Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

How should the Canucks utilize Thatcher Demko in 2019-20?

After Jacob Markstrom posted a career-best 28-23-9 record with a .912 save percentage in 2018-19, it appears the Canucks finally have a reliable starting goaltender.

But how should the team handle promising 23-year-old backup Thatcher Demko in 2019-20?

Demko started eight games last season, posting a 4-3-0 record with a .913 save percentage and 2.81 GAA. He signed a two-year extension in April that carries an AAV of $1.05 million.

Demko made Canucks history in January last season, making 36 saves in a 4-3 win over the Sabres. The 6’4″ 192 lbs netminder became the first goalie in franchise history to win his first two career NHL games.

Demko is unproven at the NHL level, but he’s also only played 10 career NHL games. It’s clear the Canucks believe in Demko, their 36th overall selection in the 2014 draft, after trading away former backup Anders Nilsson to Ottawa last January. The Canucks also inked Demo to that two-year extension in April.

This season will be Demko’s chance to solidify his role as a full-time backup and a potential future starter in Vancouver. He had a fantastic career with the AHL Comets, becoming the team’s all-time leader in wins and earning AHL All-Star honours last year.

Problems will arise if Markstrom’s inconsistency troubles from his days in Florida resurface and the Canucks need Demko to really pick up the slack. That will be a lot of pressure for a 23-year-old on a team that made significant additions in the offseason and is expected to take a big step forward in 2019-20. Markstrom is a different goalie now, though, and you can tell from his poise and consistently solid play that he believes in himself and Vancouver believes in him.

Some players are born to thrive in pressure situations and Demko could very well excel even if Markstrom struggles or goes down with an injury. Take the 2019 Stanley Cup winning goalie as an example. 25-year-old Jordan Binnington hadn’t even started an NHL game in his career before being called up by the Blues in January, posting a 24-5-1 record in the regular season and leading the team to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

You sometimes just never really know what you have in a goalie until he gets in a healthy amount of games at the NHL level. But how many games should Demko play next season if Markstrom continues his strong play and everything goes according to plan in the Canucks crease?

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NHL coaches are becoming more aware of the dangers of a heavy workload for their starting netminder. Out of all goalies among the top-10 in starts last season, only Martin Jones made it past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. His .898 postseason postseason save percentage also indicates that it wasn’t exactly his spectacular play that got the Sharks far. The two goalies who played the most during the regular season didn’t even get in to the playoffs.

Tuukka Rask, the other goalie in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, saw his lightest regular-season workload (46 GP) since 2013 last season. The well-rested 32-year-old Finnish netminder posted a .934 save percentage in the playoffs and finished third in Conn Smythe voting. The Bruins were able to rest their starter at times during the regular season due to the solid play of their backup netminder, Jaroslav Halak. Halak made 40 appearances last season, posting a 22-11-4 record with a .922 save percentage. Having two good goalies helped Boston finish the regular season with the second-highest point total in the NHL.

The last time Vancouver made the postseason (2015), Ryan Miller played 45 games and Eddie Lack played the other 35. The year Roberto Luongo took the Canucks all the way to the Stanley Cup Final was the year he saw his second-lightest workload (60 starts) in eight seasons.

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No goalie has won the Stanley Cup after playing more than 60 games in the regular season since Jonathan Quick played 69 with the Kings in 2012. Since 2009-10, the average number of regular-season games for Cup-winning goalies is 51.7. This includes the AHL games for Matt Murray (2016) and Binnington (2019) before their call-ups. It also converts Corey Crawford’s games played during the lockout shortened season to what they would have been in a full season.

