Written by: Stefen Rosner (@stefen_rosner)
As seasons come and go in the National Hockey League, we have noticed a change in the way teams are assembled. More noticeably over the last couple of seasons, the ability to create effective goaltending tandems has put certain teams in a substantially better position to make the playoffs. This past offseason we saw a handful of netminders relocate to new teams whether it was through free agency like Braden Holtby or via trade like Cam Talbot and Devan Dubnyk. At the time, some of these moves drew more questions than answers.
Every goaltender acquired this past offseason has had big shoes to fill, or skates rather. Whether their acquisition was meant to be a final piece for a franchise or a bridge to get their respective team to the next level, the pressure was on. When given expectations, the goal is to always shatter them and to never disappoint. To their team’s fault or their own, we have seen more of the new acquisitions fail to live up to the hype this season.
Since we are past the halfway point of this shortened 56-game regular season, let’s check in on how our padded friends have faired with their new teams.
Back in 2018, Braden Holtby was on top of the hockey world, as he and the Washington Capitals were Stanley Cup champions. His stick save in the final two minutes of game two will go down as one of the most unbelievable saves in postseason history.
The 2010s provided saves we will never forget, but there was one that stood out from the rest.
In game two, of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, @Capitals goalie Braden Holtby made a save that will live FOREVER.
Which save was your favorite? pic.twitter.com/5ZUMQDQ2Vd
— NHL on NBC Sports (@NHLonNBCSports) January 16, 2020
While that was a thrill, his statistics during the regular season and in the playoffs were not spectacular by any means. Since 2018, the numbers for the Saskatchewan native have been anything but stellar. Last season in a contract year, Holtby put up a .897 save percentage (SV%) with a 3.11 goals-against average (GAA). These were his worst numbers over his 10 years in the league. With rookie netminder Ilya Samsonov having played well, (.913 SV%, 2.55 GAA), the time was indeed coming to an end for Holtby in Washington D.C.
On October 9th, Holtby and the Vancouver Canucks reached a contract agreement, a two-year deal worth $8.6 million. The Canucks had seen enough from their rookie netminder Thatcher Demko in last year’s postseason to let Jacob Markstrom walk. That meant they needed another starter to create their tandem. At the time, I thought this was a critical mistake for the Canucks because I believed we had seen the best of Holtby. There were more capable goaltenders for Demko to learn the NHL game from. Nevertheless, Vancouver took a gamble, a gamble that has not paid off this season.
Not that Holtby was brought in to be the number one guy, but he has given the Canucks minimal production this season. He has played in 12 of the team’s 36 games and owns an abysmal 3.57 GAA, with a .894 SV%, his worst mark to date. The good news is that Holtby has seen his goals saved above average (GSAA) go from a -16.8 last year to only a -6.5 this year.
Every statistic for a netminder is not solely based on their play alone, but the play of the team in front of them. The Canucks have allowed the second-highest amount of shots against per game, currently at 33.7, which means their netminders have had to work extremely hard game in and game out. However, Demko, the clear-cut starter, has put up much stronger numbers behind the same defense. He has a 2.77 GAA with a .917 SV% with a GSAA of 7.8.
Even with the defensive struggles, the Canucks only sit a point out of a playoff spot in the North Division. In order to stay relevant and in the hunt, Holtby will need to find a way to contribute down the stretch.