Barreling toward an arbitration decision with their starting goaltender, a less-than-ideal scenario for both sides, the Washington Capitals instead settled on a five-year, $30.5 million deal with Braden Holtby on Friday afternoon, less than one day before the deadline for an independent ruling.
It was never needed.
“Braden emerged as a top NHL goaltender and we are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract,” General Manager Brian MacLellan said in a news release. “We feel Braden is just entering his prime and in his young career has already established himself as one of the best goaltenders in the history of our franchise. He is an athletic goaltender with a tremendous work ethic and is a big part of our future.”
The massive payday, which will make Holtby the NHL’s seventh-highest-paid goaltender next season, was a long time coming given his pillared performance for the Capitals in 2014-15. Anointed the unquestioned full-time starter over the summer by Coach Barry Trotz, a welcome departure from the chaotic netminding situation of years past, Holtby responded by matching franchise records for appearances (72), wins (41) and shutouts (nine).
Then came the Stanley Cup playoffs, when Holtby led all goalies with a 1.71 goals against average and .944 save percentage, at times lugging Washington deep into the second round, before an overtime goal ended its season in Game 7 against the New York Rangers.
“Holts has been our backbone all year,” Trotz said at the time. “He’s played in more games than anybody in the National Hockey League this year, and he’s turning into our DNA, if you will. Great character, great work ethic. That’s going to make us stronger as an organization.”
A former fourth-round pick of the Capitals, Holtby thrived under the tutelage goaltending coach Mitch Korn. Their relationship began over the summer, when Korn brought Holtby to a vision training facility in Minnesota, continued over speed bumps early in the regular season, as Holtby adjusted to a stingier defense skating before him, and finally resulted in a historic season, setting team records with 27 consecutive appearances and 1,887 saves. He is also the fasted goalie to 100 wins in team history, and ranks second in the NHL in shutouts over the past three seasons.
MacLellan viewed re-signing Holtby as a top priority, ideally before the NHL draft in late June. Instead, with the sides separated over money, the discussion dragged past free agency and into arbitration. Had they not reached an agreement before the arbitrator’s ruling was announced, Holtby would have stayed on a one-year deal and returned to restricted free agency next summer.
Instead, he will anchor the crease into his 30s.
“I couldn’t think of a better place to play, with what we’ve done this year, what we have going forward, where we’re at as an organization,” Holtby said on breakdown day in May. “Like I said, I can’t imagine myself playing anywhere else, but life is life, so I’m a Washington Capital and that’s all I want to be.”
The congratulations from teammates have already begun to roll in.