The love/hate* relationship Vancouver Canucks fans have with general manager Jim Benning got another workout this off-season. The Vancouver Canucks goaltending changes are a definite test of perspective. Fans who hate him can point to his reversing last year’s big decision to bring in Braden Holtby. Fans who like him can point to the same thing – and comment on how he acted quickly instead of pressing on when a player doesn’t work out.
Vancouver Canucks Goaltending Changes
The big change was two seasons back with the team walking away from long-time veteran Jacob Markstrom when the two couldn’t reach a new deal. Holtby was brought in very quickly when free agency opened to fill that absence. Unfortunately, like with Nate Schmidt, Holtby just couldn’t gel with his new team in a year that was unfriendly to arrivals. With pressure mounting to reach the playoffs and a flat cap looming, the decision was made to move on.
Back It Up
Halák is coming in knowing he will get the second-highest number of starts. After the season Thatcher Demko had, there is no longer any question of his status. Halák’s paycheque shows that, too, it being loaded with signing and performance bonuses added to a $750,000 base salary. The bonuses are easy to reach – 10 games played, getting over a .905 save percentage.
So while the contract fits nicely into the salary cap at $1.5 million, it’s not quite the bargain it seems. If he hits those bonuses – which he should quite easily – there will be a rollover into the 2022-23 season. Add it to Holtby’s $1.9 million hit and that’s a fair amount of money being paid to non-existent goalies. On the other hand, that’s still not as much as Roberto Luongo‘s recapture penalty which is FINALLY coming off the books.
Halák has had some injury trouble, 10 games really shouldn’t be a problem. And that target save percentage is the same he reached last season with the Boston Bruins and was the second-worst of his career. The 15-year veteran is 36 years old, so he shouldn’t be looked to for 60 starts. But if that happens something’s gone terribly wrong anyway. And if that’s the case, why not bring up Michael DiPietro for half the year?
Speaking of whom, there was much consternation with DiPietro’s use last season. He is frequently pitched as a potential starter in the future, yet he played just four games last season. You would think that getting in games would be paramount for the 21-year-old’s development, but that didn’t seem to concern Canucks’ management overly much. He was called up as a cabbie and remained on the taxi squad nearly the entire season. The four games he did play were all in Utica.
If there was some benefit in his remaining in Vancouver it would be working with goalie coach Ian Clark for a full(-ish) year. DiPietro is extremely fast, but not particularly large at 6′ and needed work on parts of his game. His “tracking and backing” for instance – moving back to his net as the puck comes deeper. He’s had all of one NHL start, in an emergency, and it didn’t go great.
But that was literally years ago. With months of very focused practice, his game could be quite different now. He is going to be the starter in Abbotsford, period. It’s time to put all the theory of his practice into, well… practice.
The other young prospect in the Canucks system is Arturs Silovs. He’s in Latvia to play host in the 2022 Olympic qualifying tournament. Which will, again, be more hockey than he’s seen in the past year. Silovs has played a single professional game in North America – while on loan to the Manitoba Moose – since leaving the OHL in 2019-20. He’s played two international matches for Latvia and another six for local teams and that’s the extent of his 2020-21 experience.
Being a late-round pick doesn’t bolster your clout, so he didn’t even get the chance to train with Clark as DiPietro did. He’s younger, and will hopefully put up a good showing in Riga. But like with DiPietro there’s a lot of rust to shake off. He is further away, so there’s more time to catch up and perhaps less pressure on him to do so.
Where Have We Heard This One…
Bringing in a seasoned vet because the young player you want to have starting is still a bit of an unknown factor, huh? Like parent club, like offspring, then.
One of the less notable signings for most fans was Spencer Martin joining the system. Martin is an AHL veteran, drafted in 2013 by the Colorado Avalanche but only getting into three NHL games in his career so far. And it should, in theory, stay that way. This smallest of the Canucks’ goaltending changes shouldn’t affect the Canucks at all. With 173 AHL games experience, should DiPietro get called up Martin can hold the fort in Abbotsford. But should the need arise beyond that, expect the Canucks to look beyond the city to find help.
*Okay, the “tolerate/loathe beyond all other consideration” relationship