In an NHL landscape where having a capable backup or 1B goalie is more important than ever, Spencer Martin’s new contract presents a bit of a risk. But if it pays off, it builds a bridge for the team’s future.
Martin’s three-game stint while Thatcher Demko and Jaroslav Halak were out in mid-January was the kind that legends are made from. By the time he was sent back to Abbotsford, the 26-year-old netminder had stopped 113 of 118 shots, finished with an incredible save percentage of .958, and earned his first NHL win against the Winnipeg Jets.
That week of games was stellar enough for fans to start asking for Martin to become Demko’s new backup, especially due to how much Halak was struggling in the role at the time. And despite the small sample size, it’s clear Canucks management felt similarly enough to sign Martin to a two-year contract worth $762,500 per year.
The Canucks have struggled to find Demko a proper backup in his first two years as the bonafide starter. Two expensive options in Halak and Braden Holtby have had difficulty adjusting to the Canucks’ systems, and this year in particular, Vancouver’s record has taken a hit due to a lack of quality starts on Demko’s rare nights off.
With Halak heading for free agency in the offseason, it leaves Martin as the likely backup next season. But with so small an NHL resume to go off of, it’s worth wondering if next year’s Canucks will get the same goalie from January when he’s placed into a more sporadic role.
There’s also an obvious caveat in this move; if Martin struggles behind Demko, it’s doubtful that the Canucks would be able to find a cost-effective option to replace him midseason. It’ll be interesting to see if Vancouver adds any additional goalie depth during the offseason as a precaution, but with their limited cap space, it’s doubtful they will.
But the most important aspect of this decision is what it means for Abbotsford’s goalie tandem next season.
This year, Trent Cull had three goalies to choose from in Martin, Mikey DiPietro, and Arturs Silovs, meaning one netminder was always the odd man out. Martin has sparkled at the AHL level, posting an 18-4-2 record and a .916 save percentage, while DiPietro required some extra time to refind his game.
When management realized that they weren’t going to be able to move Halak prior to the trade deadline, Arturs Silovs was put on loan to the ECHL’s Trois-Rivières Lions to get him game time. But with Martin moving up the depth chart it opens the door for Silovs’ return to Abbotsford, giving the Baby Nucks their ideal developing tandem in him and DiPietro next season.
As both goaltenders are expected to compete for the NHL backup role in the next few years, it’ll be up to Spencer Martin to provide the stopgap. And if his trio of games in Vancouver were any indication, he’s ready for the challenge.