and he did not play that well. Markström is a prospect who never grew up. He didn't become the goalie everyone expected him to be, and he will be a talented prospect forever it seems. Unfortunately...

Ha hasn't taken any chance that he has been given in the NHL, so why should he suddenly be the next Roy or Brodeur!?

I find it rather strange that all so call critics, dismiss Miller and talk so highly of a goalie they have probably never seen play.

I would be happy to see him traded, since my hopes for him got washed away years ago. I might be wrong, but why should we give him the benefit of the doubt, when he has never showed anything good at all, and then thrash Miller!? I just don't get it... He's not that good! (And that's probably why the Canucks didn't wanna head into the new season with him as a backup!)

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#5 PB
July 11 2014, 07:02PM
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@Matt

If you were to look at Ryan Miller's stats at the same points in his career as Markstrom's they are actually fairly similar. As a young prospect he ranged from adequate to terrible in his first couple of (short) stints in the NHL, was between solid and excellent in the AHL, and then finally made the show I think at 25. Markstrom is 24. It seems far too early to give up on him, especially since we have so much evidence that goalies take longer to mature than skaters.

Between Markstrom and Lack I'd absolutely trade the latter both in terms of possible return (which I'd be astounded if it was higher than a 3rd round pick) and fit with the backup role behind Miller.

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#6 Matt
July 12 2014, 05:26AM
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@PB

...and you should perhaps read what I wrote?

I started with; "There are more than just numbers when it comes to goalies..."

...and you directly started to run some stats comparisons... sigh...

Lack is a far better goalie than Markström, period! Regardless of stats!

Can't see how you guys want to trade Lack and keep a prospect that has never properly proved himself!

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#7 Kobra
July 12 2014, 04:48PM
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@Simon

COULD NOT AGREE MORE MAN.

I wish we had have kept it Lack/Markstrom, and used the cash from Miller towards more scoring/or defensive depth.

Thanks Josh, for the content of this article.

Markstrom is in a very "rare" situation HAHAHAHA,

ONLY in Vancouver.

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#8 PB
July 12 2014, 06:06PM
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@Matt

I read what you originally wrote. It makes no more sense than what you're responding with. If not actual results, what exactly would you like to base your assessment on? You've made a lot of big claims -- Markstrom has never lived up to the hype, Lack is a far better goalie, the critics of Miller are wrong -- but you present zero evidence for any of this. What makes you so sure of Miller (who I do think, by the way, is a decent stop-gap for the Canucks) given his poor play in the playoffs in STL and his relatively average play the past few seasons? What makes you so sure that Lack is so much better than Markstrom based on half a season as an NHL backup and half a season as an overmatched starter? I have no idea if Markstrom will develop into the goalie we need but I think that the return for Lack will be better and since we have Miller anyway he makes more sense as a backup.

Just because you happened to see Markstrom play in Sweden makes you no more of an expert unless you can somehow explain his success over there had nothing to do with him. What exactly is it that you are suggesting that stats do NOT tell us about a goalie? I watched Joe Cannata for a couple of years dominate Hockey East -- so what? He's still unlikely to be much more than an AHL-goalie based on his actual performance in the pros so far. I would love to hear more about your intuition about goalies based on their smell or whatever else...

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