Are the Canucks going to need to find a new backup goaltender this offseason?
Photo credit:© Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
8 months ago
Call it pre-conditioning if you must, but fans might recall that, at the outset of the 2022/23 season, there were the barest hints of yet another goaltending controversy in Vancouver.
Cracks had begun to show in the foundational game of Thatcher Demko, the presumed starter. At the same time, Spencer Martin was coming off a sparkling statline in limited appearances and was assumed to be the de facto backup, at the very least — with a not insignificant chance of challenging Demko for starts as the season progressed.
Well, so much for that.
Demko continued to struggle as the regular season kicked off, before an injury forced him out of the lineup for an extended absence. Martin, handed the starter’s reigns, floundered and was ultimately waived. Collin Delia stepped in and outperformed Martin, but was still nothing to write home about. The 21-year-old Arturs Silovs may have been the best of the bunch, but was clearly not 100% ready for prime-time.
The end result was the Canucks’ spending much of the 2022/23 season suffering from near-league-worst goaltending. It may have helped drag them down into the basement of the NHL standings, but at least it put the brakes to any budding controversy.
And if the events of the first half of the season wasn’t enough to sink the goalie controversy, the return of Thatcher Demko to health and form certainly did the trick. After getting back into the lineup in late February, Demko looks back to his old self, and is both handling minutes and performing like a top-five NHL goaltender again.
For the time being, Demko is back to being the presumed starter and will probably remain so for the next three years running as the Canucks attempt to retool into contention. Hence, goaltending won’t be much of a worry for the presumable future.
But will the Canucks still be in the market for a new goalie of some sort during the upcoming offseason? Below, we examine their handful of crease options for 2023/24, and make the argument that some new blood might be their best bet to support Demko moving forward.
Option #1: Roll with Collin Delia
2022/23 Record: 9-4-2, 3.26, .883
On the one hand, Delia has performed admirably as what amounts to a third-string goaltender for the Canucks this season. He’s already played far more games than anyone should have expected him to, and he’ll walk away with easily the winningest record of any Canucks goaltender in 2022/23. Nobody thought he’d be any sort of “stabilizing force” in net, and yet that’s what he wound up being, in a way. To some extent, he’s probably earned another contract.
But relying on Delia to be the penciled-in backup heading into next season might be a bridge too far. His goals-against-average and save percentage are both well above and below, respectively, the league average, and Delia was still prone to looking overwhelmed at times.
Continuing on as an ultrareliable third stringer who can fill in at the NHL level for a good, long stint when called upon? Absolutely.
Full-time backup duties? The Canucks can do better.
Delia is probably not the answer here.
Option #2: Promote Arturs Silovs
2022/23 Record: 3-2-0, 2.75, .908
If sample size were not a concern, the award for “Top Performing Canucks Goaltender” in the 2022/23 season might have to go to Silovs. His 2.75 GAA and .908 save percentage would look impressive on any 21-year-old rookie, but given the context of the team around Silovs at the time — and the sort of numbers his fellow Vancouver netminders were putting up — they appear downright dazzling.
Even the eye-test spoke positively of Silovs’ qualities. A bit shaky and uncertain at times, sure, but that was to be expected. Silovs looked confident and comfortable enough to establish himself as a top-flite goaltending prospect in the league, and as the official “goalie of the future,” something the Canucks haven’t really had on hand since Demko graduated himself.
But “of the future” does not necessarily translate into “next year.” Could Silovs probably handle backup duties as soon as 2023/24? Probably. Would that be the best thing for his development, and his long-term viability for the Canucks? Probably not.
Silovs just turned 22 years old last month. That’s still exceptionally young for a goalie, and well before most netminders begin their NHL careers in earnest.
Using just recent Vancouver history as a guide, Cory Schneider didn’t start backing up full-time until he was 24. Same goes for Demko. Jacob Markstrom joined the Florida Panthers as a 23-year-old, and found his development stunted. It wasn’t until the age of 26 that he was really ready for major NHL minutes.
There are goalies out there who have started their big league careers in their early 20s — Juuse Saros and Carter Hart being two examples — but they’re very much the exception to the rule.
With Demko expected to cover at least two-thirds of the start next season, if not more, that leaves about 20 games or fewer on the table for Silovs. Given that he’s already missed a ton of developmental time during the pandemic seasons, there’s no real reason to have Silovs spend the majority of his minutes wearing a hat on the bench.
The best place for him in 2023/24 will be in the starting goaltender role in Abbotsford, where he can start upward of 40 games.
The backup role will still be waiting for him when he’s truly ready.
Option #3: Give Spencer Martin Another Shot
2022/23 Record: 11-15-1, 3.99, .871
Martin did come into the season with a 1.74 GAA and a .950 save percentage through six games in 2021/22. It wasn’t that outrageous that folks expected him to challenge Demko this year.
In the end, however, Martin wound up challenging the Canucks with what amounted to the worst goaltending performance in the entire league. Martin’s basic stats were abysmal, his advanced analytics had him dropping an extra expected goal or more per game, and he often looked downright overwhelmed out there.
No one was all that surprised when Martin was waived in February. But he’s still on the books for another season of a one-way contract, and so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he’ll get one more shot at the backup role in October.
Another shot is all well and good, that’s what any player under contract deserves. But for the Canucks to go into 2023/24 relying on Martin, and thus not acquiring anyone else to compete for the backup role, is simply not good business.
There’s a chance that Martin could rebound, sure. But the odds are decidedly in favour of his brief stint of success last year being the anomaly, and everything else being the “real Martin.” The annals of league history are scattered with goaltenders who looked like the next Jim Carey for a week or two and then wound up being…the next Jim Carey.
Martin is almost certainly just the latest.
Option #4: Find a New Backup Goalie
If Delia’s best as the veteran call-up, Silovs’ time hasn’t come yet, and Martin is just sort of there, where does that leave the Canucks’ backup goaltending situation?
In need of someone new.
Fortunately, “someone new” is going to be readily available this offseason, and it’s not going to cost the Canucks much in the way of assets to acquire them.
The 2023 summer UFA market is so replete with goalie options as to be a complete buyer’s market. There are so many quality goalies available that some established starters, like Semyon Varlamov, Joonas Korpisalo, and Cam Talbot, are almost certainly going to be squeezed into backup roles themselves.
Then there’s the litany of established backups available. Laurent Brossoit, Alex Nedeljkovic, Adin Hill, Antti Raanta, Martin Jones, Anthony Stolarz, Brian Elliott, Dave Rittich, Alex Stalock, and Magnus Hellberg are just a few.
It’s the goalies who will be fighting over the teams, not the other way around. There’s more UFAs available than there are jobs. And that puts the Canucks in a very good position to walk into the summer with near-certainty that they’ll be able to sign someone who should be an upgrade on the trio of Delia, Martin, and Silovs — and probably on the cheap, too.
As soon as the offseason begins partway through this week, we’ll be doing a deep dive into the various holes on the roster in need of filling, including this one, and at that time we’ll look further into which of these goaltenders might be the best fit.
For the time being, suffice it to say that the best fit is something other than an in-house option, and that the timing on that couldn’t be better.
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