It has been an underwhelming first half of the season for the Vancouver Canucks. They sit in sixth place out of seven teams in the Scotia North Division, they’ve played the most amount games of out of any team, and they’ve had some real trouble keeping the puck out of their net.
With the goaltending the Canucks got last year, they were able to push the Vegas Golden Knights to seven games in the Western Conference Semi-finals. Jacob Markstrom was spectacular, but even when he got injured, Thatcher Demko came in and played lights out. This gave Vancouver enough confidence to let Markstrom walk into free agency. In response, they went out and signed free agent Braden Holtby to a two-year, $8.6 million contract. This gave Vancouver a 1A-1B tandem in goal going forward until one of Demko or Holtby took the reins and ran with the No. 1 job. Unfortunately for them, that has yet to happen, and the Canucks are running out of runway here to determine who is going to step up in the crease.
The Case for Braden Holtby
The resume speaks for itself for Holtby. He’s a Vezina Trophy winner, a former All-Star and Stanley Cup Champion. While the numbers have trended down in each of the last two seasons, history has shown when given a heavy workload, Holtby can be a difference-maker if he goes on a run.
Some goaltenders are better and more accustomed to playing a significant amount over the course of a season. For Holtby, this is a guy who was the starting goaltender in Washington for seven seasons, in which he played as many as 73 games. When playing over 60 games in a season, Holtby produced a 2.22 goals against average (GAA) and a .923 save percentage (SV%) in his worst year. When he’s played fewer than 60 games, his best season as a starter came with a 2.85 GAA and a .915 SV%.
The crazy thing about this season is that Holtby has yet to start in three straight games and has only started consecutive times just once. Obviously, there are only 56 games to be played this year and the halfway point is just around the corner, but a few more starts consecutively down the road could play out very well for Holtby and the Canucks.
The Case For Thatcher Demko
Thatcher Demko displayed moments of brilliance during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, recording a stellar .985 SV% and 0.64 GAA. Now while his numbers were surely going to come down from his four playoff appearances last year, they’ve fallen a bit further back than most people thought.
Between both netminders this season, Demko holds a slight edge over Holtby. While they’re not eye-popping, Demko owns a .907 SV% and a 3.05 GAA on the year, compared to Holtby’s 3.56 GAA and a .893 SV%, respectfully. While the numbers haven’t been eye-popping so far this year, they’ve been improving as of late. Over his last 12 starts, Demko owns a .920 SV% and posted the first shutout of his career in a 4-0 win over the Winnipeg Jets.
Similarly mentioned with Holtby, sometimes a heavier workload can produce better numbers for a goaltender. The advantage for Demko in this situation is that he’s younger, has the potential to still improve, and he’s shown that in the past, he can handle it. Yes, it was a small sample size, but last year’s postseason proved that when thrown into the fire, Demko can take the heat.
The Bottom Line
Whatever way you look at it, both goaltenders have had plenty of opportunities to take the crease and run with it. It looks as if Vancouver wants Demko to be the guy moving forward, as he has started 15 games as opposed to Holtby’s 11, but it’s still anybody’s crease. At some point though, Vancouver will have to pick one of the two netminders and see if they can get on a hot streak and ride it for as long as they can. For the Canucks, they’re hoping it’s sooner rather than later.
I’m a London, Ontario based broadcaster and sports writer for the Vancouver Canucks. I’ve done work in the past reporting on the NHL, NBA and MLB. I’ve also covered the OHL including the Owen Sound Attack and am currently involved with the London Knights.