It’s a new era in net for the Vancouver Canucks.
Braden Holtby, a recent Stanley Cup starting netminder with the Washington Capitals, has signed a two-year, $8.6 million contract with the Canucks to form a partnership with breakout candidate Thatcher Demko next season in Vancouver.
The acquisition means that Jacob Markstrom, who is coming off a brilliant season as the Canucks starter, will move on in free agency and likely set the salary standard at the position this offseason.
Holtby, 31, is coming off his worst season since breaking in with the Capitals during the 2010-11 season, and has been travelling a bit of a downward trajectory since even before Washington won its Stanley Cup in 2018. However, with Demko emerging behind Markstrom, and demanding more starts with his performance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the load will be lessened for Holtby based on previous seasons, and the veteran could benefit from a platoon system or even a secondary role.
Importantly, the move is also a step toward protecting Demko from Seattle in the expansion draft.
Unquestionably, the Canucks are losing talent at the position — even if the drop from Markstrom to Demko and Holtby is only marginal. However, it’s possible that Markstrom’s exit — separate from the Holtby acquisition — was ultimately the best thing for the Canucks.
This is a team struggling to preserve some important pieces on the roster, and by not meeting the financial demands of their free-agent netminder, it should stem the bleeding. Vancouver has already shipped out an able body in Troy Stecher, moved on from unrestricted free agent Tyler Toffoli in response to the squeeze of the salary cap, and it would be a shame to see the upstart team have their hand forced again while keeping a talent like Demko waiting in the wings.
Holtby is maybe pricier than some would expect, but it will cost a very manageable $5.35 million — or perhaps a number significantly less than what Markstrom will command in free agency — for the Canucks to roll out a solid tandem which features both veteran experience and serious potential.
It will not be a misplaced investment in goal that prevents the Canucks from optimizing their roster this offseason.
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