If you joined us last week for the first installment in this miniature series, you’ll know that we identified at least 13 other NHL clubs who could be in the market for a right-handed defender like Chris Tanev this offseason — an exercise in emotional turmoil if ever there was one.
And we’re afraid that those conflicted feelings will continue this week, because we’re back to try to find another home for Jacob Markstrom, everyone’s favourite MVP.
Fortunately, the news is a little more encouraging this time around, with far fewer teams looking for a new starting goaltender in unrestricted free agency than would be looking for a defenseman. In fact, the pool of potential suitors for Markstrom might end up being so shallow that the Canucks can take advantage of it during contract negotiations — but that doesn’t mean the pool is empty.
(Note: Teams are listed alphabetically, not in terms of their likelihood to sign Markstrom)
Teams Definitely In The Market For A New Starter
There are a small handful of teams that will absolutely be looking for a new goalie this offseason, and they’re obviously the top candidates to sign Markstrom if he makes it as far as unrestricted free agency.
We know, we know. No one in their right mind would be looking to join the Sabres organization with the way their offseason has begun. But that doesn’t change the fact that Buffalo remains one of the few teams in the league in need of a brand new starter, and their ample cap space could mean that they’re willing to shell out some serious cash to get one — and Markstrom looks like a fine candidate.
If Buffalo has any hope of returning to the postseason — and of keeping star Jack Eichel from demanding a trade — they’d be wise to seek an upgrade in goal. Carter Hutton has one year remaining on his deal, and Linus Ullmark needs a new contract this offseason. Markstrom is an upgrade over both of these goaltenders, and the Sabres just showed they’re clearly not afraid to blow everything up in order to improve their organization.
Of all the teams with a clear-cut need for a new starting netminder, the Blackhawks are the only one not stuck in the league’s basement — which would presumably move them to the front of the line in terms of Markstrom’s desire to play there. Seeing Markstrom suit up, and potentially star, for Chicago would be a painful outcome to this current goaltending controversy, but if he makes it to market, the Canucks might not be able to prevent it.
Chicago could end up forgoing the need for a goalie by simply re-signing Corey Crawford, but he’s 35 and has had no shortage of injury issues. If they’re hoping to make one or two more runs before Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews reach the end of the line, the Hawks should probably go in a different direction, and Markstrom would be a fine direction to go in.
Detroit Red Wings
As one of the worst-performing teams in recent memory, the Red Wings should be looking for upgrades at practically every position, and their crease is no exception. The 36-year-old Jimmy Howard is a pending UFA and has quite possibly played his last season in the NHL, and Jonathan Bernier is signed for one more season, but is a 1B goaltender at best.
It’s true that Detroit is at least a few seasons away from competing for the postseason again, so it might not be the best time for them to go goalie shopping. That being said, the 2020 offseason promises to provide the most suppressed UFA market in league history, so they could opt to sign someone like Markstrom now as an investment for the near-ish future.
If Markstrom isn’t interested in joining a chaotic situation like Buffalo, he’d be even less likely to ink a deal with the perpetually embarrassing Senators. But they do have cap space galore, and plenty of young talent that could benefit from the security of a true starting netminder suiting up on a regular basis.
Craig Anderson is an expiring UFA and quite possibly headed for retirement. Anders Nilsson, Markstrom’s old partner, is signed for one more year as a backup. The Sens do also have the 25-year-old Marcus Hogberg, who has shown promise, but he’s far from a sure thing — and Ottawa could really, really use a sure thing right about now.
Teams That Could Be In The Market For A New Starter
There are a few other teams around the league that could be in the market for a new starter after a roster move or two, especially if they see someone — like Markstrom — as an upgrade.
The Flames are in a strange spot. They’ve got more than enough pieces in place to continue to contend, but they seem to be lacking the overall team chemistry to become true “contenders.” This has led to calls from some in the fanbase for a serious retooling this offseason, and their goaltending situation is one of the areas they must target for improvement.
Cam Talbot performed well enough but is a UFA who can easily be replaced and upgraded. David Rittich stands as the incumbent starter, but he’s been inconsistent thus far in his career — and Markstrom could offer a reasonable platoon option until Rittich’s contract runs out next year, at the very least.
The Hurricanes have two serviceable goaltenders in James Reimer and Petr Mrazek each signed for another season at north of $3 million. That doesn’t leave the Canes with a lot of wiggle room, but if they’re able to ditch one or both of them — perhaps through a buyout, compliance or non — they’re one of the teams that could benefit most from a true upgrade in the crease.
With Markstrom in the fold, Carolina would instantaneously become a legitimate contender. Just imagine how well he might perform behind such a stacked blueline after years spent toiling behind an often porous Canucks defence. If they can make it work, this might be the best move the Canes could make this offseason.
Devan Dubnyk lost his starting job to Alex Stalock during the course of this season (see our Preparing for the Wild series for more details on that!) but is still signed for another year at $4.33 million. And even if Minnesota can shed him during the summer, probably through a buyout, they’ll probably just roll with Stalock and rookie Kaapo Kahkonen moving forward.
