Two days before his scheduled arbitration hearing, goaltender Braden Holtby has submitted an initial request for a whopping $8 million-per-year contract, while the Washington Capitals countered with a low-ball offer of $5.1 million, an individual with knowledge of the situation confirmed. The Capitals also elected a one-year term, which would return Holtby to restricted free agency next summer.
The numbers, filed Tuesday morning in pre-arbitration briefs, differ significantly from those discussed in previous talks, though that is not unexpected. With an independent arbitrator assigned to rule on a middle ground – unlike, for instance, in baseball, where either the team or player’s desired value is chosen – both sides often trend in opposite directions in their requests. Simply put, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
According to multiple sources, the Capitals have held steady in offering Holtby a long-term contract worth roughly $5.5 million, while the 25-year-old’s camp has countered in the mid-$6 million range. Last season, his first season as the Capitals’ No. 1 starter, Holtby tied franchise records for games played (73), wins (41) and shutouts (nine), while leading the entire NHL postseason with a .944 save percentage and 1.71 goals against average.
“Job security is something that doesn’t come around very often in this profession, so if you can find some it’s great,” Holtby said in May, after the Capitals lost in Game 7 of the second round to the New York Rangers. “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.”
While a vast majority of arbitration cases get settled before the cases are even heard – or, in the instance of Montreal’s P.K. Subban last season and Nashville’s Craig Smith this week, after the meeting ends and before the ruling is issued – the significant gap indicates that both sides are preparing to meet Thursday in Toronto. Next season, only New York’s Henrik Lundqvist will top $8 million in annual salary, and only Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky, Boston’s Tuukka Rask and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne will join him in making at least $7 million.
“I think we’ve made an aggressive offer with Holtby, hoping to get it done sooner than later,” General Manager Brian MacLellan said on July 11. “I like what we’ve offered. We’ve offered a term deal with a good salary. The total dollars is pretty significant. Unfortunately, I guess you play it out. If you’ve got to go to arb, you’ve got to go to arb. It’s part of the process.”
Initially, the Capitals had entered the offseason aiming to secure Holtby, forward Marcus Johansson and forward Evgeny Kuznetsov early into the summer, ideally before the unrestricted market opened on July 1. Instead, once late June passed without resolution, Washington signed forward Justin Williams and traded for forward T.J. Oshie using salary cap estimates for those three restricted free agents, MacLellan said. The Capitals have roughly $10.3 million in available cap room, according to GeneralFanager.com, but teams can spend 10 percent over the ceiling until training camp, and a decent chunk of cash will come off the books depending on which goaltender — Philipp Grubauer or Justin Peters — loses the competition to back up Holtby and heads to the minors.
The arbitration numbers were initially reported by Reuters’ Tim Wharnsby. Johansson would have his case arbitrated on July 29, and several sources have indicated that both sides are trending toward a hearing. Reached via email recently, Johansson’s agent Marc Levine wrote, “Nothing to comment on at this point other than we continue to prepare for the arbitration hearing scheduled for July 29.”
Holtby’s agent, David Kaye, did not return multiple messages seeking comment.