Flames’ Markstrom One of Many High-Paid Goalies Struggling

In 2021-22 Jacob Markstrom finished the season as a Vezina Trophy finalist, compiling the best statistical season of his 13-year career. His contract, valued at $6 million average annual value (AAV), appeared to be a bargain, thanks to a 35-15-9 record in 63 games. Moreover, he led all netminders with nine shutouts and finished fourth in wins, tying Darcy Kuemper of the eventual Stanley Cup Champion, the Colorado Avalanche.

The Calgary Flames had a well-documented offseason with star players trading places, leading many to believe that the 2022-23 team would be even better. Markstrom should have used the previous season to springboard himself into goalie immortality this year by earning a Vezina win and leading his All-Star-caliber team to a Stanley Cup title. However, since the season started, the Swedish netminder has not been sharp, and timely goals against have hurt the Flames, who continue to struggle to find wins. The situation has gotten to the point where backup Dan Vladar is now getting more starts as Markstrom continues to work on his game in practice. 

Jacob Markstrom Calgary Flames
Jacob Markstrom, Calgary Flames (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Flames’ crease used to belong to him, but a rocky start in a critical season for the franchise has made headlines across the league. Moreover, Markstrom is on the books with a hefty price tag, which ranks as the seventh-highest goalie contract in the NHL, according to figures taken from Spotrac.com. Interestingly, he is in a select group of players who make top dollar for their position, but he’s not the only one struggling right now. 

NHL’s Highest-Paid Goalies

In case anyone forgot, the highest-paid netminder in the NHL for 2022-23 is Carey Price ($12.5 million AAV), who has played 298 minutes (five games) since losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final. Last season, he spent most of the year in rehab and is currently dealing with a significant knee injury that may prevent him from ever playing again. The former Hart Trophy winner could end up joining a short list of Hall of Famers whose career was cut short due to injuries; however, until he officially hangs up his skates, his contract remains on the books in Montreal. 

Related: Flames’ Vladar Slowly Stealing Net from Struggling Markstrom

In 2021-22, Sergei Bobrovsky ($10 million AAV) took the Florida Panthers to heights never seen before in franchise history. The team won the Presidents’ Trophy and had good odds of advancing to the Stanley Cup Final and winning their first-ever championship. The former Veniza Trophy winner had 39 wins, which ranked the best amongst peers, meaning the 34-year-old was not done playing his best hockey. After getting swept in the second round by cross-state rival, the Lightning, Bobrovsky has taken a back seat to a younger netminder, Spencer Knight. Overall, his record through 16 games is 5-8-1 with a .884 save percentage (SV%) and 3.58 goals-against average (GAA). 

Another Sunshine State goalie, Andrei Vasilevsky ($9.5 million AAV), has played a lot of hockey since 2019 leading his team to three straight Stanley Cup Final appearances, winning two of them. If anyone looked up the world’s best goalie in 2022, most search results would lead them to Vasilevsky’s name, a Vezina Trophy winner in 2018-19. However, this season, all that extra hockey may have caught up to the Lightning since they have stumbled out of the gate and, despite all the offensive power in the lineup, do not appear to be the same dominant team that will look to get back to their fourth straight Stanley Cup Final. Vasilevsky’s numbers don’t lie either; he’s currently sitting with an 11-8-1 record through 20 games, a 2.66 GAA, and .911 SV%, which rank among the worst numbers of his career to date.

Meanwhile, on the West Coast, John Gibson is making $6.4 million AAV to play hockey in one of the country’s warmest markets. Out of all the goalies on this list, the Anaheim Ducks are getting one of the worse returns on their investment since Gibson is currently 5-13-3. Furthermore, they are not the same team they once were with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in the lineup, but the team did acquire star defenceman John Klingberg to shore up the back end. However, Gibson hasn’t done his team any favors with a 3.99 GAA and .894 SV%. Although the group in front of him may be rebuilding, he’s on pace for his fourth consecutive losing season, which isn’t fair to management, who pay him to secure wins. 

