Benning: “Markstrom is ready now to play in the NHL”

Vancouver Cancuks General Manager Jim Benning joined the Sekeres and Price show on TSN radio this morning to talk about Jacob Markstrom’s play down in Utica, among other Comets news and notes. While there wasn’t a whole ton in the way of new information, Benning did drop an interesting tidbit in regards to how Vancouver’s goaltending situation is going to play out this upcoming summer.

Is Benning’s confidence in Markstrom misplaced? What does this mean for Eddie Lack? We’ll investigate after the jump.

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First and foremost, you can listen to the audio of Benning’s interview here.

Benning began the interview by praising how Markstrom has learned to battle more this season, citing his improved mental toughness, as evidenced by his strong playoff run. While we traditionally roll our eyes at stuff like this, it’s worth noting that this has been a rather well-documented concern for Markstrom in the past, and his performance in crunch time or in high-pressure situations is consistent with that of a guy who tends to lose his cool when the spotlight is squarely on him.

From what I think is the definitive Jacob Markstrom analysis piece, via the long time goalie analysis pioneer The Contrarian Goaltender:

Some have questioned whether Markstrom has the makeup to be an NHLer.  It’s interesting to read the early scouting reports that suggested that mental toughness was one of his strengths as a prospect. On the other hand, while I’m not huge on trying to measure a guy’s mental state, especially for a young goalie where we’re already limited to tiny samples for everything, I think it has to be at least mentioned that Markstrom has not only taken some time to adapt to both North American pro leagues he’s played in, but also has a poor record in playoff games throughout his young career.  This is true not only in the Swedish Elite League and the AHL, but also in international tournaments (U18s and world juniors), where it has become a bit of a pattern for Markstrom to be close to unbeatable during the round robin and then struggle in the playoffs.
International career:
Round robin games:  252/266, .947
Playoff games:  132/155, .852
2010 Elitserien playoffs:  112/124, .903
2012 Calder Cup playoffs:  253/289, .907
That’s a combined .875 on 568 shots, which is well below Markstrom’s usual rates at those levels of competition.  That doesn’t by any means guarantee that Markstrom cannot succeed, it is likely largely random or affected by other factors (e.g. strength of team/opposition), and most of it came five or more years ago when Markstrom was quite a bit younger than he is now.  I wouldn’t wager much at all based on these results going forward, but it might be something to at least be aware of if you are the goalie coach and/or sports psychologist employed by a team that has Markstrom under contract.

Markstrom’s 2015 Calder Cup run has been dominant, even by his lofty AHL regular season standards, as his eye-popping 0.931 AHL save percentage blows all of his previous “crunch-time” results out of the water. Again, I wouldn’t bet against his being mainly variance-driven, but maybe it’s the kick in the pants a young goalie needs to get his head in order to put it all together at the next level.

And from Benning’s quotes, it sounds like the Canucks expect Markstrom to play at the next level in the 2015-16 season. The money quote this morning was “Jacob Markstrom is ready now to play in the NHL,” and Benning also mentioned how Markstrom is a “different goaltender” than he was at the beginning of the year.

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There’s something to this point, as Markstrom has made significant adjustments to his game under the guidance of Rollie Melanson and Dan Cloutier. InGoal Magazine’s Greg Balloch previously told me that Markstrom struggled with chasing the play, and Melanson has been working hard to correct his deficiencies there. Being a towering 6’6″ tall, Markstrom has also struggled with pucks leaking through his body in the past, but adjustments to his stance have been made to address this issue too. As professional goaltending coach (and VANCOUVER GIANTS LEGEND) Sean Murray explains:

So we know that Markstrom is a different goalie, and while steps have been taken that we think should help his transition, we don’t know if Markstrom is a better goalie than he was previously. If you squint, Markstrom’s most recent AHL numbers might look a tiny bit better, but the fact of the matter is that these tweaks to Markstrom’s game have yet to make a significantly noticeable impact on the results we’re able to measure.

