Why The Backup Goalie Could Be The Most Important Position for the Capitals Next Season

It was noticeable during the 2016-2017 playoffs. Braden Holtby just didn’t look like his usual self. He was letting in goals he usually stops or just wasn’t making the grade A saves like he usually did. Ultimately the Washington Capitals exit in 2nd round of the playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Holtby finished that playoff run with a .909sv% and a -4.04GSAA (goals saved above average), his worst stats in the playoffs. If the Capitals had got average goaltending from Holtby, then they probably move on. He wasn’t all there, and it’s easy to see why: he was tired. 

From 2014-2017, no goalie played more than Holtby’s 202 games and few had better stats. It eventually all caught up to him and he ran out of energy in those 2017 playoffs.

It didn’t get any any better to start the 2017-2018 season. Holtby never really got consistent and ended up posting his worst season save percentage by a large margin with a .907sv% and a -8.36GSAA. Luckily, for the Capitals, Philipp Grubauer was still in the system and was able to step up and keep the Capitals afloat as Holtby got his much- needed rest. The Beast was then able to come into the playoffs, well rested and we all know what happened after that. Without a rest for Holtby there’s no way the Capitals raise the Cup.

Braden ended up playing 54 games in the 2017-2018 season. That’s 13 games less than his season average from the three seasons before, combined. That might not sound like too much, but that’s a lot of rest, and that was obviously much-needed.

In fact, here is the list of the last eight Cup winning and losing goalies by the amount of games they played during just the regular season (note: 2013 lock out season was averaged out to be 82 games played).

Year Winner Loser
2018 54 46
2017 49 61
2016 13 65
2015 57 62
2014 49 63
2013 51 62
2012 69 59
2011 57 60

The only year where a Cup-winning goalie played more than his opponent was this last season (but that was because Fleury was injured for two months) and when Jonathan Quick went berserk in the 2012 post season. It seems like the sweet spot for the starting goalie is around 55 games, give or take. Once game 60 happens, it gets shaky. That means a team needs a viable backup to play 25-30 games a season. And that leads us to why the backup position is maybe the most vital position for the Capitals this upcoming season.

For now, it looks like Pheonix Copley is slated to be Holtby’s back up starting in October. That’s an exciting and scary decision. Though Copley has looked very promising in his AHL career, he has a grand total of two NHL games of experience. Is he ready to play 25-30 games? That’s the million dollar question. If he can translate his AHL success to the NHL, then the Capitals hit a home run with a goalie making $650k. But if he isn’t ready then the Capitals will have a big hole that they need to fill.

There aren’t really any other goalies in the system that can step up into the NHL this season. Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek certainly look like they will be effective NHL goalies at some point, but more than likely, not this season. This makes you wonder if the Capitals will bring a goalie in on a professional tryout (PTO) to maybe give Copley some competition. Steve Mason (30), Kari Lehtonen (34), and Ondrej Pavelec (30) are the best remaining goaltenders on the market. Any one of them would be good to great backups to have.

Mason had the 5th best GSAA and 4th best save percentage over the last four seasons among ALL goaltenders playing at least 5000 minutes. His only issue is he can have some health issues; he only played 13 games last season. Pavelec wasn’t too shabby either, as he was 18th in GSAA and 30th in 5v5 sv% among goalies playing at least 4500 minutes. Lehtonen was 30th in GSAA and 36th in 5v5sv% among goaltenders played at least 5000 minutes. Lehtonen is the oldest and probably the worst of the of three, but if Capitals brought him in it would be for the “can’t beat them, join them” saying, as Lehtonen has owned the Capitals since he entered the league. Mason is by far the best of the bunch but Pavelec and Lehtonen could probably step in for those 25 games and win a good chunk of them.

The Capitals have one of the best goalies in the league, but as was proven last season and from previous Cup winners, being able to rest your starter is huge for a team’s long-term success. The Capitals need to find a competent back up so Holtby can get the rest needed to push through the playoffs. Whether that’s with homegrown talent like Copley or even Samsonov and Vanecek, or veteran players that could bring stability like Mason. It will be hard to repeat another Cup winning season if Holtby has to push 60+ games again. Rest, like a competent backup, is the key to the Capitals success.

By Luke Adomanis

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11 Responses to Why The Backup Goalie Could Be The Most Important Position for the Capitals Next Season

  1. J says:

    No offense but totally overblown, the workload on Holtby. You facts.. heres facts Legendary Netminders during 5 cup winning years, 3x 60 games played in regular season and 2x 70. The names Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy. So dont try and tell or sell me Holtby a hof potential goalie cant handle 60-65 games his normal workload if they are going to repeat in his prime still 28-29. By the way! Hes not 35 and needs to play only 50 games.