2019: Jordan Binnington, 48 GP (AHL/ NHL)

2018: Braden Holtby, 54 GP

2017: Matt Murray, 49 GP

2016: Matt Murray, 44 GP (AHL/NHL)

2015: Corey Crawford, 57 GP

2014: Jonathan Quick, 49 GP

2013: Corey Crawford, 51 GP (pace over full season)

2012: Jonathan Quick, 69 GP

2011: Tim Thomas, 57 GP

2010: Antti Niemi, 39 GP

Another good recent example for a lesser workload paying dividends is the Capitals giving Braden Holtby 54 starts the year he won the Cup in 2018. He had played 66 and 63 GP in the two years prior and lost to the Penguins in the second round each time. If the Canucks truly hope to make their run at the Cup sometime in the next several years they will need to get to a point where they have two good goalies they can count on. The importance of a reliable backup goalie and a well-rested starting goalie can’t be overstated.

The Canucks obviously don’t have the same amount of talent as the Capitals did or other Cup contenders entering 2019-20, but they are on the cusp of being a playoff team. Markstrom has played 60 games in back-to-back seasons and appears set for another heavy workload. Based on the recent evidence, if Demko can eventually work his way up to the 30-game range, the Canucks should be in good hands.

Demko hasn’t seen too heavy of a workload in his career to date and there’s no reason to throw him into the fire if Markstrom continues to play well. Demko’s best season with Boston College came when he played 39 games and his best season in the AHL was a 46-game campaign (injury related).

The Canucks should take a wait-and-see type of approach for Demko in 2019-20. If he impresses in his early starts than they should continue to ease him into a heavier workload. The Canucks have 12 back-to-backs this season and are going on 13 different road trips. An early four-game road trip occuring Oct. 17th-22nd and a six-game road trip in November will likely be pivotal for the Canucks in assessing what they have in Demko.

The Canucks could get the Demko who closed out the year with 104 saves on 110 shots in three starts against the Kings, Sharks and Blues or the guy who gave up five goals on two separate occasions against Arizona and Columbus.

It’s a big year on the horizon for the Canucks, and Demko’s first season as a full-time backup will have a key impact on how it plays out.

  • Nuck16

    “Problems will arise if Markstrom’s inconsistency troubles from his days in Florida resurface”
    He has had plenty of inconsistency problems from his days in Vancouver that no need to go back to Florida for that reference.
    With the expansion draft coming up and knowing we can only protect one goalie, I think it’s important we find out as soon as possible if Thatcher is our future #1 goalie. If the answer to that is yes, then it might be wise to trade Markie this season at the deadline if we can get a good return (minimum of a solid backup goalie and a 2nd round pick) so long as Markie is playing as well as last season. If Markie is a stud again and Thatcher falters a bit, then may Thatcher is the one to get traded.

        • KGR

          In a few years that may be a problem or not. Seattle’s draft is next summer. Two great goaltenders will certainly improve the canucks ability to go deep in the playoffs (2/3 years away if we are lucky). Both seem very loyal to the organization. Keeping the starter under 50 games is apparently important. The larger challenge would be how to fit both under the cap. I was very impressed with Markstrom to end the season and believe he is the real deal (esp with Ian Clark’s direction); he has stated having time to work on the fundamentals during the season made a big difference in his game.

          • Rodeobill

            what he said.
            Markstrom had a breakout year under the direction of Mr. Clark, beyond that he was a team leader on the ice. Everyone is talking about Markstrom as though it was a fluke season, and I can’t say for sure, but it seems to me the changes made were systemic and detailed. He learned something that made a difference to his game and barring injury or lack of conditioning things should remain the same or improve based on that. I am happy to have another goalie ‘controversy’ if that is how you want to frame it. It is better to have to worry about protecting two goalies at the expansion than one. Cross that bridge then.

  • Hockey Bunker

    Play the goalie who gives you the best chance to win. That often means managing the workload. A 52-30 split with both goalies having winning reports is ideal. A worst case scenario is where the back up just doesn’t win. But I would defer to the expert Ian Clark and do what he says…..giving both goalies time to work on improving technique.

  • Jabs

    ideally Demko should get every 2nd or 3rd start but hockey is unpredictable.