Markstrom Chart

Markstrom Rolling 20-GP AHL Sv% (since start of career), via The Contrarian Goaltender

It’s entirely possible that the combination of being slow to read plays, too large to close down holes, and struggling under pressure will plague Markstrom for the rest of his career and conspire to keep him from being an NHL goalie, but he’s still dominated every level he’s ever played at, he’s now dominated under pressure, and we have reason to believe he’s made technical changes that will help him succeed at that next level of competition. We might guess that he’s now an NHL-caliber guy, but we really have no way of being confident in this until he gets another NHL shot.

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What was left un-said about Markstrom and his chances of playing in the NHL is perhaps just as interesting in regards to what the Canucks will have to do with their goalies. With Markstrom set to make a minimum of $1.4 million this season thanks to RFA rules, he will be too expensive to keep in the AHL. Vancouver has to move a goalie, and while much of the speculation has been around Eddie Lack, Benning was non-committal on Markstrom’s Canucks future.

Benning has repeatedly made reference to his management team having yet to sit down to discuss the direction they’re going to go in, saying that a decision on Markstrom had yet to be made. He also answered a Blake Price question, saying “there will be teams interested for sure” should the Canucks put Markstrom on the market.

To me, this genuinely sounds like Benning doesn’t yet know how this situation is going to play out, and is just trying to talk up both of his guys in the event that a team wants to bite on either Markstrom or Lack. We do know Lack is possibly on the table under the right circumstances, and from this interview today, it certainly doesn’t sound like they’re all-in on Markstrom either. If they were ready to hand the reigns to Markstrom, you think you would expect to hear more things about how the team is going to try to get him signed, how he’s expected to hold down an NHL role in Vancouver next year, or how he’s ready to learn from Ryan Miller.

I’ve mentioned previously how a Lack trade just doesn’t make sense from the Canucks’ point of view, and nothing Jim Benning said today should give us any reason to revise this stance. He will have to move one goaltender soon, and although getting Ryan Miller’s $6 Million contract off the books would be the best case scenario, I still get the sense that Markstrom will end up being the odd man out. They’ve done their best to build him into an asset, but Miller isn’t moving, and given Miller’s are and Markstrom’s NHL track record, it’s too risky to ship out Eddie Lack.

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    • VancouverEnvy

      Don’t know about that – Benning may be sending out feelers now about dealing Lack or Markstrom, if only to feed the management decision on which goaltender will actually be offered up. If I had to bet, I would say Markstrom leaving for a late 2nd rounder.

  • andyg

    Benning: “Markstrom is ready now to play in the NHL”

    Talk is cheap, I’ll believe it when I see it.

    As for useless contracts, get rid of the twins and wipe the slate clean, then you’ll have lots of money to work with. But the Canucks won’t do anything with the twins until 50 years shows up and they can celebrate futility with their beloved twins.

    Just like drug addicts, the Canucks have got to have one last fix at stupidity even if it kills them.

  • Jack Sparrow

    Benning is going to trade Lack to Edmonton. Chiarelli and Benning are probably still discussing what would it take to get Lack. Probably the first round pick from the Pens and may be a prospect or a third rounder?

    • Silverback

      I think you are way too optimistic.

      Benning will not trade Lack to Edmonton for the simple reason that if Lack were to develop into a bona fide star in Edmonton, Benning would be reminded of this silly trade all day, every day. Trading Lack would need to be to a team in the eastern conference.

      Also, I think you are overvaluing Lack’s trade value. Regardless of whether we may all think he is worth a first round pick or not, his value is more like a 2nd rounder, and perhaps a prospect or two…if lucky. That being said, it also depends where the draft pick is. A late 1st rounder, say 25th or later, may be in the cards, but honestly, the best I see for Lack is an early 2nd round pick and a prospect or two.

      Rather see Miller gone, even if we retain 25% of Miller’s salary, it would be less onerous for a team such as San Jose to take on two remaining years of miller’s contract at 4.5M. It would also free up some cap room to sign Lack when his contract comes up next year. After a year of Lack and Markstrom as a tandem, we would see the wisdom of our decision and undoubtably be able trade one or the other if need be. We still have a couple of decent goaltending prospects in Demko and Eriksson.

  • Spoils

    Markstrom’s trade value bottomed with his three goals on four shots NHL debut last season.
    And now his value has peaked with his great AHL playoff run.
    Benning is talking him up for trade purposes.
    Nobody will repeat Benning’s mistake with Ryan Miller and Lack probably enjoys greater management confidence as well as fan affection. Everybody likes the perpetually sunny Lack and the Canucks have already alienated fans by getting rid of all-time fave Lu.

