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Goaltender Braden Holtby joins Marcus Johansson in player-elected arbitration

(Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)

Goaltender Braden Holtby filed for player-elected arbitration before Sunday’s 5 p.m. deadline, joining forward Marcus Johansson as those Washington Capitals seeking contract mediation, his agent said via text.

The Capitals had previously extended Holtby a deal general manager Brian MacLellan described at the NHL draft as “a good offer” and “competitive,” expressing belief it would be finalized shortly. Both sides had mutual interest in a long-term contract of at least five years, but had differing opinions on the money. It is believed Washington’s initial offer topped $5 million.

The majority of NHL arbitration cases get settled before the hearings, leaving the door still wide open for an agreement before the case gets heard. But if Washington and Holtby cannot agree on a new deal before an arbitration ruling comes down, he would sign either a one- or two-year extension, at the Capitals’ choosing in their pre-hearing brief. In this scenario, if Holtby signed a two-year deal, their starting netminder, who finished fourth in Vezina Trophy voting last season and tied club records for games, wins and shutouts, would become an unrestricted free agent upon its completion, according to the league’s collective bargaining agreement.

His agent, David Kaye of The Sports Corporation, did not immediately return messages seeking follow-up comment. As a team policy, Washington does not comment on contract negotiations. Holtby made $2 million last season, carrying an annual cap hit of $1.85 million over his previous two-year deal, making him one of the better bang-for-buck goaltenders in the league.

The date of the arbitration hearing has not yet been announced, but the 23 players who filed will have theirs scheduled between July 20 and Aug. 4 in Toronto.

Reached Wednesday by telephone, Kaye predicted no “major issues” separating Holtby from an extension with the team that drafted him 93rd overall in 2008.

“I know Washington’s been pretty fair to their guys in the past,” Kaye said then. “I just think it’s going to get done. I don’t think it’s going to be an issue.

“Waiting for them to come back to us. They’ll talk to us in the next little while, I know.”

In 73 games last season, Holtby compiled a .923 save percentage and 2.22 goals against average, further boosting his stock during the playoffs, when he led the NHL with a .944 save percentage and 1.71 goals against average. The Capitals re-signed former Hershey Bears starter Philipp Grubauer to a two-year deal this summer, paving the way for him to back up Holtby, but barring an injury Holtby should still command a vast majority of the starts.

Speaking on breakdown day after Washington fell to the New York Rangers in Game 7 of the second round, Holtby saw benefits in both short- and long-term deals.

“I was saying before, job security is something that doesn’t come around very often in this profession, so if you can find some it’s great,” said Holtby, whose second child was born in late May. “If you don’t have many ties it’s a lot different, but with family, you’d like them to stay in one spot, you’d like them to get to know the community and get involved in that, so the longer term the better.

“But at the same time, I expect if it’s a one-year deal I want to earn it for the next year. Say it’s longer term, I want to keep earning every single year. It’s all just how you look at it. Just happy to be here, happy to be a part moving forward.”

In addition to Holtby and Johansson, the Capitals are discussing a two-to-three-year deal with forward Evgeny Kuznetsov, a restricted free agent without arbitration rights. Kuznetsov’s agent said he did not expect Washington to file for club-elected arbitration. All told, according to an NHLPA release, 23 players elected to file before Sunday’s deadline.

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