The Washington Capitals were eliminated from the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs by the New York Islanders on Aug. 20, and along with their move out of the Toronto bubble comes the expectation that a team that won the franchise’s first Cup just two years ago will be dismantled.
One of the players expected to move when free agency opens Oct. 9 is netminder Braden Holtby, who has been a staple between the pipes in the DMV since he made his debut in November 2010.
“Certainly a chance it is. Who knows?” said Holtby when asked if he had suited up for the last time as a Capital. “Live one day at a time and go from there. More right now is just, this one is going to sting for a little bit.
“Just take one day at a time and see where it leads.”
On Sept. 15, general manager Brian MacLellan addressed Holtby’s status during a Zoom call with reporters following the hiring of new head coach Peter Laviolette.
“I would expect him to go to free agency,” he said. “The goalie market is probably a little unusually deep this year. I talked to his agent last week briefly about where he’s at and the kind of opportunities he’s looking for. I would assume he goes to free agency and we’ll keep in contact with him throughout the free agency period to see if he’s getting what he wants.”
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The unrestricted free agent is coming off the worst statistical year of his career. In 48 regular-season games (47 starts), Holtby posted a save percentage under .900 for the first time (.897) and a minus-16.76 Goals Saved Above Average. The 2015 Vezina Trophy winner and five-time All-Star played every game in the Caps’ postseason in 2020 after his heir apparent and expected new No. 1 in D.C., Ilya Samsonov, went down with an injury and did not travel to Toronto.
“Just disappointed,” Holtby said following elimination. “We had more to give and just didn’t find a way to do that. That’s never a fun thing to go through. It’s one of those things, [the Islanders] played well, they were able to win and [I] wish the best of the luck to them. It’s frustrating for us that we had more to give and didn’t find a way to do that.”
With Samsanov poised to take over next season, the question now is: Where does Holtby go? He’s coming off a five-year, $30.5 million contract ($6.1 million AAV), and the likelihood of him getting another high-end deal is low; however, there could be a demand for the 30-year-old’s services whenever the 2020-21 season starts.
Here are five teams that could use Holtby’s skill and experience in the crease:
Yep. If this were a numbered list, they’d be No’s. 1-5.
The Oilers need to add elements to move the needle from a decent team to a true Stanley Cup contender. Bolstering their blue line is key, but they also need help between the pipes; Mike Smith (.783 save percentage) and Mikko Koskinen (.889) struggled in net in the qualifying round. Holtby had a .906 save percentage in eight postseason games this year, and he also brings a wealth of playoff experience: 97 appearances (96 starts), an impressive .926 save percentage and one Stanley Cup.
Holtby spent 10 years with Alex Ovechkin in front of him; he would look good suiting up next to another superstar, Connor McDavid.
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks’ goaltenders are not good. Aaron Dell and Martin Jones both struggled this past season as San Jose allowed 3.21 goals per game, the fifth-most in the NHL. Dell is a UFA, which leaves a spot open for a new netminder.
Petr Mrazek and James Reimer are both under contract for next season and they held their own in the postseason but is either one a No. 1? That’s up for debate.
They both had better numbers than Holtby this season — Mrazek was 47th in the NHL with a .905 save percentage; Reimer was 29th at .914 — but nether one has his track record or playoff experience. The Hurricanes should have one of the top defenses in the NHL next season, led by Jaccob Slavin, Dougie Hamilton, Brady Skjei and Jake Gardiner. Carolina allowed the second-fewest shots on goal per game (29.3) in 2019-20, which is something that could benefit Holtby.
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Craig Anderson, 39, is a pending UFA and retirement is a possibility. Marcus Hoberg probably isn’t ready to be a No. 1 netminder. That leaves an opening in Ottawa. Holtby could serve in the role in the short term, but would he want to be a stopgap for a young team that will definitely compete for a playoff spot next season but isn’t quite yet a playoff contender?
Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings present the same questions regarding youth and experience. Detroit won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, but longtime Wing Jimmy Howard — who was one of four goaltenders used in Hockeytown in 2019-20 — is also a pending UFA. The team could be looking for a veteran to settle the carousel.