    We all know Demko is the goalie of the future and everyone wants him to succeed but keep in mind that Markstrom is still the starter and a very good asset and needs to be treated as such.

  • Looking at last year’s goaltender stats, starters average 51 games and back-ups (i.e. goaltender with 2nd most games played per team) averaged 29 games. Demko averaged 37 games in his final two NCAA seasons and 45 games in his last two full AHL seasons and was one of the top league goaltenders in all of those years.

    Demko should have absolutely no problems handling 30+ games as a back-up based on his NCAA and AHL stats. A 67-33 split between Markstrom and Demko would be league-average and would give us a good idea if Demko can take over as starter for next season. If both goaltenders excel, a 50-50 wouldn’t be out of the question (like Calgary, Boston, Dallas, NYI).

  • TheRealPB

    I’ve always thought of Demko as such a Corey Schneider clone; both played in the USNTDP (though Demko more), 3 years each at Boston College, 3 years each in the AHL (though Schneider played more). Once Schneider actually made the pros as a backup, he was 24; he wouldn’t become a starter till age 28, after three more years of backing up Lu and one year backing up Martin Brodeur in NJ (what an apprenticeship to have been an understudy for two of the top goalies in GP and a bunch of other stats). I think it’s a bit overly optimistic to imagine that Demko will arrive fully formed at age 24 and allow us to jettison Markstrom. I think the technical changes that Markstrom made were really significant and the inconsistency that plagued him in FLA and then his first seasons here (basically opening up too much as a big guy) have been rectified. Markstrom was widely considered the best goalie not in the NHL for his first few years; now that we actually have him to rely on people want to get rid of him? I say we let him be a good mentor to Demko and hope that Thatcher develops his game over the next 2-3 years before handing the reins to him.

    All props to Binnington for his performance in these playoffs but this isn’t the first (or last time) we’ve seen a young goalie get hot in half a season or through the playoffs. Steve Penney, Michael Leighton, Jim Carrey, Jon Casey, a few others. I’ll believe it when I see some consistency through the years.

    • A difference between Luongo and Markstrom is that Luongo was only a few years into his 12 year contract whereas Markstrom is a pending UFA. If Markstrom plays lights out, he may go for more term or pay than what works for a smooth Demko transition. 3 years has been called for and would work but it wouldn’t be farfetched for another team to make a big bid (e.g. Calgary, Columbus, etc.), especially after seeing Florida dump $70M on Bobrovsky.

  • J-Canuck

    The problem I see with Marky is that he had 1 good year and seemed to play better the more shots on goal he had.
    I don’t think he is a one year wonder, but who knows. He did enough to earn the #1 job on a team that has playoffs as a goal.
    If I was Travis and the gang, I would 1/4 of the season and plan out a Marky/Demo plan. After that look at the results and adjust accordingly.
    Demo has done everything step by step and has excelled. I believe he will be one of the top goalies in the league for many years come. He was a great prospect in college then had the hip impingement surgery that freed up his legs. Since then Nothing but outstanding.
    If Thatcher excels, he deserves a chance to split starts with Marky. This isn’t a Lou v Schneider deal. Lou was a proven goalie on his way to the HOF. Marky is a very good NHL goalie.

    • Beer Can Boyd

      “Lou was a proven goalie on his way to the HOF.” Thats what Curtis Joseph thought too, and he had a better career winning % than Luongo. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. Goalies have a hard time being voted into the HoF.

      • J-Canuck

        Ohhhh come on Tin Can!
        Comparing Cujo to Lou is like comparing Burrows to Joe Thorton! I loved Cujo, but he was a small scrappy goalie that had a few really good years and made his way onto a couple of Team Canada teams internationally.
        Lou’s was picked to be a difference maker and was brought to the Canucks as the goalie Savior. He can within 1 bad game of being legendary, which ALOT of guys on that 2011 team are.
        Back to the point. Jacob had one good year and Demko is a highly picked, well bred prospect that has excelled….. is he Cujo or did you decide to be contrarian for whatever sake

        • Beer Can Boyd

          Neither won a cup. That seems to be a sticking point when it comes to voting goalies into the HoF. CuJo is 5th on the all time list for wins, he was 3rd when he retired, yet he still is not in. I think you underrate his talent by a huge margin. But again, an insulting response to a benign comment. People seem to misconstrue my posts on here. I never said that Luongo would not make the hall, just that there are no guarantees for goalies… and Cujo is the proof of that .

