29

Building the 2019-20 Vancouver Canucks: Goaltending

As the season slowly comes to its end, it’s time to start looking ahead to figure out what the off-season will look like for the Canucks.

With that in mind, we’ll start by looking at the goaltending position and how all the pieces will align in the organization. It’s the one position within the organization that seems to have the clearest path for the upcoming year.

However, as we saw this season, the best-laid plans don’t always work out and sometimes you have to scramble. Needless to say, things can change between now and the start of the season but at the very least we can map it out.

Vancouver

Jacob Markstrom has been a bright light for the Canucks this season.

He’s kept them in games that they likely shouldn’t have been in and made the bad losses appear better than they actually were. Which is what a good goalie should do for their team.

However, he is 29 years old and isn’t exactly busting the doors down in terms of numbers. Although scoring is up this season compared to year’s past, he is tied for 23rd in save percentage and 24th in goals-against average, which isn’t great.

A large part of that is how poorly the Canucks defence has played in front of him.

Markstrom will almost certainly be the #1 goalie for the Canucks again next season but the talk of extending him now seems a bit premature. If you were to sign him, the contract would start at 30 years old and generally, goalies aren’t going to trend upwards from there.

Let him handle the workload next season and if (the big if) management can improve the team in front of him, then doing a 2 or 3-year deal after that could be digestible. But the market may dictate that term length and then the Canucks will have to tread carefully.

The backup position is also set with Thatcher Demko holding down that spot. Demko will be a restricted free agent at the conclusion of this season, so I would expect the organization to sign him to a two-year deal at a reasonable cap hit with Demko’s camp looking to secure a one-way deal.

Interestingly though, Demko will be waiver exempt for the start of next season (has 53 games of exemption left), so there is some flexibility in that sense but it’s unlikely we see a tandem other than Markstrom and Demko to start the season. However, if Demko continues to struggle at the NHL level, it is a lever that the organization may pull.

Utica

It’s been a mess for goaltending in Utica this season with the various injuries and recalls throughout the organization.

That makes everyone a little apprehensive about what will happen down there next season. The Canucks have two goalies signed for there but given this season, do they take the appropriate steps to insulate themselves further?

Richard Bachman has one year remaining on his deal and should be recovered from his injury that limited him to 10 appearances this season. He provides a veteran presence for the farm team down there but has slowly been trending downwards and this should be the last year that he is within the organization.

His veteran presence should help Michael DiPietro make the leap to professional hockey, which is what he will do next year. There is always a learning curve for junior goalies taking that next step and having a goaltender like Bachman helps ease the burden.

It will be interesting to see how the workload is spread out between the two goalies and how quickly DiPietro can get up to speed. The AHL schedule does force teams to rely on both goalies, due to regular back-to-back situations, but the coaching staff will still usually lean on one guy more than the other.

NCAA

Matthew Thiessen will make the jump to the NCAA after playing in the USHL this past season.

He has appeared in 42 games for Dubuque and has posted a 2.99 GAA and 0.888 SV% thus far. At this moment, Thiessen and Benjamin Beck are the only the goaltenders joining the University of Maine for next season and I would give the edge to Thiessen at this point for the backup role behind Jeremy Swayman.

Conclusion

It’s a pretty clear breakdown on how the organization will lineup in net next season:

Jacob Markstrom

Thatcher Demko

=====

Richard Bachman

Michael DiPietro

=====

Matthew Thiessen

There could be some changes made over the summer but I wouldn’t hold my breath. They, however, should sign another goalie to an NHL deal and then figure out the AHL situation from there. Injuries happen every year and it’s better to have a player in the mix rather than trying to chase to fix their issues like they had to do this season.

  • If Markstrom is a true No. 1 goaltender as many do now, it’s absurd to think he will only resign on a 2-3 year deal as a UFA. Someone will lock him down on a 4-6 year deal. If Markstrom has really figured it out, Benning will need to decide between keeping Markstrom as the No.1 or Demko next season, even if Demko (UFA in 4 years) won’t be ready for another year or two.

  • Cageyvet

    No discussion on this topic is meaningful without including the impact of the expansion draft Only one of Markstrom and Demko can be protected. I would expect to either trade or lose one of them to expansion, and the plans should be made accordingly.

