The Vancouver Canucks’ goaltending situation right now is, to say the least, intriguing.
Questions continue to abound about Jacob Markstrom’s future, as the team’s starting netminder is due a contract at the end of this season and has continued his excellent work from last year without missing any beats.
In backup work (and when Markstrom was away from the team to mourn the loss of his father), rookie Thatcher Demko has been very solid. He’s even prompted some fans to call for coach Travis Green to start him more frequently. And his strong play has called into question what exactly the plan is going to be for next season.
Markstrom has earned a lengthy, rich contract for next season. Will the Canucks give it to him in light of Demko’s strong play? It’s been and will continue to be a hot-button topic for the team.
But with Demko suffering a concussion in practice—it’s not clear whether it was the result of a high shot or, in a particularly twisted moment of comedy, Loui Eriksson crashing into his crease—the youngster’s season has been interrupted.
It’s a shame, really. And we hope that Demko takes care of himself first and foremost. Like we saw with Micheal Ferland, rushing into a return from this type of injury can make it worse.
Before the injury, the 24-year-old was off to quite the hot start, though he did cool down in the last couple of contests.
In particular, an 8-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins negatively inflated his goals-against-average. He’s now sporting a 3.00 G.A.A. and a .906 save percentage to go with a 7-4-1 record.
He likely had no chance at the Calder Trophy awarded to the NHL’s best rookie before the incident (his teammate Quinn Hughes is a good bet to be at the very least a nominee), but he might have had designs on making the NHL’s All-Rookie Team at the end of the season.
That last part might be somewhat trivial, but it’s the sort of thing that can improve a player’s standing in contract negotiations and the like.
So where does Demko stack up to other rookie ‘tenders around the league right now?
Well, it’s currently something of a three-horse race, with Demko, New Jersey’s Mackenzie Blackwood and Ilya Samsonov of the Washington Capitals in the conversation.
Blackwood is the front-runner. He’s New Jersey’s starting goalie after another year (the final one?) of the Cory Schnieder experiment hasn’t worked out.
As it is, Blackwood has appeared in 23 games, going 8-9-4 with a 2.93 G.A.A. and a .905 save percentage. The Devils are one of the worst teams in the league, and Blackwood will likely get some credit for sticking it out for the club.
In direct contrast, Samsonov plays for the league’s best squads in Washington. He’s a sparkling 7-2-1 in 10 games with a 2.42 G.A.A and a 9.17 save percentage.
The other contenders, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Florida Panthers ‘tender Sam Montembeault, don’t have the numbers right now to seriously enter the conversation.
But even before the concussion, it was going to be hard to Demko to compete, just based on circumstances. His .906 save percentage isn’t very impressive (even if it’s unfairly inflated by a couple of outlier games) and just one point higher than Blackwood—who, by all accounts, has been more than a little uneven.
With Samsonov sporting some good numbers and around the same number of games played as Demko (they’re in a similar situation after all, with Braden Holtby’s contract set to expire after this season), and with Blackwood getting the lion’s share of the work in New Jersey, it might be hard to Demko to stand out from the crowd.
Curse you, Evgeni Malkin.
One stat that Vancouver’s goalie has in his favour? A high-danger save percentage of .818. That’s better than both Blackwood (.804) and Samsonov (.776).
It might all be a moot point, especially if Demko is out for an extended period of time. And again, we’d stress that he obviously do what’s best for him and not rush anything. It’s not like Canucks fans really need another rookie race to get excited about.
Though it never hurts.
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