How Should Demko Return to the Lineup

By: Brayden Fengler / January 13, 2023  

We’re well over a month since Thatcher Demko last tended the pipes for the Canucks, and it’s been frustrating to watch this Canucks team play without their starter since December 3rd.

Although Bruce Boudreau would no doubt like to have his star goaltender back in action, the fact remains that Demko was not performing well for Vancouver during the first part of the season, prior to his injury.

This begs the question, how will Thatcher factor back into the lineup once he returns?

Martin’s Trying His Best

Even with Demko on the injurey reserve list for over a full month, the Canucks have yet to see either Spencer Martin or Collin Delia fully take over the starting job.

In Demko’s absence, Martin has started for the Canucks in 12 different games, while Delia has graced the net for just 5. Since December 3rd, Delia and Martin have split the net twice in pulled goalie situations.

Once against Montreal on December 5th, and again against Winnipeg just last week. Regardless, it’s clear to see that Martin has been relied on as the Canucks main starter in recent weeks.

Over the course of the 12 games since Demko’s injury, Martin sits with a .860 save percentage and a goals-against average of 4.38. Considering he is letting in over four goals a game, it’s a miracle that Martin has earned four wins for his club since December 1st.

But as has been the case with the Canucks recent strategy of zero defence and fast-paced offence, Marin and his team have almost always been finding themselves playing games with monstrous goal totals. Whether for or against, there have been few low-scoring contests this year. Although Vancouver’s offence clearly has the ability to put the put in the net, their defence has been leaving their netminders high and dry more often than not.

What’s The Delia

In addition to Martin filling Demko’s shoes, Collin Delia was also called up to participate as the Canucks’ second-string goalie. During Delia’s few games for the Canucks, he boasts a better save percentage than Martin at .902, and a better goals-against average by more than an entire goal for, with 3.14.

Although this can hardly be viewed as an exact comparison due to Martin’s larger sample size, it does at the very least point to Delia managing a transition from AHL play to NHL play very well. Delia has also yet to let in a single goal on the penalty kill since he’s been called up for the Canucks.

Which, despite Delia only having to turn away four short-handed shots during his few games, is an encouraging stat if he can keep it up, given that Vancouver currently has the worst penalty kill in the league at 67.8%.

Martin or Delia

With Demko’s return seemingly right around the corner, the age-old decision will have to be made. Of the two goalies that the Canucks have been relying on over the past months, which one do they keep in Vancouver and which one is asked to hop on the Highway and head east?

Yes, Delia through his smaller sample size has demonstrated better performances than Spencer Martin. However, Martin has hardly been the one to blame for most of Vancouver’s losses during his time as a leading man between the pipes.

On top of Vancouver’s horrifying penalty-killing abilities, which can hardly be hung on the goaltenders, Vancouver on the whole has been demonstrating preventable shortcomings at both ends of the ice. This has put them in high-scoring and defensively neglectful contests. For example, Vancouver blocks the 8th fewest shots per 60 out of all teams in the NHL.

Not that it’s on the players to use their bodies to make every save for their goalie, but if the majority of NHL teams are making more of an effort to prevent pucks from getting to their netminder, maybe it’s a piece of the puzzle they should look into more.

At the end of the day, the right choice of which one of the two substitutes to keep on the main squad is likely the obvious choice.

Although Martin has a worse record, he has proven that he can perform at this level before, and with the Demko and Martin duo not even making it two months into the season before it was turned upside down, it’s worth seeing if the two can really establish that they can exist as a suitable combo, because right now we really don’t know, and it’s hardly their fault.

Split It Up

Martin and Demko both deserve less of a workload. Instead of a 70/30 split in favour of Demko, the previously struggling netminder should be allowed to ease back into NHL action.

Martin has been playing virtually every game for Vancouver, and if he can have an opportunity to improve the quality of his play and not have to stress about the quantity of his deployment, that may be the best thing for him right now. The same can be said for Demko.

Demko is not returning to a team remembering or expecting him to immediately play lights out. He wasn’t playing like that before the injury and there is no reason to expect that this will be the case when he comes back cold. Let Thatcher ease into it.

Let Martin take a few back-to-backs even if that’s what it means. The two shouldn’t be fighting for the starting spot, but rather sharing it, at least for now. The Canucks are not in a spot where they need to be burning out one or more of their goaltenders to “win big”. There is no winning big, not this year.

Easy Does It

Regardless of when Demko comes back, the silver lining to the Canucks poor performance is that they really don’t need him to be at his best right away at this stage in the season. The Canucks have more significant problems than their goaltenders, and they should use the remainder of the season to build Demko back up at whatever pace that needs to happen at. Demko has needed to save their bacon far too often.