Canucks’ Future Success Starts With Thatcher Demko

The Vancouver Canucks made an investment in the future of their goaltending late last season, locking up Thatcher Demko to a five-year extension with an average annual value (AAV) of $5 million. Often times it can be a risk giving a player a significant contract before fully establishing themselves at the NHL level, but so far it has worked out well for Vancouver. As the Canucks look ahead to the trade deadline on what moves they will or won’t make, their future success starts in goal with Demko.

Before their latest victory against the San Jose Sharks, his jaw-dropping performance against the Toronto Maple Leafs was the talk of the town. Demko stood on his head, stopping 51 shots in a 3-2 victory. It’s also not the first time the California native has stolen a game for Vancouver. This season, he’s faced 35-plus shots on 11 different occasions, winning seven of them. He’s also shown he can do this in the postseason as well. Dating back to the playoff bubble in 2020, he surrendered just two goals on 130 shots, for a goals-against average (GAA) of 0.64 and a save percentage (SV%) of .985. From early on in his career, all the way to this season, it has been a steady incline for the 26-year-old.

Demko Dominant During His College Days

Goaltenders tend to take a bit longer to develop than say a forward coming out of college or junior hockey. While Demko has finally established himself as one of the better goaltenders in the NHL today, people forget how dominant he was during his years at Boston College.

Thatcher Demko, Vancouver Canucks
Thatcher Demko, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Over a three-year stretch, Demko played 98 games, and what’s crazy is not just how impressive his number were, but that they improved each and every year. In his worst season, being his rookie year, he still put up a 2.24 GAA and .919 SV%. From then on, he dropped his GAA to a 2.19 and then a 1.88 in his final season, while the same thing happened with his SV%, going up to a .925 in year two, and an astounding .935 to go along with 10 shutouts in that final season. And just like in his college days, his numbers in the NHL have only improved.

Demko’s 2021-22 Season By The Advanced Metrics

This season has certainly been a breakout campaign for Demko, but what’s incredible is the fact that like in college, his numbers have steadily gone up in each and every campaign. That has led him to creep into the league leaders in not only both SV% and GAA but some of the advanced metrics as well.

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Demko is currently in the top-15 in qualified goaltenders (minimum of 18 appearances, in SV% with a .919, and ranks 16th in GAA with a 2.57. If we look deeper into the numbers, he has faced the third-most shots in the entire league (1189), and is top-10 in both quality starts (QS), with 20, and goals saved above expected (GSAA) with 11.98. Goals saved above expected, “is calculated by the league’s average save percentage with the number of shots a goalie has had. The resulting number is the average goals a goalie in whatever league you’re evaluating would’ve surrendered if they took the same number of shots as the goalie you’re evaluating.”

Looking even deeper into Demko’s numbers, he continues to impress and improve, which will only help the Canucks’ success, which usually begins in the crease.

Canucks’ Past Success Has Started in Goal

There’s a saying in hockey, “it starts from the crease out”, and whenever Vancouver has had success in the past, it’s stemmed from strong goaltending, and they have a few examples of it in their history.

Kirk McLean

Kirk McLean is the Canucks’ all-time leader in games played, with 516. While his numbers aren’t staggering (3.28 GAA and .887 SV%), Vancouver had multiple playoff runs during his tenure, including a Stanley Cup Final run in 1994. That year they were just one win away from claiming Lord Stanley, eventually losing out to the Mark Messier-led New York Rangers. During that run, his stats skyrocketed to a 2.29 GAA and a staggering .928 SV%.

Dan Cloutier

Dan Cloutier’s stats were never anything crazy, but he still averaged a career 2.42 GAA and .906 SV%. While he didn’t have the same level of playoff success as McLean, (only reaching the second round), he and the Canucks still made the playoffs in four consecutive seasons from 2000-04.

Roberto Luongo

To this day, Roberto Luongo might be the best Canucks goaltender in the history of their franchise. He’s the all-time leader in wins (256), and is second only to Cory Schneider, (who played 350 fewer games than Luongo), in both GAA and SV% (2.36 GAA and .919 SV%). Vancouver also made the postseason on six separate occasions with Luongo, their longest run coming in the 2010-11 season, where similarly to McLean, came to within one victory of the Stanley Cup, this time against the Boston Bruins.

Alex Edler and Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Whether it’s during their history or in 2021-22, the Canucks’ success has and will always start in goal. So, with Demko locked down for the foreseeable future, that success looks like it will continue for seasons to come.