Canucks in a Tough Spot with Thatcher Demko Injury

Thatcher Demko’s injury has put the Vancouver Canucks at a crossroads, as they announced he will be out for approximately six weeks. This means that if everything goes to plan, they will be without their starting goalie until mid-January. Here is a look at the trickle-down effect that this injury will have on the entire organization.

NHL-Level Issues

For Canuck fans and the organization, the effect this has on the NHL team is massive. While Demko was having a tough start to the season, him being unavailable could turn the team from a playoff hopeful into a contender for Connor Bedard. Full credit to Spencer Martin, who has been strong this season, but he has played less than 20 NHL games and will now be leaned upon heavily for potentially the next 20 games of the season behind one of the worst defensive groups in the NHL. The hope is he can rise to the challenge, but there is a very good chance it could be an ugly six weeks for Vancouver.

Thatcher Demko Vancouver Canucks
Thatcher Demko, Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Derek Cain/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Now, let’s look at the backup situation. Currently, the Canucks have Collin Delia in line to be the backup. As of writing, his call-up from the American Hockey League (AHL) is listed as an emergency loan, but that should change once Vancouver officially puts Demko on injury reserve.

Related: Canucks’ Martin Deserves More Starts in Net Than Demko

While Delia has had some success at the NHL level with the Chicago Blackhawks, his play has seen a slow decline over the past few seasons. This season with the Abbotsford Canucks, he has a 5-3 record, which is decent, but he has posted a .884 save percentage (SV%) and a goals-against average (GAA) of 3.44 in eight games.

As mentioned, the Canucks are one of the worst defensive teams in the league, so having a goaltender that is struggling to stop the puck in the AHL is a massive issue. While odds are Martin will get the majority of starts, there is a back-to-back along with an Eastern road swing scheduled before Demko is expected to return. This leads to the question, are the Canucks happy with Delia, or will they make a trade for an experienced backup?

Time to Tank for Bedard?

With Demko out, there also needs to be a discussion about whether Vancouver should start the fire sale early and go into full tank mode. Yes, it is possible Martin pulls off an unbelievable run, but based on the previous two games where the Canucks lost to the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers 5-1 each at home, it seems unlikely. This is not a bad option as the return Vancouver would get now compared to the trade deadline could be higher as teams are getting players for a longer stretch of time.

Related: 2023 Top Prospect Connor Bedard Off to an Exceptional Start

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The only issue with the tank for Bedard plan is that a) Bruce Boudreau will not coach to lose, and b) if Demko is back in the reported time frame, Vancouver will still have just under half the season to try and push for a playoff spot. After not hosting a playoff game since the 2015 postseason, there may also be pressure from ownership to make a move to keep Vancouver in the playoff race rather than attempt to get arguably the best prospect to come out of the Western Hockey League (WHL) in the leagues’ history. Regardless, this decision needs to be made quickly so that the proper moves are made, and if the team does decide to tank, they do so correctly.

AHL Problems

The last issue that most may not think of is with the Abbotsford Canucks. Currently, the Canucks only have one goaltender signed in Arturs Silovs. This a great opportunity for the 21-year-old goalie as he should get the bulk of the starts barring a trade that sends Delia back to the AHL. This means Vancouver will need to find a backup at the AHL level to help manage the load and support the young Latvian, who has played 22 games over the last two seasons.

Artus Silovs Vancouver Canucks 2019 NHL Draft
Artus Silovs, Vancouver Canucks, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

There are a couple of routes the Canucks can go down. They can keep signing ECHL goaltenders to professional tryouts or make a trade for an AHL backup. If they do make a trade, some goaltenders Abbotsford could bring in are Michael Hutchinson, Calvin Pickard, or Christopher Gibson. All three are experienced AHL goaltenders that are primarily playing backup roles at the moment. Bringing in a backup with NHL experience could be the best move, as it would allow Silovs to have a mentor, which could help his overall development. Vancouver does have three contract spots available, so a trade at the AHL level is not out of the question.

Demko’s Health Priority Number One

The Canucks need Demko, plain and simple. Despite a slow start, he has proven to be one of the best goaltenders in the league and will be leaned on by this organization for years to come. Hopefully, he can bounce back in the six weeks, but it is hard to say when he will be back to 100 percent, as lower-body injuries can cause lingering effects on goaltenders for months after recovery. Regardless, Vancouver is in a tough spot and needs to come up with a plan ASAP.

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