Capitals

Capitals

There are a lot of questions surrounding the Capitals this offseason, but one of the biggest is over a player whose contract does not even expire until 2020. Braden Holtby is entering the final year of his contract and is eligible to re-sign with the Caps on July 1. He is on a team-friendly deal with a cap hit of $6.1 million and is due a significant raise. For a team dealing with cap issues, however, that may be a problem.

Holtby has already indicated he would like to be back, but whether or not Washington can afford to re-sign him back will depend largely on what happens with Sergei Bobrovsky this summer.

Bobrovsky is considered one of the league’s top netminders, is 30 years old and just finished up the final year of a contract that carried a $7.425 million cap hit.

Why does this matter? Because Bobrovsky is going to hit the free agent market and his contract should serve as a projection of what it will cost to keep Holtby in Washington.

Bobrovsky and Holtby are comparable goalies as both players have registered very similar career numbers.

Bobrovsky: 2.46 GAA, .919 save percentage, 33 shutouts, two Vezina Trophies
Holtby: 2.47 GAA, .918 save percentage, 35 shutouts, one Vezina Trophy

Correction: Bobrovsky and Holtby are comparable when it comes to regular season numbers. The playoffs, however, are a different story. Bobrovsky has won only one playoff series in his entire career. Holtby, meanwhile, led the Caps to a Stanley Cup. The level of success both players have had is accurately reflected in their playoff stats.

 

Bobrovsky: 11-18 record, 3.14 GAA, .902 save percentage, no shutouts
Holtby: 48-41 record, 2.09 GAA, .928 save percentage, seven shutouts, one Stanley Cup

Holtby’s playoff GAA ranks 16th all-time and his save percentage ranks 5th.

Bobrovsky had a great postseason in 2019 to lead Columbus to one of the biggest upsets in NHL history with their sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Outside of that, however, there is no playoff success to speak of.

Holtby is one year younger than Bobrovsky which means he will be the same age, 30, when his contract expires as Bobrovsky is now.  However much Bobrovsky gets paid in his next contract, Holtby will have a strong argument that he has earned just as much if not more. Considering Bobrovsky is expected to break the bank this postseason, that is bad news for the Caps’ chances of bringing back their top netminder.

Just how much are we talking here? Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price just completed the first season of an eight-year, $84 million contract that carries a cap hit of $10.5 million. He signed that deal at the age of 29. His career numbers are also comparable to Bobrovsky and Holtby with a 2.47 GAA and .918 save percentage. That means Bobrovsky could reasonably argue for a similar deal to Price’s.  If he gets anywhere close to Price’s cap hit, it will be incredibly hard for Washington to find that kind of cap room for Holtby.

Perhaps the market has changed since Price’s deal and teams will be hesitant to shell out that kind of money for a goalie. This year’s postseason shows that goalie tandems are becoming all the rage in the NHL so teams could decide it does not make sense to commit so much cap space to a single netminder.

The Caps are in a tight cap situation this year and will likely have to spend up to the cap just to fill out a full roster. In 2020, Nicklas Backstrom and Jonas Siegenthaler are the only free agents on the current NHL roster and it seems likely Washington will want to bring both players back. With no money coming off the books in 2020, it is hard to see how the team can find an extra $3 to $4 million to add to Holtby’s cap hit. Plus, the Caps have to think about Alex Ovechkin’s next contract as his current deal expires in 2021. Add in the fact that the team’s top prospect, Ilya Samsonov, is a goalie and it really does not seem to make much sense to pay a big money contract to keep Holtby in Washington.

But if Holtby likes the team and wants to stay, won’t he be willing to take less to make it happen?

 

Ah yes, the hometown discount.

Let’s look at this from the player’s perspective. The next contract will almost certainly be Holtby’s last big deal in his NHL career so he will be motivated to cash in. When you account for both the regular season and the playoffs, Holtby has had a better career. Why would he be willing to take less than Bobrovsky? Because he likes Washington? OK, but how much less would he be willing to take? Even $8 or $9 million per year still seems a bit too steep for Washington to afford.

If Bobrovsky gets a deal worth $10 million per year, is it reasonable to expect Holtby to sign for $7 million and walk away from $3 million per year for the length of the contract? No, it’s not. The hometown discount is the most overrated factor when it comes to considering free agents. Sure, some players are willing to take less to stay with their current team, but only to a point. It is totally unreasonable to expect a player to walk away from as much money as the Caps would need Holtby to walk away from should Bobrovsky’s deal this summer Indeed break the bank.

When Holtby signed his current deal back in 2015, he and the Caps were locked in a tight negotiation that went all the way up to the day before an arbitration hearing between him on the team. Does that sound like a guy who is not concerned about getting paid what he is worth?

Bobrovsky is going to set the market for top-tier goalies like Holtby and if he continues to play at a high level, he is likely to get a similar looking contract.

Granted, things can change over the course of a year. Holtby may have a tough season, injuries could happen, unexpected trades could happen that free up more cap space than the team is projected to have as of now, etc. There are a multitude of factors that could change what happens to Holtby in 2020, but what we see Bobrovsky sign for will give us a good idea of Holtby’s market value.

If the goalie market goes cold this summer, that’s good news for the Caps. If Bobrovsky is able to cash in, however, he could very well cash Holtby out of Washington.

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