        • DJ_44

          I watched a lot of CuJo back in the day, both in STL and TOR. He was an absolute stud. To suggest he is inferior to Luongo is a pretty big stretch. To make the Burrows to Thorton comparison is outright stupid.

  • truthseeker

    The canucks have babied Demko far far too much. He should have been the backup last year or even at some point the year before that. To me this has been one of Benning’s big mistakes. He’s not the only GM. This babying of goalies around the NHL is ridiculous. Kid is 23 going on 24 and still seems like a rookie. Just stupid. If you think you’ve drafted a star NHL goalie then you get them in as quickly as possible and let them learn the NHL. Just like the VAST majority of the greatest goalies. Price, Marty, Roy, Fuhr.
    No problem with giving more rest to the goalies, but the way they’ve handled him has been just brutal in my opinion.

    • J-Canuck

      Bennington won a cup at 25.
      Goalie is still the last spot where no one wants to rush. I get it!
      As a kid in London Ont, I was a left handed dman in peewee. Because I was big, coach said, “ our goalies can’t make practice, put some gear on.” I had a wicked slap shot for a 10 yr old, but it was a WHOLE different world when that puck was ringing of the crossbar by your head.
      Specialized skill set

      • truthseeker

        Yep…there are always exceptions out there. How many of the greatest goalies in NHL history started that journey around the age of 24/25?
        Sure it’s a specialized skill set but it’s still just a learned one.
        Imagine if they babied Roy like they do nowadays. Imagine if they kept Marty out til he was 24 to “not ruin him”. Cory Schneider wasted away half his career being stuck behind other goalies when it was clear years prior he should have been a starter. Ruined him. He’ll never have a shot at the hall of fame now.
        Nothing you said changes the fact that a great goalie can be in the league and learning it by age 19 and have no trouble adjusting.
        DiPietro’s numbers in Junior are similar to Carey Price’s. What do you think the chances are the canucks bring him as a starter this season? How many years before we see him playing 40 games? The canucks will baby him in the AHL way longer than necessary too. And it will be another waste of time. Just like Demko.

    • The plan was always for Demko to do 3 years in Utica. In his second year, Nilsson was signed so Demko could continue to develop with significant games in Utica. His third year was derailed by a concussion and later a knee injury, remember? I find it hard to say that Benning babied Demko’s development.

        • The “plan” is not atypical. There are plenty of elite goaltenders who took a similar path or longer to become an NHL roster goaltender: Andrei Vasilevskiy (4), Pekka Rinne (5), Ben Bishop (8), Henrik Lundqvist (5), Jonathan Quick (4), and Roberto Luongo (4).

          In contrast, look at Rick DiPietro. The #1 overall pick in 2000, was rushed into the NHL the next year, and absolutely bombed, even if you exclude the hip injury situation.

          • truthseeker

            Vasilevskiy was playing regularly in the NHL by 20. Lu was playing by 21. Rinne was an 8th round pick. Quick a 3rd round pick. Bishop too. Lundqvist was a 7th round pick.
            Demko was the 2nd ranked goalie in his draft class and he’s 23 going on 24 and he hasn’t played any significant minutes in the NHL. That’s babying and it’s ridiculous.

          • I am Ted

            Demko hasn’t been babied you dumb f-k. He was in college, had hip surgery and has battled various injuries including a concussion up until now.

            Get your facts straight and check that filthy mouth of yours. Now, get back in the box like a good little gimp.

