This post is part of Canucks Day on PHT…
The Vancouver Canucks finished with the third-worst record in the NHL last season, and there were a lot of reasons why.
Goaltending was not one of them.
In fact, on a lot of nights, if not for Ryan Miller or Jacob Markstrom, things could’ve been a lot worse. Miller finished the season with a .916 save percentage; Markstrom’s was .915. The way the undermanned Canucks defended at times, those numbers were more than acceptable. Only the Ottawa Senators allowed more shots per game (32.8) than Vancouver (32.5).
Markstrom’s performance was an especially pleasant surprise for the Canucks, who’d made the decision to trade fan favorite Eddie Lack to Carolina during the previous offseason. Markstrom was coming off an excellent 2014-15 campaign in the AHL, but had yet to prove he could play in the NHL. He’d cleared waivers on his way to Utica, a sign of how far his stock had fallen since his days as a top prospect with the Panthers.
In 2015-16, Markstrom started 30 games for the Canucks, his solid (sometimes spectacular) play earning him a three-year contract extension that has him tied to the club through 2019-20. On at least one occasion last season, he downright “stole” a game for his team.
“It was a good year for me, personally, and it was a tough year for…obviously it’s never fun to lose hockey games and last year we lost way too many of them,” Markstrom said in July. “As for right now, when I look back, I feel like last year…it felt like a tease. I can’t wait to get going and get started.”
Miller, meanwhile, just turned 36 and has one year left on his contract. It remains to be seen if Vancouver will pursue an extension. While the Canucks have an excellent prospect in Thatcher Demko, he only turned pro in April and will likely need more than one year of AHL seasoning. An important part of the future, Demko won’t be rushed into the NHL.
As for next season, the Canucks are hoping to make it a little easier for Miller and Markstrom. Injuries to key veterans like Brandon Sutter, Henrik Sedin, Alex Edler, Chris Tanev and Dan Hamhuis certainly didn’t help things last season. While Hamhuis has moved on to Dallas and may be missed, big Erik Gudbranson has been added, in large part for his crease-clearing ability.
“We’re going to play with more structure defensively this season,” said GM Jim Benning. “I feel we’ll be strong up the middle defensively. We’re hoping that cuts down on the miraculous saves.”
Because while spectacular saves are nice to watch, too many of them can be a symptom of a big problem.