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So far, everyone on this list is amid subpar seasons, considering their history, skillset, and paycheck. However, one of the biggest surprises this season is Toronto Maple Leafs’ netminder Matt Murray. The two-time Stanley Cup champion was dispatched from the Pittsburgh Penguins and watched his career crumble with the Ottawa Senators. Injuries have plagued him for years, and the start of the 2022-23 season was no exception. After he missed some time, he returned and could be headed to the All-Star Game with his impressive start. A leading candidate for his first Vezina Trophy win, he is currently 7-1-2 with a 2.50 GAA and .926 SV%. Once cast off as a has-been, his performance this season has shown that the gamble the Leafs’ management took on him in the summer could pay dividends beyond anyone’s imagination. 

Matt Murray Toronto Maple Leafs
Matt Murray, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Connor Hellebuyck makes $6.1 million AAV and earns every penny of his contract by suiting up for an absurd number of games. He’s known as one of the league’s most reliable goalies; whether collecting over 20 wins a campaign or playing in close to 60 games, he is always in contention for the Vezina Trophy. He ranks among the top goalies in the league with a 14-6-1 record through 21 games, a spectacular 2.33 GAA, and .930 SV% with three shutouts. Furthermore, no matter where his Winnipeg Jets finish in the regular season or playoffs, their success will depend on his performance. 

There’s only one other goalie in the NHL currently making $6 million AAV; one-time Stanley Cup champion Jordan Binnington. Recently, he made headlines for checking a Penguins player cutting behind his net. However, it wasn’t the first incident he’s been involved in, and it may not be the last. The St. Louis Blues expect a lot from a guy who stood on his head to deliver the Stanley Cup as a rookie in 2019. Right now, the team is struggling, and Binnington is one of the reasons why with a 9-11-1 record through 21 games with a 3.40 GAA and .889 SV%. As one of the few goalies still playing in the league that has led his team to a championship, his 2022-23 numbers do not warrant such a hefty contract.

NHL Goalies Making Less Get Better Results 

Last season Igor Shesterkin showed the world he was the best goalie in the league by claiming the Vezina Trophy. Moreover, he followed up his fantastic regular season by taking the New York Rangers to the Eastern Conference Final. This season, he has a 13-4-4 record, but his GAA is higher than usual at 2.50 and his SV% is the lowest of his young career at .917.

Ilya Sorokin New York Islanders
Ilya Sorokin, New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Players are scoring more goals this season, but superstar goalies are getting outplayed by their counterparts who make less money, like Ilya Sorokin ($4 million AAV), who might be the best goalie currently playing in the league. In Boston, Linus Ullmark ($5 million AAV) could win the Vezina Trophy if it was given out today, while Logan Thompson (Vegas Golden Knights) may win the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year, making just $776,667 AAV this season. Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Vitek Vanecek has the Devils competing for the best record with a modest $3.4 million AAV contract.

A handful of these goalies are the byproduct of their environment; however, that doesn’t apply to Markstrom, who is supposed to have a better team in front of him this season. Making a lot of money to stop pucks and then failing to stop them raises many red flags and stirs up some unwanted debates.

When Markstrom Struggles, the Flames Lose

It was mentioned earlier that Markstrom has gotten off to a bad start in 2022-23. The former first-round pick has won just eight games in 18 starts, so unless he finds a second gear during the stretch drive, he could fail to win 20 games for the first time since 2017. Furthermore, failing to lead the Flames to a playoff position or a deep run would be a significant step back for him as the seventh highest-paid goalie in the league. 

Jacob Markstrom Calgary Flames
Jacob Markstrom, Calgary Flames (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The expectations may be high, but the bar only got raised after a career season in 2021-22. Moreover, Markstrom is one of many goalies with a lofty contract struggling to find their game. Murray and Hellebuyck may be the only ones whose stars shine brighter than everyone else since they are currently playing to their potential. Markstrom shocked the hockey world with his performance last season, making his contract look like a bargain. Right now, he’s one of the most recognizable issues plaguing the Flames as they struggle to maintain early leads and close out games. Despite his best efforts on a nightly basis, he’s given up soft and back-breaking goals that hurt more in the win column than on the scoresheet. 

Related: Flames’ Markstrom Catching Heat from Fanbase Early Into 2022-23

There may be time for Markstrom to turn his season around. Even though he currently has a winning record, the wins are more challenging than last year, and they have tested his will to step up when times are tough. Still, that small window of opportunity is closing with each passing game, meaning the expectations regarding performance and contract may not be achieved this season.