There’s a saying in hockey, goalies are weird. One season they will be at a Vezina Trophy caliber level, stopping almost every shot that comes their way. And the next, they turn into a pumpkin and are unable to make a save that even an average backup goalie can. This offseason there is a free agent goalie that perfectly fits this narrative.
As noted in my last free agent profile, one of the Devils main needs is a backup goalie. In today’s installment, we’re going to be seeing if Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby, fits this role for the Devils.
Braden Holtby was drafted in the fourth round, 93rd overall by the Washington Capitals in 2008. He came into the league as a 21-year-old in 2011 and went on a tear during the 14 games he played. In those games, Holtby went an outstanding 10-2-2 with a .930 even-strength save % (EVSV%) and a 2.21 even-strength goals saved above average (GSAA).
Since then, Holtby has, for the most part, been a good-to-elite goalie in Washington. He has won many awards with the Capitals such as the Vezina Trophy for best goalie in 2015-16, the Jennings trophy for lowest goals-against average in 2016-17, and the most important Trophy of all, the Stanley Cup in 2018. However, recently, things have not been quite as good for the all-star goalie. Last season, Holtby had the worst of his career, with an abysmal .897 SV% and a -17.32 GSAA.
The “Schneider Problem”
To end last season, the New Jersey Devils goaltending tandem was Mackenzie Blackwood and Cory Schneider. Schneider, who is by no means an NHL-caliber goaltender any longer, was good at the end of the season. However, he spent most of it in the minors. So, if Schneider isn’t an NHL goalie any more than just play him in the American Hockey League (AHL) next year, right? Well, it’s a little more complicated than that.
Schneider is on a contract that sees him make six-million dollars per year for the next two seasons. Because of this, you cannot just send him to Binghamton for the season. But, if you send down Schneider, sign Holtby to contract in unrestricted free agency, and re-sign Blackwood, who is a restricted free agent, that would be way too much for three goalies.
According to CapFriendly, the closest contract to the one Holtby played on last season is four years at $5,750,000. Let’s say Holtby makes that and Blackwood signs for around three-million dollars. Then next season the Devils would be paying their goalies about a combined $14,750,000. That is a lot of money, especially because the one making most of it is in the minors.
Note, a price of $5,750,000 for Braden Holtby is extremely generous. Expect this number to approach the $7,500,000 as he is most likely going to be paid as a starter.
Fit on the Roster
Like was mentioned in the last section, signing a goalie would be hard because of the “Schneider problem,” however, it’s not impossible. They still need a backup goalie and at the right price, Holtby wouldn’t be a bad backup/1B to Blackwood, but that’s the key, at the right price.
Again, an extremely generous comparable of what Braden Holtby could sign for is 5,750,000 million over four years. Other factors could bring that down such as the flat salary cap and the fact that he had an awful season last year. However, anything over $3,000,000 would probably be an over-payment. And that’s the problem, he’s going to demand way more than that.
If he was willing to bring his price down to let’s say around 2,500,000 for two years then sure, I’d be willing to bring him on as a backup and maybe even a mentor to Blackwood. But, at that point why would he even sign with the Devils when he could make close to seven-million on a longer contract? So, could he fit on the roster? Technically yes, but not at the price he’d ask for.
Braden Holtby is 30 years old and has won one Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals in 2018 as the star goalie for that team. Since then, it has all been downhill, including a season that saw him be arguably the worst starting goalie in the league.
If the Devils wanted to make a splash and sign him in free agency, they can try, but he has no reason to sign with them. Holtby wants to win another Stanley Cup and could make more money on a team that he has a much better chance to win one on.
There are going to be some teams that look at how their goaltending situations did this season and think that Holtby is the answer. However, this should not be the case for the Devils.
Goalies are weird. They can go from making Stanley Cup-winning saves to not being able to stop the weakest shot. This is exactly why Holtby could rebound on another team, with a better defensive system in front of him. But, that team is not going to be the Devils.