The NHL’s goalie carousel was always going to be the most fascinating part of the offseason given the number of big names available, and the Vancouver Canucks ended up being one of the teams along for the ride.
On Friday they said goodbye to long-time starter Jacob Markstrom, and welcomed in a former Stanley Cup champion in Braden Holtby.
The team announced that Holtby signed a two-year contract that will pay him $4.3 million per season. That move officially means that Jacob Markstrom is moving on.
His next stop: The Calgary Flames on a six-year, $36 million contract that carries a $6 million per year salary cap hit.
Let’s break this down.
Holtby to Vancouver
There are a lot of things to digest here.
For starters, it almost certainly means that Thatcher Demko is going to have to wait even longer to be considered the No. 1 goalie in Vancouver, because the Canucks are not paying Holtby that much money to spend the majority of his team sitting on the bench. You have to figure he is going to not only play, but play a significant role.
It also seems likely that Holtby will be the goalie that Vancouver leaves exposed in next year’s expansion draft when the Seattle Kraken enter the league.
The question now is how much Holtby has left remaining as a top-tier goalie. At his peak he was one of the best goalies of his era. A consistent threat to win the Vezina Trophy, a proven big-game goalie, and a cornerstone piece to a Capitals team that was always at the top of the league.
His overall production has dropped a bit over the past three years, while the 2019-20 season was a particularly tough one for him as he posted the lowest save percentage (.897) of his career. Was that performance a random outlier, or a more concerning sign for what is ahead? Given how important goaltending was to the Canucks’ success this past season they need to hope it is more of the former.
[Capitals sign Henrik Lundqvist to one-year deal]
Can Markstrom bring stability to Calgary’s net?
Before you start getting into the contract the idea of Jacob Markstrom in Calgary makes a lot of sense.
Ever since Miikka Kipprusoff’s run with the team ended, their net has been a revolving door of short-term options. Since the start of the 2013-14 season they have had nine different goalies started at least 20 games for them, including five that have started at least 45 games.
They have simply not been able to find a long-term solution that they are happy with or that is good enough to help make them a legit Stanley Cup contender.
Could Markstrom finally solve that?
He very quietly became a rock-solid goalie in Vancouver over the past few years and finally started to get some recognition for it this past season. Markstrom is not going to steal a lot of games, but he is not going to lose many on his own, either. He is a durable, above-average goalie that should still have some quality hockey ahead of him. There is a lot of value in that, especially for a team that has been unable to consistently find a player capable of doing that. The question is whether or not that is worth $36 million over the next six years for a goalie that is already 30 years old.
Let’s be honest here, that is a gamble and there is no guarantee it is going to pay off in a few years.
With Holtby in Vancouver, Markstrom in Calgary, Henrik Lundqvist in Washington, Matt Murray in Ottawa, Robin Lehner staying in Vegas, Cam Talbot in Minnesota, and Anton Khudobin re-signing in Dallas the goalie market is starting to sort itself out.
Corey Crawford and Thomas Greiss remain the biggest free agents, while Marc-Andre Fleury is still floating out there as a potential trade option.
Edmonton, Colorado, and perhaps Chicago still figure to be teams in the market for goaltending help.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.