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Losing Markstrom free agent pitch still stinging Flames rival

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Calgary Flames starting goaltender Jacob Markstrom

Jacob Markstrom’s name has come up in a lot of chatter in Edmonton recently. Not just because the Calgary Flames goalie is set to battle the Oilers in the latest instalment of the Battle of Alberta, either.

Markstrom remains the big fish that got away. Baited during free agency nearly two years ago, the big Swede spit out Oilers GM Ken Holland’s hook. Instead, he swallowed the Flames’ offer of $6 million a year for six seasons.

They have never felt the sting of that loss as badly as they do at this moment.

Settling for the return of former Calgary Flames netminder Mike Smith and ex KHLer Mikko Koskinen, the tandem has been a terrible anchor this season. Smith performed admirably last year but the 39-year-old has struggled to stay healthy this season.

Smith has made only six starts, posting a 2-2-1 record with a 3.76 goals-against average and a .898 save percentage.

Koskinen is far better as a backup. With him forced to carry the load, the Oilers have the worst save percentage in the NHL since early December, at .870. Koskinen’s save percentage during that span is .866, with a goals-against average of 3.99.

Not even a guy named McDavid can cover those warts.

Markstrom, meanwhile, is enjoying his time further south in the province. The Calgary Flames have gone through some similar hardships and Markstrom himself has battled through adversity since the Christmas break and a bout with COVID-19’s Omicron strain.

But the 6-foot-6 goaltender is a competitor having a stellar season overall. Markstrom has a 13-8-5 record with five shutouts – leading the league in blankings, in spite of the fact he hasn’t had one since Nov. 18.

He owns a .926 save percentage and a 2.18 goals-against average that will have him in the Vezina talk if the trend continues.

If you’re paying attention to the NHL trade rumours at the moment, Holland is still looking for a goaltender who can make a difference.

“We had our eyes on Markstrom, probably like a lot of other teams did. You’d have to ask him why he made his decision. Ultimately he had a lot of options and made the decision to go sign in Calgary,” Holland said back in the summer of 2020.

Markstrom’s answer at the time was that the Calgary Flames had confidence in him. It didn’t hurt that their contract offered a bit more money than the alleged seven-year, $5-million AAV proposal from the Oilers. The Flames also included a no-movement clause.

“They really wanted me. And I really wanted to go somewhere where they believe in me,” Markstrom said back in 2020. “I went through all the teams. We felt Calgary would be a great fit for me. It felt right and it felt like it would be a great home for me and my family.

“They gave me a great contract. I can’t wait to go out there and play for the Flames and to prove to them and everybody else that I’m a good goalie. And I’m only going to get better.”

The 31-year-old gets another shot to show the team he rejected what they’re missing when they meet on Hockey Night in Canada.

Just don’t expect Markstrom to get too emotional. He prides himself on keeping that even keel. Even in rivalry games that can get notoriously physical outside the blue paint.

“It’s not the same (for a goalie),” Markstrom said via Zoom on Friday afternoon before heading up to Edmonton. “You feel the tension. For me, I just have to try to stay calm and stay focused.

“As a goalie you’re somewhat protected, but it gets tough out there. For me, I just try to focus on stopping the pucks. It doesn’t matter who’s on the other side.”

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