The Calgary Flames went out on Free Agent Frenzy and got their starting goaltender in Jacob Markstrom. A bona fide starter on a long-term deal for the first time since Miikka Kiprusoff, the signing of Markstrom brought waves of euphoria among Flames fans and Elias Lindholms alike.
While the Flames had an excellent run with Cam Talbot and David Rittich last season where both had stretches of great play, the fact of the matter is that the back end has been an area of worry for the team. As Ryan Pike (@RyanNPike) of FlamesNation noted, the Flames have tried numerous times to bring in an inexpensive tandem or backup goalie, but have never paid for a bona fide starter.
Having just turned 30, Markstrom has only been a starting goaltender since the 2017-18 season, when he took over the crease from Ryan Miller who moved to Anaheim. That season he played 60 games behind a Canucks team that finished last in the Pacific Division and scored only 182 goals.
Over the last three years, Markstrom’s numbers have been quite good. He finished with a .912 save percentage in 163 games, playing behind a Canucks roster that failed to qualify for the playoffs in two of the last three seasons.
Here is a breakdown of Markstrom’s numbers over his three seasons as a starting goalie in all situations alongside his ranking among all goalies with a minimum 1500 minutes (approximately 30 games played). All data from Natural Stat Trick
|2017-18||60||0.912 (28th)||0.820 (19th)||0.919 (17th)||0.956 (39th)|
|2018-19||60||0.912 (27th)||0.835 (14th)||0.904 (27th)||0.964 (27th)|
|2019-20||43||0.918 (12th)||0.838 (6th)||0.906 (21st)||0.965 (25th)|
Outside of his medium danger save percentage, Markstrom has shown a clear improvement in his three seasons as the starter. He has become especially strong at handling chances right in front, where his high danger save percentage is near the best in the league. This even when facing the 11th most high danger chances among all goalies in the league.
Looking specifically at last season, Markstrom was among the leagues best goaltenders. Of his 43 starts, 25 were quality starts, indicating that his save percentage was higher than the league average. For reference, Rittich was exactly half at 24 of 48.
What is interesting about Markstrom is he was a remarkably consistent goaltender. He had only five really bad starts all season, where his save percentage was less than 0.885. He also had a remarkably high goals saved above average at 11.4, which models the number of goals that were stopped by that goalie given save percentage and shots faced as compared to the league average. Rittich was -4.4, indicating that he was in net for four additional goals than average.
where does he get scored on from?
Markstrom has been an incredibly strong goaltender, allowing fewer goals than would be expected using an xGF model. Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) did a breakdown of where Markstrom faced most of his shots below:
The images in the tweet breaks down where shooters shot on Markstrom, with red indicating Markstrom was more likely to let in a goal in that area and blue indicating he’d be more likely to make a save, compared to average league expectations. Simply put, the more blue the better.
We have taken the two pictures out of the tweet for deeper analysis. Be sure to head to hockeyviz.com for more hockey visualizations.
Markstrom was much stronger on the right hand side last season than left on wrist shots. Aside from a handful of Johnny Gaudreau-esque shots from the far corner that snuck by him, he was quite good at stopping shots from the right.
On the left side, he struggled much more, especially from the dot, where he allowed significantly more goals than average. He was also quite weak right down the middle from the point. Likely he was expecting a tip or was screened heavily when facing those chances. Having a big body in front of the net like a Milan Lucic to help keep his vision clear would be helpful.
What is most interesting is that his expected goals are higher in all four scoring chances than his actual allowed goals for. An sign that he is a quality goaltender.
Looking at 2018-19, Markstrom struggled in the mid-range zone just inside the dot on both sides. He was better from the point, although that may have been because he was better able to see what was happening in front of him. He also struggled on slapshots from the perimeter, which adds to him being weaker at low and medium danger shots.
What is most striking is how good he was right in front of the net on backhands. He allowed only 10 all season, some of which were likely rebounds. This, coupled with how strong he was with tips in 2018-19 shows his positional soundness and agility to react to plays close in.
What does this all mean?
The long and the short of it is not only is Markstrom an excellent goalie already, but he has improved over the last three season. Even if he doesn’t improve more going into next season, he is an excellent goaltender for the Flames to have brought in.
With Rittich’s record of suffering one injury a season, having a proven starter in Markstrom who can handle the lion’s share of the starts is incredibly valuable. With next season’s structure still in flux, having a defined role as the backup for Rittich can help him refocus and steal some games for the Flames.
After a few quality starts from Thatcher Demko in the return to play, Markstrom went from being the Canucks’ MVP the entire season to expendable. His MVP caliber play cannot be forgotten and will be a huge asset to the Flames.
GM Brad Treliving has never splashed out big money on a goaltender. He has also never given out a no movement clause, and that includes to superstars like Mark Giordano and Matthew Tkachuk. This is an enormous move for the franchise, and shows that they are really committed to trying to do everything that they can to win as a group. While it seems unlikely that they are done yet, this move cements the Flames as a threat in the Western Conference.
Photo credit: Rich Lam/Getty Images