As hard as it is for fans to accept, every team eventually has to say goodbye to their legends. One day, Capitals fans will have to prepare for the end of the Alex Ovechkin era. It may be hard to fathom at the moment, but Father Time is undefeated as they say.
This offseason, though, it looks increasingly likely we have seen the last of Braden Holtby in a Capitals uniform. It's no secret he was playing in a contract year. It's also no secret there's a young goaltender ready for his chance in Ilya Samsonov. This is the circle of life in pro sports. Either the heir apparent is already on the roster, or a team decides they'll just figure it out and decides to move on anyway.
We just saw it with Tom Brady leaving New England, and a few years before it was Peyton Manning heading to Denver. He didn't look right out of those crisp Colts uniforms, but it happened. There's an endless list. All you have to do is Google it.
Now, I'm not saying Holtby is on their level in NHL history among goalies, but he certainly is on their level in Capitals history.
That history though looks to have had its final chapter written in Washington, if you see what GM Brian MacLellan had to say about it to us on the Capitals Talk Podcast:
"We've been in communication with his (Holtby) group pretty much throughout the whole year," MacLellan said. "Checked in at the beginning of the year, we checked in along the way, just to keep in contact in case there's the ability to work something out. Obviously it's gonna be difficult with the flat [salary] cap to fit him in, but we're gonna go to free agency, there's an abundance of goalies on the market. We're gonna monitor what goes on. He has a set of criteria that he's looking for and we'll see if he finds a good match for himself, and if not, you know, who knows what could happen"
Let me translate that for you: "Unless Braden wants to take a serious pay cut and be our backup goaltender, we wish him well, but he won't be back next year with this team."
The business side of sports is always hard for fans to cope with. That's OK by the way. I've been jaded for years now covering all the sports in this town. You should feel lucky to be purely a fan getting caught up in the moment emotionally.
With all that being said, it's the right choice for both sides to move on. Holtby deserves to make as much money as he can, all while having the biggest role possible. Athletes never know when their careers will be over, so they have every right to maximize their income and playing time for as long as possible.
The Caps have to look towards the future though, too, and allow their next wave of talent to move them forward. Far too often we see organizations sit on the other side of this mindset around sports, and hang on long after they should have. Derek Jeter was done way before he was actually done in New York. The late, great Kobe Bryant ended his career with a fairy tale finish, but injuries and age took their toll before his 60-point final game for the Lakers.
Holtby will forever be a legend in this town, and nothing solidified that legacy more than "The Save" on that Las Vegas night in 2018, and then the eventual hoisting of the Stanley Cup.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and it's clear Braden Holtby's run with the Capitals will be doing just that.
What a run it was though. In the end, that's what matters the most.