Regardless of how they perform, there will be a dark cloud hanging over the Washington Capitals throughout this coming season, or at least until they can make it go away. The Capitals have two core players heading for unrestricted free agency next summer in Braden Holtby and Nicklas Backstrom and it’s difficult to see the team finding enough cap space to bring both back at market value. Washington is currently over the salary cap approaching the start of this season and will likely be forced to make a move. Things don’t get much better a year from now, as the team has more than $62MM already committed to just 15 players. Extending two superstars while filling out the rest of the roster would be a daunting task.
For his part, Holtby hopes that the Capitals can find a way to figure it out. Speaking with Tarik El-Bashir of The Athletic, the All-Star goaltender stated that he would like to spend his whole career in D.C. if it were up to him. “This is all I know. I would love to (re-sign), I think that’s pretty clear.” Holtby has enjoyed nine great years and counting in Washington, with a Stanley Cup, a Vezina Trophy, a Jennings Trophy, and two all-pro nods to show for it. The team is set up nicely to continue being competitive and Holtby has no reason to want to leave.
However, he was also very honest that he knows that NHL hockey is a business and he’s aware that it’s not always as easy as staying with your preferred team. Negotiations will begin soon between GM Brian MacLellan and agent Dave Kaye and Holtby only hopes that the two sides can “get on the same page before the season starts and go from there.” The veteran keeper does not want talks to become a distraction, telling El-Bashir “The main thing is we don’t want it to affect the team at all. I think that’s pretty universal… to not let it be a distraction, and to go out and win games.”
Holtby also surely knows that sometimes the numbers do not line up. What is best for the player is oftentimes not what is best for the team and vice versa. Rival goalie Sergei Bobrovsky showed that this summer, deciding to leave the Columbus Blue Jackets after many accomplished seasons to sign a massive seven-year, $70MM deal with the Florida Panthers. Holtby has already been working with a cap hit of $6.1MM on his last contract, signed five years ago – prior to both his individual award-winning seasons and the Caps’ Cup run. As such, that $10MM cap hit could very well be in the target range of Holtby’s camp. However, Washington sees a soon-to-be 30-year-old goaltender whose numbers have slipped relatively significantly over the past two years. They also see a promising 22-year-old Ilya Samsonov in the pipeline, a first-round investment hungry for an NHL opportunity. This will drive down the price that Washington is willing to offer.
Given their shared success, it is no wonder that Holtby would like to stay in Washington and safe to assume that the Capitals feel the same. However, with many financial factors in play, many outside the control of either side, it will not be easy to make an extension work. Getting off to a strong start, as Holtby noted, will be key, but this will likely be a long, arduous negotiation that lasts well into the season and, even if it doesn’t distract Holtby and his teammates, will surely weigh on Caps fans. In the end, the two sides will have to land at a perfect point that makes sense for both sides, as there is no wiggle room for a “winner” in the negotiations when it comes to Washington’s salary cap crunch.