Photo Credit: Matthew Henderson

Monday Mailbag: When to walk from Markstrom, bargain bin acquisitions, and why the Vancouver Canucks went sour on Sven Baertschi

Another week, another mailbag.

You know the drill. Let’s see what all you wonderful people asked this week!

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This is a great question. At that point, I think you have to let him walk, and I’ll tell you why.

It’s no secret that I’m a firm believer in Jacob Markstrom deserving to be a Vezina finalist for the season he just turned in. This past week on Canucks Conversation spoke to somebody else who believes the same thing, but also knows a hell of a lot more about goaltenders than I do, Kevin Woodley.

When we discussed Markstrom’s contract and the best strategy for the Canucks moving forward, Woodley pointed out that the Canucks should be trying to keep the term low because of the unpredictability that comes with the goaltending position.

It’s a position that fluctuates so much, and with Thatcher Demko and soon Michael DiPietro knocking on the door, handcuffing yourself to Markstrom for six years at $6 million annually just doesn’t make much sense in the grand scheme of things.

You just never know when a better goaltender could come along and being stuck with a backup making $6 million is less than ideal for any team.

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Vasili Podkolzin is a player who I absolutely love watching play. He plays a high octane style of game and is a treat to watch on the forecheck and backcheck.

Chris Faber watches him a lot more than I do, and will keep you updated on his progress all season long.

As for the question, Podkolzin can come to the Canucks as soon as early March and as late as April, depending on what his team does in the playoffs. He will not be eligible for the 2020-21 playoffs.

As for his need for a translator, I don’t suspect he’s speaking much English while playing in the KHL right now, and he has required a translator every time he’s spoken with English media. I suspect that will also be the case when he arrives in Vancouver in 2021.

Time to download Duolingo!

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Let’s keep this one short and sweet. On a scale of 1-10:

Sutter is traded: 6/10

Toffoli is signed: 8.5/10

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Markstrom is signed without a NTC/NMC in his 1st year: 5/10 (this one depends entirely on contract structure, so is tough to say)

Pearson is traded: 4/10

Canucks shed Loui’s contract: 6×6/10 (3 out of 10)

Ah, mock trade season. The most wonderful time of the year.

When you look at the Canucks’ greatest weaknesses, the two biggest issues with the defence corps and the bottom six forward group.

But which is the more pressing need? To me, it’s the defence, and if I’m dealing a legitimate top six forward, I’m going for some help on the right side of my blue line.

Adam Gaudette is still young and is still getting better. He had his first taste of the playoffs and now has another season to fine-tune his skills to show everybody why he belongs as this team’s third line center for many years to come.

The Canucks are looking for players who get back and play hard defence. It’s why they love a guy like JT Miller and why a guy like Nikolay Goldobin just wasn’t going to work out.

For Sven Baertschi, the same could be said. The spot for Baertschi would be on the Canucks’ third line, but with a younger, faster winger; who they hoped could eventually figure out the defensive end of the game in Jake Virtanen standing in his way, Baertschi was the odd man out at training camp and the Canucks lost interest.

When they have options like Josh Leivo available to them, who cost less and can play the same role as Baertschi, but also possess a stronger two-way game, it makes sense why the organization has abandoned him.

It’s clear that the organization just doesn’t view Baertschi as a player they can win with in the postseason, kind of like how they now feel about Jake Virtanen.

With one year remaining on his deal and coming off the best statistical season of his career, I could see a team giving up a third, and maybe even a second for Tanner Pearson.

That being said, it would leave a hole in the Canucks’ top six that they would need to fill, and they already know Bo Horvat and Pearson play well together.

I also think there’s a pending UFA who the Canucks are going to try very hard to bring back who wouldn’t be pleased to see one of his closest friends traded away.

The only way this trade happens is obviously if the Canucks let Markstrom walk, which is something I don’t think they should be rushing to do.

I don’t hate this move for the Canucks, but it also seems kind of counter-intuitive given the fact Fleury will take up $7 million in cap space during the season where Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson are both due for big pay raises; whereas Brandon Sutter’s contract will expire at the end of the 2020-21 season, freeing up nearly $5 million in cap space.

The Canucks undoubtedly need two good goaltenders next season, so sure, this could work for next season, but I think the Canucks would be better off continuing to play hardball with Markstrom and get him back on a team-friendly deal.

