Ryan Miller

Benning trying to figure where Markstrom ‘fits in’

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Jim Benning is trying to figure out what he’s got in Jacob Markstrom.

The Canucks GM was in Utica this past week to watch Vancouver’s AHL team, the Comets, advance to the Western Conference Finals, in which they’ll take on the Grand Rapids Griffins (featuring Dylan Larkin).

On Wednesday, Benning saw another good AHL outing for Markstrom, who stopped 35 shots in a 1-0 Game 7 shutout win over Oklahoma City. The 25-year-old now has a .930 save percentage in 12 playoff games this year. His save percentage was .934 during the regular season, earning him second-team all-star honors.

But whether Markstrom can succeed in the NHL is still to be determined. He hasn’t so far, with an .896 save percentage in 50 games with the Canucks and Panthers.

“That’s part of why I’m down here now — to get a good look at Jacob Markstrom and see where he fits in,” Benning told the Vancouver Sun. “That’s what I’m trying to figure out right now. He showed me a lot last night, playing a real good game in a high-pressure situation.”

If Benning believes Markstrom is capable of backing up Ryan Miller next season, it likely means that Eddie Lack, one year away from becoming an unrestricted free agent, will be traded.

If not, Benning will try and trade Markstrom. (Though that may be easier said than done.)

Related: Canucks ‘know what it’s going to take’ to keep Lack, whose future might be elsewhere

Canucks ‘know what it’s going to take’ to keep Lack, whose future might be elsewhere

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You can add Eddie Lack to the list of goalies that might come available this summer.

Lack, who took over the No. 1 gig in Vancouver after Ryan Miller’s injury and backstopped the team to the playoffs, has one year left on his deal but could be moved if the Canucks decide he’s not in their long-term plans.

From the Vancouver Sun:

Canucks general manager Jim Benning said Tuesday the team will make a decision on its goaltending before the entry draft in June and if Lack isn’t part of the long-term plan, the club will try to trade him rather than risk losing him as an unrestricted free agent after next season.

“We’ve had preliminary talks with Eddie’s agent and we know what it’s going to take to get him signed,” Benning said. “We’re bringing in all our pro scouts and we’ll meet here in the next couple of weeks … and as a group make that decision.”

Asked if Lack, having played 41 NHL games each of the last two seasons, is too good to risk losing to free agency if the Canucks don’t re-sign him, Benning said: “I think you’re right with that.”

Lack, 27, emerged as a legit No. 1 and fan favorite this season, going 18-13-4 with a .921 save percentage and 2.45 GAA while winning over the Rogers Arena faithful with his easygoing personality and affinity for tacos.

The Swedish ‘tender has said he likes playing in Vancouver and wants to stay. But with Ryan Miller under contract for two more years — at $6M per — and Jacob Markstrom posting All-Star calibre numbers at the AHL level, Lack could be the guy on the move.

Of course, he’s not ready to just accept his departure — just ask his mom, who received some media attention herself this year for her exploits on Twitter:

All that said, Lack — who carries an affordable $1.15 million cap hit — may eventually welcome a move if it affords a better opportunity to start.

“I kind of feel like I’m almost coming up to that age where I’m really ready to compete, you know?” he explained. “To be honest, I don’t really care if it would have been me and [Markstrom] like it was before or me and Ryan; I come to the rink every day to do my best. I’m always going to hope and expect to play.

“I have one year left on my contract and I love the city and love the fans. Obviously, there’s a business side and if they want to get rid of me, I can’t really say anything. But I want to spend more time here.”

If Anderson is available, should the Oilers be interested?

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If the Ottawa Senators re-sign goalie Andrew Hammond — and it sounds like they intend to try — they’ll need to trade one of Craig Anderson or Robin Lehner.

If they decide to trade Anderson, should the Oilers be interested?

There’s no easy answer to that question, because there’s no certainty, not ever, when it comes to a goaltender. But at the very least, the veteran Anderson possesses a body of work that suggests a modicum of reliability.

In 406 NHL games for the Blackhawks, Panthers, Avalanche and Senators, Anderson has a .915 career save percentage. That’s in line with Jonathan Quick (.915 in 407 games) and Ryan Miller (.915 in 604 games). Anderson’s numbers this season, albeit in just 35 regular-season appearances, were among the best in the league. He was even better in the playoffs.

If there’s a concern about Anderson, it’s his age — he’ll be 34 next week. He’s had his share of injuries as well. But his contract is reasonable, with three years left at a cap hit of $4.2 million. Edmonton would pay that in a heartbeat to stabilize a position that badly needs to be stabilized.

Now, it’s possible the Senators try first to deal Lehner. So, might the Oilers be interested in him? Possibly. But Lehner is only 23, and he’s never started more than 30 games in the NHL. For all his upside — and he has quite a bit — his inexperience may not be a great fit in Edmonton. The same goes for a guy like Cam Talbot. Great NHL numbers, but a limited body of work. Plus, Talbot’s numbers (.931 save percentage in 57 games) were compiled with the help of some pretty good defensemen. (Remember that Ben Scrivens had good numbers with the Kings before the Oilers got him.)

