When Braden Holtby became a restricted free agent in summer last year, there were mixed reactions among the fans. He had called for an arbitration hearing in order to negotiate a contract he felt he deserved. Was he worth the money he was asking?
When it came to light how much he had asked for in contract negotiations ($8 million per season) some called for the Washington Capitals organisation to get rid of him. The organisation itself had counter offered with a one year – $5.5 million contract. Many thought he asked too much and said he wasn’t worth it. Not yet. Considering he’d only just finished his first year as the starting net-minder for the franchise.
Fast forward seven months and Holtby is one of the top candidates for the Vezina trophy, the leading net-minder in the NHL with a record of 36-6-3 and a number of times this season, the only thing keeping the Capitals from a serious beat down. He’s a face for the franchise, alongside Captain Alex Ovechkin and even has an action figure made of his likeness. (You know you’ve made it when you get an action figure!)
All joking aside, Holtby is on track to surpass the win record of former New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur. Who in the 2006-2007 season set the record of 48 wins.
This does however require that he plays and the Saskatchewan native seems determined to play. Coach Barry Trotz speaks highly of Holtby, according to the Washington Post Trotz has said that “he likes to work” and that is evident in the number of starts he made last season for the DC team and in the way he has continued to do so, even attempting to push through a migraine and bout of dehydration to be there on the ice with his team mates.
As a spectator I have noticed a definite difference in the way the rest of the team play when the 26 year old net-minder is between the pipes. The team have a tendency to drive harder towards the opposing net, pushing for more goals from the word go. It appears to show the team’s faith in him, that they see him as steadfast and as their solid last line of defence. It has at times left them lacking and in cases such as this Trotz has chosen to switch out Holtby for German born netminder Philipp Grubauer.
I can of course only speculate my own reasons for this, but when Grubauer is in the next the Capitals seem more well rounded, playing equally in defence and offence and are quicker to return to assist their goalie in keeping pucks from the net.
Recently however, Grubauer has proven he can also be reliable. Although when he has stepped in for Holtby late in the game, hasn’t always made potential of a loss into a win. His presence has at times given a team who looked defeated a change of heart. Turning themselves around and given them the fight and determination to get back to within a goal of victory. When he has started the game, he has an almost 50/50 rate of success. He is a good choice as a backup for the one they call the Beast and it is possible in the coming weeks we may see more of him as Trotz may choose to rest Holtby in the hopes of capitalising on his talents in a deep play off run.
We can only wait and see how it will all play out, nothing in life is certain and in hockey that is never truer than in the tale of the backup and the beast but it is what will make the journey both entertaining and emotional.