Julius Honka’s underlying numbers look nice, but they come from an extremely sheltered role. He won’t be a top four defenceman and the Canucks are likely wiser sticking with the more proven Troy Stecher, who has shown he can slide up to the top four in the event of an injury, and play tough minutes when called upon.

The acquisition price wouldn’t be too much given the fact Honka spent his entire season in Finland, but I don’t think this is a player the Canucks will want to be targeting.

First on my list (and maybe the Canucks’ list given how Jim Benning talked about him earlier this week) is Josh Leivo. He’s a responsible two way forward whose work along the boards at fishing out pucks is the stuff Travis Green’s dreams are made of.

Green loves having him in the lineup, and for good reason. He was producing at a very respectable middle-six rate before going down with injury and won’t be cashing in on a big pay raise because of that injury. He’ll likely get a one-year show-me deal at less than $2 million, which will almost certainly be one of the most valuable contracts the Canucks sign this offseason.

The next guy on my list is Mark Borowiecki, who earlier this week, told Postmedia his time with the Senators has come to a close.

Aside from being an all-around good guy who literally fought crime in Gastown during his off day in Vancouver this season, Borowiecki is a cheap option who blocks shots, kills penalties, and will seriously run some dudes over. His underlying numbers aren’t great, but if the Canucks have any interest in getting tougher, they simply can’t afford to overpay for said toughness.

That being said, Borowiecki is a left-shot defenceman and the Canucks are likely to have two young LHD knocking on the door for NHL jobs next season in Olli Juolevi and Jack Rathbone, so they might not be too keen on bringing in Borowiecki.

Finally, I wouldn’t hate to see the Canucks bring in a guy like Erik Haula on a one year show me deal. Haula is a UFA who is coming off a down year with the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers. He’ll be cheap, and is a good candidate to have a bounce-back campaign who could greatly improve the Canucks’ bottom six forward group.

As much as you hope it to be true, there’s no guarantee that Olli Juolevi or Jack Rathbone will be competent NHL defencemen. Is it likely? Sure, but not guaranteed.

With Alex Edler coming off the books after next season, the Canucks are going to be hoping that both of these defencemen can turn into NHL calibre dmen, and at the very least, that one of them can slot into their lineup.

Rathbone undoubtedly holds more value than Juolevi does, but I think the payoff for what the Canucks could get from trading Juolevi at this point in time just isn’t worth it. They’re better off keeping him and hoping he can figure it out. He looked good in the one playoff game he appeared in, but those sheltered minutes won’t be enough for a team to have interest in paying anything significant for his services.

As for Rathbone, I’d say there’s no way the Canucks trade him, given how hard they worked to get him signed in the first place.

And finally, the last question for this week’s mailbag.

As mentioned above, I had a near 45-minute conversation with the goaltending guru himself, Kevin Woodley. I went into that conversation with the opinion that it would be fine if the Canucks walked away from Jacob Markstrom.

As this wise person who asked this question knows, I knew the Canucks would need to get a competent backup who can almost play in a 1A-1B role. These playoffs are evidence that you simply have to have two good goalies if you want to compete.

Now think of what next year’s going to look like: a shortened, more compact season, that could potentially have travel included? That’s going to be gruelling for the goaltenders, which shows even further how important it will be for the Canucks to sign another goaltender should they let Markstrom walk.

It’s not going to be Brayden Holtby, but it could very well be a guy like Thomas Greiss or Anton Khudobin who the Canucks sign to back up Demko. Both of those guys are likely going to be looking for deals in the $2.5-4 million range, so it’s important to see what the Canucks would be left with in terms of cap space if they walk from Markstrom and sign one of these guys.

Assuming they keep playing hardball and can get him for around $5.5, that’s only $1.5-3 million extra to try to fill the holes on the blueline that they already know Markstrom has the ability to mask each and every night.

The Canucks simply won’t be able to adequately fix their defence corps with that tiny bit of extra money.

So are those cap savings really worth it, or does it make more sense to try to get Markstrom on the best contract possible and keep him around for next season? Given the fact that the Canucks are looking to be legit contenders next year, I think the latter makes more sense.

I believe in Demko and I think he’s great, but Markstrom right now is the more proven goaltender and signing him gives the Canucks the best chance at competing next season. The Canucks need two good goaltenders, especially heading into next season.

That’s all for this week! Thanks to everybody who asked a question in this week’s mailbag! To ask a question in a future mailbag, follow me on Twitter @QuadreIli and look out for the weekly mailbag tweet!