The Vancouver Canucks will eventually have to make a decision on whether to re-sign starting goaltender Jacob Markstrom or let him walk into unrestricted free agency (UFA). That decision will have a huge impact on the future of rookie backup Thatcher Demko. If Markstrom is retained on a long-term deal, that means Demko is destined to be a backup for the foreseeable future. As a young goaltender hoping for a number one job one day, he may not like that scenario.
So in the event that Markstrom is signed to that kind of contract, Demko may be placed on the trade block. If that happens, there will be a number of teams that could be interested in the 24-year-old California native.
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The Ottawa Senators are a team with a lot of assets and young players that could be of interest to the Canucks. They are also in need of goaltending as Craig Anderson is a UFA this offseason and Magnus Hogberg is not an established NHL goaltender yet. Anders Nilsson is still under contract, but he’s also on the older side and still hasn’t proven himself to be a consistent starter.
It’s pretty much a given that Anderson will not be back with the Senators as they are a few years away from being a contending team again. At 38-years-old, he most certainly won’t want to stick around for that. Hogberg right now is the future, but he’s getting to a point where he needs to start establishing himself as a number one. Finally, Nilsson is going into a contract year, and at 30-years-old, he’s probably not going to become more than a backup or occasional starter in the NHL.
General Manager Jim Benning has a history with Senators’ GM Pierre Dorion as he made two trades with him in recent seasons. Once with Alex Burrows and then with Anders Nilsson, so the relationship is definitely strong between the two executives. Could they become partners again?
The Senators have a lot of premium picks in this year’s draft, currently with two first-round picks (three if the New York Islanders don’t win the lottery), and four second-round picks. They also have a deep prospect pool to draw from too, so the assets are definitely there to potentially improve their goaltending. Could Demko be the goaltender to grow with the Sens’ current core of young players?
Detroit Red Wings
After making the playoffs 25 seasons in a row, the Detroit Red Wings are now in a drought that has hit four seasons. The once perennial powerhouse has become a basement dweller. So, GM Steve Yzerman will most certainly be looking to improve his team this offseason, and goaltending has been one area of concern.
Longtime starter Jimmy Howard had an injury-riddled campaign and never really looked comfortable in the net, finishing with a career-low 4.20 goals against average (GAA) and a .882 save percentage (SV%). He also only won two games in 27 appearances. He’s a UFA this offseason, so he’s probably on his way out of the Motor City.
Howard’s backup, Jonathan Bernier, who basically played the role of starter this season, didn’t fare much better. He finished the abbreviated season with 15 wins along with a 2.95 GAA and a .907 SV% in 47 appearances. At 31-years-old, he’s not the answer to their problems either. He currently has one more season on a three-year deal he signed in 2018, so he will most likely be the backup next season, especially if Yzerman does, in fact, upgrade his goaltending.
As for their pipeline, it’s not very deep with 28-year-old Calvin Pickard signed through the 2021-22 season and top prospect Filip Larsson still not developed enough to be handed the starting reigns. Demko could end up being the answer to their crease conundrum. The Red Wings don’t have the same treasure trove of first-round picks as the Senators do, but they do have three second-round selections to barter with.
San Jose Sharks
Yes, Martin Jones is still signed for four more seasons at $5.75 million, but considering his performance in the last two seasons for the San Jose Sharks, GM Doug Wilson has got to start thinking about replacing his long-time netminder. Aaron Dell has done an adequate job as his backup, but he’s definitely not the future.
If the Sharks hope to return to the playoffs, the goaltending needs to be better. They still have the firepower with Logan Couture, Timo Meier, and Evander Kane, as well as a formidable defence core with Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson manning the blueline. It’s been the goaltending that has let them down recently, so Demko could be just what they need to get them back on track.
Unfortunately, the Canucks could be shooting themselves in the foot by trading him within the division. If he becomes an all-star goaltender for them, and Markstrom does not remain at his 2019-20 form, they will be ruing the day they traded him away.
As for what the Sharks could offer the Canucks, they currently have one first-round pick, two second-round picks, and some prospects to offer up. The two GMs also have made a deal in the past, most recently involving Nikolay Goldobin and Jannik Hansen, so a positive relationship has already been established.
Devan Dubnyk has been a revelation for the Minnesota Wild since coming to town during the 2014-15 season. However, his time looks to be coming to an end as he’s now 33-years-old and has only one season left on his current deal. GM Bill Guerin needs to start looking to the future in goal, and Demko could be that future.
The Wild could potentially have two first-round picks to offer up, but I think the Canucks should be looking to Matt Dumba as a possible return here. Unfortunately, his cap hit is quite high at $6 million for the next three seasons, which would add even more strands to the already tangled web Benning is in right now. However, the addition of Dumba would make the Canucks’ defence core quite formidable, and if he’s made available, as rumours suggested at the trade deadline, it would be worth exploring.
The Canucks are coming to a crossroads with their goaltending. Markstrom had a stellar season and Demko appears to be ready to take the reigns. Unless Benning does some acrobatics, they can only keep one for the foreseeable future. The Seattle expansion draft also throws an extra wrench into an already complicated offseason. If they decide to keep Markstrom, the possibility exists that Demko is made available.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think they should trade Demko. Though I also don’t think they should give up on re-signing Markstrom, especially after the breakout season he had. However, if they do re-sign him to a long-term deal, the Canucks have to think about the possibility of a potential goaltender controversy. If Demko gets restless and ultimately demands a trade, then the situation could get ugly. That’s why the Canucks need to get out in front of it and trade him before it ever becomes a reality.
Of all the teams suggested, the Senators or Red Wings offer up the most assets, especially when it comes to draft picks. The 2020 NHL Draft has a lot of prime talent in the first two rounds, and the Canucks do not have any picks until the third round unless they ultimately miss the playoffs this season. Bottom line is, they need to find a way to get back into at least the second round. If Demko is traded, picks have to be involved, period.
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.