One year ago the Vancouver Canucks’ most publicized problem was having too many No. 1 goaltenders.
Now we’re not certain they have any.
That’s no slight to the team’s other Swedish duo, goaltenders Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom. But Lack, 26, and Markstrom, 24, have just 28 wins combined at the NHL level (Roberto Luongo has more than 13 times that many himself).
Though Lack filled in admirably last season — going 16-17-5 with a .912 save percentage and famously earning the Heritage Classic nod over Luongo — there is no guarantee he did enough to secure the start when the puck drops in October, and Markstrom will be entering an important contract year in 2014-15.
So it comes as little surprise that the Canucks new general manager, Jim Benning, is open to making an upgrade between the posts.
“We’re going to look at every avenue we have to make our team competitive. Vancouver is a big-market city, we’ve got a passionate fan base, [and] our owners want to win,” Benning told Sportsnet 590 The Fan’s Brady & Walker when asked directly about signing a free-agent goaltender. “I know they have a lot of confidence in Eddie Lack. For a first-year goalie last year, he had a good season, and we hope that he can take it to the next step this year.”
The duo of Lack-Markstrom — former Swedish Elite League teammates with Brynas — might not have the statistics of Luongo-Schneider (Markstrom’s NHL save percentage is .896), but they come cheap in an off-season the offensively anemic Canucks will be looking to add depth at forward. If he stays pat in net, Benning can get away with a $2.35 million cap hit for his tandem.
Should the first-time GM decide to give fans a “We’re going for it!” signal, some compelling proven goalies will be available on the open market come July 1.
Ryan Miller, whom Benning scouted and drafted to the Buffalo Sabres, will not be re-signing with the St. Louis Blues. Jonas Hiller believes he has played his last game in an Anaheim Ducks uniform. And veteran wild cards Ilya Bryzgalov and Tim Thomas (imagine!) are out there as well.
Toss in a handful of UFA goaltenders whose best years could still be ahead of them — Alex Stalock, Carter Hutton, Justin Peters, Thomas Greiss — and backups/mentors like Martin Brodeur and Ray Emery, and Benning has some interesting routes he could choose to pursue.
The GM also gave Brady & Walker an update on centre Ryan Kesler, whose future with the Canucks is in doubt and was linked to teams such as Pittsburgh in trade rumours at the deadline. Kesler reportedly asked to be traded from Vancouver last season but holds a no-trade clause and can essentially write his own destiny.
“I touched base with Ryan yesterday. We’re still going back and forth on that. We’re going to listen to Ryan. We’re going to have a good, open, honest communication,” said Benning, who has also been speaking with Kelser’s agent. “Where it leads to, at this point I don’t know.”