When Elliotte Friedman documented that Thatcher Demko was an available option for the LA Kings, it had the fanbase on their heels that Demko could be an LA King. Thatcher Demko, a goaltender from San Diego, has been in the Vancouver Canucks organization since 2014. He made his NHL debut in 2018.
Fans may recall his dominant playoff run in the 2020 bubble, where he took over the starters net when then-Canucks goalie, Jacob Markstrom, got hurt. That playoff proved to be Demko’s eruption, as he had a .985 save percentage in four games.
The former Jr. King took over as Vancouver’s starter after the run, totaling back-to-back .915 save percentages in 2020-21 and 2021-22. In both years, he was analytically inclined.
He expected to take another step up in guiding the 2022-23 NHL season, but that didn’t happen. Before Demko’s injury in early December of 2022, he had a .883 save percentage and was fourth last in the NHL via GSAx.
Rumors had it that the injuries hindered him. That was confirmed when Demko’s groin went out mid-game against the Florida Panthers on December 1st. In that game, Demko let in three goals on 18 shots.
Following the Bo Horvat blockbuster trade to the New York Islanders, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman wrote that Thatcher Demko was possibly looking to part ways with the Vancouver Canucks. It only made sense, seeing how Demko’s been the only reason the Canucks haven’t been worse than they already are. Especially with his captain traded to a different country and across the continent, it seems that Demko may want a change of scenery too.
The LA Kings have had some of the worst goaltending in the NHL this year, not too far off from the Canucks.
This goaltender debacle that’s been occurring since day one of the regular season has had fans projecting trades to obtain goalies like Juuse Saros, Karel Vejmelka, and now Demko. These star goaltenders will likely cost a limb and a bag of hot ranch Cheetos.
With the LA Kings linked to Demko, Kings fans wonder whether a Demko trade could be an option. Some fans have shown their patronage of the idea of acquiring the SoCal native, while others have been against it.
Thatcher Demko is Basically a no-brainer for the Kings to go after, he’s had a rough season this year but had strong seasons in 20-21 and 21-22. I think with a better defense in front of him in LA than in Vancouver he should be better here. The ? is what do you give up.
— LA Kings Supporter (@LAKings874) January 31, 2023
Also just so ya know Demko/Vejmelka is absolutely not the answer.
— Ryan (@ryanstahl_) February 1, 2023
Demko has been an elite-level goalie in the NHL for the last few years, along with his outstanding track record dating back to his NCAA and AHL days. It’s inherently made fans think that Demko is a superb goalie. Who wouldn’t want a .915 goalie in a high-scoring era like the NHL is in right now? Who wouldn’t want a former second-round pick who previously maintained a .935 in 39 NCAA games in 2015-16?
The truth is that while the LA Kings desperately need a goaltender to save them from this nightmare of a goaltending season, Thatcher Demko is not the solution.
Demko is in the second year of a five-year contract extension with an AAV of $5.5 million. It’s a hefty price to pay with the possible assets that may be given up. Considering LA has their underperforming goaltender on a $5 million contract, it makes no sense.
Both Demko and Cal Petersen have underperformed in the NHL this year, and both goalies have had trouble doing the task of saving pucks. As much as the idea of Demko would be delightful, dealing with another Petersen situation (but possibly worse) would not be fun.
The difference between Petersen and Demko is that Petersen struggles with confidence. With Demko, it’s injuries. Throughout his career, Demko has experienced different injuries, including two concussions in 13 months. Demko hasn’t played since December 1st when he suffered a lower-body injury. His timeline was originally six weeks, but that timeline has passed, and Demko remains on LTIR.
The fact that nobody has heard anything about Demko’s return is troublesome. The Canucks haven’t made any remarks and have remained secretive about his status. Could this mean he may be out for the rest of the season? It’s a genuine chance, seeing how he suffered the same lower-body injury in April of 2022.
The Kings would be making this trade, hoping to solve the goaltending issue instantly. They’d also look to find their a goalie for the future. With Demko, both of those circumstances remain a mystery. We do not know whether Demko will play in the 2022-23 season nor if these injuries will continue to linger. Trading for a goalie is risky, but when you’re trading an injured one, it becomes even more of a gamble.
Although his track record may be impressive, his success window is short. Demko has only been above a .910 save percentage in his career for only two out of his four full NHL seasons. Even then, he has flashes of inconsistency dating back to his AHL career. Going from .907 to .922 and back down to .911.
Demko is a hero in Vancouver. He’s the reason why the team stays even relatively afloat, but the trade doesn’t make sense for the LA Kings. Think about it: you’re already dumping 10.8 million dollars into goaltending. The last thing you need is another underperforming goalie with a checkered injury history making 5.5 million dollars a year. People are quick to blame Vancouver’s defensive core for his poor numbers, which is fair, but that hasn’t been the entire story. Demko’s been letting in goals that are easy to save, like these, all year:
Additionally, the assets are another discussion point. With Horvat retrieving a first-round pick, Aatu Raty, and Anthony Beauvillier, it’s likely that the Canucks’ asking price for Demko will be just as lofty, if not even more. Giving up a first-round pick in back-to-back years isn’t something the LA Kings should consider for Demko. Especially knowing that the 2023 draft class may be one of the best we’ve ever seen. As for the prospects, we likely see one of Jordan Spence, Alex Turcotte, or Helge Grans get moved. Top that with a player of a Matt Roy/Alex Iafallo-type role, and that trade gets done. That’s a hefty price for one heck of a stake.
The LA Kings can’t risk giving up that much on a project goalie. They have their project goalie in Cal Petersen. Although Demko’s outplayed Cal Petersen by a country mile in the last few years, that’s not the case this year. Petersen has a higher GSAx than Demko, and neither goalie has played in the NHL since December 2022. Although it feels unusual to compare the two, it’s realistically much closer to a situation than it feels.
The big question becomes how the Kings make the money work. At the moment, LA has $67,059 in cap space. Unless the Kings move back a cap dump (Sean Walker or Petersen) in return, the trade won’t work. Even then, it’ll cause the return to be even higher, seeing how the Canucks will be taking on even more money thanks to these cap dumps.
Because of cap issues, injury risks, the cost, and previous commitments, Thatcher Demko becomes an unrealistic and unnecessary move for the LA Kings to make. Although the idea of bringing in a SoCal native to save the Kings in the net would be fun, it simply doesn’t work. Demko isn’t the answer in net. Knowing those previous factors, it makes no sense.
The hard truth is that there is no goalie on the open market right now that can be an option for the future and the present for the LA Kings. There are options for only the future (Erik Portillo type of players), and there are rental options (James Reimer, Cam Talbot). It’s more than likely that the LA Kings will settle on a rental goalie. There’s no point in making an unnecessary trade for a goaltender with no certain future. Just so it happens to be, Thatcher Demko is an unnecessary and risky investment that the Los Angeles Kings should not be taking heading into the trade deadline.
Cover Image courtesy of Bob Frid-USA Today Sports.