It’s been a long time coming for Vancouver Canucks netminder Jacob Markstrom.
— Trevor Beggs (@TrevBeggs) February 4, 2020
Once touted as the best goalie not playing in the NHL, Markstrom has traveled down a rocky to respectability. The 30-year-old endured playing time behind an awful defence in Florida, and then found himself in an eerily similar situation with the Canucks.
Learning to play in hockey’s best league behind a terrible defence is no easy task. Markstrom persevered though, and he’s cemented himself as a top-10 goalie in the NHL over the last 14 months.
And yes, he belongs in the Vezina Trophy conversation.
Markstrom’s initial turnaround
After joining the Canucks in 2014, Markstrom showed flashes of being that elite goalie many had forecasted, but he was never able to fully put it together. From initially joining the Canucks to the end of November 2018, Markstrom had a record of 56-63-17 with a .909 save percentage and a 2.80 goals against average.
But since December 2018, Markstrom has been one of the best goalies in the game.
Over his next 10 games from December 6, 2018 onwards, Markstrom went 9-1-0 with a .939 save percentage, pushing the Canucks back into the playoff conversation. Although they eventually bowed out, Markstrom finished strong. His record from December 6, 2018 onwards was 20-14-6, and he had a .921 save percentage to show for his efforts.
Many were curious to see if Markstrom could keep up his brilliance this season, especially with the Canucks “goalie of the future” in Thatcher Demko beginning his first full season as the back-up.
As we all know, Markstrom has been more than brilliant this season. He’s a top 10 goaltender in a number of basic categories, which is one of the reasons why Markstrom belongs in the 2019-20 Vezina conversation.
Why Markstrom deserves some Vezina love
The initial stats right now might tell you that’s a stretch. Markstrom is currently tied for sixth with 22 wins, and he’s 11th among goaltenders with more than 20 starts.
As illustrated below, he also cracks the top-10 in goals saved above average, another stat that tracks how goalies compare to their peers.
But there’s one key reason why Markstrom deserves a boost in Vezina votes.
Markstrom excelling in the presence of danger
So tell me, who’s name is at the top of this list?
— Trevor Beggs (@TrevBeggs) February 4, 2020
Yes, that’s Markstrom at the top of that list and yes, let’s push forward this “Markstrom for the Vezina” agenda.
Stephen Valiquette is the CEO for an analytics company that tracks data based on the quality of scoring chances. While the nitty-gritty of how it’s calculated isn’t publicly known, the fact that Markstrom ranks at the top of this list shouldn’t come as a surprise.
The Canucks have had their successes this year with scoring, special teams, and goaltending, but one area where they’re among the league’s worst teams is in allowing shots and chances.
Here’s where the Canucks rank in a number of even-strength categories on defence (per 60 minutes):
- 32.7 shots against (30th)
- 29.4 scoring chances against (29th)
- 10.9 high danger Corsi against (22nd)
The Canucks rank in the bottom 10 for all three of these categories, and they’re flat out among the worst at giving up chances and shots at even-strength. That puts Markstrom nearly in a class of his own when you look at the type of environment some of the other Vezina contenders are playing in.
Based on the above table from Hockey Reference, here are some potential nominees for the Vezina, along with where their team ranks in scoring chances against at even strength.
- Ben Bishop (Dallas allows the 14th fewest scoring chances against)
- Tuukka Rask (Boston, 3rd fewest SCA)
- Darcy Kuemper (Arizona, 23rd fewest SCA)
- Tristan Jarry (Pittsburgh, 2nd fewest SCA)
- Robin Lehner (Chicago, highest number of SCA)
- Connor Hellebuyck (Winnipeg, 19th fewest SCA)
- Elvis Merzlikins (Columbus, 15th fewest SCA)
- Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay, 6th fewest SCA)
Only Lehner has really faced the kind of rubber that Markstrom has seen. Kuemper and Hellebuyck are in the same ballpark, to a lesser extent.
Well regarded goaltenders such as Bishop, Rask, and Vasilevskiy though, despite their talent, are lucky enough to play in environments where they face fewer scoring chances.
The Vezina trophy by definition is the goaltender who is “adjudged to be the best at this position.” Shouldn’t the goaltender who’s best at his position be the guy who consistently stops the toughest shots?