For the first time since Miikka Kiprusoff hung up his pads and became a full-time fisherman, the Calgary Flames have an undisputed number one starting goaltender after signing Jacob Markstrom away from the Vancouver Canucks as a free agent.
But in the first year of a six year deal, what can we expect to see from Markstrom in net?
How he got here
A product of Galve, Sweden – two hours north of Stockholm – Markstrom came to prominence as a junior goalie with Brynas. In his draft year, he led Sweden to a gold medal at the Hlinka Memorial Tournament and was the best statistical goaltender among all of Swedish junior hockey. He was selected by the Florida Panthers in the second round in the 2008 NHL Draft. He played the next two seasons with Brynas’ pro outfit, capping off his time in Sweden by being named the best goalie in Sweden’s top pro league. (He also led Sweden’s World Junior team to silver and bronze medals and a World Championship bronze.)
Markstrom headed across the Atlantic as a 20-year-old in 2010-11 and began climbing the ladder in the Panthers organization. After a bumpy transition season, his next few seasons saw him establish himself as one of the AHL’s top goaltenders – very good, but not quite elite. He got chances at the NHL level, but he never quite grabbed the crease amidst a constant rotation of veteran Panthers goalies – Jose Theodore and Tim Thomas were among the names in Sunrise during that period.
With a logjam in Florida, Markstrom was packaged with Shawn Matthias and traded to Vancouver in exchange for Roberto Luongo and Steven Anthony midway through the 2013-14 season. After spending 2014-15 primarily with the AHL’s Utica Comets, where he took them all the way to the Calder Cup Final, Markstrom became a full-time NHLer beginning in 2015-16.
Markstrom emerged as one of the NHL’s workhorse goaltenders in 2017-18 and he’s started at least 40 games in each of the past three seasons. He was 10th in Vezina Trophy voting in 2018-19 and fourth in 2019-20.
He became an unrestricted free agent in October 2020, signing a six year deal with the Flames worth $6 million per season.
Let’s put this out there: Markstrom is a good goaltender. That’s indisputable. But is he elite?
- Over the past five seasons combined, he has a .914 save percentage – 25th out of the 51 goaltenders who made 100 or more starts.
- Over the past five seasons combined, he has a .921 even strength save percentage – 28th of the 51 goaltenders who made 100 or more starts.
- Over the past three seasons combined, he has a 9.95 goals saved above average at five-on-five – 18th among the 53 goalies who played 3,000 combined 5v5 minutes.
- Over the past three seasons combined, he has a 15.56 goals saved above average overall – 18th among the 58 goalies who played 3,000 combined overall minutes.
If you go to Natural Stat Trick and chop up Markstrom’s shots against metrics, you’ll notice that he’s a fairly ordinary goaltender against low-danger shots – the most common type of shot – and top 15-ish over the last three seasons against medium and high-danger shots.
Now, are the Flames stylistically a similar-enough defensive team to Vancouver that they’ll be able to play to Markstrom’s strengths? Well, they may be. David Rittich (42.0%) and Cam Talbot (42.8%) both faced a lower proportion of low-danger shots than Markstrom (43.6%) at five-on-five, and faced a higher proportion of medium-dangers (29.2% for Rittich, 32.1% for Talbot) than Markstrom (26.1%). In other words: the Flames’ style of play seems to skew towards allowing the type of shots that Markstrom (and Rittich, for that matter) have more success against relative to the rest of the league.
Based on the information we have and the inferences we think we can make from it, we can expect Markstrom to have another season (or two) where he’s in the top half or top third of starting goalies in the league. In a short season, that may give the Flames an edge they haven’t had in nearly a decade.