VANCOUVER – For most of his National Hockey League career, Jacob Markstrom wasn’t even the best goalie on his team. This season, he was the most valuable player on the Vancouver Canucks.
Just five years after going unclaimed through waivers, Markstrom’s career-best season at age 30 earned him the Canucks’ nomination for the Bill Masterton Trophy, as voted by the Vancouver chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
It isn’t just that Markstrom persevered to build a career that appeared to be in ruin when he failed to meet initial expectations with the Florida Panthers, but that he played the best hockey of his life this season while dealing with the terminal illness and subsequent death of his father, Anders, last fall in Sweden.
Markstrom went 23-16-4 in 43 starts with the Canucks while posting a career-best save percentage of .918 — numbers that don’t reflect his full impact on the team and pale in comparison to advanced, proprietary statistics that indicate he was a top-five goalie in the NHL this season.
Twice, he took week-long personal leaves from the Canucks, but did not allow his grief to affect his performance or his teammates.
“You know me well enough that I don’t talk individual success very often,” Canuck coach Travis Green told Sportsnet. “(But) I’ve been with Marky a long time. I’m probably connected to him more than any player on our team. You work with him a lot and you become close with those kinds of players, and I’m really happy for the season he has had. I think he’s an ultra-fierce competitor who loves to win, and you can’t have enough of those guys on your team.”
Green was the Canucks’ minor-league coach in Utica, N.Y., when Markstrom turned around his career by going 22-7-2 with a .934 save rate in the American League in 2014-15, the season after he was acquired by Vancouver in the trade that returned Roberto Luongo to Florida.
That performance, combined with Markstrom’s fierce, singular focus, convinced Canucks general manager Jim Benning to trade Eddie Lack and make Markstrom the backup to NHL starter Ryan Miller in 2015-16. Markstrom inherited the No. 1 role two years later, and has improved each of his three seasons as a starter.
“The expectation I had for myself has been really high for more than 10 years now,” Markstrom said during training camp in September. “I want to be really, really good and I expect that from me.
“I never look back and say I should have done that instead of this. Whatever I did, whatever my mindset was, everything I did was leading up to this point. So I can’t sit back and regret anything. I’m just super fortunate to have been able to work with a lot of good goalie coaches, coaches, and great teammates who taught me a lot of things.”
This season, Markstrom was an incredible 7-1-0 when facing at least 40 shots. He posted a 43-save shutout against the Carolina Hurricanes in December and in February beat the Chicago Blackhawks 3-0 when the Canucks were outshot 49-20.
Markstrom suffered a meniscus tear in his knee on Feb. 22, underwent surgery four days later and was expected to be out another 1-2 weeks when the NHL shut down due to the coronavirus on March 12. But the goalie is fully healthy now and will make his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut this summer if the Canucks win their qualifying series against the Minnesota Wild upon the NHL’s planned return in July.
Markstrom is eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season, but the goalie is determined to stay in Vancouver, and Benning has pledged to keep him.
The Masterton Trophy is awarded annually by the PHWA to the player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”
No Canuck has won the award.