Nostalgia can be a very weird thing. I talk about this a lot when it comes to sports. There have been some ugly uniforms in NHL (and other leagues) history that some fanbases love. A lot of that can be thanks to that was the jersey the team wore when they got into the sport or that team did something special in their history.
If the Washington Capitals were to change their uniforms for next season but bring back their current ones in twenty years I guarantee fans will freak out over them bringing these jerseys back because they represent a very special era of Capitals hockey. Those jerseys represent thee Alex Ovechkin era and a Stanley Cup win. Nostalgia.
The same thing happens when you talk about players and former players. When a fan favorite leaves a team a lot of fans will look at the schedule to find out when that player will return with his new team. Fans will also throw a lot of reasoning out the window when they hear that they could potentially bring back a favorite fan. That’s where we are a little bit today with the Capitals and Braden Holtby.
The Washington Capitals need goaltending help. There is potentially a goalie out there that could be traded, that goalie of course being Holtby. Capitals fans then put those two facts together and unsurprisingly and understandably start drooling. Caps fans remember what he did in DC they remember the accomplishments the team had when he was here and he became a favorite fan.
They know what he can do. When you don’t know where you’re going it’s always easiest to fall back to what you know, or what you think you know. In this case, the Caps needs help at the goalie position and fans think if they get Holtby they will instantly get back the Holtby of 2014-17.
In those years Holtby’s highest GAA was 2.22 and his lowest save percentage was .922%. In 2015-16 he was awarded the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie.
That is the Holtby fans want back. If the Capitals acquire him maybe he would turn back into that goalie. I don’t know, I’m not a fortune teller and I cannot see into the future. When you look at his numbers though it’s likely the Caps would be trading for another average goalie.
Since those three great seasons Holtby has for the most part put up average if not below average numbers. Since 2016-17 when he had a 2.07 GAA and a .925 save percentage his stats have not been very good, except for this current season.
In the years between he posted GAA’s of 2.99, 2.82 (his final year in WSH), 3.11 and 3.67. His save percentages were .907, .911 (his final WSH year), .897 and .889.
This year Holtby has a 2.68 GAA and a save percentage of .913%. A pretty good rebound year from Holtby, but still nothing exceptional.
You also have to take into account that Dallas is seemingly always a better defensive team. Now I’ll admit it, I don’t watch many Stars games, but when you look at the numbers it says they are a better defensive team that the Capitals.
While 5v5 the Capitals have actually surrendered less goals than the Stars, Washington having given up 74 goals, the Stars have given up 75. However, when you look at scoring chances Dallas is much better at limiting those chances than the Caps are. Dallas has allowed 813 scoring chances and 317 high danger chances so far this season. They are top ten in both of those categories. The Capitals on the other hand have allowed 932 chances and 365 high danger attempts. Those rank 20th and 19th in the league respectively.
Again, I don’t watch much Dallas Stars hockey, but when you look at their numbers you’d think their goals would be doing even better than they are. Their team save percentage is a fairly average 91.95% which ranks 15th in the league. Dallas also has the 9th worst high danger save percentage in the league at 81.12%.
Holtby individually isn’t really much to write home about either. While 5v5, among goals who have played 800 minutes or more he ranks 17th in save percentage at .923%, a pretty good number, but ranking pretty low considering only 33 guys have played 800 or more minutes. To compare, Vitek Vanecek has played in over 1,000 minutes 5v5 and his save percentage is .931% which ranks 9th. Ilya Samsonov is 29th out of 33 at .911%
High danger save percentage is another number to look at here. Holtby falls in the ranking a bit here having a HDSV% of .811% which is 24th. Vanecek is at .863% which is 7th best, Samsonov still trails the two at .788% which is 29th in these rankings.
Finally, Goals Saved Above Average is another number I like looking at and we’re going to see it’s the same order as the other two stats. Holtby is stuck in the middle at 1.72 which ranks 17th, Vanecek leads the three at 5.56 which is 13th and Samsonov brings up the rear at -3.79 and that puts him at 27th.
One final thing I think that needs to be brought up is optics and future planning. How things would look and how things could play out going forward. Lets start with how would things work if Holtby gets traded back to Washington and things go well for him.
Holtby returns to the Caps and he plays well. Maybe he even turns into the starter and goes into the playoffs as the number one guy. Great! The Caps have a really good goalie going into the playoffs. But lets just say they lose in the playoffs. Right now, I’m not picking this team to go all the way, there is too many questions for me so just getting a better goaltending isn’t enough.
So this team loses in the playoffs somewhere. First, second, third round, I don’t know, they lose. But Holtby played great. Now what? He’s a free agent after this season, do you try to re-sign him? This team likely won’t be able to afford him if he plays great. So after he comes in and helps you just let him go for nothing, again? I’m guessing fans wouldn’t be that happy if that happened.
If he came in and helped and you tried to re-sign him you would probably have to get rid of another fan favorite somewhere, maybe a TJ Oshie? Maybe you let a defenseman walk in the offseason but then you get worse there on an already iffy defensive team.
Lets switch here and say what happens if you trade for Holtby and he doesn’t play well. History has shown he is probably an average goalie when he isn’t playing under Barry Trotz and more specifically goalie coach Mitch Korn. Holtby would now move from a better defensive team in Dallas to a worse D team in Washington.
If he comes back and doesn’t play well and you know 100% he isn’t a definite upgrade over what you have then why make the trade? You gave away an asset for nothing. Re-signing him becomes an easier question to answer, you just don’t. Some fans will still be mad because they like the guy, but that’s just the way it goes.
As a general manager you have to think like a poker or chess player. You have to think about several moves ago and several moves ahead. In this case, several moves ago, Holtby is an average, maybe slightly above average goalie. Several moves ahead, If he does good or bad for us, then what?
If Braden Holtby gets traded to the Washington Capitals you will not see me on social media or anywhere else hating on the move. My complaint against the move is I’m not sure he is a definite upgrade over what the Capitals already have and you can’t just want to get a guy because that really dangerous feeling of nostalgia is taking over.