Braden Holtby deserves his place among the very best Capitals of all time — and the most beloved.
|1385||shots faced, all strengths|
|142||goals allowed, all strengths|
|.924||5-on-5 expected save percentage|
|.905||5-on-5 save percentage|
About this visualization: This series of charts made by Micah Blake McCurdy of hockeyviz.com shows various metrics for the player over the course of the season. A short description of each chart:
I really don’t want to talk about Braden Holtby’s on-ice performance in 2019-20. But rules are rules, so: this was the worst possible time for Holtby to play his worst season.
Below are five-on-five save percentages, actual and expected, across Holtby’s career.
Insofar as folks have said Holtby’s previous few seasons have been bad, they have been wrong. Just flat-out wrong. Holtby stopped saving way more goals than expected after 2016-17, but he has never been noticeably below expected numbers — at least not during five-on-five play — until this season. What people thought was a Holtby drop-off in 2017-18 was actually the team’s defensive play faltering; Holtby’s seeming underperformance then was all of one tenth of one percentage point. In 2019-20, the Capitals’ defensive play actually improved (another fact that will get obscured in the great postseason flameout and Todd-firing), but Holtby’s play for once did not keep pace with it. Had Ilya Samsonov not hurt himself in an ATV accident, I think we would have seen Holtby lose the playoff starting spot to his backup again.
I guess, at this point, I want to briefly point out that the Caps played worse in front of Holtby than they did in front of Samsonov, especially when it comes to defending the crease.
So in his contract year, Holtby turned 30, fell appreciably below his expected save percentage for the first time ever, backstopped a playoff disaster, saw the last big UFA goalie sign a deal so bad it eventually got his GM fired, and, oh yeah, now a global pandemic is rewriting the economy so the salary cap will be flat. That’s all bad news, and it might end up costing the Holtbys somewhere on the order of — I dunno– forty million dollars?
That is all the room and tolerance I have for being a bummer here. As far as I’m concerned, Braden Holtby is one of the very best players ever to wear the Capitals uniform. The last decade saw all kinds of goalie drama in Washington — with back-biting and resentment and off-ice problems — and I’m deliberately not linking to any stories here but we sure as hell have got em. Holtby was a part of none of it. When another goalie in the depth chart spoke untoward about him, Holtby said nothing in reply and won the starting spot on merit. When the team signed a veteran goalie to play the big games, Holtby outperformed him. When he got back-pats after a big shutout, he said he hoped he’d never reach the top of his game. And when Holtby lost his starting spot to Philipp Grubauer, Holtby cheered him on earnestly.
And then there’s this. Below is a histogram of every team over the last decade, based on how many goals they scored per hour.
The one I’ve circled is the 2017-18 Tampa Bay Lightning. Braden Holtby shut that team out in back-to-back games, stopping 53 of 53 shots, 20 high-danger chances, and four expected goals, delivering his team to their first Cup final in two decades. Then this:
From 2016 to 2018, Holtby won a Vezina, and then a Jennings, and then the Stanley Cup.
And even if none of that were true, he’d still be my absolute favorite Capital of all-time. Away from the ice, Holtby’s been a steadfast advocate for opening the game up to a broader audience. If you love something, you want to share that love with everyone. That’s been one of the founding principles of this website, and we’ve seen the exact same attitude in the actions of Braden Holtby and his family.
I don’t know what the future of Holtby’s career looks like. I suspect he’ll bounce back from 2019-20 before the aging curve really starts to get him. I suspect that any team with a solid defensive structure would get monster results of him. But I’m galactically certain that any organization would benefit from having a person of his character and integrity among them. They just don’t come any better than Braden Holtby. It’s been an honor to cover his career.
What do you have to say to Braden Holtby?
Read more: Japers Rink
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