Goaltending controversies are nothing new to the Canucks. What is new is the idea of them happening in the farm system.
The starting netminder jobs are completely set in Vancouver. Ryan Miller is entering the final year of his three-year deal, while Jacob Markstrom (as previously noted) has four more seasons with the Canucks ahead. But the story is very different for the Utica Comets, the Canucks’ farm team.
The Comets will have to choose between veteran AHLer Richard Bachman, star draft pick Thatcher Demko, and free agent splash signing Michael Garteig. With only two goalie slots each night, one of these three won’t be on the roster each night and might even be sent to the ECHL’s Alaska Aces. So who will Comets coach Travis Green tap on the shoulder to control the crease?
Let’s start with Richard Bachman, who returns to the Canucks organization thanks to a new two-year, $1.15 million contract. Last season Bachman played 35 games for the Comets, posting a 17-12-5 record and a .900 save percentage. He was called up to the Canucks due to a Ryan Miller leg injury in late October, but played in only one game where he earned a 4-3 victory over the Arizona Coyotes. Bachman has not been a clear favourite of Canucks management, which explains his lack of starts and the fact that he was mostly resigned to protect Markstrom in next year’s expansion draft.
Last year’s Comets starter Joe Cannata signed with the Washington Capitals this offseason. This leaves Richard as the only minor league goalie in the Canucks collective with NHL, or even AHL, experience from his years playing in the Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers systems as well as Vancouver’s. This fact alone could play a huge part in how much time Bachman spends in the Comets’ crease this season.
Next up is Thatcher Demko, the prodigy from San Diego who the Canucks selected 36th overall in the 2014 Draft. Demko signed an entry level deal with the Canucks this summer after playing three seasons in the NCAA for Boston College. Demko had a fantastic 2015-16 season, going 27-8-4 with a .935 save percentage while leading BC to the Frozen Four. In personal accolades, Thatcher won this year’s Mike Richter Award for Top Collegiate Goalie and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award presented to the Top Collegiate Player.
Ever since his draft day Canucks fans have been waiting excitedly for his first game in blue and green, expecting him to be the next great goalie in franchise history, if not league history. But while Demko has mastered at the college level, the pro leagues are a whole different animal for him to tame. His inexperience with pro hockey is what might set him back from the top spot right away, but a solid set in Utica could earn him the number one job in no time.
Finally we come to Michael Garteig, who went undrafted before signing an entry level deal with Vancouver. A native of Prince George, Garteig took Quinnipiac University to the top of the NCAA standings, going 32-4-1 in the process. The Garteig-led Bobcats went all the way to the Frozen Four Final, but lost the championship game to North Dakota 5-1. Garteig’s 19 career NCAA shutouts give him the 4th most in college hockey history behind Ben Scrivens, Joe Fallon, and current Canucks goalie Ryan Miller.
Despite his amazing portfolio, Garteig is somehow looked upon as the outside man looking in on the Comets depth chart. Michael’s chances of playing in either Utica or with the Aces are probably about 35-65 right now, but counting him out would be a mistake. There’s no doubt in my mind that Garteig is more than capable of starting for the Comets and being successful, but like Demko his lack of pro experience leaves a lot of question marks.
In order to gauge fan analysis I turned to Twitter with a simple question, which opened up more questions than it answered:
— Lachlan Irvine (@LachInTheCrease) July 19, 2016
But in a lot of ways both favourites make a statement, with each representing a management philosophy. If the Comets are more focused on winning games now, then they’ll probably turn to Bachman and Demko. But if the main object is developing the next generation of Canucks talent, then Garteig would replace Bachman in the second slot. My belief is that the latter will take hold; Richard was already not a favourite to the Canucks top brass and both Thatcher and Michael are. Developing the young college netminders will definitely be the top priority for Trevor Linden and Jim Benning, as they’re expected to take Vancouver to the top in the next few years. But we’ll have to wait for the opening puck drop in Utica to find out.
Which goalies do you think will be in the starting lineup for the Comets on day one? Feel free to leave a comment below.
(UPDATE 7/23: “Due to a new agreement, the Canucks recently switched ECHL affiliates from the Kalamazoo K-Wings to the Alaska Aces. The article has been changed to represent that.” -Lach)