By Allan Muir
Early-season struggles aside, the Washington Capitals believe that Braden Holtby can be their goalie of the future. And they're giving him two years to prove it.
The team announced early Monday afternoon that it had agreed on an extension with last spring's playoff hero. Holtby, who was scheduled to become a restricted free agent this summer, will make $1.7 million in 2013-14 and $2 million in 2014-15. (Good on the Caps for not playing coy and simply giving the salary figures in their press release.)
This feels like a smart move by Washington GM George McPhee and a reasonable one by the 23-year-old Holtby. McPhee is taking a cautious approach by limiting the term to two years. If Holtby doesn't progress as the Caps hope, they can cut bait and move on in short order. And if he does develop into the No. 1 stopper they believe he can be, the team will be happy to set up his grandkids with the next deal.
The finances make sense as well. Holtby has played well in his last few starts, going 4-2-0, but he's still largely unproven. This deal slots him in fairly. Of the 35 goalies with NHL contracts for next year, just eight will make less than his $1.7 million, and all of them are backups. Holtby also will account for less than four percent of the team's cap allowance.
Just as important, the deal sets a fairly low bar for Holtby's equally raw partner Michal Neuvirth...if the Capitals decide to keep him, that is. The 24-year-old also is up to become an RFA this summer, so McPhee needs to decide if he wants to stick with the two youngsters or bring in a veteran to challenge/support Holtby. Don't be surprised to hear Neuvirth's name popping up in rumors leading up to the April 3 trade deadline.
From Holtby's perspective, he joins a growing list of players who are signing bridge deals -- reasonably valued contracts that take them from their low-salary entry-level pact to their strike-it-rich third agreement. He's not set for life off this one, but next year Holtby nearly triples his current salary of $637,777, and has the motivation to work toward his next deal.
Looks like a winner for both sides. Moments after announcing the Holtby deal, the Capitals confirmed that they had extended defenseman John Erskine for two years at $3.9 million. A little less excitement involved with that one, but that's the going rate for a veteran blueliner who brings his particular skill set to the table.