But there’s always the chance that new GM Bill Guerin wants to make a splash, and signing a star goaltender to take over the reins is definitely one way to do it. Imagine how distraught Vancouver fans would be if Markstrom dominated the Wild in the play-ins, only to end up joining them next year.
San Jose Sharks
Loaded with veterans like Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, Logan Couture, and the presumably returning Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, the Sharks are ostensibly making one last run at glory in 2020/21 — but they’re going to need to get rid of Martin Jones in order for that to be possible.
Not only is Jones one of the worst starting goaltenders in the league right now, but he’s also still signed at $5.75 million for a staggering four additional seasons beyond this one. If the league mercifully offers up a compliance buyout in the wake of a flat cap, San Jose will definitely use theirs on Jones — at which point they’d almost certainly be willing to make Markstrom a very compelling contract offer. Markstrom might like the novelty of going to a franchise where he’s suddenly “the young guy.”
Teams That Might Be Interested In Making Markstrom Part Of Their Platoon
This season, Markstrom looked pretty good as the dominant half of a goaltending platoon with Thatcher Demko. If all else fails, these teams might look to Markstrom to form one-half of a strong goalie tandem with their pre-established young talent — though he’d represent a rather expensive luxury under a flat cap situation.
New Jersey Devils
MacKenzie Blackwood appears to be the heir apparent to the New Jersey crease, but he’s not exactly a blue-chipper or a guarantee to become a star. At only 23 years old, Blackwood could probably benefit from riding shotgun alongside a quality veteran. Unfortunately for them, that veteran was supposed to be Cory Schneider and he’s currently taking up $6 million in cap space for another two years.
If a compliance buyout ends up being a reality, swapping Schneider out for Markstrom would be a dream come true for the Devils.
The Philadelphia crease clearly belongs to Carter Hart moving forward, and he’s already developing into one of the league’s best young netminders. But he’s still just 21 years old, and that means he’s probably going to falter at some point — which is when a strong, veteran colleague could really come in handy.
With Brian Elliott’s contract expiring, the Flyers will be on the hunt for a new backup or 1B-type goalie. It’s difficult to see Markstrom willingly choosing to put himself in such a position, however, especially with the Expansion Draft looming — unless he’s left with no other option.
The Penguins have not one, but two young and capable starting goaltenders in their stable. That’s probably going to lead to one of them being traded at some point during the coming season, potentially as soon as this offseason.
If that comes to pass, the Pens will likely seek a veteran partner to complement whichever of Matt Murray or Tristan Jarry they choose to roll with — but someone as high-profile as Markstrom doesn’t make much sense considering the impending Seattle expansion.
The Capitals are very likely waving goodbye to Braden Holtby this offseason (more on him in a moment). That will leave the 23-year-old Ilya Samsonov, who just completed his first season in North America, as the de facto starter moving forward.
Of all the young goalies listed here, Samsonov is probably the one in need of the most veteran support. Playing alongside a talent-laden roster might be appealing to Markstrom to a certain degree, but the prospect of playing second fiddle to Samsonov is probably not.
The Pool Of Other UFA Goalies
Jacob Markstrom is one of four legitimate starting goaltenders who will be hitting unrestricted free agency this offseason.
As was previously mentioned, Braden Holtby is probably the best of the bunch, despite an absolutely dreadful performance in 2019/20. With his recent Stanley Cup pedigree and still being relatively young at the age of 30, he’s sure to have his fair share of suitors.
Corey Crawford, also a Cup champion, is next on the list. At the age of 35 and coming off numerous health issues, Crawford’s days as a starter might be behind him — but someone is going to give him another chance all the same.
Then there’s Robin Lehner, who is only 28 and seems to perform amazingly wherever he goes, but still can’t seem to find a permanent home. This offseason seems like his best bet to do so.
Other notable names on the market include Thomas Greiss, Cam Talbot, Anton Khudobin, and the ageless Mike Smith.
In other words, there are not that many other netminders competing with Markstrom for a contract this offseason — but there are enough of him to make his already shallow pool of potential suitors all the more shallow.
If the Canucks are going to play hardball with any of their pending UFAs, then the market dictates that they should do so with Jacob Markstrom. If Markstrom makes it all the way to unrestricted free agency, he can expect about eight teams at the most to make serious pitches for his services — and for the bulk of those offers to come from rather undesirable destinations. Even among those teams, cap space will be an issue. He’ll also be competing with what might end up being a saturated supply of available netminders.
In taking a look at this list, it becomes clear that Markstrom’s best opportunity to be a starting goaltender for a contending club is still in Vancouver. Hopefully, that truth will serve to lower his salary and term demands. And if that happens, there’s a good chance that all of Markstrom, the Canucks, and their fanbase walk away from these negotiations pleased with the results — and, really, how often is that the case?