With the trade deadline now a few weeks away, we continue our look at some of the players who have a good chance of being on the move between now and March 21st.
Braden Holtby’s first season away from the Washington Capitals, the only team he had ever known, the team he backstopped to a Stanley Cup in 2018, did not go well. Holtby signed a two-year contract worth $4.3MM per year with the Vancouver Canucks, and the team was optimistic that he would replace Jacob Markstrom’s starts and help ease Thatcher Demko into his role as a starting goaltender. Holtby’s play was far poorer than those expectations demanded, and he was eventually bought out by the team after only one season, a season where he posted a .889 save percentage and an eye-popping 3.67 goals against average in 21 games. But this season, Holtby has been impressive for the Dallas Stars, and he owns a .913 save percentage in 24 games as the Stars battle for position in the Western Conference’s playoff race.
Holtby is in the lone season of his one-year $2MM contract with the Stars. His entire contract is in base salary, no signing bonus, and he will be an unrestricted free agent in July. He has no protection against trades in his contract.
Holtby began the season brilliantly, with save percentages between .926 and .964 in his first four starts, with the Stars winning three out of those four. Holtby’s numbers came down to earth a bit after that, but overall he has remained steadily above .910 as a whole for his season’s numbers. Holtby faced a minor lower-body injury in early February and largely has ceded the starting role to Jake Oettinger, but despite those two factors he has still provided the Stars with excellent value for the contract they signed. Holtby’s season represents his first venture above the .900 mark in save percentage since 2018-19, and the Stars have to be satisfied with the performance he has given them so far this season.
Looking a bit deeper into his numbers, Holtby has a .922 even-strength save percentage, higher than many goalies considered to be quality starters such as John Gibson, Robin Lehner, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Connor Hellebuyck. But his save percentage on the penalty kill of .827 is one of the lower marks in the league and brings down his save percentage as a whole. The Stars do not have a great penalty kill, ranked 19th in the NHL at 78.9%, so one has to wonder if Holtby’s numbers could be even better on a team that is stronger in that area.
22 games started, 10-10-1 record, .913 save percentage, 2.78 goals against average, 3.0 goals saved above expected.
Goaltending is an interesting situation when it comes to the trade deadline, because it can be far easier to determine a team’s need in that position compared to others. That being said, so much of successful goaltending is mental, so much relies on a goalie’s confidence and belief in himself. So acquiring a goalie at the deadline can be tricky. High-profile goaltending trades at deadlines have sometimes borne fruit, like when the Vegas Golden Knights acquired their current starting goalie in Lehner, but it has also backfired in the past, like when the Los Angeles Kings traded Erik Cernak, among other assets, to acquire Ben Bishop from the Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s a mixed bag, so historically speaking acquiring Holtby has some risk. But looking across the league, there are definitely teams in need of goaltending.
The team getting the most attention surrounding its goaltending right now is the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs are a star-studded team and are in a market that desperately wants to see them make their first playoff run with this core of players. It was believed that Jack Campbell would be the guy to get them there, and Campbell is truly a beloved player in Toronto, but his play recently has not been inspiring. Nor has the play all season of backup Petr Mrazek, who has an .890 save percentage. For a team that so badly needs to make noise in the playoffs, adding a Stanley Cup-winning goalie could be the move they need to shore up the side of the game that has decided many a playoff series on its own.
Another potential suitor for Holtby is one that would excite many fans of the team and neutral observers alike- the Washington Capitals. Vitek Vanecek has been brilliant this season, to the tune of a .921 save percentage, but the team has also started Ilya Samsonov in 28 games and gotten a .901 save percentage from him. For a team that expects to make the playoffs, that won’t cut it. The Capitals should be comfortable with Vanecek starting in the playoffs, but uncomfortable at the prospect of Samsonov playing should Vanecek be unavailable, as he was in the team’s playoff loss to the Bruins last season. So what better player to cure the Capitals’ discomfort than Holtby, the goalie who in 2018 cured their longstanding discomfort over having never won a Stanley Cup?
One clear potential suitor for Holtby is the Edmonton Oilers. Much has been made about the struggles of their goaltending, and for good reason. They have a team with high-quality players but no goalie to give them the saves they need to win. They don’t have much room to work with under the cap, but with retention they could definitely fit Holtby in. He would be a major upgrade over both of the incumbent goalies in Edmonton and would also provide them with much-needed playoff experience. It’s a match that makes a lot of sense, and the acquisition cost should definitely fit GM Ken Holland’s desire to retain his team’s first round pick.
A final potential suitor for Holtby may come as a surprise: the New York Rangers. It may surprise a few readers because the Rangers are currently backstopped by a Hart Trophy candidate in Igor Shesterkin. But the move could make sense. The team’s backup, Alexandar Georgiev, owns a .897 save percentage this season. He is simply not a viable insurance policy to a Shesterkin injury come the playoffs. The Rangers have had too strong of a season to lose it all if Shesterkin goes down. Adding Holtby at a price that would not be unreasonable (goalies rarely get traded for significant assets, especially at the deadline) could be a smart bit of business for GM Chris Drury.
Likelihood of a Trade
The Stars are still in the mix for a playoff spot, so potentially subtracting a goalie like Holtby would in theory hurt their odds of making it. But the team seems set on Oettinger as their number-one goaltender, and they have Anton Khudobin waiting in the wings to take Holtby’s role as a backup in case of a trade. Khudobin hasn’t been great this season, but he’s an experienced player who the Stars would trust as a backup, given their prior commitments to him. Holtby isn’t an overwhelmingly likely candidate to be traded, like the Montreal Canadiens’ Ben Chiarot is, but it’s not difficult to see why he could be on the move