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Friday morning, the Vegas Golden Knights announced that they have signed franchise goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to a three-year contract extension worth $21 million ($7 million AAV). The contract gave Fleury the third-highest cap hit by a goaltender (along with Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask). Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price ($10.5 million) and New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist ($8.5 million) are the only NHL goalies to have a larger cap hit than Rask and Fleury.
Fleury’s new contract could have an impact on Washington Capitals‘ goaltender Braden Holtby‘s contract when it expires two seasons from now. Holtby can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2020, and he could sign a contract extension with the Capitals as early as July 1, 2019.
Fleury and Holtby have had similar stats throughout their careers. Fleury has a career save percentage of .913 and a career-goals against average of 2.56. Holtby has slightly better stats with a save percentage of .919 and a goals-against average of 2.41. Holtby has also won 67.1% of the games he started over his NHL career, while Fleury has only won 55% of the games he started.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Holtby has the second-best save percentage in NHL history at .929 and has a goals-against average of 2.04 during his playoff career in 53 fewer playoff starts than Fleury. Fleury has a save percentage of .911 and a goals-against average of 2.58 in his playoff career.
While people could argue that Fleury has won three cups and Holtby has won just one, Fleury has been in the league seven years longer than Holtby and was a backup goalie during two of those Stanley Cup Championships behind Matt Murray when the Pittsburgh Penguins won back-to-back Cups. Holtby has started 81 of the Capitals’ past 83 playoff games, including 59 straight from 2012-17.
Holtby could face a similar situation as Fleury did if goaltender Ilya Samsonov, one of the best goalie prospects in hockey, looks ready to take the No. 1 role. Samsonov is expected to begin the season with Hershey but could work his way up into a backup role in Washington, similar to Murray’s case in 2016. Samsonov, who signed his entry-level contract this past May, has had no save percentage lower than .925 in his three-season career in the KHL and had a save percentage of .926 this past season. If Holtby were to leave, the Capitals would be in good hands with Samsonov, similar to Pittsburgh when Fleury got selected in the expansion draft.
While Fleury may be more valuable to the Golden Knights because they were an expansion team this season, Holtby will demand a similar paycheck, or perhaps even more, when it’s time to think about a contract renewal. After seeing what Fleury cashed in on his payday, Holtby will likely demand at least $8 million for his next contract.
Another reason Holtby could demand more money than Fleury is that he’s won more Vezina Trophies, given to the top goaltender in the league, and Fleury has never been nominated for the award. Holtby was nominated for the Vezina Trophy the year after he won it.
While it isn’t Fleury’s fault, he lost the starting job to a rookie in 2016 and again in 2017 on the Stanley Cup Champions. Meanwhile, Holtby has been a bonafide No. 1 for most of the past five seasons. He may have yielded the crease to backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer after he had a career-low .907 save percentage this past season and Grubauer had a .925 save percentage. Grubauer started the playoffs but Holtby bounced back with a .922 save percentage in the postseason and never looked back en route to a Stanley Cup Championship. Grubauer also got traded to the Colorado Avalanche after Holtby regained the No. 1 job for good again.
Holtby will be even more valuable to the Capitals this season because he will most likely have a rookie backup, probably Pheonix Copley, under his wing. Copley posted a .891 save percentage and a goals-against average of 2.91 in Hershey last year; not exactly sparkling numbers.
Holtby will also likely get a longer-term than the three years that Fleury received from the Golden Knights since he is five years younger than Fleury.
Unlike the Golden Knights, the Capitals will have a limited amount of money that they can give Holtby. Even after signing Fleury, Vegas has more than $26.125 million remaining in cap space after his extension kicks in while the Capitals will have more than $31.561 million but with only eight players signed that season. Center Nicklas Backstrom can also become an unrestricted free agent in 2020 and could see a big contract as well (his current cap hit is $6.7 million).
By Harrison Brown