Heading into the 2020 offseason, the Vancouver Canucks had numerous roster decisions to make, but none more important than choosing who would fill the position in the crease between Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko.
Throughout the 2019-20 campaign, the team relied heavily on the services of Markstrom who, despite the defensive inconsistencies in front of him, finished the shortened season with a solid record of 23-16-4 to go along with a .918 SV% and 2.75 GAA.
After the world was shook by the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vancouver, who sat third in the Pacific Division at the time of the pause, managed to make it all the way to game seven of the Western Conference semi-finals before falling to the Vegas Golden Knights in heart-breaking fashion.
Similar to the regular season, the Canucks once again needed Markstrom to come up clutch early on in their playoff run, with the former Florida Panther paving his team’s winning ways through Minnesota and St. Louis.
But Markstrom wasn’t the only postseason saviour for Vancouver.
The 2020 playoffs also marked the first appearance of “Bubble Demko”, who provided miraculous back-to-back-to-back performances against Vegas in relief of the injured Markstrom.
In his four games played (including his brief game one cameo), Demko posted a ridiculous .985 SV% and 0.64 GAA, while only surrendering two goals on 130 shots faced. This grand larceny was highlighted by a 48-save shutout in game six, a contest that Vancouver quite frankly had no business being in.
As we all know, the Canucks eventually sided with Demko, allowing Markstrom to walk to free agency as a result of their tight cap space and impending NHL expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken.
To no one’s surprise, the Swedish netminder didn’t have to look long for a suitor, inking a six-year, $36 million deal with the Calgary Flames, a contract that ultimately proved too rich for the Vancouver organization given their financial restrictions.
Fast forward to present day, with over 82 games having passed since the 2020 free agency, and both goaltenders, as expected, are showcasing stellar athleticism between the pipes as bonafide number ones.
But how exactly have Demko and Markstrom compared to one another over that span?
Let’s start with the 2020-21 season.
With the coronavirus still very much ravaging its way through the sports world, the NHL was forced to make some drastic modifications before they could return to play, including new division formations. Vancouver and Calgary remained in the same, albeit newly-named, cohort but, given the extremely limited travel, found themselves squaring off against each other much more often than a normal, non-pandemic season.
The Western Canada rivals met 10 times that year, with the Canucks only securing three regulation victories to go along with eight out of a possible 20 points. In general, it was a dismal season for Vancouver, who had to face multiple injuries and the league’s worst COVID outbreak, as well as their final three Calgary contests occurring during the first round of the playoffs, but that didn’t stop us from analyzing the level of play between Demko and Markstrom.
Demko ultimately fell short in the head-to-head comparison, going 2-3-1 with a .895 SV% and 3.06 GAA, while Markstrom posted a record of 7-2-0 with a .925 SV% and 2.47 GAA during his nine games against his former team.
In general, both of their clubs eventually missed out on the playoffs, finishing just five points apart at the bottom of the Scotia North Division. Markstrom did suit up for eight more contests, large in part to Demko’s injury and COVID situations, as well as his 1B tandem situation with Braden Holtby, while also collecting six more wins in the process, but the two netminders actually faired similarly in other aspects of their games.
Amongst goalies who played at least 20 of the 56 games in 2020-21, both players finished in the middle of the pack in terms of their GAA, with Demko posting a 2.85 GAA and Markstrom a 2.68. In addition, Markstom made just 15 less saves than Demko all year, and also faced just three less shots.
However, Demko finished the year with a .915 SV%, good for 15th-best, while Markstrom’s .905 SV% ranked him 33rd overall. According to Money Puck, Demko also ended the season with a goals saved above expected (GSAE) rate of 6.8, which ranked eight amongst netminders who played a minimum 20 games, compared to Markstrom’s ranking of -9.3, as well as a .836 high danger SV% for Demko versus 0.83% for Markstrom.
Flash forward to the current 2021-22 campaign, and both netminders managed to find their own moments to bounce back and shine.
Markstrom was red-hot during his first nine starts of the year, going 5-3-1 with a .942 SV%, 1.65 GAA, 5.36 GSAE and four shutouts. The last statistic was record-worthy for Markstrom, whose performance hadn’t been witnessed since 2005-06, when Pascal Leclaire recorded six shutouts in nine games with Columbus.
Of course, Markstrom’s no-goal feat cooled down eventually, but the 31-year-old still currently leads the league in shutouts with five, capping off a truly remarkable start to his second year in Calgary.
Like Markstrom, Demko also had a month to remember.
The 26-year-old San Diego native had been the team’s MVP leading up to December but, given the collective defensive and offensive letdowns in front of him, hadn’t been able to register the wins that he rightfully deserved.
However, after the Canucks parted ways with bench boss Travis Green and brought in the experienced veteran in Bruce Boudreau on December 5th, Demko has been on an absolute tear.
The former 2014 second round selection is currently riding a seven-game win streak, with his most recent victory taking place against Seattle on New Year’s Day at Climate Pledge Arena. During this win streak, Demko has posted a .955 SV%, 1.40 GAA and one shutout.
Demko, who is currently in year one of his five-year, $25 million contract, has also allowed three or more goals in just one of those seven starts, while also recording at least 30 saves in four of those seven outings.
With the impressive statistics, Demko earned himself NHL’s third star for the month of December, while also improving his personal record to 15-11-1 with a .920 SV% and 2.55 GAA. Markstrom sits just below Demko with a record of 12-7-5, but beats him out with a .926 SV% and 2.15 GAA.
As expected, the two talented netminders are once again neck-and-neck when it comes to individual analytics and accolades; however, none of that will matter if their teams can’t make it past the regular season.
As of the morning of January 12th, Calgary is barely holding onto the second wild card position in the Western Conference, sitting just five points ahead of Vancouver after going 3-6-1 in their last 10 games.
And with over 50% of the season still remaining, there’s no doubt that both the Canucks and the Flames will be relying on their netminders to get them over the hump and into the playoffs.
We’ll just have to see which of Demko or Markstrom can carry their club the farthest at the end of the day.
Vancouver and Calgary will next face off against each other on Saturday, January 29th at the Saddledome.
What are your thoughts on the performances of Demko and Markstrom since the tandem split? Has one been significantly better than the other? Make sure to drop a comment below!