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Nilsson trade signals “Demko Time” in Vancouver

Nilsson finishes his career as a Canuck with 10 wins in 36 starts.

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NHL: Preseason-Calgary Flames at Vancouver Canucks
Sep 19, 2018; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) awaits the start of play against the Calgary Flames during the second period at Rogers Arena.
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Jim Benning clearly had a New Year’s Resolution. That, or the Ghost of Christmas Future got in his head.

The message however, was clear. 2019 is Thatcher Demko time.

That much was made official this morning when the Vancouver Canucks sent Anders Nilsson and Darren Archibald to the Ottawa Senators for 35-year-old goaltender Mike McKenna, 31-year-old Tom Pyatt and a 2019 6th round draft pick.

Nilsson spent his year and a half in Vancouver mired in mediocrity. He started off strong in both of his two seasons, only to falter down the stretch.

Here is early Nilsson versus rest of the way Nilsson during both of his seasons in Vancouver.

  • Beginning of 2017-18: 5-1-1, .934 save percentage.
  • Rest of 2017-18: 2-13-3, .890 save percentage
  • Beginning of 2018-19: 3-0-0. .843 save percentage
  • Rest of 2018-19: 0-8-1, .879 save percentage

While Nilsson started off strong with wins over Tampa Bay, Florida and Pittsburgh, his statistics since then don’t look like that of a goalie who deserves to play in the NHL. In Nilsson’s last nine games since winning the first three, he’s allowed four goals in six of those nine contests.

Even though Nilsson faced a good number of tough opponents, his performances in those games didn’t inspire much confidence. The icing on the cake for Nilsson was his performance against the New Jersey Devils on New Year’s Eve, where arguably the four goals he allowed against the Devils were all goals that could have been saved.

With Nilsson now moving on, the biggest winner of this trade is clearly, someone who wasn’t involved in the trade at all.

Demko Time is now in Vancouver

Ever since Demko returned to action from a concussion in November, the protest to get him games in the NHL has slowly been gaining momentum.

His numbers this season in the AHL might not pop out at you, but he’s been solid for a depleted Utica Comets team, keeping them in games and in some cases, making saves he shouldn’t be making.

With no Olli Juolevi, no Ashton Sautner, no Jalen Chatfield, and with Quinn Hughes still in college, here’s the defence that Demko played behind during the Comets last game on December 29th.

  • Evan McEneny
  • Jamie Sifers
  • Guillaume Brisebois
  • Colton Saucerman
  • Dylan Blujus
  • Dirk Jagger

As much as McEneny has really stepped up his game with all of the injuries, that defence certainly isn’t scaring many AHL teams.

What did have AHL teams worried was the presence of Demko. Despite all the injuries to Comets defencemen, Demko still managed to post a 7-5-1 record with a .909 save percentage. Again nothing that jumps off of the page, but his save percentage is good enough for 14th in the AHL, despite playing on such an injury-ravaged team.

So just in case you’re worried about Demko suiting up for an NHL team that’s allowed the 6th-most goals in the NHL, just know that he’s ready for this moment. For comparison’s sake, the Comets other three goaltenders (Richard Bachman, Ivan Kubalkov, and Connor LaCouvee) had a combined .881 save percentage for the Comets.

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver Canucks forward Adam Gaudette (88) congratulaes Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) for his first game after overtime against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Rogers Arena.
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

At 23 years old, the time for Demko to have a permanent home in the NHL was growing. Knowing that he’s waiver-eligible for the 2019-20 season, it was clear to everybody that Demko had to be in the NHL next year. Because of that, it made more sense to give him some games this season to see how he handles it, rather than throw him into the fire next season, even with Markstrom still at the helm.

If there’s one thing that the stats won’t tell you about Demko, it’s the confidence and poise he plays with in the net. We’ve seen both Nilsson and Markstrom get rattled after bad games. In some cases (ahem, Nilsson), the shattered confidence was evident for long stretches.

Demko’s interview with The Athletic from December points to a man who doesn’t lose his cool, and one who is well equipped to rebound from mistakes. That’s a welcome sight for Canucks fans, and it won’t be long now until Demko gets some regular NHL action.