The sigh of relief you heard was two million lower-mainland fans as goalie Thatcher Demko signed on for five more years and $25 million.
Thatcher Demko Done(ko)
Details first (h/t PuckPedia). The base salary for Demko moves around quite a bit over the five years, but for explainable reasons. The first year, 2021-22 sees him make just $2.5 million. In large part, the expectation/hope of the league is that life will return more or less to normal by the fall. Or if not then, during the season. This will allow fans back into the building, and the NHL is a fan-driven business. Even so, there is a lot to recover from after the empty buildings and partial season going on right now. A lower cash outlay helps the team there, with the promise of boosting the base salary later. It also means that Demko will make less money in a year where escrow is expected to be higher.
That base moves up to $3.5 million in year two and $6 million in years three and four. Years two and three also have million-dollar signing bonuses, meaning even if the league goes sideways Thatcher Demko gets his pay. Or some of it, at least. It puts year three as his most expensive, with a real outlay of $7 million. It’s also what would have been his first year of free agency, so there’s a premium paid. It also makes him more difficult to trade, which adds a bit of certainty to his life. The last two years are simpler – no bonuses, just salary. For Demko, the hope is that escrow will be back to normal levels by the third year of the deal.
In his final year, the amount drops down to $5 million. Why that’s interesting is because it means the team can offer him a smaller amount without a massive drop in pay. He will be 30 years old then, and goalies are expected to start to ……… (let’s be real goalies are voodoo).
Okay, admit it. It is very hard to predict when exactly he will taper off. The Canucks last goalie, Jacob Markstrom had arguably his best season ever as a 30-year old, and look at the deal he got. Demko’s total NHL experience is 66 games at this point. Four of those were a brilliant outlier performance in the Edmonton Bubble, and shouldn’t be expected in the regular season. His first full season was fairly pedestrian. He put up a 3.06 goals-against average and .905 save percentage. This season has been far better, but still with ups and downs. His overall save percentage is that of a low-average starter, which is hardly the person you want to anchor your team.
On the other hand, Demko is 25 years old, has signed off three years of his free agency, and has no trade protection of any kind. And it doesn’t take a lot of digging to find better-looking statistics. He’s currently in the top half for goals saved above average and top-5 in goalie point shares – that’s standings points the goalie’s performance is responsible for. Even if he comes out of his career strictly average, it wouldn’t be all that hard to move him. That Demko built a legendary performance over three playoff games doesn’t hurt. And the team in front of him is improving, making them more likely to carry the play and put less pressure on their backstop.
And Then There Were Two
That low initial outlay is worth looking at as a guide for the other big restricted free-agent signings coming up. Since Elias Pettersson moved to the same agent representing Quinn Hughes earlier this year, you can bet those two will be working together on their new deals. Agent Pat Brisson can put both contracts down in front of general manager Jim Benning and say “here’s what the two most important guys on your team want to do.”
On the plus side, there aren’t any secrets going on anymore. Everyone – EVERYONE – can see how much room the Canucks have in cap space (h/t CapFriendly). They can see expiring contracts, gaps in the defence, even how the prospects are doing. If Pettersson and Hughes – and, soon enough, Brock Boeser – want to join Thatcher Demko in making the Canucks a champion-calibre team, they can’t force the team’s hand too severely. The most important players on a team are the ones who should be compensated the highest, obviously. The stars, after all, sell tickets. But depth wins the Stanley Cup, and right now? Building that depth on a foundation of Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and Thatcher Demko isn’t bad. The tricky bit is keeping them together long enough to do so, and yesterday’s signing is a good start.