The goaltending position for the Vancouver Canucks has taken an interest twist this season.
Demko, 23, is now a full-time NHL player and but it will be interesting to see how quickly he develops into a No. 1 goaltender.
That’s the clear and obvious path forward for the Canucks, but with prospects and goaltending, nothing is guaranteed.
The emergence of Markstrom
For better or worse, Markstrom has established himself as a bonafide No. 1 goalie, albeit not an elite one. The past two seasons, Markstrom has matched the league average for save percentage, posting a .908 average this season and .912 in 2017-18.
Among goalies that have played at least half of their team’s games this season, Markstrom is tied for 20th in save percentage, tied with Henrik Lundqvist and Connor Hellebuyck, and ahead of the likes of Jonathan Quick, Sergei Bobrovsky, Martin Jones, and Corey Crawford.
And he’s trending in the right direction.
Markstrom has the fifth-best save percentage (.926) in the league (minimum 10 games) since December 1.
Whether he’s settling into the role of a starting goalie or just having a nice run, the Canucks can take comfort in knowing they don’t have a crisis in the crease with the 28-year-old.
How quickly Demko could take over
With Markstrom under contract until the end of the 2019-20 season, Demko has only this year and next to prove he can be the team’s starting goalie. That’s probably too tight a timeline for Demko, meaning the Canucks will likely need to sign Markstrom to an extension or find a suitable replacement in free agency.
Demko has often been compared to former Canucks goalie Cory Schneider, given they each posted similar numbers at Boston College. Schneider became a full-time NHL goalie at 24, the same age Demko will turn in December. By the time he was 25, Schneider had wrestled the net away from Roberto Luongo.
Can Demko do the same to Markstrom?
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Seattle expansion draft looms
With Seattle entering the league in 2021, one year later than initially anticipated, the Canucks catch a break.
Demko will be eligible for the expansion draft, so they’ll need to protect him if they want to ensure they keep him. By 2021, the Canucks should know what they have in him, something that may not have been the case after just one full season of mostly backup duty.
The expansion draft also makes signing a high-priced free agent goalie like Sergei Bobrovsky, should they go down that path, more complicated. If a UFA goalie is signed with a no-movement clause, it assures that Demko will be left unprotected, which is a risky move.
Goaltenders set to become unrestricted free agents in 2020, after Markstrom’s contract expires and one year before the expansion draft, include:
- Braden Holtby
- Corey Crawford
- Craig Anderson
- Thomas Greiss
- Jaroslav Halak
- Anton Khudobin
- Darcy Kuemper
Other than Holtby, there aren’t a lot of intriguing options there.
Markstrom has one year left on his contract beyond this season, which carries a $3.67 million cap hit. The Canucks can begin negotiating an extension with him this summer, which will be an interesting decision. They won’t know what they have in Demko yet, while Markstrom will surely want a long term deal given he turns 29 later this month.
Demko meanwhile, is in the last year of his entry level contract and will need to be re-signed before next season.
Don’t forget DiPietro
Vancouver’s other goalie prospect, Michael DiPietro will begin play with the Utica Comets next season, sharing the crease with veteran Richard Bachman, who has one year left on his contract.
A standout for Team Canada at the World Juniors despite the team’s quarter-final exit, the 19-year-old may also have a bright future. We’ll see how DiPietro adjusts to life in the AHL, which will be no easy task.
If he follows the Demko/Schneider model, we can expect to see DiPietro in the NHL by the 2022-23 season, following three years in the minors. DiPietro’s three-year entry level contract will kick in next season, and he will be exempt from the expansion draft.