Restricted free agent goaltender Braden Holtby raised more than a few eyebrows Tuesday with a surprising salary arbitration ask.
At first glance it seems wildly out of line, even for one of the game's top young goaltenders coming off a career-best season. But the truth is, he might not be that far off. In fact, if his case gets as far as the scheduled hearing on Thursday, Holtby stands a decent chance of getting exactly what he's asking.
First, let's get the obvious out of the way. Going big in the ask is a clear negotiating ploy aimed at getting the Washington Capitals to the bargaining table ahead of arbitration. A mutually agreed upon settlement that guarantees a longer term than the one or two-year award available through the arbitrator is more desirable to both sides.
But if it gets down to the marrow, know this: Holtby's ask can't be easily dismissed. Arbitration, after all, is all about the stats. And according to the folks at Hockey-Reference.com, Holtby has some powerful numbers to back up his request.
Consider: At .921, he has the highest regular-season save percentage of any active goalie through his 25-year-old season (minimum 150 games played). Better than Henrik Lundqvist ($8.5 million). Better than Carey Price ($6.5 million). Better than Roberto Luongo ($5.33 million).
Next: At .936, he has the highest playoff save percentage of any active goalie (minimum 20 games played). Better than Corey Crawford ($6 million). Better than Jonathan Quick ($5.8 million). Better than Tuukka Rask ($7 million). (Note: all cap figures as per General Fanager.)
Then there's his career record of 101-51-18 with a 2.44 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage. That compares well to a pair of goaltenders who broke the bank with their own recent RFA deals. Rask was 26 with a 66-45-16 career mark with a .926 save percentage and one trip to the Stanley Cup Final when he inked an eight-year, $56-million deal to remain with the Bruins in 2013. And Sergei Bobrovsky was 26 with arbitration rights when he signed a four-year, $29.7 million deal in 2014. Bobrovsky had a Vezina to his credit, but just a 95-64-21 regular-season record to go with a 2-6 mark to go along with an .890 save percentage and a 3.49 GAA in the playoffs.
Rask's deal averaged $7 million per year. Bobrovsky's, $7.425 million. With salaries on the rise every year for top players, Holtby's $8 million doesn't seem so far fetched, does it?
The Caps, who have offered $5.1 million per season, have to know they aren't going to get off that cheaply. Expect them to make another offer to Holtby's camp in the next 24 hours that comes a lot closer to his number, say, two-three years at $7 million per, that rewards him now and sets him up for a bigger payday just down the road.