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Braden Holtby: 'I can help this team win a Cup'

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Braden Holtby: 'I can help this team win a Cup'

Braden Holtby didn’t need to sign a five-year contract worth $30.5 million to know the responsibilities and pressures that go along with it. To him, those expectations have always been there, whether he’s the seventh highest-paid goalie in the NHL or not.

“I don’t want to prove the numbers, I want to prove that I’m valuable to the organization, that I can help this team win a Cup,” Holtby, 25, said after coming to a hard-fought agreement with the Capitals.

“That’s what my goal has been since I can remember. It’s a challenge I’m very fortunate to have, that I can try to push myself to that limit.”

Holtby’s front-loaded contract pays him $6.5 million next season, $7 million in each of the following two seasons and $5 million in each of the two that follow after that. It also comes with a no movement clause that kicks in two years from now, on July 1, 2017.

The road to Friday’s signing was a long one for both Holtby and the Capitals. After offering Holtby a five-year contract believed to be worth roughly $26.5 million before the June 26 NHL draft, talks between the two sides fell silent, with Caps general manager Brian MacLellan publicly stating he was willing to let an arbitrator decide Holtby’s worth.

At the start of this week both sides submitted their briefs to the arbitrator, with the Caps seeking a one-year, $5.1 million award and Holtby seeking a one-year, $8 million award.  

Talks resurfaced when the two sides arrived in Toronto on Wednesday, but when a deal could not be struck before Thursday’s 9 a.m. hearing, they went through the arduous process of hearing four hours of testimony. Holtby provided numbers to suggest he’s worth as much as or more than Sergei Bobrovsky’s $7.425 million salary; the Caps countering that he has not done enough in his career to warrant that compensation.

“There really wasn’t much that happened until three days ago or so,” Holtby said. “It was long. Obviously, it’s a little nerve racking when you want to be part of this group. I’m very relieved to have it over with and now we can focus on the real thing: my job and accomplishing our goal as a team.”

Like most players, Holtby attended Thursday’s hearing and said he learned more about the business side of hockey than he ever knew existed.

“It makes for a couple long days,” he said. “But I’m glad we went through this. It was nice to learn the process and learn a little bit about the business side of our sport and how people work, especially the lawyers on both sides It was very interesting to learn and a life experience moving forward.”

MacLellan said he thought the arbitration hearing gave both sides a better understanding of Holtby’s market value. Holtby agreed.

“I think both of us wanted to reach some common ground,” Holtby said. “I don’t think either of us wanted to be there. I think that was pretty mutual. But the longer you’re in this game and in this business you realize it is a business and you just do your part, do it respectfully, like both sides did, and we ended up working something out.

“When you’re an RFA it’s a bit longer of a process. The big thing is both sides really wanted to get something done and were willing to work toward it. We have it and I’m thrilled to be part of this organization for years to come.”

Holtby led all NHL goalies in games (73) and minutes played (4,247) last season and his 41 wins matched a franchise record set by Olie Kolzig. In parts of five seasons with the Capitals he is 101-54-18 with a 2.44 GAA and .921 save percentage in his first 178 NHL games.

Holtby’s average annual salary of $6.1 million ranks seventh among NHL goaltenders, behind:

Henrik Lundqvist ($8.5 million)

Sergei Bobrovsky ($7.425 million)

Tuukka Rask ($7 million)

Pekka Rinne ($7 million)

Carey Price ($6.5 million)

Cam Ward ($6.3 million)

Of those six goalies, five have either won a Stanley Cup (Rask, Ward) or won a Vezina Trophy (Lundqvist, Bobrovsky, Rask, Price). Rinne has been a Vezina finalist three times in his career.

MacLellan said Friday he sees Holtby as a “better than average” goaltender, but would not yet classify him as “elite.” Holtby said he’s not sure where he fits into that category.

“I don’t know, I try not to compare myself,” he said. “My goal has always been to just win as many games as possible and work toward that goal of the Stanley Cup and obviously we fell short, so we need to get better, myself and as a group. And I think we’re doing the right things in order to do that. As far as comparing myself to where the league is at with goaltenders, I try not to do that. I just try to focus on my job to win games and accomplish the main goal.”

