Goaltending was not an issue for the Calgary Flames last season.
In fact, it was the team’s biggest strength in the playoffs.
However, the opportunity to ink a Vezina-calibre goalie in his prime was too much to pass up for a general manager who has been dogged by a rotating group of netminders since he arrived.
A six-year, $36-million deal for Jacob Markstrom makes the towering Swede the NHL’s ninth-highest paid goalie and ends a trend that has seen 11 lads tend twine for the Flames since Brad Treliving became GM six years back.
The fact Treliving beat out the rival Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers for the long-time Canuck’s services on Friday was all part of what made the move the NHL’s juiciest on the opening day of free agency.
“We feel that not very often do top No. 1 goaltenders get to the market, and if he did, we wanted to see if there was a way to strike a deal and we were able to do that,” said Treliving, of a pact that included the first no-trade clause he’s handed out in Calgary.
“Priority was our goaltending. There’s not a great deal of guys who can jump in there and play 50 to 60 games a year. When you have a horse who can go in there that much, it’s a special skill set. Jacob has shown he can do that.”
Taking advantage of the $17 million in cap space he entered the day with, Treliving is hanging his hat on the six-foot-six, 206-pound 30-year-old as the type of franchise goalie the Flames have been missing since Miikka Kiprusoff retired in 2013.
Believing he’s the sort of piece needed for a team to be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, Treliving and many others point to Markstrom’s ability to not only carry the Canucks into the playoffs this year, but spearhead them to two series victories in the bubble before being injured.
It was that injury that ultimately opened the door for Friday’s relocation, after Thatcher Demko’s relief work allowed the Canucks to pull back on the limits they’d go to re-ink the man who finished fourth in Vezina voting.
After fielding calls all day in his mother’s kitchen in Gavle, Sweden, free agency’s belle of the ball ultimately picked Calgary due to his comfort with the team and the pitch the Flames made to make him feel wanted.
“You hear around the league, and playing in the same division a long time, you have a good idea of what’s going on in the division and Calgary has something good going,” said Markstrom, who will increase Calgary’s Swedish Mafia to five members, which includes his hometown golf pal, Elias Lindholm.
“They really wanted me and I really wanted to go somewhere they believed in me. I can’t wait to go there and prove to everybody I’m a good goalie and I’m only going to get better.”
After years as an unknown commodity, Markstrom emerged a picture of consistency three seasons ago, taking another step this season when he backstopped a rebuilding team to one of the NHL’s most surprising post-season appearances.
Interestingly, while compiling a 23-16-4 record, his 2.75 goals-against average and .918 save percentage both lagged slightly behind former Flame Cam Talbot (2.63, .919). Talbot wound up signing a three-year deal earlier in the day with Minnesota at $3.66-million per, prompting obvious debate over whether the additional money spent on Markstrom would have been better spent on filling the hole on Calgary’s second defensive pairing.
Time will tell. If Markstrom continues his progression, the point will be moot.
“Goalies mature at different times, and I think we’re getting him at the prime of his career, to be honest with you,” said Treliving, who has $10.9 million left to ink a roster that saw former Flames T.J. Brodie (Toronto), Mark Jankowski (Pittsburgh), Tobias Rieder (Buffalo) and Ryan Lomberg (Florida) sign elsewhere Friday.
“It’s taken him time to get to the top of his profession, but when he came into the league he was a highly thought-of goalie (drafted 31st overall by Florida). There’s a maturity to his game and a maturity to him as an individual, and now he’s a top-end, No. 1 goalie who you can roll out a lot of nights a year.”
Markstrom said he’d reach out to new tandem-mate David Rittich, who he met at last year’s All-Star Game in St. Louis. The signing means Big Save Dave’s days in Calgary are now likely numbered, as he will be an unrestricted free agent after making $2.75 million next season.
“You want to be as prudent as you can be,” said Treliving, when asked about the hefty term he had to agree to.
“You’d like to sign everybody to two-year deals, but that’s not reality. To me this was the best player available, and it was a need we wanted to address not only now but moving forward.”
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