Every player on an NHL team plays a role. Some, of course, play bigger roles than others.
In the coming weeks, Tarik El-Bashir and JJ Regan will rank the 25 most important players in the Caps’ organization, from least to most important, weighing factors such as past production, future potential and intangibles.
Today’s player: No. 1 Braden Holtby
A poor postseason had some wondering if it was time for the team to move on from Braden Holtby and turn the starting mantle over to Philipp Grubauer. Here in the rational world, Holtby is still recognized as one of the top netminders in the NHL.
Yes, Holtby did not play well in the playoffs and he will be the first to admit that, but this was the first time Holtby has played poorly in the postseason. Here are some stats for you:
2011-12 playoffs: 14 games played, 1.95 GAA, .935 save percentage
2012-13 playoffs: 7 games played, 2. 22 GAA, .922 save percentage
2014-15 playoffs: 13 games played, 1.71 GAA, .944 save percentage
2015-16 playoffs: 12 games played, 1.72 GAA, .942 save percentage
2016-17 playoffs: 13 games played, 2.47 GAA, .909 save percentage
You can see that the 2017 postseason is very much the outlier. Holtby ranks first among active goalies and second all-time in career playoff save percentage with a .932 and second among active goalies with a playoff GAA of 2.00. Anyone who claims Holtby is not "clutch" or that he falls apart in the playoffs is a prisoner of the moment because that is simply not the case.
At 27 years old, Holtby is still very much in his prime and has arguably has been the best goalie in the NHL over the past two years. Not only did he win the Vezina Trophy in 2016, but he was the only goalie to finish as a finalist in each of the past two seasons.
The Capitals lost a lot of players in the offseason. Offensively, the team needs to make up the 60 goals they lost with the departures of Marcus Johansson (24), Justin Williams (24) and Daniel Winnik (12). When a team loses a lot on offense in an offseason, they could enter the season looking to be a more defensive team. The problem for Washington is that they currently only have five defensemen and the two remaining spots will go to either rookies like Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey or middling veterans like Jyrki Jokipakka and Aaron Ness. They have questions at both ends of the ice and cannot enter the season looking to rely on their offense or defense to be the stronger part of their game.
If Jakub Vrana and Andre Burakovsky are not enough to make up for the offensive gap and Djoos and Bowey are not ready to step in and be fully dependable NHL players just yet, who will be able to keep this Capitals team playing at a level good enough to reach the postseason despite competing in the best division in hockey? The answer is Holtby.
A good goalie can make up for a lot of roster holes and weaknesses. No, I do not believe the Capitals are destined for the collapse some people foresee, nor do I think they remain as one of the frontrunners to win the Metropolitan. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. What is clear is that for the first time in years, this Washington team enters the season with serious question marks. Holtby can make up for some of those weaknesses if he can keep playing at the level we have become accustomed to in recent years allowing the team to see what it has in its prospects and where the roster needs shoring up.
On any given night, the goaltender is the most important position on the ice and the Capitals have one of if not the best goalie in the NHL. Holtby is important to Washington by the nature of his position and becomes the team's most important player because of just how good he is and because it is the one position on the team in which there are no questions heading into the season.
Check out the full list of the Caps most important players as it comes out here and check out previous player profiles below.
— No. 25 Aaron Ness
— No. 24 Chandler Stephenson
— No. 23 Riley Barber
— No. 22 Pheonix Copley
— No. 21 Devante Smith-Pelly
— No. 20 Taylor Chorney
— No. 19 Nathan Walker
— No. 18 Philipp Grubauer
— No. 17 Christian Djoos
— No. 16 Madison Bowey
— No. 15 Jay Beagle
— No. 14 Brett Connolly
— No. 13 Tom Wilson
— No. 12 Lars Eller
— No. 11 Jakub Vrana
— No. 10 Brooks Orpik
— No. 9 John Carlson
— No. 8 Dmitry Orlov
— No. 7 Andre Burakovsky
— No. 6 Matt Niskanen
— No. 5 Evgeny Kuznetsov
— No. 4 T.J. Oshie
— No. 3 Alex Ovechkin
— No. 2 Nicklas Backstrom