Capitals

Capitals

Is a return to Washington for Braden Holtby actually possible next season?

The NHL is projecting a significant increase to the salary cap for the 2020-21 season. At the NHL GM meetings in Boca Raton, Florida, on Wednesday, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly announced a salary cap projection of between $84 and $88.2 million for next season, up from the current cap of $81.5 million.

These are just projections, but they are far higher than what was previously thought.

Heading into the season, two of the Capitals’ star players, Holtby and Nicklas Backstrom, were on the final year of their contracts and their future was unknown. Since then, Backstrom has re-signed for five years and $46 million, and the writing seemed on the wall that the team would not be able to afford to bring back Holtby.

With the salary cap projected to increase significantly more than previously estimated, suddenly the money does not look so daunting.

It is also likely the Caps could re-sign Holtby for cheaper than previously thought. 

Sergei Bobrovsky is a clear comparable for Holtby and the Florida Panthers signed him for seven years, $70 million in the offseason. Considering how that move already looks like an overpay in Year One, Bobrovsky could serve as a cautionary tale for teams not to overpay quite as much to bring in a starter, especially a starter like Holtby who has a .898 save percentage and 3.12 GAA this season. A $10 million cap hit seems unlikely at this point, barring, of course, a dazzling performance in another deep playoff run.

 

As good as Ilya Samsonov has looked this year, he still is unproven as a No. 1 goalie. He has only 25 games of NHL experience, so there would be value to bringing Holtby back to continue to mentor him and to split time with him. The NHL is increasingly moving towards employing goalie tandems rather than leaning heavily on one starter. You could do worse than a Samsonov-Holtby tandem.

With more cap space, a smaller price tag and a clear need for another goalie to split time with Samsonov next season, a return for Holtby certainly seems more viable now than it did previously.

But it is still very unlikely.

Money was just one obstacle to bringing Holtby back. There are several others such as the expansion draft in 2021. Teams will only be able to protect one goalie from Seattle and, for Washington, that goalie is going to be the 24-year-old budding starter, not Holtby who will be three months away from his 32nd birthday.

Also, while the Caps potentially could offer Holtby in the range of the $7 million to $10 million he is likely to get on the open market, would it even make sense? Sure, it makes sense to bring back Holtby as a mentor and as part of a goalie tandem, but not as the No. 1. A team doesn't draft a goalie in the first round, as the Caps did with Samsonov, if it doesn’t intend for him to be your starter. The early returns from Samsonov have been very good and there is no reason to think he won't be taking on a heavier workload after this season. That would mean less work for Holtby, who would be the No. 2 goalie going forward. Teams don’t commit that much money and that many years to a backup goalie, even in a tandem situation.

So yes, bringing back Holtby would make sense for Washington if he signed a short-term deal for less than he could get on the open market and with no expansion draft protection. But why would he do that?

Due to his age, this will be the last big contract of Holtby’s career. It would take a lot of concessions from Holtby to even make a new deal with Washington possible. And, even if he was willing to take a super team-friendly deal because he loved it in Washington just that much, it could quite possibly mean only one more year with the team with the 2021 expansion draft looming.

Would Seattle really pick a 31-year-old goalie supplanted by his own team? Vegas did. Marc-Andre Fleury was 32 when the Golden Knights selected him from the Pittsburgh Penguins and helped lead Vegas to a conference title in the team’s first season. The fact is, we don't know if Seattle would be interested in Holtby, but that's the point. If he signs with Washington it would presumably be because he wants to stay in Washington, but the team could not and should not offer him any concrete protection from the expansion draft.

 

If the salary cap goes up as significantly as the league is now projecting, that clears only one of the many hurdles there are to re-signing Holtby. It’s not impossible the team could bring back the Vezina and Cup-winning netminder, but it remains very unlikely.

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