What Should the Canucks Do When Demko is Healthy?

By: Trent Leith / May 14, 2024  

Artūrs Šilovs has been phenomenal since he got the tap to take the starter’s net. Thatcher Demko injured his knee, the same knee he injured late in the regular season, and Casey DeSmith suffered a minor LBI, but once Šilovs took the net, he never looked back.

Šilovs has been remarkably calm despite being thrown into the highest leverage moments since the Canucks made a run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011. He is remarkably calm, almost as if he doesn’t understand the gravity of this situation.

But he does, he knows what a big game looks and feels like. He is just simply unphased.

Šilovs is something of a folk hero in his home country of Latvia. In his second outing at the World Championship for Latvia, Silovs led his team to their first-ever medal at the tournament. Silovs had a 0.921 sv% and was the hero of a 26-save overtime win against the United States to clinch their medal.

Who was the United States Goalie that he out-duelled for the medal? Casey DeSmith.

Now Šilovs is going head-to-head against two of the most offensively potent players in the world and he doesn’t seem phased in the slightest. After Sunday’s game, Šilovs was asked if he could walk the media through a key save. The media member asked, “You made a key save late in the period off of Draisaitl, can you take us through that one?”

Šilovs simply replied, “Which one?”

Ice cold.

The media had a chuckle and then he nervously laughed and said “I actually don’t remember”

Šilovs has recorded a .906 sv% and 2.7 GGA in his six postseason games in which he has a 4-3 record. Šilovs is even better on the road with a .931 sv% and a 2.25 GAA. These are remarkable numbers for the third-string goaltender who has only played nine NHL games over the course of two seasons.

So What About Demko?

Thatcher Demko has been skating at Canucks practice, but not with the main groups. He is facing shots and nearing a return. Rumours are that Demko could be ready for Game Six or Game Seven if required, but more likely Game Seven.

But do you put Demko in right away? Or do you ride the hot hand? Only time will tell. On one hand, Demko is clearly the superior goalie, at least at this stage of their respective careers. However, Demko is coming in cold, having not played since the first game of the playoffs and jumping into a potential Game Seven against Connor McDavid seems like a risky proposition.

Demko has also had two consecutive injuries in the same knee. They are separate injuries based on reports, but it begs the question, should Demko take extra time in return?

At this point, Šilovs is playing extremely well. The goaltending is currently not a weakness for the Vancouver Canucks, so is it worth taking a potential risk with Demko’s long-term health if he isn’t needed at this time?

The other thing to consider is the ability to stack the deck by keeping Demko in the wings. If Šilovs does falter and Demko is required, imagine how disheartening it would be to be an opponent to chase the goalie that has been giving you problems and your reward is Thatcher Demko taking the crease, a current Vezina finalist.

You have the ability to ride the hot hand in Šilovs as long as possible, and then when the hot hand cools off, you have a fresh, rested ace up your sleeve. There should be no rush to get Demko in the net.

Jim Rutherford has a history of letting his budding stars take the spotlight. In 2016, Matt Murray took the starter’s crease from Marc-Andre Fleury and went on to win a Stanley Cup. In 2017, Murray was hurt to start the playoffs, and once he was healthy, he took back the crease and went on to win his second Stanley Cup in as many years, all while still being an NHL rookie.

Time Will Tell

Obviously, Demko is an elite goaltender and arguably the best goalie remaining in the playoffs, so there is no wrong answer as to who starts, as long as Demko is 100%. Is a Demko 80% healthy better than a 100% healthy Šilovs playing the best hockey of his young career? It is hard to tell.

The Canucks seem to like to have a goalie returning from injury to play a full week’s worth of full practices before returning to the crease. With a potential Game Seven scheduled for May 20th, the Canucks are out of time to get Demko his reps if they want him to play this series.

If they are going to make the switch back to Demko, it might be worth doing so if the Canucks make it to the third round and things reset a little bit.