    • DeL

      sign him and protect whichever one you want to go forward with. Watched the game against Columbus, Demko still has some work to do. That’s not necessarily a problem Clarke is a good coach tweaked Markstrom well.

    • Erik Lonnrot

      Maybe, goalies generally don’t get great returns in trades so I doubt Seattle is going to be grabbing a bunch of them. Unless you’ve got one of the 2-3 best unprotected goalies you’re probably fine. That being said either Demko or Markstrom could conceivably be one of those 2-3.

    • I have suggested before, assuming you want to keep Demko, is to trade Markstrom at next year’s trade deadline. Find a veteran back-up for Demko in the off-season of 2020 until DiPietro is ready. There are teams like Arizona, Calgary and Columbus that could still be looking for a starting goaltender by then.

      • ClassOF2011

        DiPietro eh? What about Bachman, you were suggesting him pre-season weren’t you?

        Thank the heavens you will never make a real hockey decision in your life.

        Laughing-Out-Loud.

      • Goon

        This is a pretty reasonable plan, assuming Demko can take a step forward and put up at least decent numbers in ~15-20 games before the deadline next year. If Demko isn’t cutting it I can’t imagine the Canucks move Markstrom.

        • I would play Markstrom and Demko a lot to determine if Markstrom is the real deal and to see if Demko can potentially be a starter by 2020-2021. A split of Markstrom-50 and Demko-30 doesn’t sound unreasonable. Demko needs to show he can improve quickly because going back to Utica to hone his game isn’t an option anymore.

          If it appears that Demko can’t handle it, you can still keep him since he’s RFA. But you hope that you can convince Markstrom to stay on a reasonable contract. In the meantime, Demko is back-up until DiPietro is ready as a back-up. Trade Demko at the tail end of RFA status. Hope that DiPietro can replace Markstrom by the end of Markstrom’s UFA extension.

          Based on Demko’s performance in the NCAA and AHL, I can’t see Demko failing to be an NHL starter, he’s been too good at lower levels. Good stats and he passes my eye test, he has good positioning, technique, recovery, and reflexes.

          • Jim "Dumpster Fire" Benning

            Cageyvet made a good comment above concerning the expansion draft and how any discussion of the goaltending needs to include the draft and how it will impact the long term planning.

            It should also be noted that Travis Green is the big clubs coach, and everyone knows how much he wants to win at all costs (regardless of how little mathematical chance the team has of making the playoffs) and also how much he likes to ride the guys he’s comfortable with (ie: Markstrom). Therefore I don’t think its prudent to be guessing at splits like 50/30 and whatnot when the coach has proven often enough already that he will always lean towards experience and the better chance of winning in the present, over long term development of kids/prospects.

            I don’t expect Demko to see more than 20 starts next year, which isn’t good for Demko, the team, or the organization. It’s only good for Green.

          • Goon

            There are a lot of goalies who have put up similar numbers to Demko in the NCAA and particularly in the AHL who have not become NHL starters. Last year, Demko’s AHL numbers were similar to Reto Berra and Linus Ullmark, and weren’t as good as Garrett Sparks or Michael Hutchnison. The ceiling for all those goalies is likely NHL backup.

            Demko’s certainly got the talent and potential to be an NHL starter, but to assume he’s going to be one, given he’s only played seven NHL games and has pretty sub-standard numbers in that small sample, would be premature.

      • Cageyvet

        I have no idea why this is being trashed, this to me seems like the logical course of action, and the plan on paper now. I sign Markstrom for sure, if Demko doesn’t pan out you keep Marky. If Demko looks like the real deal, even if goalies don’t net a big return, why wouldn’t you trade him? I can think of a lot of players I’d rather lose to expansion than either of our goalies. Fans here leave me bemused when all they do is trash someone’s comment without bringing anything whatsoever to the table for discussion. For ClassOf2011, wth is wrong with DiPietro as backup in a couple of years? If he’s not ready, there are lots of cheap backups available. What’s your plan instead?

        • ClassOF2011

          Because DiPietro got lit up like a Xmas tree already Cagey and was sent back to Kalamazoo humiliated where he belongs. The kid is a huge longshot to even make it to the bigsso not even part of the convo.

