The Washington Capitals remain committed to Braden Holtby as their starting goaltender while pursuing a veteran option to serve as his backup, general manager Brian MacLellan said Monday.
“I think we can get more out of Holtby,” MacLellan said on a teleconference. “My plan would be as of now to go with Holtby as our No. 1 and find him a backup goaltender.”
As his confidence issues became more pronounced last season, reflected in sporadic playing time and inconsistent production, the biggest issue pointed to a style change from then-coach Adam Oates, which stuck goaltenders deeper into the crease. This clashed with what Holtby called his “natural instincts,” though the 24-year-old maintained he was on the same page with goaltending coach Olie Kolzig.
Holtby was better down the stretch, recording three straight road wins with just six total goals allowed in early April, but still rotated time throughout the season with trade-deadline acquisition Jaroslav Halak and Hershey call-up Philipp Grubauer.
“I think there was coaching philosophy change that he wasn’t totally comfortable with,” MacLellan said. “I think it changed a little bit throughout the season. Circumstances might have affected his play throughout last year.”
MacLellan also indicated he would prefer a veteran backup to Holtby with Grubauer logging starter’s minutes as the No. 3 option in Hershey.
As for Holtby’s new teacher, MacLellan said he expects former Nashville goaltending coach Mitch Korn to join the Capitals in the same capacity, though nothing has been finalized yet. Reports last Thursday indicated the move was pending.
Korn and first-year Washington Coach Barry Trotz worked together with the Predators since the franchise’s inception 15 seasons ago, where Korn developed a reputation as a goalie whisperer capable of extracting strong results from lesser-known talent. Sources indicated the delay in announcing Korn’s hiring is based solely on paperwork processing and not indicative on any hang-up.
Korn will be replacing Kolzig, whom Washington intends to keep on board in some to-be-determined capacity. His family still lives in Tampa and his son, Carson, has autism. The Capitals, for their part, have been committed to helping Kolzig into a more comfortable situation while still employing him in whatever capacity fits his schedule.
That could mean a more part-time role similar to what he had several seasons ago, when the former Capitals great bounced between Hershey and Washington, working with the goalies.
“I know Olie’s come to us and indicated his desire to spend more time with his family,” MacLellan said. “We’re in the process of discussing with Olie the best way we can move forward. Hopefully he can continue to work for our organization while still filling his family responsibilities, obligations. That’s going to be an ongoing discussion.”
Assistants Calle Johansson and Blaine Forsythe remain employed under Trotz, but MacLellan hinted that more changes may be coming. One report Monday said that fired Maple Leafs assistant Dave Farrish has spoken to Trotz about joining his staff, and another longtime Nashville assistant Peter Horachek is still on the open market after being canned by Florida as its interim head coach.
“We’re working through the process right now,” MacLellan said. “We have a couple situations we’re dealing with internally… Once we get everything worked out, we’ll make announcements.”
>> MacLellan said the Capitals have no immediate intention to move defenseman Mike Green this offseason, but didn’t rule anything out.
“No I think our priority is to get Mike Green on track here,” MacLellan said. “I think certain circumstances last year might have hindered his performance. I guess I’m open to trading anybody, but as of right now I think we’d like to bring Mike Green back.”
That said, it’s clear Washington wants to change things up on its blue line this offseason, whether via free agency or a deal.
“There’s a couple guys we like in free agency,” MacLellan said. “I guess you don’t really get a feel until June 25 if you have a real good shot at it. I would balance that out with guys who are available via trade. I think there’s a lot of teams looking for a high-end defenseman.”
>> Entering his fourth week on the job since taking over for George McPhee, MacLellan said he has talked with “probably half” of the NHL’s general managers and will continue reaching out to assess the current trade market.
“I think there seems to be bigger names being talked about in the trade market,” he said. “We’ll see if that really comes to fruition. I think with the cap going up, there might be a little more room for trades to happen … If there’s a chance that something’s a good fit for us, I don’t think they’re going to give centers and defensemen away, but I’m going to explore it.”
As for how the job has treated him?
“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind,” he said. “Lots of meetings to attend, I think it’s just the time of year. To be starting at this time of year, you get thrown into the fire really quick. But it’s been fun, it’s been exciting, and I’m grateful to be a part of it.”
>> MacLellan offered little update on restricted free agents Nate Schmidt, Michael Latta and Cam Schilling. “We’re in negotiations with all of them,” he said.
And the likelihood of them returning to the organization?
“I mean, we have interest in bringing all three of them back,” MacLellan said. “We’re going to do our best to do that and we’re in negotiations with their agents.”