    Gotta stop acting like Holtby is some bum who cant handle his load

    • lukeadomanis says:

      Broduer and Roy are from a different era. Game is much faster and harder now. Sure Holtby can play a lot of games but as shown it’s better to have your starter hover around 55 games.

  2. J says:

    Yes its a different era its more defensive, physical, bigger, faster athletes etc… but HOF Caliber players dont change from 1 era to the next. Tom Brady is 40, and he plans on playing til 45, Jagr played til 43 or whatever, Mj just last 2 gens ago played into his 40s. And goalie is not as hard as defense or forward where your skating for 60minutes, hitting fools, taking a legit pounding. A hof caliber goalie like Holtby and any goalie for that matter thing they really gotta worry about is mental part of the game and hydration, retaining the 10-15lbs lost during each game.

    So no Im not buying what your selling, Holtby can play 60-65 games like he has been no problem.

    • lukeadomanis says:

      “And goalie is not as hard as defense or forward”
      We’ll have to disagree there. Hockey goalie is the hardest position to play of any sport. No other athlete can do what they do.

      And again, of course Holtby can play 60-65 games but should he? No, he shouldn’t.

      • J says:

        Luke, the guy everybody knocks for being a corsi, slave analytics slave etc Im going to cut you break but your still wrong. And goalie hardest position in sports?? Uh no. Thats hockey fanboy talking. Is goalie hard sure but no more harder then a franchise QB who has to process 15 different things on a given play avoid being smashed by 300lb men going 4.3 speed the likes of a Rodgers,Brees,Brady etc.

        Yes Holtby should play 60-65 games and will, and I’ll go as far as saying if Holtby doesnt have a “Holtby year” caps wont be a formidable team. They may be a WC team at best.. because you have unknowns behind him and your not going to pay 3-4mil for another netminder to be the backup. Worst case is if Copley looks god awful in his starts through half the season to pick a netminder up at deadline on expiring contract etc

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      “No problem”? I would say there was a problem last season, no?

    • David says:

      I’m going to agree with Jon here, last year was a problem.

      And Jagr can’t play in the league anymore and skaters don’t player for 60 minutes (like goalies).

      This may be a different topic for discussion, but I disagree with your original premise. I think that HOF selection is highly dependent on era.

    • lukeadomanis says:

      QB might be harder, maybe, if they are it’s close. Besides that, it’s the hardest position in any sport. My main point is saying it’s way harder than playing defense or offense in hockey.

      Holtby could play 60-65 games, but shouldn’t. I don’t know how else to explain it. As showed in the article, the goalie that played over 60 games in a season don’t win a Cup majority of the time. And of course if Holtby doesn’t have a Holtby year then the Caps are in trouble, that’s literally true for every other team in the NHL. If your starting goalie has a down year your team will struggle unless you have a grade A backup. And you don’t have to pay a backup $3-$4M. The ones I listed in the article probably won’t cost more than $1.5M.

      • J says:

        Lmao… I like going back at people who are wrong its fun. You gotta figure luke its better then getting blasted on other boards. And hell I dont mind getting double and triple teamed by NovaCaps.. I know you guys similar minded…by the articles I read. But it still doesnt mean you are right, far from it.

        You and your kind already pressed the panic button, jumped off the bridge and are ready for the escape plan, all of you.

        David, Skaters dont play for 60mins like goalies.. and Jagr?? Jagr played until he was 43 or whatever and still trying to play over seas now so HOFrs defy age,time,logic etc. Even if he retired he still beat father time like many hofrs. As for skater thing.. goalies mostly sit in 1 spot for 5-10minute stretches until they get slammed with shots if they do. So if fair/legit to say the 25-30minutes a top dman is working taking body blow after body blow shift after shift running around on ice or a top forward for 20minutes doing similar equals goalie gymnastics for 60 where hes not taking the physical pounding.

        As for HOF Players, I think you misinterpreted the point. Yes eras change and styles change with them but a all time great player crosses era. Thats what I meant by HOFrs dont change. OV is going to score in any era, in fact he would score more in the 80s&adjusted points prove that. He would have like 680 goals is eras were level. Samething with Backy hes got 800 career about points with adjusted its probably closer to 900, and hes got another 5 good years to get to 1400 points about atleast.

        Jon, last year was a 1 month blip in what 4 years? Give it a rest. Its no problem get off the panic button. The defense sucked until Kempny came that hurt holtby, fact. Bet everything is ok this year.. watch.

  3. Eli says:

    Great write up. Yep. They should sign a backup. I like Lehtonen because he played over 20 games last year and won 14. Add in ten games for Copley, and you get Holtby down around fifty, where he can still shine in the playoffs. I believe that Lehtonen or Mason will do better behind a better defense. Pavelec did great last year, but so did ancient Lundqvist, so that’s a testament to the Rangers defense.

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