          Like alot of armchair GMs you seem to forget that this is an instant results league now – it’s sink or swim, especially between the pipes. Look at Matt Murray or Binnington in St Louis for evidence of what it takes now.

          With Demko still a huge question mark the solution is obvious to an astute hockey mind like mine. You keep Markstrom and you sign a proven elite goalie like we did Luongo – someone like Sergei Bobrovsky.

          You then have two legit goalies who can compete for the starters job, share the workload and cover for injury. Both have excelled with ian Clarke as their coach.

          Demko needs more time in Utica – he ain’t ready for the show. Thanks for your time. Glad to be of help.

          • Sandpaper

            Having such an astute hockey mind, you would have known that DiPietro has never played in Kalamazoo, as that is an ECHL team and DiPietro, has been in Juniors, since he was drafted.
            Other than the emergency callup.

        • Cageyvet: Oh, I have a troll that likes to follow me around. I let him talk to the digital hand. I write what I want, engage in dialogue with real regulars, and let the troll waste his time writing responses that I don’t read.

          • ClassOF2011

            @ Dunceman – yah sure, it’s reasonable to trade the only proven NHL goalie on the team to leave two unproven tweeners propping up the franchise!!!!!!!!!!… go support Ottawa fool, they will be glad to have ya.

            @ Forever a joke Pffft – You read EVERY word and are too cowardly to engage because I have wiped the floor with you so many times you answer to the name ragmop! Cluck cluck.

            Who’s next?

      • El Kabong

        I agree its the best move. Trade Markstrom and get some assets in return. Sign a vet for a year or two so Demko has two. seasons as a back up and one as a starter with vet support.

      • TheRealRusty

        In an ideal world that would be my plan too. A solid veteran backup on a 2 year deal that will spilt duties 50/50 with Demko. That way we maximize asset management for Markstorm who could command a late 1st round pick or a decent defensive prospect. But this scenario won’t happen as both GMJB and Greener’s jobs are on the line.

  • Marvin101

    you gotta keep markstrom. teams don’t play well without faith in the goalie and we finally have a goalie that the team has faith in. in markstorm we trust!

    • FairPM

      Agreed. Everyone wants to sell high (markstrom) buy low, but there is no guarantee that demko develops as well. It’s taken markstrom years to get to where he is today. Come expansion draft, there will be multiple options for Seattle. Will demko really be Seattle’s best goalie to pick? Maybe Seattle picking demko prevents another young player from being taken. It’s the fear based trades and decisions that need to be avoided.

    • El Kabong

      You have to remember that we have only had about half a season of legit #1 goaltending from Markstrom. He started the year lets in those really weak goals usually very early in the game. Sell high, get assets and build a cup winner.

  • Hockey Bunker

    Demko has not proven he can play in the NHL yet but a lot can change with a top coach like Clark. I wouldn’t be hasty to trade anyone at this stage. As for the expansion draft you protect the best one and the other is unlikely to be taken anyway.

    • Hockey Bunker

      And I’d like to add, I’ve always said I don’t think his glove is NHL quality but we shall see. He’s still young. Sometimes just a positioning tweak can make a huge difference. Not ready to anoint him after Markstrom made huge strides and is clearly way way way better at this stage.

    • TheRealRusty

      A NMC will throw a wrench in your plans. With Markstorm going into UFA after next season, they are going to have to really work hard to entice him not to demand that (especially on a shorter term contract).

  • TheRealRusty

    My preference is to play Markstrom/Demko 60/40 next year to see how quickly the latter adapts to the NHL game. Highly doubtful that we can make a serious run at the playoffs unless Hughes comes as advertised, Pettersson/Horvat/Boeser/Hutton/Stecher/Virtanen takes the next step, we add another scoring forward through the draft or FA and we somehow managed to address our defensive issues (that is alot of ifs…) .

    Selling Markstorm now at the height of his value (think Florida selling high on Guddy before his new contract) would be ideal if ownership is really committed to a patient rebuild (doubt it). That said, jobs are on the line and I really do not see them selling high. Most likely scenario is them re-signing Markstorm (would be great if they wait until after the expansion draft). With an eye on the Seattle expansion, hope that whoever is in charge will avoid giving Markstorm a NMC so that we have the flexibility of protecting Demko and front load the contract (so that we can trade him to a cap floor team).