April 8: Doubling up on their announcement of forward Tanner Pearson’s extension, the Canucks have now confirmed the terms of their new deal with Demko as well. In the team’s release, GM Jim Benning raved about his stellar young keeper: “He’s taken a big step in his development this year, displaying a strong work ethic and composure in his game. At every level of play Thatcher has excelled, from college to the AHL and now as a starter in the NHL. We are excited to have Thatcher be a key contributor to our long-term success.”
March 31: The Vancouver Canucks have locked up one of their key restricted free agents ahead of a busy summer. Thatcher Demko has signed a five-year extension worth $25MM according to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet. Demko was set to become an RFA at the end of the season and would have been arbitration-eligible.
After Demko was given an opportunity to prove himself on the biggest stage last summer, posting a .985 save percentage in four postseason appearances, the Canucks decided to let Jacob Markstrom leave in free agency and sign with the Calgary Flames. Braden Holtby was brought in as a veteran complement to the young netminder, but with this new deal, Vancouver is clearly putting their faith in the 25-year-old Demko.
A five-year term buys out three years of unrestricted free agency for Demko, but the $5MM average annual value is certainly a nice raise over the $1.05MM he carried for the last two seasons. The deal puts him ahead of Holtby’s $4.3MM and ties up a good chunk of the Canucks cap in goaltending, but it is worth it if Demko can continue to grow into the starting role.
After a few shaky outings to begin the season, Demko has put up a .937 save percentage in 11 March games, winning eight of them. He’s faced an average of 35 shots a night during that stretch, which shows just how much the Canucks have relied on him as they try to compete in the North Division. For a club that won’t have much room to make changes in the summer, that performance will be key to any chance the Canucks have of contending in the short-term.
That $9.3MM total for Demko and Holtby will come into the spotlight as the Canucks try to sign Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson this offseason. When Holtby signed the contract, many speculated that he could be bait for the Seattle Kraken—an experienced, Stanley Cup-winning goaltender on an expiring deal, similar to Marc-Andre Fleury for the Vegas Golden Knights. The problem of course is Holtby’s performance, which has been downright dreadful at times this season and last. The 31-year-old has an .894 save percentage in 12 appearances this year and when added to the .897 he put up last year for the Washington Capitals, tell the story of a goaltender on the way out of the NHL, not one headed to lead an expansion franchise.
If the Canucks do hold onto Holtby, there isn’t a ton of room for Hughes and Pettersson. The team has several defensive holes to fix in the summer and a forward group that has already had trouble scoring at times. Demko is performing at a high level and appears to be the no-doubt starter, but signing a long-term deal comes at an increased cap hit and less flexibility for the Canucks.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images