When the Calgary Flames signed Jacob Markstrom on Oct. 9, 2020, they expected to be adding one of the NHL’s top goaltenders to their organization.
Only eight goaltenders (Carey Price, Sergei Bobrovsky, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Marc-Andre Fleury, Tuukka Rask, John Gibson, Matt Murray, and Connor Hellebuyck) boasted higher salary cap hits than Markstrom during the 2020–21 season.
Markstrom finished fourth in Vezina Trophy voting during the 2019–20 campaign, his final year with the Vancouver Canucks. He posted a 23-16-4 record that season to go along with a .918 save percentage and — per Evolving-Hockey — 3.77 goals saved above expected (GSAx). In 14 playoff games with the 2020 Canucks, Markstrom went 8-6 with a .919 SV%.
In his first season with the Flames, Markstrom showed early signs of greatness but faltered following a concussion he suffered in February and ultimately finished with his worst save percentage since being dealt to Vancouver. He led the NHL with 19 regulation losses, partially a product of being treated like a workhorse by new Flames head coach Darryl Sutter.
The Florida Panthers selected Markstrom with the first pick of the second round at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He quickly emerged as a star in Sweden’s top-tier professional league, posting a .927 save percentage in 43 games with Gävle in 2009–10.
Markstrom made the jump to North America the following year and made sporadic appearances in Florida’s crease over the next four seasons, picking up the lion’s share of the starts during the shortened 2012–13 season before losing the starting job to a 39-year-old Tim Thomas in 2013–14.
Later that season, the Panthers traded Markstrom to Vancouver as part of a package used to re-acquire Roberto Luongo. The 6’6″ Swede ultimately played five full seasons in a Canucks sweater and became the team’s full-time starter after Ryan Miller departed for Anaheim during the 2017 off-season.
Markstrom played 229 regular-season games with the Canucks, compiling a 99-93-27 record to go along with a .913 save percentage and a total of 7.36 goals saved above expected. As mention, he peaked with Vancouver during the COVID-shortened 2019–20 season and entered the 2020 off-season as the undisputed top goaltender available on the free-agent market.
The Flames immediately targeted Markstrom and managed to add him on a six-year deal worth an annual average of $6 million. Markstrom became the Flames’ fifth-highest-paid player — behind Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, Mark Giordano, and Sean Monahan — and only the second Flame with a no-movement clause included in his contract (joining Milan Lucic).
Prior to signing Markstrom, Flames general manager Brad Treliving had never before bestowed a no-movement clause on any of his players (former Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli signed Lucic to his infamous seven-year deal in 2016). Markstrom’s deal represented a massive commitment by Flames management towards solidifying the team’s often volatile situation between the pipes.
Markstrom turned 31 shortly after the 2020–21 season started but he showed no signs of weariness during the early goings. Despite losing the season-opener — surprise, surprise — he rebounded with a shutout two nights later and posted another in his sixth game of the season. By Feb. 13, when the season hit its one-month mark, Markstrom had a 7-4-1 record and a sparkling .925 save percentage.
After beating the Canucks on Feb. 15, Markstrom allowed 10 goals in his next two starts and then missed the following two weeks with an upper-body injury (later revealed to be a concussion). He returned against the Edmonton Oilers on Mar. 6 but failed to consistently regain his early-season form over the remaining balance of the schedule, going 14-13-1 with a .901 save percentage over his final 28 appearances.
Markstrom lost six consecutive games between Mar. 22 and Apr. 5, capping off the miserable run by allowing five goals on the road against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He also won his final four games of the year and posted another shutout on Apr. 10, making just 17 saves in a 5-0 beatdown of the Oilers. Markstrom earned Sutter’s trust down the stretch, making 15 consecutive appearances (for better or for worse) between Apr. 5 and May 16.
Markstrom finished his first season in Calgary with a 22-19-2 record, a .904 save percentage, and -13.22 goals saved above expected. Evolving-Hockey assessed Markstrom’s play during the 2020–21 as being worth 4.6 goals above replacement, ranking him 36th out of 91 NHL goaltenders.
The Flames started the 2020–21 season with a 1-2 goaltending punch of Markstrom and David Rittich. With the latter having been dealt to the Maple Leafs at the 2021 trade deadline, Flames GM Brad Treliving will need to add another netminder to his roster to serve as Markstrom’s backup.
During Miikka Kiprusoff’s time in Calgary, he routinely played more than 70 games every season. When Darryl Sutter was his head coach in the 2005-06 season, Kiprusoff made 74 appearances. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for Markstrom to push 70 games played in 2021–22 with Sutter behind the bench.
In other words — expect the Flames to add a relatively cheap backup goaltender this off-season. Barring injury, it’s unlikely they’ll be using him very much.
Markstrom has twice played 60 games in a season and fared well in both those campaigns, posting .912 save percentages in 2017–18 and 2018–19. In his debut with the Flames, Markstrom appeared in 43 of 56 games (a 63-game pace over a full season).
If Markstrom can stay healthy, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be able to return to his earlier form and give the Flames better-than-average goaltending. With his hefty price tag, they’ll certainly need him to rediscover his game and help them rise above their competition in a relatively weak Pacific Division.