Boy, what a year to have for Jacob Markström, and what a year for him to have it in.
After what seemed like years of Markström staying firmly embedded in “serviceable tandem goalie” territory, the arrival of Ian Clark coincided with the Swedish netminder truly coming into his own last season. He stepped up in a huge way, seeming to pick up steam that he carried over into a Vezina-quality performance through the bulk of his 2019-20 campaign.
Then, of course, he got hurt. And before he could return and potentially see the Canucks through a playoff run, the season was put on suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left many fans wondering whether or not there will even be a playoffs. Instead of getting the opportunity to finish his year on a high note, Markström is sitting on a year that could very well end with a big question mark — and free agency, to boot.
There are decisions that the Canucks will need to make in the next few years. Markström is an unrestricted free agent this summer, which means he could look for money or term (possibly both) when July 1st hits. Thatcher Demko is coming into his own, but Mikey DiPietro and Demko combine for very little in the way of NHL experience — so it’s tough to tell what, exactly, the future will hold when it comes to keeping Markström around the club.
One thing is certain, though. The way he played this year, he’ll be an asset for as long as they keep him around.
I talked about it a little bit with Harman Dayal of The Athletic this past summer; the way that Markström improved his game under Clark took a talented goaltender and pushed him well ahead of the pack. His game balanced out, with a narrowed stance providing some extra lateral control and some additional tracking work giving him cleaner preparation.
You heard right… 49 SAVES! pic.twitter.com/hzQpAfFHPi
— NHL (@NHL) February 13, 2020
The numbers showed that his changes paid off, too. He put up his most consistent season to date, marking his first foray above a .580 quality start percentage since making his NHL debut a decade earlier. He also posted career numbers in every major statistic, posting a .918 unadjusted save percentage in all situations, an 11.4 goals above average, and a 91 Goals Against Percentage, recording 25 quality starts through just 43 games played before getting injured.
The entire team took a step forward, too, which probably helped. Quinn Hughes was one of the league’s most dynamic and dazzling young defenders, and although the Canucks still had moments where they seemed to inexplicably trip over their own feet it was rarely Markström’s fault. In a world where goaltenders are rarely given a chance to truly blossom late in their careers, Markström managed to thrive in his age-30 season as a bona fide starter and veteran leader for the team’s young goaltending depth chart.
It’s also worth noting, though, that it couldn’t have been an easy season for Markström. His father passed in November — and he still came out and put up an incredible season. From his All-Star Game appearance to that 49-save shutout that came just before his injury, he was one of the most reliable players in net in a year where many goaltenders seemed to inexplicably struggle.
There’s a case to be made that the Canucks would be best served by keeping Markström around for at least another year or two, helping the club usher in an era with Thatcher Demko and Mikey Dipietro without rushing either prospect. It all comes down to the money and the term, but it sounds a lot like Markström would like to stick around if he can; given that the team does have a little bit of wiggle room with their salary cap (based on estimated projections), they could afford to have him without really hurting themselves long-term.
There’s also the possibility that he’ll be able to play more this season that still hasn’t quite played out yet. According to the team, the lower-body injury that had held the goaltender out since February has fully healed — and if they need to return to action for either the remainder of the regular season or the playoffs, he’s been cleared to go.
Right now, though, it’s obviously all still a massive question mark. There’s no telling how this year will end up, how next year will go, and whether or not Markström and his agent will be able to come to terms with the team on a deal that makes all parties involved happy. That’s a lot of uncertainty for a guy who, when the team most desperately needed him to step up, did exactly that.
Still, it’s hard to have any complaints with where things stand as they are right now. Markström had himself a hell of a career season, the team reaped the benefits from it, and he proved that he’s got the chops to put up legitimate starter numbers — all while potentially showcasing that Ian Clark is exactly the kind of magic worker he was hoped to be when he made his way back to the team. Even if the Canucks aren’t able to hold on to their Swedish starter, he made a serious case for Clark being capable of getting their up-and-comers where they need to be in his stead.