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Markstrom maintains elite play with trade deadline looming

Jacob Markstrom Calgary Flames Jacob Markstrom - Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images

In the midst of trade speculation and with the deadline looming, Calgary Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom continues to play at a Vezina-calibre level and show his value – on and off the ice – to the organization. 

The 34-year-old goalie has shut out the noise and displayed his trademark competitiveness and win-at-all-costs mentality. He is 10th in wins and leads the league in five-on-five high-danger save percentage and goals saved above expected. He made several highlight-reel stops in the team’s 3-2 overtime victory over the Boston Bruins Thursday night before Nazem Kadri scored the winner. 

“You see him battle like that, it makes you want to push even harder for him,” Kadri said after Thursday’s win. “He’s the backbone. He gives us an opportunity to win. That’s what all great teams have. They have a guy in the crease that can make some timely saves and win a championship.”

“He’s the backbone of this team,” echoed defenceman Oliver Kylington, who had a goal. “He’s our best player. He bails us out…we love him and he’s a big part of our team.”

Markstrom, displaying the accountability his teammates rave about, was quicker to talk after the game about an ill-fated skate up the ice that led to a giveaway and Boston goal than the victory or the fact that he’s now second all-time in wins by Swedish goalies in NHL history with 211, passing Tommy Salo.

“Obviously we score [to make it] 1-0 and I gave them the 1-1 goal and we answer right after,” Markstrom said.

Players often mention that Markstrom is the first person to point the finger at himself. 

Following his struggles last season where he had a sub .900 save percentage and a tendency to allow bad goals, Markstrom vowed to bounce back in his fourth season as a Flame. Head coach Ryan Huska knew from their first phone call over the summer that he would rediscover his game.

“You knew he was going to come back a different person,” Huska said. “He was edgy. Right away, he got to the point. And he was edgy…when I got off the phone, I went, ‘Okay. We’re going to get a different guy.’”

This season, despite the external noise, teammates have noticed a calmer, more measured Markstrom who still has the competitive fire but has learned to manage it much more effectively.

“I think he’s got a clearer mind,” Flames goalie coach Jason LaBarbera said. 

“I think he’s just come in a lot calmer this year,” forward Blake Coleman added. “His composure has gone through the room. When he’s playing that composed game, he looks so confident back there. You don’t really see him get rattled like he did last year. It’s a big part of why he’s playing so well. He’s so dialed in every night.”

Teammates joke about Markstrom’s competitive streak, but fully admit that it’s rubbed off on the group as a whole. 

“He might have had a record for breaking sticks on crossbars last year, because he wants to win and wants to compete,” Coleman said. 

He also encourages teammates on the bench during games. 

“When we block a shot or go down, he’ll come back and say, ‘That was going in; good blocked shot,’” defenceman MacKenzie Weegar said. “But it probably wasn’t going in. He’s always there to make you feel better and pick you up.” 

The Flames have reigning American Hockey League MVP Dustin Wolf waiting in the minors should Markstrom get dealt, but replacing his off-ice intangibles will prove far more difficult for a club that’s going through a roster reset and trying to get younger. 

Markstrom’s leadership would be an asset to any team trying to build a winning culture. His presence, teammates feel, is priceless – regardless of the direction of the franchise.

“We love Marky,” Kylington said. “He’s one of the best pros I’ve ever played with and one of the nicest persons I know.”