    • Rodeobill

      You could be right, or this may be a fallacy of reduction. This situation for each player may be different for case to case. It may be not all or nothing/ one or the other for each situation, and I just don’t know myself, and to be honest, I might not know even if I was close to the situation in a personal capacity. Goalies tend to develop[ slower than other players, but then there is always the exception. Looking at his history, he seems to go up a level, do poorly, then do better, then great, and repeat. I kind of think this is his curve. I like how the Canucks have eased him somewhat conservatively based on this, but you could also e right too.

      • truthseeker

        Of course it’s different for every player. But I’m not talking about 3rd round picks here. I’m talking about a couple of kids who were the top 2 or 3 ranked goalies in their draft year. These are supposed to be the future stars of the position. They should be given a shot as soon as possible in my opinion, to see if they really are the next Roy, Brodeur etc. There is absolutely nothing wrong with sending them down, after a giving them a good look in the league, if they’re struggling, but to not give them that opportunity in the first place is ridiculous.

  • Kanuckhotep

    Ideally both Marky and Demko play lights out in 19-20 but until mgmt and fans see the actual results theorizing our goaltending future seems pointless. Personally wish to see more of Thatcher in net but you go with who can steal wins for you. Can we stop having this place the Goalie Graveyard, please?

  • Rodeobill

    Was there an online group agreement in the Oiler’s page to come and raid the trash button on good comments in the CA page?

    Go head to area 51 ya goofs.

  • Puck N A

    As Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

    The plan SHOULD be to play Markstrom 50-55 games and Demko the rest, but since every shift this season is white-knuckle Jim Benning time, you can bet that if/when Demko has even one shaky start in four games, the plan goes out the window, and Demko doesn’t see another start for two weeks, similar to when Markstrom outplayed Miller till December one season, but the Canucks went heavy on Miller the rest of the way.

    • Killer Marmot

      Except Benning won’t be making the call as to who’s in net. Green will. And Green doesn’t strike me as someone who would let anyone but himself make that call.

  • Reme

    Goalies thrive on rest and routine. The NHL is leaning towards tandems, and that is a smart thing. I never got the reasoning behind playing the hot hand. It wears out the starter and takes the backup out of his game. If you are going to have a tandem, then you need 2 high caliber goalies. So, trading one doesn’t make any sense; plus you seldom get more than you lose in a goalie trade. I wouldn’t be worried about losing one to Seattle either, as that mean Canucks wouldn’t be losing a forward or defence. By that time, DiPietro or other prospect may be ready to backup anyways. That all said, I would look for a 2/3-1/3 split, adjusted to any call ups in case of injury.
    The one thing I would hope, is that Canucks employ a practice goalie. Give Markstrom and Demko time for rest or extra work with Clarke. Those after practice workouts for players seem exhausting and contorting, especially working on shoot-outs. I remember the Canucks employed one in the Quinn era of the 90s. I don’t remember his name, but he was young and skilled. Watching him work out with Bure was something else. I don’t think it does any good having one of our goalies do this. There are plenty of young goalies that age out of major junior or college that have no place to play, and I assume they would relish a chance to work out with an NHL team. It might even get them a job.
    Anyways, that’s my thoughts.

    • Locust

      Using a practice goalie has a lot of benefits. While he/she is getting peppered in shooting drills and PP practice the real goalies can be working on all the little things that they rush through in a normal practice like edge work, stick work, movements, angles etc. Always amazed at how hard some goalies work in practice…. and how lazy other ones are.

  • B_Rad77

    You have wonder how much better Markstrom will play on team much deeper and overall appears to be a lot better defensively than last year. Couple that with a forward core that should net you more goals and win you more of the close games
    The wildcard here is how Green will play the two goalies. Will he ride the hot goalie? Is there a strategy in place to have the starter play X number of games? With teams previous low level of success, and Green/Benning possibly feeling the heat this year, l’m guessing winning and making the playoffs will trump player development this year