Another experienced goalie the Oilers could pursue this offseason is unrestricted free agent Antti Niemi. We’re just not sure that would happen if Todd McLellan ends up becoming their coach.

Related: Why sign Miller? Benning wanted ‘a goalie with experience’

Will anyone pay a price for Markstrom?

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Once again, the Vancouver Canucks are going to have to try and trade a goalie.

GM Jim Benning didn’t deny it yesterday, while also agreeing that the time to do it may be at this summer’s draft.

“We have depth in the goaltending position,” Benning said. “We’re going to decide who we’re going to go with going forward. That’s an area where we could probably recapture a draft pick if we decide to trade somebody.”

Chances are, the Canucks will have the same netminding tandem next season as they did this season: Ryan Miller and Eddie Lack. The former has two years left on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent; the latter only has one year left, but given his age (27), ability and popularity with the fans, nobody would be surprised if he were to sign an extension.

That leaves Jacob Markstrom, the 25-year-old pending restricted free agent who has nothing left to prove at the AHL level but everything left to prove in the NHL.

Markstrom came to Vancouver from Florida in the Roberto Luongo trade. Drafted 31st overall in 2008, he was once the Panthers’ goalie of the future. Obviously, that plan was never realized.

In September, Markstrom was actually available for free on waivers. While there was reportedly interest, the Canucks gambled they could sneak him down to the minors. In the end, no team made a claim and he was sent to Utica, where he proceeded to go 22-7-2 with a .934 save percentage, good enough to be named to the AHL’s second all-star team.

Bottom line: Markstrom is a high-risk, high-reward proposition. Based on his AHL numbers and draft pedigree, there’s clear potential. On the other hand, in 50 career NHL games, he has a .896 save percentage.

In other words, if you’re the Edmonton Oilers (they jump to mind, right?), you’d be taking an enormous risk by acquiring Markstrom and slotting him in as your back-up. (Just ask the Dallas Stars about their experiences with a back-up that was once highly touted but came to them with a questionable NHL track record.)

The Canucks do have an asset in Markstrom, for now. Assuming he’s the goalie they decide to shop, it’s what they can turn that asset into, if anything, that will be interesting to see.

One more time, with feeling: Flames stage yet another comeback, eliminate Vancouver

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The Calgary Flames made a name for themselves this season with their third-period comebacks.

So it was fitting, then, that they won their first playoff series in 11 years in that very fashion.

Calgary beat Vancouver 7-4 on Saturday in Game 6 of their opening-round matchup, winning the series four games to two. The dramatic, come-from-behind win came after the Flames erased the Canucks’ 3-0 first-period lead, then rallied again in the third, much to the delight of a delirious Saddledome crowd.

“What a comeback, look at this crowd,” Flames head coach Bob Hartley said afterward. “We’re a big team, 20 [players] on the bench, but this crowd is unbelievable and those guys are just amazing.”

The series was bookended by comebacks. Calgary also won Game 1 courtesy a third-period rally, scoring the deciding marker with 30 seconds left.

Tonight’s heroics happened a bit earlier than in Game 1, though not by much. Matt Stajan scored the game-winner with under five minutes left, snapping home a wrister above the shoulder of Ryan Miller:

Stajan’s goal came after Jiri Hudler evened the score at four early in the frame, capitalizing on the power play after an interference call on Canucks forward Brandon McMillan.

Prior to Calgary’s third-period magic, the game was a dramatic affair. Vancouver looked to be in cruise control in the first after scoring three goals in just over seven minutes, but the Flames quickly replied with three goals of their own, including two in under five minutes from Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau early in the second period.

Shortly after the Flames tied things up, Luca Sbisa scored his first goal of the playoffs to give Vancouver a 4-3 edge, which it’d carry into the third — paving the way for Stajan to become the man of the night.

“We’ve worked so hard all year,” Stajan said after the game. “To come back like we have all year, it feels so good. We deserve it. We never back down. We’ll enjoy this, but we don’t want to stop. We want to keep going now.”

“We just felt in our room that we were going to come back. We found a way. That’s what we’ve done all year.”

As mentioned above, the win moves Calgary into the second round for the first time since 2004 — the same year they made it all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, before losing to Tampa Bay. The Flames will now take on Anaheim in Round 2.

As for the Canucks, losing the series — and the way they lost — has to be viewed as a major disappointment. While the club did well to bounce-back from last year’s disastrous campaign and make the playoffs, Vancouver failed to win a game on the road, saw its second-ranked penalty kill surrender five power-play goals over the series and lacked the killer instinct to put Calgary away in Games 1 and 6.

“The first couple of games, I felt we could’ve taken both at home,” a dejected Henrik Sedin said afterward. “[But] they came home tied 1-1.”

Of course, the Flames would argue they’re just not the kind of team you just put away.

Comebacks are kind of their thing.

Notes…

Karri Ramo replaced Jonas Hiller in the first period and fared well, stopping 17 of 19 shots… Miller finished with 26 saves on 31 shots… The Flames potted a pair of empty-net goals, which inflated their stat totals a bit, but still got great production from Stajan, Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, David Jones, Michael Ferland (three points each) and Jiri Hudler, who finished with four…Jannik Hansen led all Canuck scorers with two points; Vancouver got points from 10 different skaters.