Canucks in the crease: Ranking the Pacific Division’s goalie tandems
Photo credit:© Derek Cain-USA TODAY Sports
1 month ago
The Canucks’ 2023-24 NHL season finally gets underway today, and for the next seven months the Pacific Division is going to be one of the league’s biggest battles.
The Pacific has about six teams, including the Canucks, fighting for a maximum of five playoff spots and a minimum of three. Every edge these teams can get over their rivals is going to matter, and that difference might be the one in net.
That’s why today we will look at all eight teams’ expected goalie tandem for opening night, and how they rank against their Pacific counterparts. Where do Thatcher Demko and Casey DeSmith fit next to playoff pairings like in Vegas, Edmonton and Seattle? Let’s find out!
8. San Jose Sharks: Kaapo Kähkönen & Mackenzie Blackwood
The Sharks have 99 problems, and goaltending makes up about 33 of them.
I’m a pretty big believer in Kaapo Kähkönen’s potential, but even I can’t think of a single scenario where he’s able to boost the Sharks out of the NHL’s rock bottom. He might be able to steal a game or two, but he’s an okay goalie playing behind a terrible roster that’s actively tanking. Please keep Kaapo in your thoughts.
Mackenzie Blackwood hasn’t finished a season with a save percentage above .893 since 2020-21, when he posted a .902 instead. He’s basically a tank commander.
7. Anaheim Ducks: John Gibson & Lukas Dostal
Initially, I had the Ducks’ duo of John Gibson and Lukas Dostal ahead of Los Angeles because Gibson is a former All-Star who just happens to be stuck on a rebuilding team. He just might need a change of scenery right?
So you can imagine my surprise when I realized that Gibson hasn’t had a save percentage above .904 since 2019, which was somehow four seasons ago? Granted, a lot of that is also thanks to being on a dismal Anaheim team, but he’s also not stealing victories like he once could. The 200 goals he allowed last season were a league-high, but he also played 53 games for a last place team.
The real mystery is Lukas Dostal. At 22, Dostal has just 23 games of NHL experience under his belt but didn’t look out of place despite what his record might indicate. Maybe we’ll see a passing of the torch this year in Orange County.
6. Los Angeles Kings: Pheonix Copley & Cam Talbot
On paper, maybe no team in the NHL has experienced a downgrade in net like the Kings have, going from Joonas Korpisalo and, previously, Jonathan Quick to a tandem of Pheonix Copley and Cam Talbot. But there could be more to this group than meets the eye.
To be fair, Copley appeared in 37 games for LA last year and finished with an incredibly strong record of 24-6-3. But that season out of nowhere, considering Copley has been a perennial backup at the NHL level every year prior. And his numbers were already falling back to earth late in the season, prompting the Kings to deal for Korpisalo at the trade deadline.
Cam Talbot is a long way from being the goalie who finished fourth in Vezina Trophy voting in 2016-17. Last year went as terribly as it could’ve for the 35-year-old, with injuries limiting him to just 36 games with the Ottawa Senators, but before that he was a solid .910 goalie in both Calgary and Minnesota.
If Talbot can stay healthy this season he might be able to recover his earlier form, and the Kings have a more stable defence that should insulate him better than Ottawa’s younger group could. I have them ranked low here, but this is one of the rankings that could easily make me eat my words.
5. Seattle Kraken: Philipp Grubauer, Chris Driedger & Joey Daccord
The Seattle Kraken’s goalie situation is a tale of two cities.
In their inaugural season, suboptimal performances from Philipp Grubauer, Chris Driedger and Joey Daccord cost the Kraken a number of one goal games and was arguably what kept them from reaching the postseason on their first try. Last year, Seattle got timely great performances from Grubauer and Martin Jones that took them all the way to Game 7 of the Western semifinals against Dallas.
With Jones now in Toronto, Grubauer is going to be leaned on as the #1 guy to start the season again. But he didn’t even get to a .900 save percentage last year despite his winning record. Depending on Grubauer’s health, Driedger and Daccord are each going to play a big role in how far Seattle goes this year, too.
