Washington Capitals Facing Crisis with Braden Holtby Entering Free Agency

Braden Holtby
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 07: Washington Capitals Goalie Braden Holtby (70) looks on during the first period in the NHL game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals on March 7, 2020, at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

In 2012, rookie goaltender, Braden Holtby fell just short of leading the Washington Capitals to their first Eastern Conference Final since 1998. In 2018, just six years later, Holtby and the Washington Capitals raised the Stanley Cup.

But, as of July 1, 2020–or the NHL determined new free agency deadline due to the interruption of the 2019-20 season–Braden Holtby may no longer be a Washington Capital. The current starting goaltender of the Washington Capitals has been one of the most important pieces of the club’s success in recent years. An invaluable member of the 2018 Stanley Cup Champions, Holtby also stood solid in the net as the Capitals won five consecutive division championships.

As the 93rd overall pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, Holtby spent less than four seasons with the Capitals AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears. Pulled up to the big leagues for the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he earned the spot as the Capitals starting goaltender. Since then, he has helped lead the Capitals to five consecutive winning seasons atop their division and one Stanley Cup.

Holtby is a Vezina-winning netminder. And yet, the Washington Capitals may not be able to hold on to him. Signing Holtby to an extension, while something the Capital’s might want, would not be easy.

Braden Holtby Leaving Could Be Doom

Difficulties of Extending Holtby

The Florida Panthers recently signed goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to a seven-year, $70 million contract last summer. With similar career numbers and a Stanley Cup attached to Holtby’s resume, he’s arguably worth more. The Capitals don’t have the cap space for a $10 million-a-season goalie. Having just extended Nicklas Backstrom‘s contract, and with Alex Ovechkin‘s free agency coming up in 2021.

Although Holtby himself has said he would like to stay in Washington, how much of a salary hit would he actually be willing to take to stay with the club? Ultimately, if the Washington Capitals do lose Braden Holtby, it wouldn’t be a good thing.

The upcoming Seattle expansion draft doesn’t spell good news for the Washington Capitals, either. The Capitals will only be able to protect one goalie. If they sign Holtby, they most likely guarantee him that position. In effect, they must choose between experienced, accomplished Holtby, or the newer model.

Current back-up goaltender for the Capitals and highly-touted prospect, Ilya Samsonov, has great numbers. He looks like he could be a quick and easy replacement for Holtby on paper. In 26 games played in the NHL, Samsonov has a .913 save percentage and a 2.55 goals-against average. These numbers outshine Holtby’s declining ones in the past few years.

What Holtby Brings to the Capitals

The bottom line is Holby brings experience to the Capitals goaltending position. The problem with Samsonov is that he’s only played in 26 NHL games. With Holtby gone, Samsonov has no experience behind him. No one to back up his official rookie year, except Pheonix Copley, who has only 29 games of NHL experience, playing the 2018-19 season as Holtby’s backup before spending this season back in the AHL.

Not only will limited experience as a goaltender in the NHL be a huge setback for the Capitals, but coaches, players, and fans alike have no idea how Samsonov performs in the big games. He is unproven as a number one goalie in the NHL.

Holtby comes up big in the playoffs, it’s just what he does. No matter what his season looks like, the outlook coaches or fans have on his game, he bounces back for what’s most important. His playoff leadership is unmatched by any other goaltender in the league.

Without him, the Capitals lose a cornerstone of their franchise. They lose the goalie that’s taken them to and, eventually, through the NHL playoffs year after year. While he’s often outshined by Ovechkin, he is often more important than the Great 8.

Holtby’s experience, ability to perform in high-pressure situations and awe-inspiring wet hair montages make him the right man to protect the Washington Capitals net in the coming years.

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