The Vancouver Canucks goaltending tandem of Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson has more questions than answers for 2017-18.
Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning made the right call to let Ryan Miller walk, trusting the younger and better Jacob Markstrom to be a capable starter in 2017-18. Getting veteran backup Anders Nilsson on a two-year deal was also wise.
After all, the Canucks are rebuilding. So what sense would it have made to re-sign a 37-year-old Miller? Now’s the time for Vancouver to see what they have in Markstrom — especially with prized prospect Thatcher Demko not far away from the NHL.
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But even though it was smart of Benning to go cheap in goal (Markstrom and Nilsson will combine for just over $6.166 million), there are definitely a handful of concerns as to whether or not these two can be good enough in the crease.
It’ll be the first time in ages where the Canucks didn’t have a star goalie with a solid track record. They had Roberto Luongo from 2006-2014.
Cory Schneider was there as well. And then there was the aforementioned Miller for three seasons.
You probably have to go back to 2005-06 when the Canucks had a serious question mark at the goalie position, when career backup Alex Auld had to play 67 games following a season-ending for Dan Cloutier.
So with that, let’s take a glance at the two Canucks goalies, and why there are more questions than answers between the Swedish goalie duo:
Markstrom is unproven and untested
Markstrom has never started more than 33 games in a season (that took place in the 2015-16 season for Vancouver). He started 26 for the Canucks this past season. Before that? 23 for the Florida Panthers in 2012-13.
Asking a 27-year-old to suddenly step in and play — say 55-65 games — is a huge risk and could be too much to ask for. But given how Nilsson also lacks experience as a starter (more on that later), the pressure really is on Markstrom to succeed as a No. 1 goalie.
But it’s not just Markstrom’s lack of starting experience that’s cause for concern. He owns a career .902 save percentage and 2.91 goals against average. His career 36-53-12 record is also far from inspiring.
So with that, the Canucks do have a lot to worry about with Markstrom. He’s yet to indicate he can handle the workload of being a starter, and he hasn’t shown he can play like one.
Nilsson isn’t experienced enough
If the Canucks had signed a guy like Steve Mason or Jonathan Bernier — guys with starting experience who still figure to be backups next season — then there wouldn’t be a whole lot to worry about here.
But Nilsson is a career backup goalie — one that’s only been in the NHL since the 2011-12 season. He hasn’t started more than 29 games in a season (2015-16 with the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis Blues). So can he start if Markstrom gets injured or struggles? It’s not an ideal scenario.
On the bright side, Nilsson did register an insane .923 save percentage for the Buffalo Sabres in 26 games last season. But that’s a short sample size, so don’t read too much into it yet.
Having a fairly young career backup to play behind an inexperienced Markstrom is definitely risky. Benning may have been smart to not break the bank on another veteran goalie, but that doesn’t mean Nilsson comes without risks. There are plenty of them.
At the end of the day, the Vancouver Canucks weren’t in position to chase a big-named veteran like Marc-Andre Fleury, Brian Elliott or Mason. They’re rebuilding, so they had no reason to spend big on a goalie. It’s not like they’re a true No. 1 away from being a championship contender.
With Thatcher Demko soon on the way, Vancouver was wise to just go with a low-budget goaltending tandem. For all we know, Markstrom does show he’s finally ready for prime time as a starter.
The Vancouver Canucks can only hope so, because it’s been a while since they had top-quality goaltending.
*Stats courtesy of Hockey Reference*