With the Rookie Showcase closed, one thing is abundantly clear: the veterans still reign supreme. One of the biggest headliners is Braden Holtby, who will soon reach the end of a five-year contract. Can the Washington Capitals keep their superstar, or will another team steal him away?
Just Sign Braden Holtby Already
In some regards, the netminder is the team’s most valuable player. We don’t need to remind you why he rightfully retains the nickname “Holtbeast,” right? Or do we?
Since 2012-13, Holtby leads active NHL goalies in wins (243). Since 2014-15, he registers at least 32 wins per season. Holtby tallies three seasons with 40-plus wins, which is tied with Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators for second-most in NHL history. This includes the 2015-16 season, wherein Holtby equaled the single-season NHL record with 48 victories and won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender for his work.
Holtby is a three-time NHL All-Star (2016, 2017, 2019), nominee to the 2016 NHL First All-Star Team and nominee to the 2017 NHL Second All-Star Team. Most importantly, the starting goaltender for the 2018 Stanley Cup-winning run recorded two shutouts, a 2.16 goals-against average (GAA) and .922 save percentage (SV%) to help hoist the most prized possession in hockey.
The NHL Network recently rated Holtby the seventh-best goaltender among active players, with fans giving him the 10th spot within the league. With such an asset unsecured, what do the Capitals need to do to extend his stay? Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who was gifted the top spot on the list of goalies, signed an eight-year, $76-million extension. Sergei Bobrovsky of the Florida Panthers, who took home the second slot in the same category, agreed to a seven-year, $70-million contract.
Those numbers might afford an analogous contract for the Capitals goaltender.
Holtby Crushes the Competition
Vasilevskiy, with his $76-million extension, earned the title of star from the beginning, generating figures within the Kontinental Hockey League and American Hockey League to cement a coveted spot on the Bolts roster. He was the first goalie selected in the 2012 NHL Draft, and then the first goalie to collect his first postseason victory in relief in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The one-time Vezina Trophy winner (2019) holds the season record for most wins (44), most shutouts (8), most shots against (2,075) and most saves (1,908) for his club. He is a two-time participant in the NHL All-Star Game (2018, 2019).
The only thing missing is a Stanley Cup. That is where Holtby holds the clearest advantage. With good reason, he is already the eighth highest-paid goaltender in the league. If the Capitals base their decision on this comparison, they better hand over a lot more cold, hard cash.
More Money, More Problems
If the Vasilevskiy contract is a good comparison, the Bobrovsky contract is a good measuring stick. Bobrovsky, who backstopped the Columbus Blue Jackets for seven seasons, will now equal that time with the Florida Panthers. The Russian goalie signed a seven-year, $70-million contract over the summer.
The two-time Vezina Trophy winner (2013, 2017) consistently outputs numbers that qualify him as one of the league’s best goaltenders, owning several records within the Blue Jackets organization. Bobrovsky holds the season record for lowest goals-against-average (2.00), highest save percentage (.932) and most shots saved (52). He was the first goalie to produce back-to-back seasons with 30-plus wins – and then set the record for victories (41) in 2016-17. He is a two-time selection for the NHL First All-Star Team (2013, 2017).
What does that mean for Braden Holtby? Unfortunately for Washington’s wallet, those numbers indicate that he is slightly more valuable. More than likely, that means the Capitals must present a contract with $10 million AAV or more to their starting goaltender. General manager for the Capitals, Brian MacLellan, agrees: “[Bobrovsky’s contract is] a comparable. It’s a peer, and they look like pretty similar players. They’ve had similar success and Holtby has had a Stanley Cup on his resume.”
Superstars in Training
There are two backup goaltenders who could replace Holtby if worst comes to worst.
One rising superstar waiting in the wings is Pheonix Copley. He has one season worth of big-league statistics to analyze: he played 27 games between the Washington pipes to tally a 2.90 GAA, .905 SV% and one shutout in 2018-19. Copley celebrated his first NHL win on Oct. 27, 2018 with a 4-3 victory over the Calgary Flames, and collected his first career NHL point on Dec. 6, 2018 in a 4-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes.
While that is not a lot of data to deduce his enduring role, the Capitals did have enough faith in Copley to reward him with a three-year contract in February of last season. He is a bona fide backup, but the question remains – can Copley ever seize the starting position?
Another star sitting on the sidelines waiting for his shot is Ilya Samsonov. While Samsonov cannot be called a superstar, nor even an NHL goalie, the netminder from Magnitogorsk, Russia still has the most potential. The goalie spent last season with the Hershey Bears (AHL) where he posted a 2.70 GAA and .898 SV% in 37 games played.
Those numbers are not shiny enough to wear the crease crown, but the first-round draft pick has an accomplished foundation with the KHL which he utilized to gain ground as the season advanced. This year proves a pivotal point in the Capitals crease and, if he plays his cards right, Samsonov could shoulder starting responsibilities for the future. The coaching staff might train their sights on developing his talents if the Holtby contract falls by the wayside. They have several years for maturation, since his entry-level deal extends until 2022.
However, Washington has more pressing matters at the forefront: Nicklas Backstrom.
The Backstrom Problem
Sometimes, it seems the odds are stacked against Washington. Holtby enters the upcoming season with a long list of credits to his name, and a hefty premium on his head. Super Swede, Nicklas Backstrom, also arrives at the end of his contract. The Washington Capitals center anchors the top line with Alexander Ovechkin, and backbones the entire team with repeating reliable performances. Unfortunately, there is only so much cap space for the Capitals. Everything comes with a price, but the future for Holtby is still here in Washington.
They are not ready to give him up.