Vancouver Canucks, Spencer Martin

High Hopes A Distant Memory As Canucks Martin Gone

Delusional. Naive. Simply full of hope? The widespread belief in Vancouver in the spring and summer of 2022 that goaltender Spencer Martin was the solution to filling the Canucks back-up goaltending position was one of the more dumbfounding concepts of many bizarre ones professed in the market over the last couple of seasons.

He was outstanding in spot performances during the previous season, going 3-0-and-3 with a 1.74 goals against average. Truly impressive numbers, but the thought that it would somehow translate full-time in the big show was an extraordinary leap of faith. Those games were a half dozen of the grand total of nine he’d played in the NHL up to that point, the previous three coming five seasons earlier with the Colorado Avalanche. Five seasons!

There was even some time in the ‘double-A’ ECHL sprinkled in there along the way between his brief stints in the Gary Bettman League.

Two of those three Canucks wins came when he played the last three games of the 2021-’22 season. Mop up, loosey-goosey time in April with the team already out of the playoffs.

His January 1-0-and-2 performance, when he gave up a grand total of five goals, came three months earlier with number-one Thatcher Demko in Covid protocol and back-up Jaroslav Halak just coming out of it.

Lighting in a bottle.

Limited Canucks Options

I recall having a conversation with a national network reporter soon after the regular season ended, about three weeks after Martin signed a two-year contract with the Canucks, that amounted to “are they nuts? What if Demko gets hurt?”

That’s when the topic of the salary cap came up. Funds were limited, it was a sore spot for new management, and the alleged emergence of Martin seemed like the perfect salve.

He was cheap. The deal essentially paid him the NHL minimum regardless of whether he played there or in the AHL, an accomplishment and thrill for him since all of his previous deals had been two-way contracts.

Canucks President of Hockey Operations Jim Rutherford, a Hall of Fame executive, obviously realizing the tenuous nature of the situation and to assure people that management hadn’t completely lost their minds, stuck a potential band-aid on the goaltending sore spot by signing Collin Delia for $750,000 in mid-July.

J.R.’s hands were tied. Let’s just hope nothing happens to Thatcher Dem …..

Uh Oh

Demko was off to a slow start returning off surgery rehab and then he got hurt in game 13.

The team lost its anchor and lost its way. More panic, more changes, coach fired, and it was deja vu all over again from the season before. The campaign was over before it started.

One might recall that in 2021-’22, Halak played that season with an incentive laden contract and a $1.5-million cap hit. He’d hoped to string together some victories and get close to his goal of 300 career wins. He won four times all season. The team couldn’t score for him. In fact, they couldn’t score for Martin either. His three OT/Shoot-out losses came in games in which he gave up 1, 3 and then 2 goals.

2022-’23 presented a myriad of issues, with the back-up netminders falling short being just part of it.

Martin was in over his head, run support or not. In 29 games his goals against average was 3.99, with a save percentage of .871.

Some were surprised; they’d been fooled by the lightning that was just a flash in the pan.

It happens on occasion in hockey, particularly with goalkeepers.

Martin is now a Columbus Blue Jacket, at least for training camp, waived by the Canucks and claimed on Friday. The remainder of his one-way deal will pay him the NHL minimum to play in the AHL and essentially serve as an emergency back-up to those above him, unless the Jackets come up with a better solution.

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Rob Simpson

Rob Simpson has covered the NHL in five different decades. He’s authored 4 books on hockey and is a veteran TV and radio play-by-play man and reporter.