Braden Holtby may be one of the greatest goalies the Washington Capitals will ever have in the franchise’s history. However, with the Vezina Trophy winner’s contract expiring at the end of this season, Holtby may very well be on his way out of the nation’s capital.
In his current contract, Holtby earns a hefty $6.1 million dollars every year. His salary is bound to see a raise thanks to his various well-deserved awards and notable achievements — such as winning the Vezina Trophy for goalie of the year, the William M. Jennings Trophy for least goals given up in a season, and being a major player in his team’s Stanley Cup Champion squad. Holtby is going to get paid, plain and simple, and it doesn’t look like the Capitals will always be able to afford him, barring major salary cap saving moves.
The possibility of losing Holtby leads fans and experts alike to the next problem: who will be the goalie of the future Capitals? Both Pheonix Copley, Holtby’s 2018-19 backup, and youngster prospect Ilya Samsonov are being thrown around as potential leaders between the pipes. Copley has NHL experience, posting solid backup stats with a .905 save percentage, and a 2.9 GAA (Goals Against Average) in the 27 games he has played.
Copley’s record was an above-average 16-7-3, but if we have learned anything from baseball, records really don’t tell the full story on a player’s performance. Copley didn’t have everyday starter numbers — especially when you look at Braden Holtby’s stats — posting both a higher save percentage (.911) and lower GAA (2.82) in many more games played (59). Copley has time to improve his numbers this season as Holtby’s backup again, as he is the probable No. 2 netminder going into this season.
The other potential solution, prospect Ilya Samsonov from Magnitogorsk, Russia, just might hold the key if Copley’s numbers don’t improve. Samsonov was the No. 22 Caps overall pick in the 2015 NHL entry draft and has had a lot of hype attached to his name ever since. Last season, Samsonov played 37 games in the minor leagues (AHL) for the Capitals affiliate, the Hershey Bears.
Samsonov posted a .898 save percentage paired with a 2.70 GAA — the latter stat being much more impressive than the former. Samsonov needs more time before he is completely NHL-ready and up for the task to compete with Copley as the Caps’ future goaltender.
This preseason, Samsonov has played two games: his first against the St. Louis Blues where he stopped all nine even-strength shots faced but surrendered one power play goal on four shots. The second game Samsonov played was against the Carolina Hurricanes who scored twice on the young keeper in 15 attempts.
Now, of course, Holtby and the Capitals could very well figure out a deal that pleases both sides keeping Holtby as a franchise hero for the entirety of his career. But in the more probable case that a deal doesn’t materialize, the Capitals need to be ready to find their best possible goalie of the future. Mere free agent veteran signings are not always the best solution financially or talent-wise, therefore Copley, Samsonov, and any other potential bidders better be ready, the time has come.