Thursday, July 16, 2020

Why the Canucks should not re-sign Jacob Markstrom

The salary cap era in professional sports has heightened the importance of drafting and developing prospects. Teams have limited room under the cap to pay UFA prices even to their own players who graduate from cost-controlled ELC and RFA contracts, much less to go shopping on the open market for veterans to fill areas of need. Unfortunately the Canucks have had to do the latter recently just to fill their bottom six forward positions. The grinders drafted by the previous administration – think Brendan Gaunce, Cole Cassels and Alexandre Mallet – were unable to fill those roles. GMJB had to go out and hire mercenaries at market prices such as Micheal Ferkland, Antoine Roussel and the much-reviled Jay Beagle. Who will fill the fourth-line pivot role in two years when Bagel comes off the books is still up in the air. With any luck it will be last year’s seventh-round pick Arvid Costmar or this year’s college free agent signing Marc Michaelis, who turns 25 this month. Otherwise it’s back to the open market. Hey, it looks like Nic Dowd will be available!

Jacob Markstrom is enjoying a career year as a pending UFA 
Hard choices must be made these days in making room for prospects. There is no sense in having a slew of defence prospects, as the Canucks currently do, if you are only going to block them by signing free agents such as Jamie Benn and Oscar Fantenberg. Even re-signing your own free agents at market prices, like Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher, doesn’t make much sense in this scenario. A home town discount can often be made room for, however. With Alex Edler and Tyler Myers making $6 million a year as UFAs, the bulk of the d-corps has to be on ELC or veteran minimum contracts. Quinn Hughes will soon enough be making big bucks, which makes it only more essential to find bargain basement blueline contributors. Luckily Utica regulars Olli Juolevi and Brogan Rafferty should be ready to step in next year. Jack Rathbone, who was recently signed out of college, and Jett Woo, who should also turn pro next season, would be next in line to fill vacancies.

After defence, the next strongest prospect position for the Canucks is on the wing, with Kole Lind developing in Utica for a second season and Nils Hoglander and Vasili Podkolzin having been drafted in the first two rounds last year. The Russian Bull, who evokes comparisons to Mark Messier, is still a year away due to his KHL contract. The pit bull Hoglander, however, is signed and awaiting a place to play next year, which given the circumstances may well be back in Europe. His playing history shows that the lanky Lind is always slow to assert himself at a higher level, but that he usually gains confidence and then dominates. If he can do that in the NHL, as he did in Kelowna and now Utica, he could be a middle six winger who could also play centre. This depth on the wing is why Josh Leivo will likely not be re-signed this off-season, nor Tanner Pearson next.

But the strongest position in the Canucks organization is in net, with two of the recent Top 10 NHL prospects. Thatcher Demko has graduated as a prospect, but he is a top young goalie. Mikey DiPietro had a great first season as a starter in Utica, and is also a top prospect. He and Demko could form an enviable tandem for a decade. This is what makes re-signing starter Jacob Markstrom a luxury, no matter how fantastic a season he is having. In a non-salary cap world, you would keep them all. Now youth must out. Letting their starting goalie walk, as hard as it would be, *might* allow just enough salary space to re-sign Tanev and Toffoli to team-friendly deals.

The second reason the Canucks should not re-sign Markstrom is that there is an expansion draft coming up next summer, and teams can only protect one goalie. Markstrom will want a no-movement clause if he re-signs, so the Canucks would then have to trade Demko in a market flooded with good young goalies. They could pay Seattle not to take him, but still the Canucks lose and still Demko plays second fiddle. The smartest play is letting Markstrom walk, hopefully all the way to the Eastern Conference since both the Oilers and Flames are apparently interested in signing him.

This would allow Toffoli to be re-signed and form a dynamic duo on RW with Boeser. The fortunes of the team would then be decided by prospect performance on defence and play in goal. Domingue might even be the veteran backup, as Demko should play most of the games to test his mettle as the starter. Mikey will stay in the minors, assuming they have a season, in order to keep sharp. Money is saved all 'round, which will please the fiscal conservatives on Twitter. Problem solved.

Marc Edge is the author of Red Line, Blue Line, Bottom Line