By Ian Oland
Sergei Bobrovsky signed a seven-year, $70 million contract with the Florida Panthers on the first day of free agency. The deal has two long-term consequences: securing a top-tier replacement for Roberto Luongo, and setting the market for Braden Holtby’s next contract.
The Capitals’ beloved starting goaltender is in the final year of five-year, $30.5 million contract that has an annual average value of $6.1 million.
To bring Holtby back beyond this season, Brian MacLellan may have to offer Holtby a contract with $10 million AAV or more — unless the tortoise owner takes a hometown discount.
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“I don’t know that [Bobrovsky’s contract] affects the decision making (of bringing him back or not),” Brian MacLellan said Monday afternoon in a conference call with reporters. “It’s a comparable. It’s a peer, and they look like pretty similar players. They’ve had similar success and Holtby has had a Stanley Cup on his resume.”
With that last line, MacLellan appears to make the case that Holtby is even more valuable than Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky is a two-time Vezina Trophy winner (2013, 2017) and a two-time NHL All-Star (2015, 2017). Meanwhile, Holtby has won the Vezina Trophy once (2016), been named to the All-Star Game four times (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019), and owns the single-season all-time wins record with Martin Brodeur.
Holtby is currently the eighth highest-paid goaltender in the league.
Headed into the 2019-20 season, the Capitals’ goaltender situation will remain the same as last year, but something will eventually push. Holtby ($6.1 million AAV) will start while Pheonix Copley ($1.1M) will back up. In Hershey, blue-chip prospect Ilya Samsonov ($925k) will likely be given the opportunity to take a majority of the starts as he shares time with Vitek Vanecek ($716k).
Chart via CapFriendly
Samsonov, the 22-year-old, 2016 first-round pick, is arguably the biggest wildcard in MacLellan’s decision-making. If the Russian prospect shows continued progress and begins to dominate the AHL, the Capitals will feel comfortable turning to him as the goalie of the future. He could split time with Pheonix Copley, who has shown the talent to handle a bigger workload too. If the Capitals don’t see a future in Samsonov or Vanecek, they could either try to re-sign Holtby or go after another starter via trade or free agency.
“My focus is going to be to put in everything I can this summer to make sure I’m ready to help this team win come next year,” Holtby said on breakdown day. “Everything outside of that, you let it sort itself out. It’s pretty clear I love it here and love this team and this city. That’s motivation to work hard and make sure I can do everything I can so we can stay here.”
The most significant issues to bringing Holtby back may be how much the salary cap increases and center Nicklas Backstrom ($6.7M), who is an unrestricted free agent after next season and due a raise as well. The Capitals only have one significant player coming off the books next year, Radko Gudas ($2.3M) and the salary cap is not expected to rise much more than it did this season ($2 million) before a new TV deal kicks in the next year. This means that if the Capitals want to bring back Backstrom and Holtby, they will have to get creative.
“I think we’re cognizant of it,” MacLellan said. “I’ll sit down with Backstrom and Holtby here as the summer progresses, probably in August sometime. Just talk to them both and talk about the situation within the organization and what the possibilities might be going forward. All we can do is communicate with both the players and see how it plays itself out.”
Headline photo: NBC Sports Washington
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