Markstrom signing is Canucks goal, but readying for future without goalie

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Jacob Markstrom can become an unrestricted free agent Oct. 9, and though the Vancouver Canucks hope to re-sign him, the organization is preparing for the possibility of having to find a replacement if he can’t.

The 30-year-old goalie went 23-16-4 with a 2.75 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage in 43 games (43 starts) and was fourth in voting for the Vezina Trophy as the top goalie in the NHL. Markstrom was 8-6 with a 2.85 GAA and a .919 save percentage in 14 games during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“We still own his rights here until Friday and we’re going to continue to keep trying to work with his agent and see if there’s some sort of a place where we can find common ground to do a deal,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning said Monday. “And then if we can’t, then we’ll look at our other options. But he would be obviously our first choice to try to figure out a way to bring him back.”

Among goalies that can become unrestricted free agents Oct. 9 are Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals, Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks, Anton Khudobin of the Dallas Stars and Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers. Matt Murray is a candidate to be traded by the Pittsburgh Penguins, who signed goalie Tristan Jarry to a three-year contract Saturday.

“We’ve spent a lot of time here these last three weeks contacting all the other teams and trying to get a feel for kind of where the marketplace is at,” Benning said. “We still have Jacob Markstrom that we’re still talking about and trying to figure out, but if that’s something we can’t get done then we’re going to have to look to the free agent market to try to fill that void, or through a trade. We’re keeping all of our options open, and as we get through the (2020) NHL Draft here the next couple of days, we should know more and then we’ll go from there.”

Re-signing Markstrom has been Benning’s expressed intent all season, but it has been complicated by the emergence of backup goalie Thatcher Demko in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the need to expose at least one goalie to the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, and the salary cap remaining at $81.5 million for 2020-21.

With Markstrom unfit to play, Demko started Games 5, 6 and 7 of the Western Conference Second Round against the Vegas Golden Knights and allowed two goals on 125 shots, including a 48-save shutout in the Canucks’ 4-0 win in Game 6. He allowed one goal on 34 shots in Vancouver’s 3-0 loss in Game 7.

“I think it’s a problem that all the general managers have with the pandemic going on right now and this flat cap for the next two or three years,” Benning said.

In seven seasons with the Canucks, Markstrom is 99-93-27 with a 2.73 GAA, a .913 save percentage and five shutouts in 229 games (218 starts). He was acquired by the Canucks as part of the Roberto Luongo trade with the Florida Panthers on March 4, 2014.

Markstrom is 110-118-82 with a 2.80 GAA and a .911 save percentage in 272 NHL games (256 starts) with the Canucks and Panthers. His 14 playoff games were his first NHL postseason games.

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