Calgary Flames

Despite his poor play, Jacob Markstrom is not going anywhere

The Calgary Flames have had a multitude of issues this season to the point where some might say this season has been cursed, but the biggest issue they have faced has been in the crease. Dan Vladar has been good for most of the season, but starting netminder Jacob Markstrom has been absolutely awful.

His .891 save percentage puts him 59th of the 70 goalies who have played at least 10 games this season. And, of those 11 goalies behind him, not one has played as many games as Markstrom has. Markstrom has rarely won back-to-back games all year long and has looked like a shell of his former self after coming off of a Vezina-calibre regular season in 2021–22.

This has put the Flames in a pickle. On the one hand, Vladar has been serviceable when called upon, his last start notwithstanding. He hasn’t been the saviour that some have suggested, putting up a decent .901 save percentage this season, but definitely far more reliable than Markstrom. The team seems to play better when the Czech netminder is in goal, and that has been a big reason why the Flames are still in the hunt for a playoff spot, again, his last start notwithstanding.

On the other hand, the Flames cannot afford to leave Markstrom on the shelf for the rest of the season. The Swedish netminder is on a six-million dollar deal for the next three seasons which includes a full no-movement clause (NMC). They cannot trade him or send him down to the AHL without his consent. They only really have three things they can do with him, and only one of them makes any sense.

Buy Markstrom out

When dealing with a player with a full NMC who is underperforming, the first option is to buy him out. This involves spreading out two thirds of his salary over double its current length (not including bonuses which are paid out in full). For Markstrom, this is how a buyout would work if the Flames went this route this summer, which is the earliest they can do so.

Buyout calculation courtesy of

Image showing the buyout calculation for Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom, via

There would be a cap saving next season, but the Flames would then pay Markstrom $13 million over the next five seasons, and face a cap hit of over $4 million for 2024–25 and 2025–26. To be spending nearly five percent of the cap on a player who won’t be playing for you is astronomical, especially if this team is hoping to be competitive for the next couple of years or so.

Owners are also incredibly wary of buyouts. It’s a bad financial decision to pay someone to not play for your team, just like it’s a bad idea to pay someone to not work for you in a business. The cap hit involved would be devastating to the team’s ability to compete, and with the owners having been hit hard through the pandemic and having to play games with lower capacity and lower revenue, buying Markstrom out basically guarantees the Flames would be unable to build a competitive team for some time.

Try to convince Markstrom to waive his NMC

The Flames could also work with Markstrom to try and convince him to waive his NMC. If the player is unhappy in Calgary and the fit just simply is not working out, it may be better for everyone to part ways amicably, find a willing partner to take on his contract and trade him for what they can get.

The problem with that is that there is no indication that Markstrom is unhappy in Calgary. He’s playing with a number of his old teammates from Vancouver and is surrounded by players from his homeland of Sweden. There’s absolutely a chance that he would be happy elsewhere, but it seems unlikely that he would want to be anywhere else.

Players push for NMCs simply because they want the security of knowing that they cannot be moved, have a consistent pay cheque coming in every month, and can set down roots in a permanent home city. Markstrom has absolutely no need to be traded unless he simply wants out, and the ball is very much in his court. The Flames cannot afford to leave him on the bench for the rest of his contract, simply because Vladar has been good, not exceptional, nor can they call up Dustin Wolf and send Markstrom down because of his NMC.

Now let’s assume all of this is wrong and that Markstrom wants to leave Calgary and agrees to be traded. The market for him is at its absolute worst. His performance this season has been abysmal, his contract includes tons of signing bonuses which teams would be on the hook for if they wanted to buy him out, and on top of all of that, he is on the wrong side of 30, meaning his performance at some point is due to get worse. The Flames would have to pay to get rid of him, and that would likely include high draft picks and/or top prospects. Look at what it cost the Flames to offload Sean Monahan last summer.

With the salary cap as tight as it is, the Flames would almost certainly need to retain salary or pay another team to retain some of his salary. This is another externality which would be super costly. Teams don’t like paying players to not pay for them and having to spend an asset or two to move a player is another big ask.

The goalie market is interesting right now, with so many teams already having a tandem that works for them. It would be hard to convince a team to take on a 33-year-old goalie who has taken a massive step backwards this season. Teams would have to be extremely sure that Markstrom can bounce back, and if the Flames doubt that enough to want to trade him, it’s hard to see other teams feeling differently.

Help Markstrom regain his mojo

Look, it’s really easy to be an armchair GM and call for the Flames to trade Markstrom, send him to the AHL, force him to retire, or any number of other proposals. From a team perspective, it makes a whole lot more sense to try and get him to regain his form.

Not only was he one of the team’s best players last season, but he’s also a bonafide NHL starting netminder and has been for a number of years. Over the five seasons in which he was the starter in Vancouver, Markstrom never had a sub-0.900 save percentage in any of his seasons. Coming off of a Vezina Trophy-nominated season, Markstrom has taken a step backwards for sure, but trying to get him to somewhere between where he is now and where he was last season makes the most sense.

On top of all of this, the Flames had not had a legitimate NHL starting goalie since Miikka Kiprusoff and spent the last decade trying to find one before they landed on Markstrom. Even if you think that both Dan Vladar and Dustin Wolf are God’s gift to goaltending, the idea of trading the one goalie that this team has been able to rely on seems incredibly risky.

NHL GMs are risk-averse and mistake-wary. The idea of trading a player coming off of not one but six good seasons simply because of a down year is one that most GMs simply would not do. It doesn’t make any financial sense, and the cost of it would have a huge impact on this team’s ability to compete going forward.

What makes the most sense for the Flames

The only way that this team moves Markstrom (assuming they can) is if the following things are true. First, they trust that a tandem of Vladar and Wolf is not only strong enough but is able to compete within the short window that this team has or that they could get someone substantially better for less than the cost of moving Markstrom, which is already high.

Second, they would have to feel that there is absolutely no universe in which Markstrom returns to being an NHL calibre netminder, even in a 1A/1B role. Running Markstrom even 35 games a season would be enough for this team if they believed Vladar/Wolf was good enough to carry the rest of the load.

And third, the team would need to feel that the opportunity cost of moving Markstrom, either financially through trading picks or prospects is worth it. The team already has a weak prospect pool, with three forwards (Jakob Pelletier, Connor Zary, and Matthew Coronato), one defenceman (Jeremie Poirier), and one goaltender (Wolf) making up the majority of their talent pool, and moving future picks, especially a first round selection would be devastating for the organization. Spending more assets to have a team retain some of his salary or doing so themselves would hinder the team’s ability to compete both now and in the future, and would be awful for this organization.

It is incredibly hard to see the Flames moving Markstrom. For better or for worse, the team is in it for the long haul with the Swedish netminder.

Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire

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