Saying that the Vancouver Canucks have progressed farther than anyone predicted this season is an understatement. They had even dropped out of a playoff spot by the time the season was halted. The play-in round against the Minnesota Wild was an ideal match, but even then it was a toss-up to most observers. The biggest question going into the playoffs – and for most of the season – is will Jacob Markstrom be with the team?
Playoff Rookie Jacob Markstrom Does Good
Vancouver’s done well in the play-in/playoff bubble. Winning the coin-flip series against the Wild gave them a solid introduction to post-season play. A physical challenge against the St. Louis Blues was met and more by Vancouver’s playoff neophytes. As expected, it was a special-teams battle all the way through. It’s a battle the Canucks won, scoring seven times in 23 chances, compared to the Blues’ five in 20. Back to five-on-five, though, and much of the play was carried by St. Louis.
Much of that is going to be situational, of course. When a team has the lead, they are more likely to protect it than continue to attack. The clock is on your side when you’re leading. Even so, the Canucks only carried play in one of the six games – Game 5. Arguably the most important goal in the series was J.T. Miller‘s 2-3 goal in Game 5, triggering that 4-3 Canucks comeback win. But to get there, Markstrom had to shut the door entirely. And for the next 80 minutes of gameplay, that’s exactly what he did.
When the play of Jacob Markstrom wasn’t good, it was sublime. For his first ever playoff series, he did exactly what he has done for the past three years. He bought the team time to score when they were behind and shut the door when they were ahead. His .930 save percentage for all six games says everything you need to know, really. Add it to the sort-of legitimate series against the Wild and the numbers don’t change. The consistency Markstrom’s added to his game over the past few years carried into his first playoffs seamlessly.
There has been no thought of playing Thatcher Demko, despite an opportunity when there were back-to-back games. A weakness Markstrom’s is that he can get overplayed, reverting to old habits when he gets exhausted. That has yet to happen in the bubble, so it may be that the lack of travel is helping keep him fresh. Now that they’re down to four teams, practice ice is going to be easier to get, which will also help. Add to that a five-month break in the season, and he’s looking solid. You get the feeling Demko will see the ice only if he hides Markstrom’s skates. And even that would be no guarantee.
The only teams that Demko might now face in these are all excellent ones. Even the most ardent Canucks supporter would give long odds against and of the three remaining teams. Plus he would be a replacement after either injury or a stretch of bad play by the team, and neither of those conditions is promising. The long and the short of it is that he’s going to be hard-pressed to show he can take the starter’s job as early as next season. Even if Jacob Markstrom leaves, Demko is next year’s backup – possibly to one of the goaltenders the Canucks face this series.
Earned vs Earnings
A lot of air has been waved and pixels spilled* discussing the complexity of the coming offseason. This especially holds true for Vancouver and their goaltending situation. The long-time veteran who’s gone from waivers to All-Star, but is also a UFA. The goalie of the future who hasn’t quite built up enough of a resume to take over yet. Good-looking prospects coming in Michael DiPietro and Arturs Silovs.
The negotiated flat salary cap as teams, fans, and owners all try to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic comes at exactly the wrong time for the Canucks. Markstrom has been on one of the best value deals in the league and has earned his inevitable raise. The one gap on his resume was playoff appearances, and that’s not a question anymore. He’s come through with flying colours. He will undoubtedly ask for security as well, which is where the rub comes.
Jacob Markstrom is Still Young
Yes, he’s 30 years old. And yes, signing a goaltender to any sort of long-term deal comes with considerable risk. But like a questionable draft pick, it only takes one team to think he’s worth it. A team may well give him everything he asks for: the no-move clause; five years; $6-plus million. And if one does, the Canucks won’t be able to keep him without crippling their financial position. Such a deal would be scorned immediately, of course. Trust in Jacob Markstrom’s future being as good as his past for SIX YEARS? Impossible!
But so what?
This part’s important: it doesn’t matter to the Canucks if he can live up to a deal that size. It also likely doesn’t matter to the team offering the deal if he lives up to it for all six years. So long as he does for the first three, that could be all they need.
The Lovecraftian threat of the Seattle Kraken looms in the West Coast mist as well. The best options Vancouver has for them is likely one of their goaltenders. The Canucks have to expose a veteran – wave hello, Louis Domingue – but that doesn’t mean they want to lose one. It also doesn’t mean Jacob Markstrom will want to be exposed. If he signs with Vancouver – an “if” that grows bigger with each game – it’s going to be at a discount in term and in cash. And if that happens, he’s doing it in return for a no-movement clause.
Whatever Jacob Markstrom’s future holds, it will happen where he wants it to.
*Yeah, yeah, “pixels don’t spill!” Work with us, will ya? How about photons? Do photons spill?