Sportsnet’s Elliotte Freidman said during his “Saturday Headlines” segment on CBC’s Hockey Night In Canada broadcast on Saturday night that goaltender Braden Holtby, who can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and the Washington Capitals will not hold contract negotiations until after the 2019-20 season. He is eligible to sign a contract as long as eight years until 11:59 PM ET on June 30.
“Well [the Capitals are] one of the best teams in the National Hockey League – no question about it – and they have some big UFAs coming up. One of them is their goaltender, Braden Holtby,” Friedman began. “The Capitals and Holtby’s agent, David Kay, have decided that they will not talk contract during the season. They will wait until after the year. The focus will be on trying to win the Stanley Cup. Now I’ve been told – don’t panic necessarily, Capitals fans, about that. Because if you look at their history, they’ve signed [defenseman John] Carlson and [forward T.J.] Oshie after the season and before free agency. So just because it’s not happening now, doesn’t mean it still possibly can’t happen.”
During his tenure as Capitals’ GM, Brian MacLellan has re-signed Oshie, center Lars Eller, defenseman John Carlson, forward Carl Hagelin, center Jay Beagle, and defenseman Michal Kempny after the end of the season but before they got the opportunity to hit the open market on July 1.
The 30-year old Holtby got off to a rough start to the season as he began with a 1-1-2 record, an .846 save percentage, and a 4.27 goals-against average before allowing three goals on three shots and getting pulled in the Capitals’ 6-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. Since sitting out the next game, Holtby has posted a .922 save percentage.
Holtby’s current contract carries a cap hit of $6.1 million, and he is expected to receive a big pay raise on his next deal — potentially similar to the seven-year, $70 million contract ($10 million AAV) goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky signed with the Florida Panthers in July.
If the salary cap is at the projected $83.5 million next season, the Capitals would have $19,969,038 in cap space with both Holtby and top-six center Nicklas Backstrom eligible to become unrestricted free agents. Backstrom is expected to be a higher priority since the team has a relatively thin prospect pipeline of centers.
On the goaltending front, however, the Capitals have long seen Ilya Samsonov, the team’s first-round pick in 2015, as the franchise’s likely goaltender of the future. Samsonov has lived up to the hype in his rookie NHL season as his nine wins and 2.43 goals-against average are both ranked second among rookie netminders while his .916 save percentage is third.
If Holtby carries the Capitals to a second Stanley Cup, the team will have a difficult decision to make. Holtby is an enormous fan favorite, and parting with him would be a huge blow to the team. Further complicating matters for MacLellan: the 2021 expansion draft is looming, and it would be impractical for the Capitals to protect both goaltenders.
During his career, Holtby, the Capitals’ fourth-round pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, is 274-112-44 with a .918 save percentage, a 2.49 goals-against, and 35 shutouts.
By Harrison Brown