One of the long-running stories of the entire season has been what the future may hold for Capitals goalie Braden Holtby. Holtby is on the final year of his contract and there are plenty of reasons to believe this will be his final season in Washington. In fact, this is something I have written about multiple times over the course of the past year (see here, here, here and here). It was pretty straight forward so long as something unexpected didn't happen, like a pandemic forcing the NHL to pause its season...for example.
So what does the current pause and uncertainty for free agents mean for Holtby? Does the uncertain offseason make it more likely he and Washington can work out a deal?
“To be honest I have no clue," Holtby said in a video conference Friday when asked about is future status as a free agent. "I haven’t thought of it past the fact of when it might be. You know, there is so much up in the air right now, even if free agency is later on, October, November, whenever. Our first thought was what do we do with the kids in school or anything like that with so much uncertainty, but who knows if schools will even be running by then so I don’t know."
The coronavirus has not just impacted this season, but it also has greatly impacted free agency. Not only will the timing be different with free agency pushed until the end of the 2020 season which will likely come sometime in the fall, but it also means a shorter offseason for players to work with. The salary cap is also expected to either remain flat or go down next season which will mean less money for teams to throw at free agents. Teams do not plan on the salary cap going down, they offer long contracts with the expectation those will become more favorable as time passes and the overall percentage of the cap those players earn drops. That will not be the case this year.
Holtby will turn 31 in September. This was likely going to be the last big contract of his NHL career. Given all the uncertain of the current offseason, however, and the fact that teams won't have as much money to spend, doesn't it make more sense for him to sign a one-year deal with Washington and delay that ultimate decision until next year?
First, let's be clear about what we are talking about here. I still think a long-term deal for Holtby does not make sense. The team's future starter, Ilya Samsonov is already on the roster, the team would not be able to give Holtby any protection from the expansion draft (because doing so would mean leaving Samsonov exposed) and the team cannot afford him.
But what about a one-year deal?
The issue with a short-term deal is that many of the same problems would still remain for both the team and the player. Obviously the expansion draft would not be an issue for a one-year contract, but Samsonov is not going anywhere. For much of the season, he actually outplayed Holtby. I do not think the team would want Holtby to be brought back as a No. 1. Using Holtby in tandem with Samsonov makes sense, but not as a No. 1. The issue with a Samsonov-Holtby tandem, however, is that the Caps are a team that is already tight against the salary cap. Even keeping Holtby at his current cap hit of $6.1 million may prove difficult.
For Holtby, taking a short-term deal only makes sense if it would improve his free-agent stock and that may be assuming too much. His .897 save percentage and 3.11 GAA are both the worst of his career and this is the third straight season in which Holtbyh's numbers have not been great (.907 save percentage in 2017-18, .911 in 2018-19 and .897 in 2019-20). With him turning 31 in September, is it reasonable to think his numbers are going to improve next season? Even if they do, it probably won't be by much. Yes, the defense in front of him struggled this season, but the team won't be able to do much to address it if it commits $6+ million to Holtby. Add in the fact that Holtby would likely be playing in tandem with Samsonov, if not the No. 2 outright, and it sure seems like Holtby's stock is more likely to fall in a year, not rise.
But here's the thing, I don't know, Holtby doesn't know, the Caps don't know, no one knows what the team, the salary cap or free agency is going to look like yet. These are all unknowns. It doesn't seem like even a short-term deal would help Holtby all that much, but that situation could very easily change.
For now, there is only one thing Holtby can do to help himself and that is to be ready to go when the 2020 season finally resumes.
"I am focused on trying to get back on the ice here and trying to win with the Capitals right now," Holtby said. "Try to do everything I can in this time once we get back playing to win a championship.”
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