    • Jack Sparrow

      Luongo didn’t want to be in Vancouver anyways, he said his contract “sucked”

      Imagine that, a contract worth tens of millions sucking and to say that, well that’s pure class on the part of Luongo.

      I wonder who’s pumping his tires in Florida now?

  • I recall an old interview with Cory Schneider who explained how AHL shooters differ from NHL shooters. He said that AHL shooters tend to be more erratic and higher in volume whereas NHL shooters shoot less but are far more accurate. The difference is significant and that NHL shooters are totally unforgiving.

    It’s too bad WD didn’t play Markstrom more so we could see if Markstrom really can make the jump to the NHL. I’m not sure how Benning can make the claim that Markstrom is ready without seeing Markstrom play in the NHL, given what Schneider said.

  • pheenster

    Logical solution is to move Markstrom for draft picks. He is not proven in the NHL and those couple games he played last season does not count by any means. Lack was a nervous wreck too when he was put in to the line of fire for the first time- look at him now.

    Run for the Calder is forming his confidence which he can take with him to the NHL.

    Goalie sitation depends on Miller. If we were desperate for cap space then logical solution is to move Miller. I don’t think JB is in desperation mode but we shall see in the next couple weeks.

    • allsportsfan

      If Benning’s concerned about the salary cap, he’s the only GM that isn’t. With the rumoured cap being around $69m the nucks have a problem with how many RFA’s we still have to sign.

      I’d love to see either Miller or Markstrom gone but we’ll see.

  • andyg

    Markstrom has more upside than Lack; we should trade Lack and be thankful if we can get a high to mid-2nd rounder for a goalie we got for nothing. I still find it hard to fathom why any other team is going to take a past-his-prime goaltender coming off a major injury off our hands without some significant sweetening of the pot. People here seem to be so keen on getting rid of the Burrows, Higgins, Hamhuis, Bieksa contracts but at least those are actual bodies — do we really want to waste $3 million in dead cap space from retained salaries for Luongo and Miller? This is still on Benning for a bad and unnecessary signing at that term but let’s not make it worse. Miller is a competent and overpaid goalie who we can potentially use as insurance to get through the next two years. Racing to rid ourselves of him makes no sense. Miller and Markstrom is the right tandem for this rebuilding team.

    • pheenster

      You lost me here. On one hand, you say Miller is past-his-prime and that any team would need an incentive to take him in trade, yet you also say he’s competent and the right person for a rebuild.

      If Miller is right for a Canucks rebuild, wouldn’t it make sense that he could be traded and fit in with other rebuilding teams like Toronto, Edmonton, Buffalo or San Jose?

      • pheenster

        You’re right I should have phrased it differently. I’d rather that we didn’t have Miller at all but since we do for 2 more years at $5/per, I’d rather that we go with him and Markstrom and get something back for Lack than the cost of unloading Miller. I don’t think we’d get enough for Markstrom (probably no more than a 3rd) and I think no rational team would have inked Miller to the contract we did based on his declining performances and they certainly won’t solve our problem for us.

        Miller is a perfectly competent goaltender as is Lack. They are both of them a massive step down from Luongo and Schneider who are both elite. I make my statement on the basis of the reality we are in, not what I would wish.

        • pheenster

          And just to be clear I don’t think Miller is worth $5million and I certainly don’t think it’s worth us sacrificing another $2million in cap space or more just to have a goaltending tandem (Lack/Markstrom) that would only be marginally better.

        • pheenster

          “Miller is a perfectly competent goaltender as is Lack. They are both of them a massive step down from Luongo and Schneider who are both elite”

          What part of Scheider and Luongo are elite?

          last time I checked, Luongo never won a thing except the Olympic medal on an all star team where he let in the tying goal only to have sid save his bacon. Other than that Corey and Luongo haven’t won a cup to warrant the word elite.

          Luongo is so elite he’s playing in Florid right now and every other team wants him to stay there.

