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Demko’s return to Canucks imminent as Martin goes on waivers

The Vancouver Canucks have placed Spencer Martin on waivers with the intent to send him to the Abbotsford Canucks in the AHL.
Spencer Martin has struggled for the Vancouver Canucks since Thatcher Demko suffered a leg injury on December 1.

The Vancouver Canucks are getting their star goaltender back soon.

At least, that appears to be clear with Monday’s announcement that the Canucks have placed Spencer Martin on waivers with the intent to send him to the Abbotsford Canucks in the AHL.

Thatcher Demko has been out of the Canucks’ lineup since December 1, when he suffered a leg injury in the first period of a game against the Florida Panthers. Initially expected to miss just six weeks, Demko has instead been out for ten-and-a-half weeks — a full two-and-a-half months.

While Demko struggled to start the season with an .883 save percentage in his first 15 games, his replacements struggled even more while he was out. Behind a Canucks’ defence that repeatedly gives up Grade-A chances, particularly on the penalty kill, Martin and Collin Delia have both posted sub-.890 save percentages this season. 

Putting Martin on waivers, then, means two things: one is that Demko must be ready to return soon, though the earliest he could return is Wednesday’s game against the New York Rangers, as the Canucks do not currently have a roster spot available to activate Demko off the Injured Reserve list. Martin will still be on the Canucks roster until at least Tuesday morning, so he'll still be the backup for Monday night's game. In fact, Martin can stay on the Canucks' roster for up to 30 days or 10 NHL games after clearing waivers.

The other thing is that Martin has lost the backup job that he earned last season.

This isn’t too surprising, as Martin has lost ten-straight starts and has an .871 save percentage — tied for the worst in the NHL with Elvis Merzlikins — but it’s an ignominious end to one of the best stories from last season. Martin earned a two-year, one-way contract with the Canucks with his fantastic play in relief of Demko and Jaroslav Halak when they both entered the NHL’s COVID protocol. 

In six starts, Martin was undefeated in regulation for the Canucks with a sparkling .950 save percentage. He continued that streak to start the 2022-23 season, earning at least a point in his first four starts before finally suffering his first regulation loss as a Canuck.

Even with that loss, Martin was 6-1-1 in his first eight starts of the season and had outplayed Demko to start the season, with many suggesting that Martin should get more starts ahead of Demko.

“You can’t deny that Spencer’s been great every time — touch wood — that we put him out there,” said then-head coach Bruce Boudreau. “I don’t know what his overall record is but I think it’s one loss in 14 or 15 games. So, you can’t just sit there and say because Demmer’s our number one guy and our future that we’re gonna forget about the guy that’s gotten us into a pretty good position right now.”

Then Demko got injured, Martin was thrust into the starter’s role, and his season fell apart.

Whether it was the workload or teams scouting him more and picking apart his weaknesses, Martin just couldn’t keep the puck out of the net. Since Demko’s injury, Martin has an .854 save percentage in 20 games. That’s just not NHL-caliber, no matter how poorly the defence has played in front of him.

Some have referred to the difference between being a starter and being a backup as the difference between being a marathon runner and being a sprinter. Martin was successful in short sprints but couldn't handle running a marathon.

In that same time frame, Delia, called up as Martin’s backup, has been the better goaltender, even if just barely. His .887 save percentage in 13 games is still bad but not detrimental and perhaps he can fit in better as a backup to a workhorse like Demko.

In fact, Delia has arguably been better than a league-average goaltender when you take into account the quality of shots he’s faced. At 5-on-5, Delia has a Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA) of 1.09 according to Natural Stat Trick. That means he’s allowed 1.09 fewer goals than the average NHL goaltender would, given the quality of shots he’s faced.

Martin’s GSAA was -6.03.