The Calgary Flames left the Saddledome ice on Saturday two points higher in the standings. The win helped the team keep pace with Seattle, St. Louis, Arizona, and Nashville in a bitter five-point dogpile for the last Wildcard spot in the Western Conference.
Edmonton and LA will likely have solidified leads once they catch up in games played, but for those five teams listed, it’s playoffs or bust.
Blake Coleman’s first period marker had moved the Texas Tiger into a six-way tie for 21st in goals across the league with 19. Nazem Kadri managed to keep pace in one of his favourite stat lines: penalties drawn.
The recipient of a first period Ivan Barbashev slash sits in second place in the NHL in that category with 26. Brady Tkachuk currently holds the lead with 28.
Also of statistical note on the night was Jacob Markstrom, who was awarded First Star of the game after saving 31-of-32 for a .969 save percentage. The victory served as the 6-foot-6 Swede’s fourth win in five January games. Allowing only one goal (a third period Chandler Stephenson snap shot) moved Markstrom down to a tidy 2.02 goals against average in the new year to go with a .941 save percentage.
It’s fair to say that Jacob is back to form.
The towering Swedish netminder leads the league in goals saved above expected at 18.3, and the fact that he’s climbed his save percentage to .912 after going .896 in his first 16 starts says enough about his play of late. GSAx stats courtesy of TopDownHockey.
That hasn’t gone unnoticed by other teams.
The recurring 2023-2024 theme of success means controversy appears to have zoned in on Calgary’s top goaltender. Elliotte Friedman brought a cryptic update on Markstrom’s trade market status that same evening during a Saturday Headlines segment for Sportsnet.
“No. 1, I don’t believe they’ve gone to him with anything, as in any possibility of what could happen,” Friedman said. “No.2, he has a No-Move Clause. As Kelly Hrudey always argues, no one with a no-move clause should even be asked if they can be traded. From what I understand, Calgary has a very high bar here in terms of they’re not going to bother Markstrom with just anything. It would have to be something massive for them or somewhere they absolutely believe Markstrom would want to go before they would even consider going to him. I think that’s where things stand with Markstrom, the Flames, and anything right now.”
You can safely take that update as: There is no update.
So, why would Friedman bring it up on national television? Let’s look at something Craig Conroy said during a Jan. 10, 2024, interview with Eric Duhatschek of the Athletic.
“Teams call. You talk. What are you doing? What are you thinking? My goal is, I’m open. I just want to make the team better. Obviously, with everything that’s in the media, they might call on something that they’ve read or heard, to see if it’s true or not, and then we’ll have private conversations.”
It’s possible that Elliotte’s info came right from the top of the Flames organization.
You can interpret from Friedman’s excerpt that the management group hasn’t seen an offer meeting their expectations yet, but if there were a huge offer, the Flames would be willing to ask Jacob if he’ll waive his NMC. The acquiring team would also likely have to sell Markstrom on a move to a new city, team, and living situation.
The situation becomes a tall order given that Markstrom became a father on Feb. 27, 2023. Young families are usually less inclined to uproot their lives and voluntarily add the stress of moving to the mix. That alone is an undisputable reason to stay in Calgary.
On the other side of that coin, NHL teams rarely mind when it comes to relocating new moms and dads. The Flames traded Lee Stepniak to Pittsburgh for a third-round pick in 2014, days after his wife gave birth to twin girls.
“They were born six weeks early and five days before the trade deadline,” said the former Calgary Flames winger of life after the move. “(Former Penguins GM Ray Shero) was great, he let me go home like four times in the three months that I was there to visit. But it certainly wasn’t easy.”
For the sake of brevity, there isn’t a need to bring up every trade involving situations like that. Luke Schenn went through it last season when he was traded to Toronto for a 2023 third round draft pick. His wife gave birth two weeks after the deadline.
Want one more reason that Markstrom’s decision shouldn’t be questioned if he wants to remain a Calgary Flame?
He hasn’t publicly asked for a trade. In fact, he’s standing on his head to win games in Calgary, and the market can’t help themselves when it comes to trade talk.
Accompanying Elliotte’s report now comes the inevitable catch-22 backlash from the contingent of fans who are mad that Jacob Markstrom wants to stay in Calgary.
If Markstrom plays poorly? He generates discussion about how the Flames need to go with a different starter moving forward. If Jacob plays well? He gets situations like this one where the fans and media start examining how much they can get for shipping him out of town.
