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Canucks Sign Markstrom To 3-year, $11-million Extension

Canucks Sign Markstrom To 3-year, $11-million Extension

The Vancouver Canucks signed goaltender Jacob Markstrom to a three-year contract extension worth $11 million on Thursday, banking on his belated emergence last season as a sign of things to come for a 6-foot-6 Swedish stopper who was once tabbed the best goaltender not playing in the NHL.

Markstrom, 26, is coming off the best season of a career most expected to start sooner, finishing his first full season in the NHL with a 13-14-4 record and .915 save percentage behind a struggling Canucks team that missed the playoffs. In his sixth season since coming over from Sweden, Markstrom played 33 games, more than in the previous two years combined, and figures to see an increased workload, if not this season in a tandem with veteran Ryan Miller, then certainly after Miller becomes a free agent next summer and Markstrom’s new contract kicks in for 2017-18.

Markstrom’s new contract will carry an annual average value of $3.67-million against the salary cap, which some noted seems a bit high compared to recent deals like the three-year, $10.5 million ($3.5 million AAV) extension the Tampa Bay Lightning signed talented Russian Andrei Vasilevskiy, the three-year, $9 million the San Jose Sharks signed restricted free agent Martin Jones for last summer, or even the five-year, $17 million ($3.4 million AAV) the Florida Panthers gave to unrestricted free agent James Reimer earlier this week. But with Markstrom eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer, and first-year pro Thatcher Demko the only other goaltender under contract beyond that, the Canucks appeared to pay a slight premium to keep the big Swede and keep the term down.

Markstrom’s career numbers in the NHL aren’t flattering, especially a .904 save percentage in 83 career games, but he’s made significant strides since being acquired by the Canucks from the Panthers as part of the trade that sent Roberto Luongo back to Florida at the 2013 NHL trade deadline, reigning in the over-aggressive positioning that forced him to move that big frame around the edges of the crease more than he needed, opening up holes that led to a lot pucks going through him earlier in his career.

Jacob Markstrom has made significant alterations in his positioning and approach since coming to the Canucks at the 2013 NHL Trade Deadline. (Photo by Clint Trahan/InGoal Magazine)

Jacob Markstrom has made significant alterations in his positioning and approach since coming to the Canucks at the 2013 NHL Trade Deadline. (Photo by Clint Trahan/InGoal Magazine)

Sent down to the American Hockey League despite having to clear waivers two seasons ago, Markstrom adjusted to playing a more conservative positional game early but Dan Cloutier, who was the Canucks’ development goaltending coach at the time, allowed him to open things up and rely more on his instincts, taking more ice in certain situations as the season went on, and Markstrom backstopped the Utica Comets to the Calder Cup Final.

Stalled by a preseason hamstring injury that kept him out to start last season, Markstrom relied more on his size and positioning early with the Canucks, closing the holes that plagued him under the arms a little too tight at times with double coverage that cost him early goals high on the glove side. Despite a great statistical start plying that way, Markstrom appeared to get more comfortable with his coverage and his block-react threshold improved as he flashed the glove with more regularity without sacrificing the coverage he’d established.

There were some impressive displays behind a defense that bled high-quality chances in the slot and treated the crease like a welcome mat, including stopping 47 of 48 (both career highs) in a late March game against the Winnipeg Jets. The next challenge for Markstrom will be re-establishing that same confidence in his coverage and blend between blocking and reacting with new, tighter-fitting pants next season.

For all the talk of Miller and chest protectors, Markstrom’s loose-fitting pants were singled out behind the scenes as part of the NHL directive to slim down equipment next season, an effort that will include no more laces in the front of the pants for goalies to leave untied, more “spandex-like’ materials to keep the fit tight, and could trim as much as six inches from the big Swede’s profile at the waist, something InGoal editor Kevin Woodley touched on in a Vancouver radio interview about the Canucks goaltending (in particular Demko) shortly before the Markstrom contract was announced:

As for the Canucks, with Demko and college free agent addition Michael Gartieg not eligible for the expansion draft next summer, the team still has to sign one more goaltender for the 2017-18 season, otherwise they will need to expose Markstrom to Las Vegas in the expansion draft because every team has to expose at least one goalie under contract for the following season. The options include trading for a goalie under contract in 2017-18, or signing either Miller or current third-stringer Richard Bachman to contract extensions and exposing them to expansion instead.

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