How the Canucks should handle their backup goaltending situation next season
Photo credit:Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
8 months ago
The Vancouver Canucks have a few holes on their roster, the majority of which were exposed this season. But one of the lesser-talked-about ones is the club’s goaltending situation.
Coming into this season, the Canucks were quite clearly banking on Thatcher Demko not skipping a beat in returning to his level of play from the 2021-22 campaign. Demko was excellent down the stretch for the Canucks, and was undeniably the most prominent driving force behind the “Boudreau bump”.
Unfortunately for the Canucks, Demko, for whatever reason, wasn’t his old self to begin the new season. The result was the Canucks becoming the first team in NHL history to blow a mutli-goal lead in their first three games of the season. The Canucks simply could not pick up wins to start the year, and the goaltender who they relied on at so many points to steal them wins simply wasn’t doing it at the start of the new campaign.
Demko, like the rest of his team, stumbled out of the gate and the Canucks felt the effects of it. Around late November, Demko appeared to be turning a corner, rediscovering his game a bit and stringing together some better starts. Then the injury happened, and things went from bad to worse.
On December 1st, Demko suffered a lower-body injury during the Canucks’ home matchup against the Florida Panthers. The Canucks put together an overall record of 14-22 without their regular goaltender, and by late January- early February, the Canucks’ tandem of Collin Delia and Spencer Martin simply wasn’t getting the job done by any stretch of the imagination.
Eventually, after 10 straight losses for the player the club hoped could be their full time backup this season, the Canucks sent Spencer Martin down to the AHL, calling up 21-year-old Arturs Silovs in the process.
On the surface, Silovs’ call up seemed a bit strange, as the Canucks asked the young Latvian netminder to step in and face the red-hot New York Rangers. Silovs began his NHL career with a loss, but still certainly showed signs of promise
The Canucks sent Martin down to the AHL not because they’ve given up on the 27-year-old goaltender, but because they need him to rebuild his game. Martin is signed through next season on a one-way deal, meaning he’ll make an NHL salary regardless of whether he’s in the NHL or not. While him being in the AHL won’t affect the Canucks’ salary cap, they’d obviously prefer if he was earning that money by playing at the NHL level.
Further, they’d prefer if they didn’t have to go out and sign a proven veteran backup, as the going rate for one of those appears to be $2-3+ million.
It’s no secret that the Canucks are tight on cap space, and would certainly prefer to use the space that they do have to fill out the roster in front of their star goaltender. Just the other day, we outlined seven third line centres that the Canucks could target in free agency, multiple of which you’d assume will come in at cap hits under $3 or 4 million.
That’s why the club should absolutely resist the urge to go out and pay for a premium NHL backup in free agency, and instead be prepared to ride with Martin as the NHL backup to begin next season.
And hey, we get it. For a club with playoff aspirations, the thought of Martin being plunged back into a starter’s role in the event of a Demko injury is somewhat terrifying. But if Demko goes down next season, the Canucks will have Silovs ready and waiting in the AHL for an opportunity to show once again that he’s more than capable of making starts at the NHL level.
This season, Silovs got a taste, amassing a 3-2 record with a .908 save percentage across the first five starts of his NHL career. Next season, he’ll go down to Abbotsford and put together what you’d expect to be a very successful season as a full time AHL starter.
Martin has shown he’s fully capable of backing up Demko. Sure, the starter’s load appeared to have been too much for him, but Martin has been perfectly fine in spot duty, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be able to return to that level next season. And if the Canucks need someone to take over as an NHL starter in the event of an untimely injury? Silovs is ready and waiting in the wings to show what he can do.
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