Calgary Flames: Jacob Markstrom is the key to a playoff push

Jacob Markstrom finally solves the Calgary Flames’ goaltending woes.

Jacob Markstrom was the single biggest reason why the Vancouver Canucks made the playoffs in 2019-20.

A second-round pick of the Florida Panthers in 2008, Markstrom was traded to the Canucks in 2014 alongside Shawn Matthias in a package for Roberto Luongo and Steven Anthony. Though he initially failed to make Vancouver’s initial roster going into the 2014–15 season, Markstrom shined with the Utica Comets and signed a two-year, one-way contract in the NHL indefinitely.

From there, Markstrom spent two seasons spelling Ryan Miller as the Canucks’ number two goaltender before firmly taking over the full-time starting role from 2017-20.

Tasked with holding things down for 43 games in 2019-20 – his first season without 60 regular-season appearances since 2016-17 – Markstrom maintained a 91.8 save percentage on 1,420 shots while logging 23 wins versus 16 losses.

Again, there’s a very real world where the Canucks, who only recorded 78 points in an abbreviated 2019-20 season, extended their playoff drought to five straight seasons if Markstrom drops a few more of his 12 one-score games.

Why is this relevant? Well, because after 243 games in a blue, green, and white uniform, Markstrom decided to jump ship to Vancouver’s Pacific Division foes to join their inner-country foes, the Calgary Flames.

Do you know what that means, Calgary fans? Well, for the first time since Miikka Kiprusoff officially announced his retirement in 2013, the Flames have a legit number one goaltender and a reason to fear a little less when the puck ends up on the wrong side of the blue line.

Now don’t get me wrong, the Flames’ goaltending rotation wasn’t horrible in 2019-20 per se, but the less than dynamic duo of David Rittich and Cam Talbot were far from the model of consistency and just couldn’t hold up against the Dallas Stars’ offensive attack in the first round of the 2020 NHL Playoffs.

When news broke that Talbot was headed to the Minnesota Wild on a three-year, $11 million deal, it honestly came as somewhat of a surprise, as his play was inarguably the better of the Flames’ two options – and anyone on the Hurricanes for that matter – but he was far from a legit number one option a team can count on for 60 games a season.

Markstrom, by contrast, is every bit that kind of player and will surely fill said role admirably for the duration of his six-year, $36 million deal.

Factor in the addition of fellow former Canucks’ defenseman Chris Tanev and suddenly, the Flames’ premier defensive line looks pretty gosh darn formidable, far better than any look featuring Talbot and departing defensemen Travis Hamonic and Erik Gustafsson brought to the table.

But wait, there’s more.

With Markstrom locked into place for roughly two-thirds of the Flames’ games next season – whether that’s 60 of 82 games, 40 of 60 games, or even 32 of 48 games – Rittich can slide back into a secondary role; a role he’s much better suited for at this point in his career. Who knows, maybe with a bit more time between starts, Rittich can finally record a quality saves percentage of over 60 for the first time since the 2018-19 season.

Rittich really isn’t a bad goaltender; he just has a tendency for getting exposed over an expansive sample size.

But really, this isn’t about David Rittich, Cam Talbot, or even Chris Tanev. No, the Calgary Flames’ offseason, and playoff ceiling for that matter, will almost exclusively depend on Jacob Markstrom’s ability to ease the Flames’ instability in net moving forward and provide a defensive backbone to Calgary’s offensive attack. And best of all? The Flames made the Vancouver Canucks a whole lot worse in the process. You’ve gotta love it.