With the Capitals' season officially over, the attention of fans now turns to the future. Specifically, that of their longtime stalwart between the pipes: Braden Holtby.
Holtby is set to be an unrestricted free agent and could earn a pay day elsewhere The Capitals are up against the salary cap and have a young, talented heir ready to step into the starting role in Ilya Samsonov, meaning it's possible - perhaps likely - that Holtby has played his last game in the nation's capital. Holtby ended this season with a 4-0 loss to the New York Islanders in Game 5 of a best-of-seven first-round Stanley Cup playoff series.
If this is it, Holtby will be able to look back on a long and prosperous career with the Capitals as one of the organization's all-time greats. He left the ice smiling, shaking hands with Barry Trotz, his former coach. They won a championship together two years ago. Who knows what the future holds for Holtby, but Trotz can tell him firsthand, it all comes to an end at some point. Now, his team is moving on and Holtby's time with the Capitals could be over, too.
"It certainly a chance it is," Holtby said in a Zoom call with reporters from Toronto after the game. "But you live one day at a time and go from there. More right now it’s just this one’s going to sting for a little bit. But we just take it one day at a time and see where we go from here."
The former fourth-round pick burst onto the scene in the opening round of the 2012 playoffs against Boston, with a .940 SV% in the seven-game series. He allowed just one goal in 32 shots against in an epic Game 7, keeping the Caps in it for Joel Ward's overtime winner. He ended up starting all 14 games of the 2012 postseason, despite owning just 18 career starts in his first two seasons combined.
His career peaked statistically from 2014-17, when Holtby led the NHL in saves once and wins twice. He finished in the top four for the Vezina Trophy all three seasons, winning it in 2016.
Of course, we've buried the lede here, as Holtby will forever be most fondly remembered as the goalie to bring the Capitals their first-ever Stanley Cup.
Holtby had lost his starting job by the end of the 2017-18 regular season, but he was sensational after being reinserted into the lineup midway through the first round. With the Caps down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference Final, Holtby finished off the Lightning with epic back-to-back shutouts, including Game 7 on the road. He then topped himself with his signature moment, "The Save" in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final in Vegas.
Holtby potentially finishes his Capitals career second in franchise history behind Olie Kolzig in just about every meaningful category, with no one else within shouting distance. They are tied for most career shutouts. He's also set plenty of single-season records in net, including most saves (1,887 in 2014-15), shutouts (nine in 2014-15 and 2016-17), save percentage (.925 in 2016-17) and wins (48 in 2015-16). He also has more than twice as many postseason wins as any other goalie in franchise history.
It's not all on the ice, either. Holtby and wife Brandi will also be remembered for their strong commitment to activism, taking a leadership role in everything from LGBTQ rights, the Black Lives Matter movement and local response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Holtby endeared himself to the city with both his play and his example off the ice.
If this really is the end, then it's been a heck of a ride and he will be missed in Washington after a great decade, the Stanley Cup, and everything else he brought along the way.