Where is Major Major Major Major when you need him?
The hard truth of the matter is that the NHL is a business, and organizations will do what they can to optimize asset value. Organizations work in a time-sensitive environment and do their best to accommodate players after they’re brought in.
Unfortunately for the business running out of the Scotiabank Saddledome, the very nature of the business is why Markstrom had a no movement clause added to his contract during the summer of 2020.
What was once merely a cash-free bargaining chip to get Markstrom to sign now serves as a massive obstacle regarding a potential trade. Surrendering that leverage means that the business side can wait until the veteran netminder decides that his time in Calgary is done.
Let’s look at the other end of it. What are some reasons that Markstrom might agree to a move?
You must imagine the idea of lifting a Stanley Cup is as important to Jacob as it is to any other player in the league. You don’t get to where Jacob Markstrom has gotten without being ultra-competitive. Life is simply more enjoyable when you’re winning more than losing, or in the Flames case, hovering around .500.
Said “hovering” isn’t exactly fun to address night after night. One wrong turn of phrase after a game, and your words are immortalized on headlines and forum pages for the duration of the internet as we know it. We are all aware of Matthew Tkachuk’s less-than-graceful departure from Calgary, but a more recent example can be used.
Defensive brute Radko Gudas explained during an interview with Czech news outlet DenikSport that he turned down multiple offers from teams in Canada: the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, and the Calgary Flames.
The 33-year-old cited media pressure as a reason he didn’t want to sign in Canada. Gudas explained that when playing the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round of this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, he could feel the pressure the Leafs were facing despite going up against them as a member of the Florida Panthers.
In a moment of brutal irony, Canadian news outlets descended on Gudas’ rejection for a small period of the 2023 offseason.
Those in Alberta are well aware of the weather after a recent sustained cold snap brought the city to its knees. Temperatures hit -40 degrees Celsius on the morning of Calgary’s 3-1 victory over the Golden Knights. The city will soon be hit with ~20cm (roughly seven inches for American readers) of snow between Tuesday night and Thursday afternoon.
Jacob Markstrom can avoid the majority of the smoke-heavy summers but bitter winters and driving out to Winsport for the odd practice factor into quality of life playing for the Flames.
Former Flame Tyler Toffoli mused about Darryl Sutter using what Toffoli considered a long drive (15 minutes from downtown) as a motivation tool during an interview on the Spittin Chiclets Podcast over the summer.
“But we’d have a bad game or like a bad first period. During the game, he’d be like walking back and forth, mumbling ‘I guess we have to go to Winsport tomorrow. You guys want to go practice at Winsport.’ It’s literally first period. It’s like 0-0. We have like 15 shots, and they have 3, and he’s chirping guys on the bench, ‘I guess we have to go to Winsport tomorrow…’”
Which leads us to another factor.
For a change
Jacob Markstrom wouldn’t be the first Calgary Flame of this era to embrace turning over a new leaf with a new organization.
It’s an understatement to say that the 2022-2023 season was dramatic. While positivity is on the rise with a new coaching crew and some strong on-ice results from Dec. 18 (Markstrom’s first game nack from a fractured finger), it wouldn’t be unreasonable to hear that those emotions in the dressing room re-surface after a tough night, or say, a 2-6-1 record in October. Particularly when the media keeps bringing it up and making the former Florida Panther answer questions about it.
Less pressure in the crease
It’s safe to say that there is a healthy degree of competition for a place between the pipes in Calgary. Markstrom has run away with the lead since returning from injury. A 7-3-0 streak has featured Markstrom saving 294 of 314 shots on net for a .936 save percentage.
But with Daniel Vladar needing starts to stay sharp and Dustin Wolf continuing to dominate at the AHL level, it’s only a matter of time before one of the two gets hot and Jacob Markstrom naturally cools down.
A crowded crease is never fun. All parties involved want to be the number one guy for their team. Going to a city where he’s undisputed top dog for at least the remainder of his contract might be a simple quality of life boost that Jacob might see as enticing.
Fans can be a lot (on social media)
Enough time passes that trades or non-trades fade away from the harsh public rhetoric of a Canadian hockey market, but the class shown by those involved can remain a building block for a culture of positivity that far outlasts the news cycle.
In terms of the fanbase, the media, and the organization, the onus is on respecting Jacob’s right to decide on his future.