At 25, MacLellan said Holtby is just touching the surface of his potential and Holtby said his goal is to wring every ounce of talent out of his body. He said his approach has not changed since he was taken by the Capitals in the fourth round of the 2008 NHL draft, the 93rd selection overall.

Back then, the Capitals had Semyon Varlamov and Michael Neuvirth on their goaltending depth chart. They followed by signing Tomas Vokoun to a one-year deal in 2011. Ironically, injuries to Vokoun and Neuvirth opened the door for Holtby in the 2012 playoffs, when he led the Capitals to seven-game upset of the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins before falling to the Rangers in Round 2.

MORE CAPITALS: CARLSON CONGRATULATES HOLTBY

Holtby began the following season as the Caps’ No. 1 goalie, but was replaced by late addition Jaroslav Halak near the end of the 2013-14 season.

“I’ve been fairly fortunate to have caught some breaks in order to get the opportunity to prove myself at this level,” Holtby said. “Since Day One I’ve wanted to be the guy in the Washington Capitals net, since I got drafted by them. It doesn’t change. I’m just happy to have the opportunity and I still have to prove it.

“As a goalie you’re only as good as your last game. My job is to keep pushing forward, keep challenging myself and our team and see what we can accomplish.”

Holtby said he does not fall under the category of players who are unmotivated after signing long-term contracts.

“Every year there is adversity you have to go through,” he said. “Last year it was trying to prove yourself for a contract. This year it’s trying to prove the contract you got. Every situation is different.

“In my DNA I like to work, I like to try and get better. I’m not worried about that. The low points of seasons are going to be a little harder to get through because of the added pressure, but that’s just another challenge I’m looking forward to -- to fighting through it and keep improving every single year.”

Holtby said that while he would have accepted a one-year arbitration award, he wanted the security of a long-term deal for his growing family, which has made its home in Old Town Alexandia. He and his wife Brandi, now have two children, 3-year-old Benjamin, and 1-year-old Belle Scarlett.

“The biggest thing for me was just making sure my family was comfortable and with that a longer-term deal always helps,” he said. “With (Ben) in a few years heading into school you want to be part of the community. I think these last few years, both with hockey and personal life, we’re becoming a part of the community and that’s what you want as a family.

“I’m extremely thrilled to have this contract in place. It doesn’t mean you’re here guaranteed for five years. I know I have a lot more to work at to prove this contract, but it is nice to be able to plan a little bit and be a part of the community.”

 

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Who will the Caps' backup goalie be next season?

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Who will the Caps' backup goalie be next season?

Very few teams have the luxury of having a backup goalie they can rely on for an extended period of time while the starter goes through a massive slump. The Capitals had that luxury in 2017-2018 thanks to Philipp Grubauer.

Not every team in the NHL has a dependable starter, let alone backup, so when a backup goalie goes 15-10-3 in a season with a 2.35 GAA and .923 save percentage, that is likely to catch the attention of general managers around the league.

The 2018-19 season will likely be a season of transition for the Capitals behind Braden Holtby. General manager Brian MacLellan expressed his willingness Wednesday to possibly trade backup goalie Philipp Grubauer this offseason. With the season he just had, he could potentially yield the Caps a solid return.

But, if Grubauer is indeed moved, that leaves the question of who will play backup for the Capitals this season?

The initial plan appears to be to promote Pheonix Copley from the AHL.

“Yeah, I think he's capable of it,” MacLellan said when asked if he saw Copley as an NHL backup. “Obviously, he's unproven. I think he's done what he could do at the American League level. Got through probably a little bit of a tough patch this year recovering from an injury, but I think he has potential to be that guy, yes.”

Copley, 26, played last season with the Caps’ AHL affiliate Hershey Bears. He had a tough season with a 2.91 GAA and .896 save percentage in 41 games.

As MacLellan alluded, Copley suffered a serious injury at the end of the previous season and it clearly affected his season. The year prior, Copley managed a 2.15 GAA and .931 with Hershey in 16 games. He was considered Washington’s No. 3 goalie this season and was recalled for the playoffs as an emergency backup behind Grubauer.

