Could the Canucks have the league’s best goaltending tandem in 2020-21?

Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

The Vancouver Canucks have 24-year-old Thatcher Demko and veteran All-Star Braden Holtby in the crease. Could this be the NHL’s best goalie tandem?

After losing starting goalie and team MVP Jacob Markstrom to the rival Calgary Flames in free agency, Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning wasted no time finding a quality replacement.

He signed 2016 Vezina Trophy winner and 2018 Stanley Cup champion Braden Holtby to a reasonable and low-risk two-year contract worth $8.6 million. The former Washington Capitals All-Star will form a tandem with 2020 playoff hero Thatcher Demko, who’s expected to be the franchise’s No. 1 goaltender long term.

The Canucks can only hope that Holtby will regain his top-tier form after experiencing considerable regression in 2018-19 and 2019-20. Hopefully, goaltending coach and guru Ian Clark can help Holtby rediscover the dominance that we saw from 2011 to 2018.

It was a very short sample size, yes, but it’s hard not to be excited about Demko following his world-class performance against the Vegas Golden Knights in round two. Demko won two of three starts and sported a ridiculous .985 save percentage, having allowed only two goals on 130 shots in the series.

Now, there are several “what ifs” here. But it’s not crazy to believe that Holtby will get back to a near-All-Star level with a reduced workload under Clark. And Demko has been one of the NHL’s premier goalie prospects for a while now, and perhaps the dominance against Vegas was a sign of what’s to come.

With that all said, is it crazy to believe that Vancouver could ice the NHL’s best goaltending duo in the 2020-21 season?

I don’t think so, but right now, it’s hard to say that Holtby and Demko are on par with the league’s elite tandems. We haven’t seen them together, after all.

Currently, Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak of the Boston Bruins have to be considered the NHL’s best tandem after winning the William M. Jennings Trophy for surrendering the fewest goals in the regular season.

The defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning own arguably the league’s best goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy, and he’s complemented by a steady and reliable veteran in Curtis McElhinney. The former especially puts Tampa well ahead of Vancouver in the goaltending department.

And we can’t forget the dynamic 1-2 duo the Dallas Stars have in veteran All-Star Ben Bishop and 2020 playoff hero Anton Khudobin — who guided his team to the Stanley Cup Final.

With Bishop injured, Khudobin took over the crease and pieced together one of the best individual postseasons in recent memory. He went 14-10 with a .917 save percentage and a 2.69 goals against average, leading the Stars to within two games of a Stanley Cup championship.

For now, the Rask-Halak, Vasilevskiy-McElhinney and Bishop-Khudobin tandems have to be considered better than Demko-Holtby entering the 2020-21 season. But Rask (33) and Halak (35) are getting up there in age. Bishop has had problems staying healthy, and it’s going to be hard for Khudobin to repeat that unexpected postseason dominance. Regression feels inevitable for those two tandems.

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So if Holtby can bounce back, and if Demko can build off that superb showing in the postseason, it’s not silly to think the Canucks could form one of the NHL’s best — if not the best —  goaltending duo next season.