Well, we learned last night that Thatcher Demko is a guy who likes to hit the sack early. Which is good, because the last thing you want the night before a big game is a goalie who stays up late taking part in all those late-night bubble shenanigans. And the Vancouver Canucks learned something too with Demko’s 42-save performance in Game 5 of their playoff series against the Vegas Golden Knights, or at the very least confirmed what they already knew.
And that is that they really don’t have to spend time and energy fretting about whether Jacob Markstrom will re-sign in Vancouver or not. In fact, that they have Demko as a viable option as their No. 1 goalie gives them leverage in negotiations with Markstrom, a pending unrestricted free agent.
In case you missed it, Markstrom is the reason the Canucks are in the second round of the playoffs and Demko is the reason they’re preparing for Game 6 of the second round instead of packing and leaving the bubble. With Markstrom on the sidelines with a groin issue, Demko played his first game in six months and his first-ever playoff game and stared down one of the most talented teams in the league. At one point, the Golden Knights were outshooting the Canucks 22-6 and after two periods, the shots were 28-10.
The Canucks want Markstrom back and he wants to be back, so all tea leaves lead us to believe the likelihood is he’ll do a deal with the Canucks, likely somewhere in the five-year range and in the neighborhood of a $5.5 million cap hit per season. But you never know with negotiations, particularly in hard-cap world where a lot of teams are facing the fact that there is not as much money in the system as everyone thought there would be, and there likely won’t be for the next couple of seasons. So if negotiations between the Canucks and Markstrom go sideways, they can walk away knowing they have a goaltender who can deliver for them in crucial games.
Of course, they’ve always known that. That Canucks have always seen Demko as a viable Plan B if they don’t sign Markstrom, which is likely why there seems to be very little panic in Canuck Nation over this issue. Should they find themselves needing to let Markstrom go, they would be able to have Markstrom as their No. 1 goalie, then would likely go out and find a Jaroslav Halak/Anton Khudobin-type of veteran who can give them 30-40 quality starts, or take the crease if Demko hits a rough patch. That kind of flexibility is important when you have $17 million in cap space, which sounds like a lot until you consider that they have to re-sign or replace pending UFAs Markstrom, Chris Tanev and Tyler Toffoli and restricted free agents Jake Virtanen, Tyler Motte, Adam Gaudette and Troy Stetcher. It doesn’t help things, of course, that you’re also devoting more than $6.3 million in cap space to have Roberto Luongo, Sven Baertschi and Ryan Spooner not play for you.
Whatever happens this off-season will impact the Canucks’ situation significantly. If they don’t sign Markstrom, the Canucks will have a new look in goal and will be without the player most responsible for them getting to where they are right now. If they do sign Markstrom long-term, they’re looking at a scenario where they would stand to lose Demko in the expansion draft or make a deal with the Seattle Kraken to stay away from him, or deal Demko somewhere else rather than risk losing him for nothing.
The Canucks likely have the room to re-sign two of Markstrom, Tyler Toffoli and Tanev, and it looks as though that’s the order of priority for them. Markstrom has been brilliant for the Canucks and at 30 years old, still has some very good years ahead of him. He may go looking for big money this fall and find it simply isn’t there, a predicament that faces all pending UFAs. He has been great for the Canucks, but the fit with the Canucks has been good for him, too. Does Markstrom really want to go somewhere else for nominally more money and miss out on staying in a great city where he has the opportunity to play behind the likes of Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes for the rest of his career? That one will play itself out once the Canucks stop playing hockey, which might not be anytime soon if they continue to get the goaltending they got from Demko in Game 5 against Vegas. It’s hard to fathom that the Canucks would be able to beat the Golden Knights three straight times, but the Canucks have proved throughout these playoffs that it is not wise to doubt them.
“We’ve got to play better than we did in the first two periods (of Game 5),” said Canucks coach Travis Green. “(Vegas is) a good hockey team, they’re average games are pretty strong. We’ve got to make sure we bring our best hockey to the table and if we do, I like our chances.”