A Canuck fan’s guide to the Seattle 2021 NHL expansion draft

VANCOUVER, BC - OCTOBER 28: Thatcher Demko #35 of the Vancouver Canucks is congratulated by teammate Jacob Markstrom #25 after winning their NHL game against the Florida Panthers at Rogers Arena October 28, 2019 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Vancouver won 7-2. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BC - OCTOBER 28: Thatcher Demko #35 of the Vancouver Canucks is congratulated by teammate Jacob Markstrom #25 after winning their NHL game against the Florida Panthers at Rogers Arena October 28, 2019 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Vancouver won 7-2. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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Other exposed goalies around the league

A look around the league suggests other possible goalies could be just as high on Seattle’s wish list, especially if Benning decides to expose Markstrom.

For example, Stanley Cup champion goaltender Matt Murray is four years younger than Markstrom and could be made available by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the other hand, if Demko is the one exposed, then there’s no doubt that he’ll be at the very top of Seattle’s wish list for a talented, young backup.

It’s unlikely Seattle GM Ron Francis will select one of the oldest goalies made available, regardless of pedigree, but a then-31-year-old star in his prime like Markstrom might be worthy, especially if Francis needs some salary to reach the cap floor, which is a fair possibility with all the young guns he’s likely to target.

A quick look around the NHL between the pipes suggests that less than half the league will expose interesting goaltending options.

Notable goalies who could be exposed in the draft:
Jaroslav Halák, Boston Bruins
Cam Talbot, Calgary Flames
James Reimer, Carolina Hurricanes
Pavel Francouz, Colorado Avalanche
Anton Khudobin, Dallas Stars
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
Juuse Saros, Nashville
Thomas Greiss, New York Islanders
Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
Alexandar Georgiev, NYR
Brian Elliott, Philadelphia Flyers
Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins
Jake Allen, St. Louis Blues
Laurent Brossoit, Winnipeg Jets

As Seattle must select at least three goalies, they may be inclined to choose a well-paid veteran to start (i.e. Murray), an affordable goalie of the future to backup (i.e. Demko), and an affordable depth goalie to stash down in the AHL in case of injury (i.e. Francouz).

In Vancouver, Markstrom is making a very solid case to be protected in the draft, to say the least. The 6-foot-6, 206-pound and recently selected All Star is causing Vezina Trophy talk by playing like the runaway MVP for the Canucks this season.

He’s boasting a stat line that belongs to a top-three goalie in the league. Demko, 6-foot-4 and 192 pounds, on the other hand, is proving his own point as a brilliant NHL backup with several dominant wins in the first half of his rookie season.

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It’s beginning to look a lot like the wise and sustainable thing to do is to trade Demko before the draft, both to eliminate the possibility of a dramatic loss in asset value and to favour the Canucks’ playoff hopes this season and next.

Going full time with Demko right now would be taking several huge risks, such as playoff millions, careers, the city’s destiny, and Luigi Aquilini’s hope — one day sooner than later — to have the Cup on a pedestal in his living room.

In any case, Benning would be wise to give his goalies as much time as possible to prove themselves before finally choosing the direction of Aquilini’s team.

Even without the NHL expansion draft, with two great goalie careers colliding again in Vancouver, fans should know all too well that a goalie trade has always been destined here, later if not sooner.

This draft certainly speeds that decision along but it was always going to be this way after both Markstrom and Demko landed on the same roster so close together in their primes. All considering, goaltending prospect Michael DiPietro — the Canucks’ 20-year-old goalie of the future who’s developing nicely down on the farm — makes for a sound supporting argument to move on from Demko before the draft.

A key factor in this discussion, as of this past offseason, is that the Canucks’ rebuild has already been signaled as over, certifiably and officially, the very instant Benning traded away that first-round pick for forward J.T. Miller. It’s go time right now for Benning and his boys, who are somewhat desperate to make a playoff statement this year and especially next.

To that end, Markstrom is the goalie of now, showing up just in the nick of time with a career year and elite stats. As of Sunday, of goaltenders with over 1101 minutes played this season (including the top-31 goalies), he’s currently the third-best goalie in the league, via Corsica, with a Luongo-esque 1.11 dSv%.

This Delta-Adjusted Save Percentage is the difference between Markstrom’s actual save percentage (Sv%), minus the average goalie’s expected save percentage (xSv%) considering the quality of shots faced by Markstrom, which shows how much better he is than the league average of zero. Markstrom is listed behind only Ben Bishop (Dallas) and Robin Lehner (Chicago Blachawks). What this tells us is that regardless of his team or opponent, Markstrom is proving himself to be one of the top few goalies in the world.

Right now, Markstrom looks like a championship-quality goaltender who this current Canucks core can win with, whereas the twice concussed Demko is only 24-years-old with 23 career games and still has much to prove as a backup, never mind as a true starter who needs to play consistently over 60 games and beyond, year after year, and right now.

Unless the landscape changes significantly between now and then, it seems Demko is bound to be traded before too long, and most likely out east as goaltending has too much influence over games to risk having him return too often. If Seattle ever got a hold of him, Demko definitely has the talent to come back to bite Benning hard. This is actually a good thing as it means any return on Demko should be something special.

It’s worth mentioning right about now that Demko will be due a considerable Cory Schneider-like raise for the 2021–22 season and beyond, which is hard to imagine working out well for the Canucks with several pending and more expensive contracts to fit in. Back in the day, the reward for a burgeoning, young Schneider was a three-year deal worth $4 million per season, and that just before being dealt to the New Jersey Devils. It’s unlikely his contract will climb quite that high, but he certainly will be getting a raise from his current $1 million per season.

For the sake of due caution, take a moment to consider the following thought experiment. Demko is on the trade block and the best offer comes in from a division rival like the Edmonton Oilers, which has Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl begging management for some help.

If those two All-Stars ever get a goaltender who can consistently overcome the Oilers’ deficiencies, then the rest of the west will be behind the eight ball for years to come. Canucks fans could cringe at the reminder four times a season and at any turn with whatever horrible timing in the first few rounds of the playoffs. Imagine Demko — or for that matter Markstrom — shutting out the Canucks in game seven of a third round. Not cool.

A conference rival will never ever be a reasonable landing spot for a star Vancouver goalie.

When the time finally comes to pull the trigger, Demko’s value may not be that far off from what, in 2013, former Canucks GM Mike Gillis was able to obtain from the Devils for Schneider — the 9th-overall pick that became Bo Horvat. However, Demko doesn’t yet have the stats nor as many seasons to completely prove his worth before then, so we can expect his value to be a bit lower, what is conceivably a mid-to-late first-round pick.

Perhaps as early as the trade deadline later this season, in replacement of the 2020 pick he traded away for Miller, Benning could recoup a late first-round pick for Demko. More likely, though, Benning may stay true to form by negotiating another so-called hockey trade, player for player. Following the adage that it’s wise to wait as long as practical on roster decisions, look for Benning to strike a deal as we get closer to the 2021-trade deadline.

Meanwhile, scientists are saying El Niño is “due to peak in late 2020” and into 2021, quite like the depth of the Canucks. The perfect storm could be brewing for the first of several Stanley Cup victories for Vancouver over the next decade. Parade down Main Street, please.