We've made our thoughts on the Sharks potentially acquiring Vancouver Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa, a trade heavily rumored to be in the works, pretty clear. Trading a positive-value asset, even if it is just a second round pick, for a declining 34-year-old defenseman best suited for third pairing duty and carrying a $4.6 million cap hit next season is a bad idea. Signing him to a contract extension is an even worse one.
There's been persistent speculation, however, that this deal could be larger than Bieksa for a pick alone. The Sharks need a goalie and the Canucks need to get rid of one. Eddie Lack seems the most likely name to move and, although Vancouver would reportedly prefer not to trade him within the division, Buffalo's acquisition of Robin Lehner this morning means Lack will almost certainly have to be dealt to the Sharks or Oilers. That is if he's the Canucks goaltender to change addresses, at any rate. Jacob Markstrom, fresh off leading the Utica Comets to the Calder Cup Final, could be shipped out instead. Should we look at a Bieksa deal in a different light if it ends up bringing either Lack or Markstrom to San Jose?
It obviously depends on the goalie as well as the overall asking price. "Enigmatic" is a word that gets thrown around frequently and rather unfairly when describing hockey players, especially European ones. That said, Jacob Markstrom is an enigma wrapped in another enigma wrapped in twenty more enigmas. He's excelled at every level of hockey he's played at —.919 SV% in the AHL since 2011, prior to which he posted .917 and .927 seasons in Sweden's top men's league as a teenager —except for the NHL. In 50 career NHL appearances, Markstrom has allowed 137 goals on 1,315 shots for a putrid .896 SV%.
Given his size at 6'6" and the talent he's exhibited throughout his SHL and AHL careers, there's no reason Markstrom shouldn't at least be a league-average starter at the NHL level. And yet, he's been a tire fire every time he's been thrust into a big league crease. This is where the (deservedly) oft-mocked intangible aspects of hockey might come into play. It's possible there are psychological factors that inhibit Markstrom from performing at a more pressure-packed level of hockey the way he has in lower professional leagues, although it should be said he was brilliant in the AHL playoffs this year. Markstrom's lateral mobility issues have also been cited as a reason he's struggled in a league that features superior skaters, most notably in The Contrarian Goaltender's definitive post on Markstrom which concludes with this:
In summary, whether you still believe in Markstrom depends on whether you think his skillset and mental game is good enough for the NHL level, whether you think he can fix some of the obvious issues that have plagued his game recently, and how much you weight his pre-NHL play (and perhaps even his early NHL play) relative to his cumulative NHL performance. I think Markstrom's AHL dominance and the underlying numbers from his first 1000 or so NHL shots suggest that he should be better than he has shown, particularly over the past two seasons. Is he a potential future star? I doubt it, it's probably not impossible but still not too likely given his age and NHL track record, although I do still expect he's good enough to be a decent backup at the very least. That said, the clock is ticking.
At 25, there's still some time for Markstrom to establish himself at the NHL level but going into the year with Markstrom and Alex Stalock as your two goaltenders could end up being a season-derailing disaster. At the very least the Sharks need to be bringing in a goalie like Cam Talbot who's shown the ability to succeed in the NHL even if in a small sample. Markstrom just isn't a fit here and his addition to the package wouldn't make a Bieksa deal any more palatable.
Eddie Lack is much more of a sure thing. With a career .917 SV% over 2,000+ NHL shots to go along with a .921 SV% in the AHL, there's every indication Lack is capable of taking that next step and becoming a bona fide big league starter. The only drawback is that he hits unrestricted free agency in a year but it's likely he'd re-sign with a team where the reins to the crease would be handed entirely to him.
If the Canucks are willing to include him with Bieksa for, say, the 39th pick and a mid-tier prospect in order to get the veteran defenseman's inflated cap hit off their hands that would make a deal between these teams a lot easier to swallow from a Sharks perspective. In an ideal world, the Sharks would just trade the 39th pick for Lack alone and be done with it but ensuring they acquire the 27-year-old netminder alongside Bieksa would make the deal slightly less of a misstep.