Vancouver Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom is a pending UFA. If he leaves in free agency, should the Canucks target Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals?
And if the Canucks don’t retain Markstrom, they have to ask themselves if they trust Thatcher Demko to take over the reigns. The 24-year-old struggled with consistency in 2019-20, and top goalie prospect Michael DiPietro is at least two years away from the big leagues. Perhaps even longer.
If Markstrom walks, general manager Jim Benning will have to find a veteran goalie in free agency. As I wrote here, he should consider targeting Boston Bruins backup Jaroslav Halak, who has been a tremendous complement to Tuukka Rask.
But if Benning really wants to go for it, he may want to target Washington Capitals All-Star netminder Braden Holtby, who seems poised to test free agency. Back in December, the two sides agreed to put off contract talks until the end of the season.
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The Capitals have a promising goalie in Ilya Samsonov, who’s eight years younger than Holtby.
It’s hard to imagine Washington retaining Holtby over the 23-year-old, and with the Seattle expansion draft just one year away, the Capitals can’t retain both goalies. Seattle would certainly pluck one of these two away from Washington.
So if (and likely when) Holtby hits free agency, should the Canucks pursue him and prepare to expose Demko in next year’s expansion draft?
But 2019-20 has been Holtby’s worst season yet — a save percentage of .897 to go along with a 3.11 goals against average.
But Holtby’s track record suggests that this is merely one uncharacteristically bad season with some unlucky breaks, and that he should return to his All-Star form next season.
So if Markstrom leaves, and Holtby hits free agency, should the Canucks pursue the 2015-16 Vezina Trophy winner? This would likely mean preparing to lose Demko next year (unless Vancouver can swing a trade with Seattle to avoid taking him) while grooming DiPietro as the goalie of the future.
If the Canucks can get Holtby on a three or four-year deal, it’s certainly worth exploring. But if the soon-to-be 31-year-old wants anything close to the seven-year, $70 million contract that Sergei Bobrovsky signed with the Florida Panthers last year? Benning better hang up the phone.
Of course, Vancouver wouldn’t be the only team going after Holtby in free agency. And if there’s a major bidding war for his services (it’s always tough to read the goalie market these days), then the Canucks should stay away at all costs.
So if Markstrom ends up leaving, the short answer is that Benning should at least explore the idea of signing Holtby. If the free agent goalie market is weaker than expected this year, then Vancouver may be able to land him at a good price.
But before they even think about pursuing other goalies in free agency, the Canucks need to continue working on a new contract for Markstrom first.