Does Thatcher Demko have the durability to be the long-term main goalie?

While Thatcher Demko indicated he would have been ready for the Western Conference Final, doubts remain about his ability to stay healthy on a consistent basis.
Vancouver Canucks v Chicago Blackhawks
Vancouver Canucks v Chicago Blackhawks / Patrick McDermott/GettyImages

In a lot of ways, it's a case of what might have been for the Vancouver Canucks. And that's despite a tremendous and surprising season, which saw them win their first division title since 2012-13 and finish with the third most points in team history.

What if Elias Pettersson and Filip Hronek hadn't been dealing with lingering injuries, after both being excellent during the first half of the 2023-24 campaign? What if Brock Boeser hadn't broken a finger and developed a blood clot issue during the second round series versus the Edmonton Oilers?

Along these lines, what if Thatcher Demko had been healthy for the Canucks' playoff run? As well as Arturs Silovs and Casey DeSmith did filling in, it just wasn't at the same level the team was used to between the pipes during the regular season from their number one goalie.

A crucial injury

Demko suffered a knee injury in early March, against the Winnipeg Jets. Although he returned just prior to the conclusion of the regular season, he was only able to start the Canucks' first playoff game before having to sit out again with a further knee issue.

Even without the 28-year-old, the Canucks were so close to taking the Oilers series, before ultimately falling frustratingly short in seven games. Making it even more frustrating, he would have likely been back if the team had advanced to play the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Final.

Demko provided an update on his injury, during the end of season pressers on Thursday. Speaking to the media, he said: "I was really close to coming back. I was looking to probably be available for the next series had we gotten to that point."

Now to be clear, two of the key phrases in those comments are 'really close' and 'probably'. In other words, there was still no guarantee if and when Demko would have actually returned for the Canucks.

Can Demko become more durable?

And really, this takes us to the bigger picture when it comes to the 2014 second round draft pick, i.e. can he actually be counted on to remain healthy on a more consistent basis? Absolutely no one doubts his talent, but it doesn't matter how much ability you have, if you can't stay on the ice.

Ever since Demko has established himself as the number one in Vancouver, injuries and durability have been an ongoing concern. Prior to this season, he suffered an undisclosed injury late on in 2021-22 and then missed a significant portion of the follow campaign, due to a groin issue.

Now of course, it's not as the Canucks are about to give up on a goalie who just had the best statistical season of his time in the NHL. Demko had career bests with 35 wins, five shutouts, a .918 save percentage and 2.45 Goals Against Average.

There's also the not so small matter of the two-time NHL All-Star this season being nominated for the first time, as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. However, the reality remains that the Canucks need to consider if he can remain healthy in the long-term.

Adding to the situation, is that Demko has two seasons left on a contract which will pay him $5 million annually, before he becomes an unrestricted free agent (UFA). How these next two seasons pan out from a health standpoint, could well play a part in what kind of deal the Canucks will be prepared to offer him.

Demko asked about different approaches to his health

During Thursday's meeting with the media, Demko was asked about how he will approach the offseason to help limit future injuries. He said: "There's a certain way of looking at it going into next season. Maybe I can tweak a couple things system-wise, but I’m not going to try and reinvent my game or anything. Obviously I put a lot of work in in the summer and during the season maintenance-wise, and that’s part of the frustration when (an injury) does happen, knowing how much work you put into making sure that doesn’t happen. So I'm just trying to keep learning and growing in that area, and do everything I can to stay healthy."

In respect of being labelled as injury prone, it was noted by the media that it's something which comes with the goalie position in general as opposed to Demko just being less durable than others. He said: "It doesn't feel good regardless not being able to play, especially in the playoffs. I mean it's a physical sport (and) anyone can get hurt. Obviously goalies probably have a little different injuries than the players do, but they happen and it's something you have to deal with."

One thing which was mentioned as a possibility to help the San Diego, California native, was potentially lessening his workload in the future. He said: "I don't know what's going to happen next year. Obviously that's not my decision."

Next. Filip Hronek abruptly dismisses injury speculation. Filip Hronek abruptly dismisses injury speculation. dark

It will be interesting to see how things play out with the Canucks' goalie position in general moving forward. Silovs is now a restricted free agent, while DeSmith is a UFA.

Ultimately though, the Canucks and their fanbase will be hoping things can work out for Demko, with him finding a way to remain healthier next season and beyond. If he can become more durable, he will prove to be an integral component in the quest for the team to become a regular contender and challenge for the Stanley Cup.

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