A future without Thatcher Demko is a reality Canucks fans might need to get comfortable with
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
10 months ago
Thatcher Demko’s absence due to a lower-body injury suffered in December has given the Vancouver Canucks an unwelcome glimpse into a future without their star goaltender. Since leaving late in the first period of a game against the Florida Panthers, the Canucks have ridden their overmatched goaltending tandem of Spencer Martin and Collin Delia to an 11-15-0 record and all but sealed their fate of missing the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years.
And while it’s hard to hear, it might be a feeling that fans should get used to.
Earlier this week, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman threw out Demko’s name amongst rumoured Canucks on the trade block, which caught a lot of people off guard.
As jarring as it probably was for folks to hear his name thrown into the same conversation as Bo Horvat and Tyler Myers, it’s a scenario that frankly makes too much sense to ignore.
Demko had desperately struggled in between his late-season injury in April and the one in December, posting an eye-watering 3-10-2 record and .883 save percentage. But there’s no doubt how much better off the Canucks are when he’s in net.
In his first two seasons as the Canucks’ starter, Demko was the absolute backbone of the team. Despite playing behind an extremely suspect defence and starting 99 games between January 2021 and April 2022, Demko played like a Vezina-calibre goalie throughout and stole game after game against superior opponents.
In some ways, Demko’s success was arguably detrimental to the team’s future because of just how much he masked their biggest flaws. Now, as he sits on the sidelines, those red flags are much more noticeable.
The Canucks are obviously a long way away from being a team that can realistically compete for the Stanley Cup. President of Hockey Ops Jim Rutherford himself referenced a timeline of two years to fix the club which, assuming there aren’t any speed bumps along the way, means the team won’t be competitive until 2024-25; the fourth season of Demko’s five-year, $25 million deal.
Right now that contract is both a blessing and a curse. When Demko’s healthy, the Canucks have one of the best young goaltenders in the NHL who’s been realizing his potential over the last three and a half years before injuries derailed his 2022-23 campaign. But the clock is ticking for the team to capitalize on the team-friendly deal he’s on, and the likelihood of them doing so is looking smaller and smaller by the day.
At his peak, Demko is a phenomenal goaltender in every sense of the word. But he’s a luxury the Canucks simply can’t afford to let rot behind a potentially lacklustre team defence for the next three years. That’s why if you’re Rutherford or GM Patrik Allvin, it’s worth considering if moving Demko at peak value sooner than later is the best course of action.
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His injury history and the preceding season-opening slump have likely impacted his current value, but he’ll likely be able to regain his form if he returns to the ice at 100% health. Trading him before the March deadline would be a surprising turn of events, but if enough teams believe in his ability to refind his 2021-22 self, his recent struggles might not impact a potential bidding war.
NHL teams have been often been cagey about trading away players of Demko’s stature without a demand or a contract impasse. But as evidenced by the Jonathan Huberdeau-Matthew Tkachuk trade last offseason, more GMs are willing to take those types of risks for a shot at a championship now than ever before. And Demko is a goaltender in his prime years, more than capable of leading a team to a championship if given the chance.
But trading Demko would also be considered an acceptance of failure in the eyes of upper management; the acknowledgement that they couldn’t fix the Canucks the way they promised fans they would last year. That alone might be enough to prevent them from pulling the trigger, but the sooner they accept that reality, the sooner they can begin to rebuild around a developing netminder like Arturs Silovs or Aku Koskenvuo.
The odds of the Canucks trading away Demko right now are still pretty slim, because of how strong a message it would send to the fanbase and the team. But it’s a conclusion the Canucks are a lot closer to choosing than some might realize, and a possibility Canucks fans might be better off coming to terms with before it’s too late.
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