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Are the Canucks Doomed to Repeat Goaltending Mistakes?

In the NHL, teams are not often afforded the luxury of having multiple options for a starting goaltender. The Vancouver Canucks have been the exception to the rule before, starting with two No. 1s…and ending up with neither. Cory Schneider now goaltends for New Jersey, and Roberto Luongo plays in sunny Florida.

Now with Jacob Markstrom and Ryan Miller both playing up to the number one goalie capability, the Canucks are again in a similar scenario. Making the right decision on how to handle the goaltending conundrum will go a long way in deciding the future success of the organization.

Markstrom must be prioritized over Ryan Miller in a clear and decisive manner or they risk repeating the same mistakes.

Let’s take a look at the past blunders Vancouver made and how the Canucks can avoid another one.

Schneider was selected by the Canucks with the 26th overall pick in the 2004 NHL Draft. When a goalie is selected in the first round, it’s usually a signal that the goalie is likely going to be picking up the mantel of No 1 in the future. Schneider didn’t sign with the Canucks organization right off the bat, instead choosing to play at Boston College for a few years.

When Roberto Luongo became available in trade discussions, Vancouver acquired the All-Star goalie. The Canucks immediately signed Luongo to a four-year extension, leaving Schneider’s status with the team up in the air.

Vancouver could have traded Schneider when he was a top prospect, but instead allowed Schneider to move up in the ranks post-college, eventually becoming Luongo’s backup. On November 29, 2008, Schneider made his first NHL start for the Canucks. Unfortunately for him, Luongo had signed a 12-year extension with the club a year earlier. It was difficult to see a future for Schneider in Vancouver.

22 April 2013: Brandon Bollig (52) of the Hawks collides with the net after goalie Cory Schneider (35) of the Canucks made a save during a game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Chicago Blackhawks at Rogers Arena (Photo: Bob Frid/Icon Sportswire)

Still, he was tremendous in net for the Canucks, challenging Luongo for the starting job despite Luongo’s contract. This helped the team on ice, but created problems off of the ice. Both goalies deserved a starting job, and when Luongo was benched in the 2012 playoffs in favor of Schneider, a goalie battle was fully brewing.

The Canucks quickly attempted to squash any potential drama in the net by trading Schneider for a first round pick, which the team then used to select one of their current brightest young stars in Bo Horvat. While Schneider is thought of as one of the best goalies in the game, the return was good enough that the move can be considered successful.

However, things went downhill from there.

The stress was never fully alleviated, and it was reported that Luongo was upset with newly-minted head coach John Tortorella’s decision to start Eddie Lack in the outdoor Heritage Classic against the Ottawa Senators. With tensions high, and cap space dwindling, the Canucks eventually shipped Luongo to the Florida Panthers for a package including Jacob Markstrom.

Markstrom joined Lack to form one of the cheapest and youngest goalie tandems in the NHL. Markstrom needed seasoning in the AHL, but the potential was there for an inexpensive, playoff-worthy goaltending tandem that seemed to work well together.

Rather than keeping the quiet, successful tandem in place, the Canucks went out and signed veteran free agent Ryan Miller to a 3-year, $18 million contract. Vancouver wasted a year of Markstrom’s potential development at the NHL level in favor of playing Miller and Lack as a duo. Then, despite league interest in Miller, traded the younger, cheaper goalie (Lack) to the Carolina Hurricanes for third round and seventh round picks.

Now, the Canucks have Miller and his $6 million cap hit as one option in net and Markstrom, 25-years-old, making $1.5 million as the other option.

At this point, Miller has played in 33 games, posting a 0.913 save percentage, while Markstrom has entered 19, with a 0.923 save percentage. To dive deeper into the statistical performances of the pair, let’s take a look at goaltending statistic “Mercad” created by Nick Mercadante. A full explanation of the statistic can be found here, but a summary explained by Mercadante reads as follows:

5v5 adjGSAA/60 shows how much better/worse a goalie is performing than if a league average goalie faced the exact same shots as he did, adjusted for danger zone (HD, MD, LD). It is controlled for league average in season at 0, which allows you to easily compare performance amongst peers and across seasons. You always know average is 0. Anyone above 0 is above average. Elite performers year to year (top 3-5 qualifying goalies) has consistently been +.300 and above since 2005.

Using that statistic, the Vancouver Canucks clearly feature one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL.

It would be easy for the Canucks to finally roll with what they have in net and continue the timeshare between Miller and Markstrom. The revolving door of goaltenders has done nothing to help the organization win.

Despite that, it might be wise for the Canucks to look at what they can get for Miller on the open market.

Good goaltenders have become prized in the NHL and the Canucks not only have Markstrom and Miller, but also one of the top goaltending prospects in the NHL in Thatcher Demko waiting in the wings. Markstrom has proven he deserves a chance at the starting job in Vancouver, ranking not far below Miller in Mercad and ahead of Miller in save percentage while making $4.5 million less.

The Canucks could gain assets from trading Miller, gain valuable cap space, and clearly define Markstrom as the goaltender of the future.

Markstrom, previously a top prospect, has proven to be a comptent replacement for Miller, and at a major discount. The Canucks have Bo Horvat, Jared McCann, and Jake Virtanen gaining valuable experience as contributors in a playoff race, and giving Markstrom the starting job would allow him the same experience heading into next season. The extra cap space would allow the Canucks to hold onto Radim Vrbata or sign a free agent to complement the Sedin twins and help bring a Cup to Vancouver before time runs out on them.

For one last time, the Vancouver Canucks could shake up their goaltending. But this time, it might just be the right move.

  • Steve Boddy

    The plan was and is to bring Miller in while the number 2 develops into a ready and capable number 1. Markstrom has a higher ceiling than Lack, they made the right call there. Sure, they could’ve gone with Lack as a 1 and Markstrom as a 2 but Lack played half a season as a number 1 when Miller got hurt and Markstrom was still a wild card who hadn’t proved anything. That’s potential for disaster. Miller will stay and Markstrom will take over after Miller leaves. Demko is still 2+ years away from making the roster (and he’s technically not even under contract yet) so even after Miller is gone, Nucks will likely need to promote Bachman to nhl backup or sign a cheap veteran free agent until Demko is ready. There’s no controversy this time.

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