The Washington Capitals filed for arbitration with Restricted Free Agent (RFA) goaltender Braden Holtby but the two sides settled on a five year, $30.5M ($6.1M AAV) before the neutral arbitrator was able to make a decision. This contract makes Holtby the seventh highest paid goaltender in the league. Some contract comparables for the 25 year old goaltender include Cam Ward ($6.3M), Corey Crawford ($6.0M), Cory Schneider ($6.0M), Ben Bishop ($5.95M), and Semyon Varlamov ($5.9M). Holtby’s $6.1M cap hit is over 8.5% of this season’s $71.4M salary cap and a lot to spend on a goaltender as their year to year performance is the least consistent of any position. However, advanced statistics show Holtby was well worth this contract and should maintain a high level of play for years to come.
Holtby had a great season this past year and was rewarded with several Vezina Trophy votes, finishing fourth overall behind Carey Price, Pekka Rinne, and Devan Dubnyk. He started the most games by any goaltender this regular season (73 – edging out Los Angeles Kings’ Jonathan Quick by one game) going 41-20-10 to lead the Capitals to a 2nd place seeding in the Metropolitan Division. He posted a 2.22 GAA and a .923 SV% to go along with nine shutouts.
Breaking down Holtby’s statistics even further, he finished the season 15th in the league (of eligible goaltenders with a minimum of 1000 TOI) in 5v5 SV% (92.94%) and AdjSV% (93.28%). Looking at SV% by War-On-Ice’s danger zones (where low danger = Sv%L, medium danger = Sv%M, high danger = Sv%H as shown here), Holtby has stayed relatively consistent over the past five seasons. While his low and medium danger save percentage dipped this season compared to last, his high danger save percentage took a huge leap.
A large part of Holtby’s success this season was due to this high danger save percentage that was the third best in the NHL this season only to Andrew Hammond and Jake Allen (including the same group of goaltenders that played 1000+ minutes this season). It’s important to note that both Hammond and Allen played less than half the number of games as Holtby this season. Comparably, Holtby’s low and medium danger save percentages weren’t even ranked in the top twenty. It would be unrealistic for one to expect this percentage to stay this high in the future, but it is within reason to predict he can maintain a Sv%H of over 85% as his five-year average is 85.626%.
This may be worrisome as Washington has allowed a higher shot rate compared to the league average in four of the past five seasons but a 85.0% Sv%H still puts Holtby in an elite class of goaltenders. Only six goaltenders over the past five seasons have averaged this percentage and maintaining it would land Holtby in the vicinity of Tuukka Rask, Jonas Hiller, and Henrik Lundqvist, all of who are great goaltenders.
Looking at Holtby’s Hextally Chart for the same five year span, he has posted a higher relative save percentage in the higher danger regions than the league average (as indicated by a lower relative shooting percentage against him). This higher relative save percentage is vital for long-term success as he’s stopping more of the harder shot attempts. Since Washington gives up more shot attempts in the high-danger zone compared to the league average, it is even more important for Holtby to have a higher save percentage here.
Holtby has really stepped up his performance in the playoffs. In 34 playoff contests since 2011, he has posted a 93.84% 5v5 SV% (.90% increase from his five year average) and a 93.86% AdjSv% (.58% increase from his five year average). Of 16 eligible goaltenders that have 1000+ TOI since 2011, Holtby ranks third in 5v5 SV% and fifth in AdjSv%. He ranks higher than Lundqvist, Price, Martin Brodeur, and Roberto Luongo among other top goaltenders.
Looking at Holtby’s save percentage by danger zones in the playoffs, he has performed above his five-year average in low and medium save percentage shots, while his high danger save percentage is about two percentage points below his five-year average. Having a lower save percentage for high danger shots can really hurt his team if they allow an untimely goal and aren’t able to pick up the momentum. Holtby and Washington as a team will need to play better close to their goal in order for success in the playoffs.
These numbers are rather impressive for Holtby as you need your best players to be your best players in the playoffs (see: Kane & Toews in Chicago). Despite these strong numbers, Washington hasn’t played great in front of Holtby, winning just two playoff series since 2011 (they qualified for the playoffs in three of the four seasons). They’ve gotten eliminated from the playoffs by the New York Rangers on three straight occasions, all in Game 7’s. Holtby hasn’t been able to find a way to win the big game early in the playoffs. Two of the three Game 7 losses to the Rangers came at 2-1 defeats (the third game was a 5-0 blowout)
For Holtby’s numbers alone, he is well worth the $6.1M price tag. His playing level is right in line with his contract comparables and he is even highly outplaying Ward ($6.3M AAV). At only 24 years old, Holtby is the youngest goaltender in this contract range meaning he has the highest upside (or one could argue the lowest downside) as all goaltenders regress with age.
Holtby’s age was another factor in why it made sense for Washington to sign him to a long-term contract this off-season. At 24 years old, Holtby is just two seasons away from unrestricted free agency. Washington may have overpaid right now, but the last three years of this contract are absolutely cheaper than what Holtby would’ve demanded on the free agent market. While Holtby’s cap hit remains at $6.1M through the entirety of the contract, his salary dips down to $5M for each of the last two seasons of the contract. This is very affordable for a 28 (2018-2019 season) & 29 (2019-2020 season) year old goaltender.
Holtby’s contract expiring at 29 gives Washington numerous options on whether they want to trade (via GeneralFanager & War-On-Ice Holtby has a limited NTC in the final years of the contract) or extend Holtby. Much of that decision will come in the last few years of the contract depending on the availability of NHL goaltenders in their system and his performance.
Simply, Washington is a much better team with Holtby in net (posted the 6th best Wins Above Replacement (WAR) this season – 2.3). The key to justifying Holtby’s contract will be Washington’s success in the playoffs. Holtby has already proved he can step up in the postseason, but as a team, Washington has to find a way to translate regular season success into playoff success. Washington should be a perennial playoff team for the next half decade and will have high expectations. If they aren’t able to put together a few deep playoff runs to at least the Conference Finals if not the Stanley Cup Finals, a lot of the blame is going to go on Holtby. While it may not be his fault, a lot of the blame gets put on the goaltender.
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