The Vancouver Canucks announced the signing of goaltender Spencer Martin to a two-year contract extension on Friday. The NHL club’s already inexpensive goaltending tab, presently consisting of Thatcher Demko and Jaroslav Halak at $8-million with maximum bonuses, just got cheaper moving forward.
The spend for the current duo would be a very reasonable price for any team wanting to be a playoff or Cup contender. If Martin is slotted as the back-up starting in 2022-’23, that price tag just dropped below $6-million per year.
Martin signed a one-way NHL deal for an average cap hit of $762,500 over the next two seasons. Demko’s hit is $5-million per.
The joy of creating that super economical cap space is based on some cautious assumptions.
Is this goalie who filled in for the big club so admirably for three games during the Covid crisis in January while back-stopping the AHL Abbotsford Canucks to a playoff birth, ready for a full-time back-up gig based on his grand total of six career NHL games? The Vancouver Canucks figure at this point there’s only one way to find out, while affordability allows for flexibility if someone else later needs to be slotted.
“As much as this puts him in the driver’s seat to be the guy, the nature of the contract means it’s not an absolute,” said goaltending journalist Kevin Woodley of NHL.com and ingoalmag.com. “The reason you make the bed if you’re the Canucks is you’ve got a first-hand look at why this has worked for him this year, the work ethic behind it, the mentality and the attitude. So you feel confident not just in the player, but in the person, that he’s going to continue to do that work.”
Due to injuries and attrition, it’s dangerous to make assumptions about any NHL goaltender, even one as proficient as Canucks number-one Demko. He’s seeing the largest workload of his career this season and questions of fatigue have been raised at times. He’s handled it. But moving forward, there are no guarantees, just ask Steve Mason, or Matt Murray, or Carter Hart.
Every situation is different and a club’s only real choice is to remain hopeful and optimistic.
“Don’t forget, he was a third round pick (Colorado, 2013), that’s high for a goalie,” Woodley said. “This is not some undrafted free agent arriving six years later, there’s pedigree there. Spencer’s continued growth and that willingness to adopt that growth mindset stands out. He arrived here in Vancouver in a trade (from Tampa Bay last July), not like he chose to come here, he arrived here as the number-five guy. He could have pouted, he could have been unhappy, all he did was put his nose to the grindstone, didn’t question the fact that they wanted to change some things in his game, and he embraced it.”
Martin stole the top job with the Abbotsford Canucks from Michael DiPietro and Arturs Silovs and worked his way to a 17-4-2 record and a 2.39 goals against average.
In Martin’s three starts with Vancouver he made 113 saves and posted a .958 save percentage. It only earned him one win, a 5-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on January 27th. In his other two outings Martin ran into the same problem experienced by Halak much of the season, no goal support.
The Vancouver Canucks tallied a grand total of three goals in post-regulation losses to Florida on January 21st and Edmonton on the 25th. His first start went to a shoot-out, the latter ended in overtime.
“His continued, not just willingness, but eagerness to try and grasp on to new things without completely abandoning his foundation, those are all positives,” Woodley concluded.