I believe the Calgary Flames will seriously pursue Jacob Markstrom if they get the chance. The pending unrestricted free agent has put together three straight solid seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, including a 2019-20 campaign that rightly put him in Vezina Trophy conversations. Whether Markstrom gets to free agency is still up in the air, but if it happens, Calgary has every reason to make him their number one off-season target.
What we know
The Flames are interested. It has been my understanding since before the NHL’s return the Flames held interest in Markstrom on the off-chance he got to free agency. In recent weeks, I’ve had that confirmed by multiple contacts, in Calgary, Vancouver, and across the league. I’m confident in saying Markstrom is currently one of the team’s top points of interest.
Significantly, Vancouver’s goaltending conversation seems to have taken a few turns since their run to game seven of round two. Thatcher Demko’s performance in three straight games against Vegas, coupled with his already-impressive pedigree, has added some new wrinkles. Here we are less than three weeks from 2020 free agency and Markstrom remains unsigned, which is why it feels like “off-chance” has turned into “a chance” he hits the open market.
Furthermore, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman added more gasoline in his Friday conversation with our morning show at Sportsnet 960. “You know that Markstrom and Lindholm are really tight, hey,” were Friedman’s parting words. Make of those what you will.
The Flames are searching for goaltending help. Since their season came to an end, we’ve heard Calgary connected to numerous trade rumours, which is par for the course under GM Brad Treliving. Interestingly, though, we’ve heard the Flames connected to a pair of goaltenders reported to be available: Arizona’s Darcy Kuemper and Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray.
I don’t know to what extent Calgary has interest in those two goalies, nor do I know of other names they might be chasing. But what it tells me is the Flames are interested in upgrading the position if the opportunity exists and isn’t completely prohibitive.
That’s not to say they’d be totally opposed to bringing back the tandem of pending UFA Cam Talbot and currently-signed David Rittich. But Calgary remains in “win now” posture, so coming back with the status quo without exploring other options wouldn’t make sense. That’s exactly what it feels like the Flames are doing: exploring any and all options.
Calgary hasn’t had a number one goalie in Treliving’s tenure. It’s not for a lack of effort, but since Treliving took over more than six years ago, the Flames have been unable to find a true number one. They’ve had goalies show flashes for a few months, but none have been able to sustain it over a full a season, let alone year over year.
I give Treliving credit, because he has made multiple attempts to address a need in what is the game’s most difficult position to forecast. Since taking over in 2014, Treliving has used free agency (Jonas Hiller, Chad Johnson), trades (Brian Elliott, Mike Smith) and Europe (David Rittich) to find a number one to go forward with, even if for just a few years.
At the same time, the NHL is about results more than effort or intention. Try as they might, none of Calgary’s goaltending splashes have ultimately worked, although I still hold out hope for what Rittich. In contrast, Markstrom has averaged 53 starts and a 0.914 save percentage over the last three seasons, which are legit number one credentials.
The important questions
Will Markstrom even become available? I’m 900 kilometres and a few mountain ranges away, but the thought of the Canucks not re-signing Markstrom seems crazy to me. Despite his playoff performance, Demko remains unproven and has never played a full NHL season without Markstrom’s safety net.
If Vancouver wants to be a perennial playoff team, I firmly believe their best chance exists with Markstrom in the fold. If I’m the Canucks, I’m making the necessary moves and decisions to sign Markstrom to a fair long-term deal. That isn’t a universally held opinion on the coast, though, and most importantly, we’re not sure if it’s the opinion held by GM Jim Benning.
Still, I’ll be surprised if Markstrom hits the open market.
What would a contract look like? For the sake of this conversation, let’s assume Vancouver and Markstrom can’t agree on something and he becomes a free agent. Trying to determine a ballpark for a contract in free agency isn’t easy, but let’s take a run at it.
While not official, it’s widely believed pending UFA Robin Lehner and the Golden Knights have agreed on a five-year, $25 million extension. Lehner is 18 months younger than Markstrom, but both goalies have had similar career trajectories, specifically as to when they “popped” as legit number ones.
If/when Lehner’s 5×5 ends up being finalized, I certainly see that as a solid comparable for Markstrom…if he re-signs with the Canucks. Lehner could almost certainly get more on the open market, but by all accounts he likes it in Vegas and covets the chance to win. Similar things have been said about Markstrom when talking about his desire to stay with the Canucks.
If Markstrom becomes a free agent, though, you probably have to add to one of, if not both, the term and cap hit. Would six years at $5.5 million get it done? Would it have to get bumped to 6×6? Obviously we don’t know the answers, but I think that’s a reasonable estimate of the sandbox the Flames would be playing in.
How many other teams would be interested? Calgary isn’t the only team with interest in Markstrom now, which means they won’t be the only team lobbing serious offers in the event he gets to free agency. Multiple insiders have connected Markstrom to Colorado, which is just one additional team that makes perfect sense. You can bet there will be others.
It’s a nice scenario for Markstrom and his agent Pat Morris to fall back on if an agreement with Vancouver can’t be reached. Would Calgary be willing to enter a so-called bidding war? I think they do, and should, have the appetite to be competitive with other potential suitors.