With Braden Holtby on the last year of his contract, all goaltending developments from the 2019 offseason up until this point have brought the inevitable question of what does this mean for Holtby's free agency? The Capitals arrived in Toronto on Sunday without goalie Ilya Samsonov who suffered an injury prior to training camp. He did not participate in a single practice. Now the Caps turn to Holtby in net and once again, the question is being asked, what does this mean for free agency?
The answer is nothing...probably.
The exact nature and severity of Samsonov's injury is not known, making it difficult to definitively answer the question, but the fact is that the injury to Samsonov probably does not change anything about where the Caps and Holtby stand.
Just in case you have not been thinking about Holtby's contract for an entire year and are joining the conversation late, this is probably Holtby's last season in Washington as an extension makes little sense for the team or the player.
From the team's perspective, Samsonov was seen as the team's future in net back when he was a first-round draft pick in 2015. He certainly looked the part this season with a 16-6-2 record, .913 save percentage and .255 GAA as a rookie. Washington was already tight against the cap before the news came that the cap will remain flat next season so there's no money to pay Holtby any more than he makes now and there may not even be enough for that.. Even if there was, does it even make sense to pay Holtby that much if the plan would be for Samsonov to be the No. 1 going forward?
For Holtby, he has to be thinking this will likely be his final big contract given his age. It does not make sense for a 30-year-old goalie with declining numbers to take a short-term deal in the hopes he will somehow be worth more money when it expires. Taking a long-term contract to stay in Washington does not make sense either, however, because it is unlikely he would be seen as the No. 1 going forward and the team would not be able to offer him protection from Seattle in the expansion draft. Each team can only protect one goalie and that goalie is going to be Samsonov.
So if the Caps can't offer him more money, a No. 1 role or long-term security, why does that make sense?
And that brings us back to the current situation of Samsonov's injury. Here's why it probably means nothing for Holtby. Of all the reasons I just laid out for why a return for Holtby does not make sense, does an injury to Samsonov change any of that? Nope.
Unless the injury is so catastrophically bad that it threatens Samsonov's career, he will still be the No. 1 going forward and it has no effect on Washington's cap situation. Would the team be perhaps more interested in bringing Holtby back as a tandem goalie to work with the still young Samsonov? Sure, but it still would almost certainly be for less money than Holtby could get on the open market, the future would still belong to Samsonov and Holtby would still be exposed to Seattle.
Really, the only thing that could change the situation is if Holtby put together and epic postseason to lead the team to another Stanley Cup. Even then, however, there still would be no money to pay him. Plus, would MacLellan really commit long-term to the 30-year-old Holtby over the 23-year-old Samsonov? That seems doubtful.
Samsonov's injury is an unfortunate way for him to finish what was an outstanding rookie season, but it should not affect the team's long-term future in net. Enjoy this final run for Holtby, Caps fans, as it will probably be his last wearing a Washington jersey.
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