Copley’s career includes only two NHL games.

There is another internal candidate who some fans may be hoping to see next season. That of course, is 2015 first-round draft pick Ilya Samsonov.

Samsonov, 21, signed an entry-level contract with Washington in May and will make the jump from the KHL to North America next season.

But don’t expect to see Samsonov backing up Holtby to start the NHL season.

Samsonov will be adjusting to the North American game and the smaller North American rink. Because of that, MacLellan believes he will benefit from time in the AHL before making the jump to the NHL.

"I think he needs time in Hershey,” MacLellan said. “We'll start him in Hershey I would anticipate and see how he grows, see how he gets accustomed to the small rink and hopefully get some good coaching, get our guys in that work with him. It'll be up to him. I think he'll adapt fairly quickly given his skill set.”

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Devante Smith-Pelly is hopeful he has found a home with the Capitals

Devante Smith-Pelly is hopeful he has found a home with the Capitals

“I didn't think I'd be here a year ago,” Devante Smith-Pelly told the media Wednesday. “That's for sure.”

In 2017, Devante Smith-Pelly was a member of the New Jersey Devils and thought that’s where he would play the 2017-18 season. Instead, Smith-Pelly was bought out of the final year of his contract, something that he was not prepared for as he only received word of the team’s decision on the same day they made the move.

New Jersey’s loss turned out to be Washington’s gain as the Caps signed Smith-Pelly for one year and he proceeded to score seven goals during the Capitals’ postseason run to the Stanley Cup.

“Obviously, at the start of the year, not knowing exactly where I would be to at the parade on Constitution, it's crazy," Smith-Pelly said. "I haven't really sat down and taken it all in, but I wouldn't trade it for the world. I had an amazing time this year. Obviously, it's the best year of my life.”

Now as a restricted free agent, Smith-Pelly is hoping he has found a home in Washington.

Despite being only 26-years-old, Smith-Pelly has already had somewhat of a journeyman’s career. The Caps are the fifth team in which he has played for.

The issue for much of Smith-Pelly's career has been consistency.

The 2018 playoffs was not his first breakout performance. He scored five goals in just 12 playoff games for the Anaheim Ducks in 2014, but he failed to live up to that level of production again until this year’s postseason with Washington.

“I don't think I needed to prove anything,” Smith-Pelly said. “I knew what I could do, it's just me getting a chance to do it and that's it. I got a chance here and I guess it worked out.”

Expecting him to score seven goals every 24 games in the regular season is likely unrealistic, but the Caps don’t need him to do that. Smith-Pelly developed a role with the Caps being a bottom-six player, a role that he thrived in throughout the season.

“He's become a big part of the team,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “He brings good energy, he's a good teammate, he's well-liked. You could tell the teammates really migrate towards him, they like him and then the crowd also likes him. They're chanting 'DSP' all the time so it's been fun to watch how he's got everybody to embrace him and his personality.”

Given when Smith-Pelly was able to do in the postseason, it is no surprise that the Caps would be interested in keeping him around. But at what cost?

Smith-Pelly was a bargain for Washington last season with a cap hit of only $650,000. He will be due a raise, but with John Carlson expected to get a monster contract, how much will general manager Brian MacLellan be willing to spend on a bottom-six winger like Smith-Pelly?

Despite the phenomenal postseason, Smith-Pelly had only seven goals and 16 points in the entire regular season. When it comes to a new contract, MacLellan will likely want to pay for that player while Smith-Pelly will no doubt look to be paid like the player who scored seven times in 24 playoff games.

As of Wednesday when he spoke with reporters, Smith-Pelly said he had not yet had any talks with the team about a new contract, but also noted that, as a restricted free agent, “there’s no real rush.”

The Caps own Smith-Pelly’s rights which helps their bargaining position. Smith-Pelly, however, is arbitration eligible and his postseason stats will undoubtedly bump his value when viewed by a neutral arbitrator.

But there's a good chance it may not get anywhere close to that point.

“On the ice and off the ice I feel like this is the best situation I've been in,” Smith-Pelly said. “Obviously, never know what's going to happen but I found a place and I want to be back.”

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