Jacob Markstrom stole two points for the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night by stopping 49 shots in a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings.
With the Canucks floating on the playoff bubble every point is massive, and it’s not the first time this season Markstrom has delivered a game-changing performance.
Since arriving in Vancouver five years ago, he has gone from underwhelming prospect that was bordering on being a bust, to a strong backup, to a very good and reliable NHL starter.
He is also playing in the final year of his contract and set to be an unrestricted free agent after this season without a new deal. Back in November Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that Markstrom is definitely in the Canucks’ long-term plans, and that talks on a new contract could soon start to intensify.
But what does a potential new contract look like for the two sides?
1. Who does he compare to?
Markstrom isn’t one of the league’s elites at the position, but he is definitely a quality starter. He is going to give his team a chance on most nights, and will occasionally steal one (as he did on Saturday).
If you go back to the start of the 2005-06 season there are a handful of goalies that compare similarly to where Markstrom is at this point in his career.
What we looked for: Goalies that appeared in at least 100 games between the ages of 28 and 30 (Markstrom became the Canucks’ full-time starter in his age 28 season) and posted a save percentage between .910 and .915. In other words: a league-average to maybe slightly above league average starter.
Here are the names that show up: Jonas Hiller, Craig Anderson, Carey Price, Cam Talbot, Jimmy Howard, James Reimer, Semyon Varlamov, Jonathan Bernier, Chad Johnson, and Martin Biron.
Price is the biggest name there, but he is a bit of an outlier. His age 28-30 seasons were a bit of a mess. One was lost almost entirely to injury, while another was just … bad. But the rest? Those are probably pretty strong comparisons. Goalies that aren’t great, but aren’t going to hurt you.
2. Why the comparisons matter
It’s not only to get a sense of what Markstrom might cost, but also to try and get an idea for what his future seasons could look like. Anytime a team signs a player to a long-term deal their past performance isn’t as important as their future performance.
In this case, you want to know how likely it is that the player you’re signing is going to keep playing at that level.
When you look at the names above, the best-case scenarios might be Craig Anderson or Jimmy Howard. Both were able to maintain that same level of production into their mid-30s (and in Anderson’s case, even into his late 30s). They also both signed long-term contracts around the same age that Markstrom is now that accounted for 6 percent of the salary cap (Anderson) and 8 percent (Howard) at the time of their deals. And that seems about fair for a mid-level starting goalie. A similar contract today would pay Markstrom somewhere between $5 and $6 million per season. That would place him in the 10-20 range among the NHL’s highest salary cap hits for goalies.
And for the goalie that he is right now, that is probably where he belongs.
3. The Canucks almost have to pay him
Mostly because he is the best and most realistic option.
Thatcher Demko was once thought to be the future of the Canucks’ net, but he remains a question mark and rolling into next season with him as the No. 1 seems like a bad idea.
Braden Holtby will most likely be the biggest name on the free agent market, but he is probably out of the Canucks’ price range due to the salary cap. The same should be true of Robin Lehner who has undoubtedly earned a significant contract from somebody.
After that, there isn’t a better option set to be available. The trade market is also a bit of a minefield for goalies. If the Canucks can get Markstrom on a three-or four-year deal at around $5-6 million per season that should be a worthwhile investment.
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.