Canucks: What does a more congested fold mean for Michael DiPietro’s future?

DiPietro, 23, doesn’t have much commercial value, but his agent is said to have permission to help broker a deal for his client

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This we know.

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Teams need 10 defensemen capable of contributing at the National Hockey League level to get through any season that invites indifferent play, injuries and unexpected circumstances – including the concerning variants of COVID-19 that have ravaged the lists.

Teams also need five goalkeepers in their organizations who project in a somewhat similar way.

“Five goaltenders isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity,” an NHL insider told Postmedia on Sunday. “Louis Domingue has made it his job. You’re still one injury away from needing to sign that fifth guy to support your AHL team.

Domingue, 30, signed a two-year free agent contract worth US$1.550 million on Wednesday to join a five-goalkeeper carousel with the New York Rangers that includes former Canucks backup Jaroslav Halak , 37 years.

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For Domingue, it’s his seventh career NHL save which included an infamous game with Vancouver in 2019-20 when Jacob Markstrom suffered a knee injury before the trade deadline. On March 1, 2020 in Columbus, the Canucks lost a 3-1 lead with 7:29 left in the third period and lost 5-3.

Michael DiPietro has played just three career NHL games and has fallen down the Canucks pecking order.
Michael DiPietro has played just three career NHL games and has fallen down the Canucks pecking order. Photo by Rich Lam /PNG

Which brings to mind the calamitous and curious case of Michael DiPietro, who on Saturday accepted his one-year qualifying offer from the Canucks that will pay him US$840,000 at the NHL level and US$70,000 at the minors.

DiPietro is one of five stoppers under contract with the Canucks to make a competitive or supportive difference here, or with the American Hockey League’s Abbotsford affiliate. However, his latest wild roller coaster ride and plunge down the organizational pecking order could put the 23-year-old, hard-working and unlucky NHL prospect at a career crossroads.

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DiPietro was 15-13-4 with a 2.95 goals-against average and .901 save percentage in 34 AHL games last season. There was an encouraging six-game winning streak in April, followed by a brutal 7-1, 6-0 shelling to close out his regular season, and then no playoff appearance.

He was also overtaken by Spencer Martin and Arturs Silovs as priority prospects and NHL veteran Collin Delia, 28, was acquired in free agency on Wednesday and signed a one-way, $750,000 one-year contract. US$.

What does all this mean for the most crowded fold?

Thatcher Demko is in a great place. The starter tied the knot on Saturday and even sported high-end Converse runners to salute his union ahead of the NHL cage split with Martin next season.

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Silovs and DiPietro could be the duo in Abbotsford with Delia the insurance policy at both levels. Or, DiPietro might be the odd man out there and doled out, but his value has gone down and there wouldn’t be much coming back. Again, his agent would have permission to help the Canucks find a deal for his client.

The Canucks also have two stoppers in the development hopper with a pair of fifth-round draft picks – Finland’s U20 Aku Koskenvuo (2021) and Ty Young (2022) of the Prince George Cougars (WHL) – and Koskenvuo is heading to Harvard Next Fall.

History dictates that fortunes can change.

Martin started last season fifth on the depth chart and only played in Abbotsford’s seventh game. He went on to go on to a remarkable 19-4-2 regular season with a 2.43 GAA and .914 save percentage. A short but strong book with the NHL Canucks — 3-0-3, 1.74 GAA., .950 save percentage — sold the team on its future worth with a two-year contract.

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Meanwhile, DiPietro has only experienced odd circumstances.

The 2017 third-round draft pick won the Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires, but his NHL debut on Feb. 12, 2019 against the high-octane San Jose Sharks at Rogers Arena was not for management’s memory album or bank.

With Markstrom suffering from lower-body stiffness in his previous start – and Demko suffering from knee ailment – ​​the trickle-down effect of poor planning fed DiPietro to the wolves. They weren’t ready to face the league’s second-highest-scoring team and were often hopelessly out of position in a 7-2 rout. Markstrom managed to be the substitute but was not fit to play.

The mentally draining, COVID-stricken 2020-21 season has forced DiPietro to practice endlessly only at the NHL level. He could have been called a “shooting tutor” because he played just one NHL game this campaign and four season-ending AHL games with the Utica Comets.

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There was also a circus that season when DiPietro was sent to Utica to get a few games and the Canucks were in for an enigma in Ottawa.

Demko had suffered a lower body injury during a morning skate. Silovs was called up to support Braden Holtby, and depending on the severity of the injury, DiPietro could have been told to fly back to Vancouver and self-quarantine and be a tandem option.

If that wasn’t enough, AHL protocols required DiPietro to quarantine for three days before playing in Utica.

Courage tests taught DiPietro how to roll with emotional blows not knowing what was coming next.

“As the (2020-21) went on, it was extremely difficult,” DiPietro told Postmedia at the time. “You skate and you train, but you don’t feel like part of the team. I got a call or two and then you come back down and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do mentally.

“I went through all the different emotions – frustrated, happy and sad – and had to rely on my mental strength coach a lot.”

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