One of these three needs to assert themselves as the Kraken’s bonafide rock in the net, otherwise Ron Francis could need to go find a new one before the trade deadline.
4. Edmonton Oilers: Jack Campbell & Stuart Skinner
The Oilers goalie tandem is a true mystery box. One moment Jack Campbell and Stuart Skinner are playing like Vezina candidates, the next moment they’re fighting for who gets to sit on the bench the longest.
Skinner became the de facto Oilers starter after Campbell struggled in the early parts of last season, and played well enough to earn an All-Star Game invite. But eventually the younger goalie’s workload caught up with him, and Campbell wrestled back the starting job down the stretch. In the playoffs, the pair ran very hot and cold before being bested by the Knights in the second round.
If Skinner and Campbell’s play was more consistent, one could make a really good case that these two belong in the top three, maybe even top two. But until we see it across a full 82 games, netminding is still going to be a big question mark for Edmonton.
3. Calgary Flames: Jacob Markstrom, Dan Vladar & Dustin Wolf
At his best, Jacob Markstrom is arguably the second best goalie in the division. But last season was a massive struggle for the former Canuck, post a sub-.900 save percentage and a middling record of 23-21-12. Those double digits in overtime losses are particularly noteworthy, considering Calgary missed the playoffs by a single point.
Backup Dan Vladar also had an underwhelming year, leaving the Flames with a pair of goalies who couldn’t get the job done when the chips were down. But luckily for the Flames, if there’s any goalie who’s due for a resurgence on this list, it’s Markstrom.
Last season, Markie was coming off an injury during the 2022 playoffs that clearly lingered into the start of 2022-23. If the Flames can manage his workload a bit better this year and trust Vladar – or top prospect Dustin Wolf – to give Markstrom the nights off he needs, watch out.
2. Vancouver Canucks: Thatcher Demko & Casey DeSmith
Make no mistake about it: when healthy, Thatcher Demko is the best goaltender in the Pacific Division. Bar none, end of story.
Being stuck behind the conundrum that is the Vancouver Canucks defence is the main reason why he wasn’t a Vezina finalist in 2021-22, and why a late season injury that year snowballed into a 2022-23 marred by tough outings and an injury limiting him to just 32 games. But even with all those obstacles, Demko somehow managed to push his save percentage back over .900 and his record to .500 before the season ended.
Demko’s ability to steal games, and whether or not he can stay healthy, will make or break the Canucks season. Vancouver’s blue line is looking a lot less suspect this time around, but it’s still a step behind most playoff blue lines. The Canucks also went out and got a pretty reliable backup option in Casey DeSmith to avoid the Spencer Martin/Collin Delia situation of last year.
DeSmith should be an upgrade on both of those two, but Thatcher Demko is the key to success. If all goes according to plan, he’s due for an amazing year.
1. Vegas Golden Knights: Adin Hill & Logan Thompson
This is a controversial pick, I know. But the Vegas Golden Knights are the defending Stanley Cup champions, and they got there largely thanks to Adin Hill’s work in net.
Hill played just 27 games for the Knights during the regular season, but he gave them .915 goaltending over that stretch before shutting down the likes of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Jason Robertson and Matthew Tkachuk in the playoffs. Hill reached a whole new level in the spring, and it could very easily carry over.
But even if it doesn’t translate into this year the Knights still have their initial starter, Logan Thompson. Thompson was playing just as well as Hill and putting up essentially equal numbers in 37 games of work before injuries ended his season early.
Just like every other year, Vegas’ seemingly endless supply of great goalies is what separates them from the rest of the pack. Like the mythical Hydra, if you cut one Knights netminder down, another two suddenly show up in their place.
No team in the NHL can match the level of reliable depth in net that the Golden Knights always seem to have. Maybe some Pacific Division team will find their Achilles heel, but until that day comes, the Knights reign.
How would you rank each of the Pacific teams’ goalie tandems?
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