Nicklas Backstrom recently made waves when it was reported that he was negotiating an extension with the Washington Capitals without an agent. Weeks later, Ted Leonsis predicted Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin would retire Capitals. Absent from that conversation was Braden Holtby, who, like Backstrom, is also an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. The Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender and his negotiations have stayed quiet and out of the news – until now.
On Hockey Night In Canada, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported on Saturday Night Headlines that the Capitals and Holtby’s agent, David Kaye, have tabled contract talks until after the season.
“Well they’re 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 Carlson and 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.”
There are several reasons why tabling talks for a new contract for Holtby makes sense. First, it seems clear that the Capitals view bringing back Nicklas Backstrom as a first priority and a retirement deal for the Swedish center will be costly and take some juggling itself.
“Honestly, we haven’t really talked that much,” Backstrom said on Thursday. “As I said before, I want to be a Capital for life. I love this team. I love this city. This is home for me. Obviously I would like to get it done but you know there’s situations about the salary cap. But I have no intention on going anywhere. If we can get it done, that would be really great and I’d be super proud to represent the Caps for my whole career.”
Then there’s the salary cap. The Capitals currently have less than a million of cap space to work with and the most expensive free agent coming off the books this summer, other than Holtby and Backstrom, is Radko Gudas ($2.35M). Looking at comparables around the league, Holtby ($6.1M) could command a $10 million AAV in a new contract – similar to Sergei Bobrovsky ($10M) and Andrei Vasilevskiy ($9.5M).
Holtby is the ninth highest-paid goaltender in the league.
“I don’t know that [Bobrovsky’s contract] affects the decision making (of bringing him back or not),” Brian MacLellan said earlier in the year. “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.”
Finally, there’s 22-year-old Ilya Samsonov who has been utterly sensational this season. The Russian goaltender has won 9 of his first 11 starts in the NHL and could be viewed as the team’s goaltender of the future. Samsonov ($925k) is also still on his entry-level contract and that money would allow the team to get better at other positions.
Ilya Samsonov improves to 9-2-1 this season. Among rookie goaltenders with at least five games played, Samsonov ranks first in goals against average (2.43) and save percentage (.916).
— CapitalsPR (@CapitalsPR) December 21, 2019
Several sources close to the Capitals have openly talked to RMNB about how they believe it’s unlikely the Capitals will bring Holtby back, but another deep postseason run or a Stanley Cup could change the team’s calculus. The only answer is time.
“This is all I know here,” Holtby said earlier in the year. “I’d love [to re-sign]. I think that’s pretty clear. But you don’t worry about that stuff. I’m lucky enough to be here for at least right now so happy for that.”
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