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Photo Credit: © Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Why Thatcher Demko’s new deal has a chance to be one of the Canucks’ best yet

In case you missed it — and let’s be real here, you didn’t — Thatcher Demko signed a five-year extension on Wednesday that will pay him an average of $5 million per season and carry him from 2021/22 through the end of the 2025/26 season.

In doing so, Demko got paid, picking up a raise just a little south of 400% from the $1.05 million AAV he’s pulling down right now.

And that will sit fine with most in the fanbase, because it’s a payday the 25-year-old netminder has undoubtedly earned.

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It’s also a clear signal that the Canucks now view Demko as their undisputed starter, which means we can easily check how well his new salary lines up with that of other starters leaguewide — and by that standard, it sure looks as though Jim Benning and Co. have managed a contractual coup.

The League Standard

Some hasty math tells us that the starting goalies employed by the other 30 teams around the league in 2021 have an average cap hit of about $4.83 million. Given the presence of ELC outliers like Kevin Lankinen, Ilya Samsonov, and Igor Shesterkin, it’s fair to say that the average cap hit of a veteran starter is about $5.27 million.*

*(Author’s note: Please allow for discrepancies of up to approx. $0.15 million due to mathematical inadequacy)

That means that starting next season, Demko is going to be paid slightly less than the average veteran starter. And then, he’s going to be paid that same amount for the next four years thereafter, during which time that average will presumably go up, especially once the flat cap is finally conquered. By years three-to-five of the deal, Demko’s AAV should be well below the average.

But, of course, Demko is not an average veteran starter. For one, he’s been one of the league’s best goaltenders, period, over the past calendar year, and it will be a crying shame if he doesn’t receive Vezina Trophy votes this offseason.

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For another, Demko is also decidedly younger than the average starter. He won’t even turn 26 until two months into the 2021/22 season.

The Timing

This contract covers Demko from ages 25-31. Really, it couldn’t be structured any more favourably than that as far as the team is concerned.

Based on precedence and the standard age-curves it produces, those should include the finest years of Demko’s career. True, every player develops differently, and goalies are the hardest to predict of all, but with any luck, Demko won’t hit his true peak until a little bit into this contract — and he’ll stay there until its conclusion.

At that point, the Canucks will find themselves in roughly the same place they found themselves with Jacob Markstrom this past offseason: they’ll be presented with a choice between retaining Demko for a few more years or letting him go to the market for a presumably regrettable long-term commitment from another organization.

One can only hope that, by that point, they’ve got another Demko-type waiting in the wings to take over.

Mike DiPietro, for the record, will be about the same age then as Demko is now.

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The Direct Comparables

By signing a contract at around age 25 as a somewhat newly-minted starter, Demko places himself into a convenient category of contract comparables spread across the last three-and-a-half seasons:

Player Age Signed Term Cap Hit
Martin Jones 27 Six years $5.75 million
Connor Hellebuyck 25 Six years $6.17 million
John Gibson 25 Eight years $6.4 million
Andrei Vasilevskiy 25 Eight years $9.5 million
Matt Murray 26 Four years $6.25 million
Jordan Binnington 27 Six years $6 million

Just looking at that table, one has to be pleased with Demko’s rough market value. There are, however, some caveats to point out before we get too ahead of ourselves.

Each of the goalies listed above had a lengthier body of work than Demko with which to negotiate and — with the notable exceptions of Jones and Gibson — some serious hardware to back up their demands.

Stanley Cup rings no doubt earned Vasilevskiy, Murray, and Binnington extra salary and term, as did Vasilevskiy’s Vezina win. Connor Hellebuyck was fresh off a Vezina nomination when he signed his mega-deal.

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Demko doesn’t have any of that. In fact, he’s still got fewer than 100 NHL games on his résumé.

But, again, that might work out in Vancouver’s favour. Paying for past performance is a strategy that rarely works out in professional sports, the key word being past. There’s a good chance that, for example, Murray and Binnington already had their best years behind them. And, sure, they were underpaid for those seasons, but now they’re going to be overpaid for the foreseeable future.

For Demko, conversely, the best is yet to come — and, even better, no matter how many accolades he picks up over the next five seasons, his salary will remain the same.

Of course, any long-term contract is not without risk, and that’s doubly true when talking goalies. The presence of Jones on the list above should be evidence enough of that. Demko’s inexperience is a double-edged sword here, resulting in a cheaper, but riskier contract.

Sometimes, goalies just forget how to goalie (or suffer too many compounding injuries from constantly contorting themselves into inhuman shapes).

In signing this deal, Benning and Co. are betting that Demko’s performance doesn’t drastically diminish in the years to come.

But most who have watched Demko tend the crease over the last year would agree that it’s a good bet.

It’s also the perfect time to make it.

The Risk And The Window

In that ill-fated press call a few weeks back, Benning said he believes the Canucks will be “real competitive” in two years.

Whether you agree with that or not, all can get on board with the notion that the team is rapidly approaching its best opportunity to contend in a while — a window, if you will.

Following contract extensions, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes should be on the books for the foreseeable future. Brock Boeser will be extended next offseason. Bo Horvat and JT Miller are already signed for another two seasons, and Nate Schmidt has four left. Nils Höglander isn’t going anywhere.

The Canucks are going to try to compete with this core, and that window of opportunity is going to start in a season or two and last for a few seasons thereafter.

Demko is absolutely a part of that core. He’s the goaltender that the team is betting is good enough to win them the Stanley Cup and, after his performance in the Western Conference Semis last year, it’s hard to disagree.

Yes, his quality of play could fall off, and that would curtail the Canucks’ championship dreams, but the same could be said of any other core player.

If this team is going to win within this particular window, it’s going to do it in front of Demko.

And now, he’s locked up throughout the duration of it, to a contract that pays him a below-average rate and presumably well below his actual market value.

(Though we’d all probably sleep a little easier if goalie coach Ian Clark were given a similarly lengthy extension…)

It’s not just a good contract, it has a real chance of being the very best contract signed by the Benning regime.