MacLellan’s Trust in Holtby Fueled Strong Season, By Michael Fleetwood

(Photo: NHL)

When Braden Holtby, a fourth-round pick by the Capitals in 2008 (93rd overall), finished a disappointing 2013-14 season with a career-worst 2.85 goals-against average (GAA), .915 save percentage, and a 23-15-4 record, many wondered if his breakout performance in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs was a one-hit wonder-like thing. But the problem was not with Holtby himself but his then-coach Adam Oates. Oates, the former bench boss who was fired after two seasons in Washington, had become certain that Holtby playing deeper in his goal crease would give Holtby better chances of making saves. However, Oates’ lack of knowledge about the position was apparent throughout the entire campaign as his young netminder struggled to keep his head up every night. The Caps missed the postseason for the first time in seven seasons and not surprisingly, it cost Oates and longtime General Manager George McPhee their jobs.

As Holtby would later tell members of the media, his confidence waned and eventually vanished over the course of the season. With a new GM and Head Coach in Brian MacLellan and Barry Trotz respectively, Holtby’s future as the team’s number one goalie was uncertain. At their introductory press conference, MacLellan stated that he wanted Holtby as his starter heading into the new season. MacLellan put any doubts Braden may have had about that statement aside, when he struck a two-year, $1.9 million deal with free agent goalie Justin Peters. Peters was signed in the hope that he could give Holtby a reliable backup. Peters’ debut year in D.C. was nothing but a disaster.

The 28-year old struggled heavily in the games he played; posting a record of 3-6-1. This went along with a 3.25 GAA and .881 save percentage. Peters’ difficulties resulted in Holtby playing 73 of the Caps’ 82 games; a staggering number in itself. Trotz himself believed Holtby performed better when he started consecutive games. Holtby did not show any signs of fatigue; even in the playoffs. He posted a 41-21-10 record, 2.22 GAA, .923 save percentage, and nine shutouts; all career-highs. He finished tied for second in wins and shutouts, fourth amongst goalies who played 50+ games in GAA, and tied for sixth in save percentage in the regular season. His postseason performance was one of the best in recent memory; finishing first with a 1.71 GAA and .944 save percentage. Holtby’s statement on his future solidifies that MacLellan’s faith in him sparked such a brilliant season: “Job security is something that doesn’t come around very often in this profession, so if you can find some it’s great. If you don’t have any ties it’s a lot different. But with family you’d like to stay and get to know the community and get involved. So the longer term the better.” Holtby is the kind of person, it seems, that likes security; something he may not have had as a starting netminder before GMBM signed Peters. But with a four or five-year contract worth about $5M per year heading his way this summer, Holtby should feel very secure come training camp; especially with fellow fourth-round pick Philipp Grubauer likely becoming his backup next season.

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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1 Response to MacLellan’s Trust in Holtby Fueled Strong Season, By Michael Fleetwood

  1. jonmsorensen says:

    Can’t help but wonder how much of an impact the fact that this was a contract year for Holtby, affected his play.

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