What Is The Canucks Plans for Backup Goalie When Demko Returns?

By: Trent Leith / February 12, 2023  

Thatcher Demko is close to returning to NHL action after sustaining an injury on December 1st against the Florida Panthers where he was injured. The Canucks will not clarify or give specifics, but based on the play, he hurt his leg or hip.

Since then, Spencer Martin and Colin Delia have been largely splitting the goaltending duties. Not quite 50/50 but more so than the traditional starter/backup dynamic, with Marting having played in 18 games, while Delia has played in 12.

With Brayden Holtby still on the books this season, the Canucks opted to go cheaper with an unproven Spencer Martin as their go-to backup for this season and next. As a result, without Demko for a long stretch, Spencer Martin has had to step up in a big way – along with Delia – but to no fault of their own, they aren’t playing up to snuff for an NHL starter.

Spencer Martin has a sub-optimal .873 sv% and 3.95 GAA this season, and Delia isn’t much better with .887 sv% and a 3.27 GAA. So it begs the question, what happens when Demko comes back? Demko is on the road trip with the Canucks and is close to returning so there is about to be a big decision to make as both goaltenders are waiver eligible.

Keep Martin Up

Spencer Martin was 6-2-1 to start the season before Demko got injured. As a backup, he put up half-decent numbers with a very average .901 sv% and a 3.22 GAA. These are numbers you want to be able to expect out of your backup goaltender. But since then, his numbers have dropped. Again, Martin was not signed to be “the guy”.

Martin has done a perfectly reasonable job as a backup to Demko, and when Demko returns, it only makes sense he falls back into his routine as the backup. The other aspect to consider here is asset management. If you send Martin to the AHL, there is a chance he gets snatched up by a team looking to shore up their goalie depth. But if Demko is actually on the trade market, it might be beneficial for the 27-year-old netminder to continue playing a lot of games and work on his game in the AHL before he may be called upon to play a larger role in the NHL again.

Give Delia a Shot

Delia most recently joined the team on December 22nd as an emergency call-up to play behind Martin through Demko’s injury. While he was previously called up, he was a part of three transactions on the week of December 22nd that saw him play one game in Abbotsford, have a child, and return to start a game in the NHL. This was largely due to giving Delia the chance to be with his wife for the birth of his newborn child. Due to these circumstances, it allowed the Canucks to restart Delia’s emergency call-up, as he can only play in nine games before being waiver eligible again. Delia has surpassed that threshold now, but it was a crafty use of circumstance to protect against the chance of waivers should Demko have returned ahead of schedule.

Now that he is waiver eligible again, it makes the decision to keep him or send him to the minors tougher. Delia does have marginally better numbers than Martin, even if it is in a smaller sample size. It begs the question, does the Canucks management see a future with Delia over Martin?

Don’t Overthink It

Delia has played slightly better in fewer games, but he has also faced easier opponents. Martin has a larger sample of games and has shown he has a higher upside in the NHL. Martin has been signed as the backup and has performed admirably as such. Delia hasn’t exactly blown our socks off as Martin did in the NHL last season earning his shot. Delia has played fine, but he hasn’t taken a spot away from anyone. Assuming Demko doesn’t get traded before he returns, it only makes sense to keep Martin up here as the backup for the rest of the season.