Ahead of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, alongside deputy commissioner and chief legal officer Bill Daly, held a press conference in which a number of topics were discussed.
Among them were Bettman sharing that the NHL enjoyed a record-high revenue-generating year, that the salary cap would be going up in two to three years once the players pay off their escrow debt, and most notably, for the purposes of this article, that the 2022–23 NHL season start date would be October 11th.
Immediately, the takeaway from this from observers was that the NHL would finally be getting back on schedule.
After COVID-19 brought the 2019–20 season to a screeching halt, the NHL played summer hockey in a bubble format in Edmonton and Toronto, which meant the 2020–21 season wouldn’t be able to start until January 2021.
Despite that season being shortened to 56 games in an effort to not send the NHL schedule too far out of whack, the NHL draft, which typically takes place in late June, was pushed to July 23rd.
Free agency, typically reserved for July 1st, took place just days before August, and as a result, the 2021–22 season didn’t start until — checks notes — October 12th.
That’s not a typo, folks. The NHL season started just a day later than it’s slated to start this upcoming season.
Only this time, the league is expecting that its regular schedule will be back on track.
So what does this mean for the Vancouver Canucks? And more specifically, what does it mean for their goaltending situation?
A gruelling schedule
The shortened 2021 season and the 82-game season that followed both brought on similar challenges for teams and their goaltenders due to the condensed nature of the schedules in both seasons.
Due to the 22–23 season starting around the same time that the 21–22 season did, you can expect that the schedule will be similarly gruelling.
More specifically, you can expect that the Canucks will need Thatcher Demko to appear in a ton of games, and perhaps more than anything, that Spencer Martin is indeed ready for full-time NHL backup duties.
Martin, 27, was acquired by the Canucks from the Tampa Bay Lightning prior to last season, and after beginning the year as the fifth-string goaltender on the organization’s depth chart, Martin worked tirelessly with Abbotsford goaltending coach Curtis Sanford to bring a cohesive package to his game and found results at both the AHL level and at the NHL level when he was called upon by the Canucks.
The strides he took in his game this past season were enough for the Canucks to sign him to a one-way contract, and pencil his name in as their NHL backup for next season.
Martin authored an impressive .950 save percentage through six NHL games with the Canucks last season, and while that level certainly isn’t sustainable, the Canucks are likely going to need Martin to start somewhere in the range of 25-35 games next season as they try to manage Thatcher Demko’s workload a bit better than they did last season.
This past season, just five goaltenders made over 60 appearances (Saros, Hellebuyck, Demko, Vasilevskiy, Markstrom).
Three of those five goaltenders battled injury problems towards the end of the season, and serve as a reminder of what can happen when a team rides a hot goaltender too close to the sun.
Thus, with next season’s schedule bound to look similar — albeit with no Olympic break — the Canucks will certainly be looking to keep Demko to under 60 starts next season, and if they hope to have him healthy and able for a potential playoff run, that number should almost certainly be closer to 50 than 60.
In what will almost certainly be a travel-heavy and compacted schedule once again, the Canucks will need to be diligent in managing the workload of their young starter who broke down toward the end of the 2021–22 season.
What that really means is that the club is going to need Spencer Martin to be the reliable NHL backup they hoped Jaroslav Halak would be this past season.
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