When NHL free agency opened last fall, Brad Treliving invested a tidy $36 million US in former Vancouver Canucks netminder Jacob Markstrom.
At the time, the Calgary Flames general manager received his share of criticism for spending that much dough — with a six-year term, no less — on a 31-year-old netminder likely on the back end of his career.
One quarter of the way through the regular season, Markstrom is the main reason why the inconsistent Flames (7-6-1) remain in the thick of the NHL North Division playoff hunt.
Brad Treliving, the son of Dragon’s Den star Jim Treliving, seems to know when to splurge on a luxury item.
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“When Markie is out there, it’s contagious throughout the team,” says Calgary centre Sean Monahan. “A big save goes a long way. The bench gets up. The team kind of changes when you have a guy like that back there playing for you.”
The Flames have arguably not had “a guy like that” in net since Finnish sensation Miikka Kiprusoff retired in 2013.
“He’s won a lot of hockey games for us already, but we’ve got to help him out,” Flames forward Dillon Dube says of Markstrom. “It is definitely nice to have him there, though, knowing that you can have a chance to win every single night.
A second-round (31st overall) pick of the Florida Panthers in 2008, the late-blooming Markstrom oozes quiet confidence in the blue paint. At 6-foot-6, 206 pounds, he swoops from side-to-side with ease and repeatedly repels high-grade chances from close range.
His stats line is evidence of his nightly heroics with a goals-against-average of 2.33 and a .925 save percentage.
“He’s always keeping us in it,” says Flames forward Andrew Mangiapane. “In every game, he makes big, timely saves when needed.
“It gives the whole team confidence that if we make a bad play or a turnover, he’s always back there to be our last line of defence.”
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Markstrom produced more big saves than the highlight reel could possibly show on Saturday, stopping 43-of-45 shots in a 3-1 loss to the Canucks.
“Vancouver is a desperate team, and they threw a lot of pucks at the net and there’s a lot of volume,” Markstrom says. “But, you know, at the end of the day it’s my job to stop the puck.
“It’s frustrating for me to feel like I’m playing a really good game and then five minutes left not come up with one more save to at least take it to overtime and get a point and give the team a chance.”
“He’s a good man to have around a team,” says Flames head coach Geoff Ward. “He’s got the mental makeup of a starting goaltender. He’s pretty unflappable.”
Markstrom’s back-up David Rittich, an all-star in 2020, is attempting to rebuild his confidence, losing both of his starts this season. So if the No. 1 guy misses time due to injury, Calgary could be in trouble.
As long as Markstrom is healthy, the Flames are legitimate contenders for a playoff spot — even in the talent-laden North Division.
“He’s proven to be durable over his career, so you know he can log a lot of minutes,” Ward says. “He’s earned the trust of our team very, very quickly because of his work ethic, because he’s such a professional and because he gives our guys a chance to win.”