There was once a time, not too long ago, when Braden Holtby was among the best goalies in the NHL. He had pulled off three straight 40 win seasons from 2014-2017, with save percentages over .920 in each of those seasons. Holtby recorded his first All-Star campaign in the 2015-2016 season, before also winning the Vezina trophy that same season. He then followed up with a second place finish in the following campaign, only because of an insane season from Sergei Bobrovsky. He has been selected to the All-Star game 5 years running now.
So, why should the Devils not sign Braden Holtby, despite the goaltending needs the team has?
He may be the most overrated player in the NHL.
During these years, Braden Holtby was firmly entrenched as the Capitals’ starting goalie. However, it can be argued that this was not due to successful, consistent performances. During the 2017-2018 season we saw an alarming, sharp decline in Holtby’s overall numbers. He was selected as an All-Star yet again, and at the selection, Holtby had a 24-8-0 record and a .917 save percentage - good numbers at the time. The rest of the season, however, was a disaster for Holtby, as he regressed significantly and saw him go 10-8-4 the rest of the way, and end the season with a bad .907 save percentage that saw him tied for 47th (with our beloved Cory Schneider) among goalies with 20+ games. Luckily for Holtby and the Capitals, he then proceeded to have a great postseason campaign, which saw him go 16-7 with a .922 save percentage, and help the Capitals win the Stanley Cup.
Unfortunately for Holtby, his numbers would hover around the .910 save percentage the next season as well, where he was 32-19-5, before then crashing to a .897 save percentage in the current campaign (though still holding a 25-14-6 record). He lost his starting goalie spot to young upstart Ilya Samsonov, who recorded a significantly better 16-6-0 record, with a .913 save percentage. With Samsonov injured for the playoffs, Holtby has started and has done alright, with a 2-4-1 record, including a .909 save percentage. At the time of writing, the Capitals are down 3-1 in their series against the Islanders.
His statistical decline alone would raise the alarms against signing Holtby, especially on a rebuilding team such as the Devils. However, there are other additional, potentially more dangerous factors, to consider as well, including..
Currently, Branden Holtby is 30 years old, but will turn 31 in September. That’s the age when current Devils backup goaltender Cory Schneider shifted from franchise caliber starting goaltender to the oft-injured inconsistent goalie he is today, and also an age where a goalie realistically will not drastically return to previous highs (Marty Brodeur aside).
If you don’t believe me, there’s some data to support this claim. A research done by Hockey Graphs in 2014 tracked the average change in Save Percentage by age. As you can tell, goalie save percentages decrease more as the age goes on, with the 30 point having on average a .002% drop from previous years.
While this may not seem significant, imagine a Braden Holtby, who already recorded a .897 save percentage in the regular season, but one year older and playing behind OUR defense. Not a pretty sight.
Lastly, and most importantly, is the money aspect of any potential Holtby deal. Holtby is currently coming off a 5 year deal, where he earned an average salary of 6.1 million dollars. While his recent years have been mediocre at best, that deal is highlighted by a strong winning record, his previously mentioned 5 straight All-Star appearances, and a Vezina Trophy on his resume (As well as multiple placements). As such, I could easily see Holtby’s deal either being a long term, 4-5 million dollar deal, or a short term redemption deal that could easily hit 5-6 million dollars. While the Devils do have money to spend, there are questions that come with this amount of money commitment. Will Holtby want to remain a backup, after experiencing life behind Samsonov? Will any other teams drive his price up, banking on an increase to form? How will this pandemic affect the cap situation, and how much will the Devils be willing to spend in general? With all these questions in mind, I can’t rationalize a scenario where Holtby ends up with the Devils, and becomes nothing more than another overpriced backup.
I do not want the Devils to sign Holtby. I do not want the Devils to pursue Holtby. In fact, I don’t want the Devils to even look in Holtby’s direction. While a better backup goalie could greatly improve the Devils prospects in the future, signing Holtby could end up being a crutch that could hurt the Devils for years to come. As such, I would prefer the Devils to go for a cheaper option (Mike Smith) or stay with Schneider for one more year, and see if Blackwood is the real deal.
How do you all feel about Holtby? Would you want to avoid signing Holtby as well? Do you completely disagree with me? Let me know in the comments below, and take care!