          I hear though that Luongo is quite the “elite” force when it comes to destroying retired old farts at the poker table in Florida, that’s for sure! lol

          • pheenster

            You’re right. Price is awful too, no cup? What a joke! Anybody can win a gold medal in the Olympics and put up great numbers in the regular season, that’s why everybody does it, right… It’s a team game, the goalie can’t do everything

          • Luongo was on a Canadian all star team, the best in the world. He wasn’t on a Jamaican hockey squad, let’s be more objective.

            Luongo was on a team which was selected from the best players in a country that has without much debate the best players in the world. And it’s a small hockey world, considering there aren’t many countries that compete in the level of hockey.

            In fact, Luongo almost stunk up the joint when he let the tying goal in with his patent swimming around the crease move. His failures in the play offs confirm the fact that he was never clutch and having Crosby save his bacon isn’t much to break out the wine either.

            Simply put, if you put me as an injured fourth line on that team and had me sit on the bench for the gold medal game, there’s a good chance I’d have a gold medal too.

            not all gold medals are the same, just ask that american michael Phelps swimmer who’s won like 8 or so medals competing in basically the same events with slight variations. A medal for the breast stroke, then a medal for the breast stroke while picking his nose, then another medal for swimming while flipping the bird, etc etc, what a joke.

            You should be less emotional and more objective, otherwise you’ll get easily conned and ripped off by the puppets you have in government.

          • I wasn’t even talking about Luongo, I was talking about how obviously terrible Price is too. Your logic won me over, no cup, bad player, right? Did you know that Ovechkin doesn’t even have an Olympic gold medal? He’s so obviously terrible at hockey too… Haha I don’t get it, honestly, if you’re trolling, its kinda weak, Luongo doesn’t even play for Vancouver. On the other hand, if you actually think he’s bad… just look at his numbers in relation to his peers…

          • Silverback

            I never said Ovie was great now did I? Why do you diehards always like to put words into other ppls mouths and point fingers somewhere else. Luongo isn’t great. Try and stick to the subject.

            Luongo is OVERRATED. Crap teams he stacked his points with, and choked in big games. Can;t ask the mule to be a horse when it’s time for a horse race. Call it for what it is, Luongo is a mule, period.

            Yeah, I troll with the truth.

            You don’t see me saying Lemiux and Gretzky aren’t great do ya? But then I’m sure you’d find an excuse to point your finger at.

  • pheenster

    Sorry to those out there that believe Benning is setting up to trade Markstrom?…

    No GM is going to be swayed by a radio interview. He is putting that out there for the Canucks fans. Trying to convince them we won’t see melt downs like we saw last season.

    Wish they could trade Miller, free up cap space, but won’t happen.

  • This is insane! Lack is our best goalie, the numbers show it, and he has an amazing work ethic. He’s learning the head trajectory technique this summer, the one that changed Dubnyk from awful to awesome. Lack is already at least average, so what’s it gonna do for him? I really want to find out with him here, where he belongs.
    I think it’s great that Markstrom is finally a clutch goalie in the AHL playoffs but Utica is a pretty good team with pretty solid depth so I’m not sure it means that much. It could just be variance or good opponents for his style of play. Plus, if we’re being honest, that crazy save he made was mostly luck although there was some sheer determination thrown in there too.
    Meanwhile, Lack has shown for two years that he can put up decent NHL numbers over half a season, lets see if he can do it over 60. Man, if Benning trades Eddie Lack, currently our best goalie, to promote Markstrom then I will have no faith in Benning’s NHL talent assessment at all and I was already questioning his logic with the Sbisa and Dorsett extensions. Really, Miller is the goalie we should trade, he’s coming off a knee injury and he had below average numbers, just take what you get for him, so we have some cap space. Sadly, Miller is the only goalie out of the three that was put on the team by Benning, so he’s probably not going anywhere because Benning loves all the players he puts on our team, even if they’re not very good (Sbisa, Luca).

  • @ ROM Spaceknight

    i’m not sure if your ‘private eye’ barb quite worked. maybe you should have stuck with the obvious choice, the quoting of the commercial for that hotel site.

    i’m still sleepy but…are people STILL talking about game 7 of the stanley cup?!?

    i thought it was voted on and decided already, that lou was a great goalie who just couldn’t keep his head together under pressure. his scouting report probably wouldn’t be that dissimilar to markstrom’s in that regard.