The Vancouver Canucks have a new number one goalie and his name is Jacob Markstrom.
Speaking with TSN’s Pierre LeBrun at the NHL Draft Combine in Buffalo on Tuesday, Canucks GM Jim Benning made the declaration.
“Jacob Markstrom’s going to be our number one goalie going forward,” Benning said, answering a question about Ryan Miller’s future with the team.
Benning’s comments are in stark contrast to last September, when he said: “Ryan Miller is our number one goalie, make no mistake about that.”
It’s now or never for Markstrom, who turned 27 in January. His new three-year contract kicks in next season, carrying a $3.667 million cap hit.
Markstrom has been a backup for his entire NHL career, never starting more than 30 games in a season. His most dominant season as a starting goalie in the AHL was under new Canucks head coach Travis Green, who coached the big Swedish goaltender in Utica during the 2014-15 season.
That doesn’t mean Miller’s time has necessarily come to an end with the Canucks though, as Benning says he’s been in conversations with the pending UFA and his agent about a new contract.
“[Miller] can help Jacob in that transition to being the number one guy. We feel like with where we’re at, we need good goaltending every night to be competitive with these young players up front.”
If Markstrom is the “number one” goalie, that makes Miller the backup. Is the former Vezina winner willing to re-sign with a rebuilding team in a supporting role?
“We’re going to talk to Ryan and his agent and if we can figure something out, we’d love to have him back.”
Nice idea, but you have to think this could spell the end of Miller’s time in Vancouver. The Ducks and Kings both have backup goalie vacancies and would allow him to live with his wife and kid in Southern California.
The one advantage Vancouver has over Anaheim and LA is cap space, which likely means the Canucks would be willing to offer more money. How much term Benning would be willing to offer is unclear, as goalie prospect Thatcher Demko could be ready to make the jump to the NHL as soon as the 2018-19 season.
The Vegas Golden Knights have all the cap space in the world right now, and they could come calling during an exclusive 72-hour free agent signing window. The expansion franchise is the one team that could allow Miller the chance to remain a starting goalie close to his family.
The Calgary Flames are also a possibility, if he’s willing to sign there, with Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson both pending unrestricted free agents.
Miller, who turns 37 in July, has a decision to make.