Thatcher Demko has proven pretty much everything he possibly can in the NCAA: he put up stunning statistics, broke Cory Schneider’s single season shutout record for Boston College, was a finalist for the Hobey Baker award, and won the Mike Richter award as the best goaltender in college hockey.
The only thing he didn’t accomplish was winning the NCAA Championship, getting knocked out in the semifinal of the Frozen Four by Quinnipiac. That unfinished business, along with the idea of finishing his education, may be why he’s seemed so uncertain about signing with the Canucks this offseason.
That uncertainty has Canucks fans understandably nervous. If Demko chooses to return to Boston College, then he could become an unrestricted free agent just a few short months after his season ends next year.
Heck, just look at the comments to our post about Thatcher Demko playing in the World Championships: it’s largely comments fretting over whether Demko should even be considered a Canucks prospect.
This year’s Hobey Baker winner, Jimmy Vesey, has informed the Nashville Predators, who drafted him in the 3rd round in 2012, that he won’t be signing with them. He’s not the only one; there have been others, with Canucks fans well aware of Justin Schultz, who chose to sign with the Edmonton Oilers rather than the Anaheim Ducks
To put it simply, the Canucks have until August 15th after Demko graduates to sign him. Otherwise, he goes to free agency.
Should we be worried about this actually happening? Is it likely that Demko doesn’t sign with the Canucks?
Let’s start with the idea of Demko heading back to make another run at the NCAA Championship. The issue is that the Eagles will be missing several key players from this past season’s team.
Defenceman Steve Santini and forwards Alex Tuch, Adam Gilmour, and Miles Wood have all signed with the teams that drafted them. They might be joined by Colin White and Ian McCoshen. Add in four graduating seniors, including captain Teddy Doherty, and half the team will be gone.
Boston College will be returning their leading scorer and their top scoring defenceman and Demko is good enough that he could carry the team on his back, but it doesn’t seem like the Eagles will be a favourite for the Frozen Four next year.
But even if Demko does return to Boston College for one more year, that doesn’t mean he’s heading to free agency.
The Canucks hold several advantages to signing Demko. The first is that they alone can sign Demko before the end of the NHL season next year. As long as Demko’s season ends in time, the Canucks can ink him to a deal and play him in a game or two, getting Demko a year closer to his next contract. That can mean a difference of millions of dollars, so it’s a significant carrot to dangle, and since there are set limits to entry-level contracts, it gives the Canucks the financial advantage.
Another advantage is that the Canucks have a clear path to Demko becoming a number one goaltender. There are limited job opportunities in the NHL for a goaltender, even one as highly regarded as Demko.
With Ryan Miller’s contract up at the end of next season, it seems likely that Demko could be in the NHL as a backup to Jacob Markstrom by 2017-18. From there, Demko just has to out-battle Markstrom for the starter’s role over the next few seasons. Ideally, Demko would sign now and get a full season in the AHL before hitting the big leagues, but it’s conceivable that he could make the jump directly.
In any case, there are very few obstacles in Demko’s path. The Canucks don’t have anyone else. With Joe Cannata a UFA and, at 26, hardly even a prospect any more, the Canucks don’t have any goaltenders other than Demko in the system.
So, barring the signing of another free agent goaltender (such as, say, Quinnipiac goaltender Michael Garteig who knocked Demko out of the Frozen Four this year and attended Canucks development camp in 2014) or Benning grabbing another goaltender in this year’s draft, Demko will stand alone in the Canucks prospect pool.
So why would he sign with another team, who would just have more goaltenders with whom to compete?
Pretty much every other team in the NHL has a deeper prospect pool in net than the Canucks. According to Hockey’s Future, the Florida Panthers have the most goaltending prospects, with a whopping seven. The Stars, Oilers, Sharks, Islanders, and Sabres each have six.
The only team other than the Canucks that has just one goaltending prospect is the Ducks, but they have the 22-year-old John Gibson signed through 2019 and will likely re-sign 26-year-old RFA Frederik Andersen to a long-term deal.
The Blackhawks and Kings have just two goaltending prospects, but they have Corey Crawford and Jonathan Quick signed through 2020 and 2023, respectively.
That’s the issue for Demko: most teams either have a solid number one or tandem in net or have blue chip goaltending prospects on the rise. There really isn’t a better situation for Demko than in Vancouver.
For example, the one team that you might think has a clearer path to a number one job than the Canucks: the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Leafs traded away their best goaltender, James Reimer, keeping Jonathan Bernier, who was awful this past season. There’s a job opening for sure, but there’s also some serious competition for it.
The Leafs already had two young goaltending prospects—Garrett Sparks and Antoine Bibeau—and signed Kasimir Kaskisuo out of the NCAA to further crowd the crease. Sparks may have posted an ugly .893 save percentage in 17 games in the NHL, but he had a strong AHL season, while Bibeau posted a .909 save percentage in the AHL, but improved immensely at the end of the season.
That’s three goaltenders vying for the starting job, not to mention Bernier, who could have a bounceback season. Why would Demko want to forego a clear succession plan in Vancouver for the uncertainty of Toronto or some other team?
The Canucks also hold one other trump card: Demko’s dad.
The patriarch of the Demko clan is a fan of Vancouver after spending some time at UBC. He even confided in our own Harrison Mooney before his son got drafted that he was hoping the Canucks would pick him.
If the elder Demko holds any sway over the younger, Thatcher won’t be signing anywhere other than Vancouver.
© 2016 Vancouver Courier