Goalies, they say, are voodoo.
It may be the most difficult position to project but it is, of course, also the most important. If you don’t have a solid netminder then the cards are stacked against you from the word go. Just ask the San Jose Sharks, who finished with the worst 5-on-5 save percentage for the season regular season in a row.
This year brought a bunch of interesting developments at the position that should set up an intriguing off-season for goaltending free agents. Some career-long studs are nearing the end of their careers, while other younger, less well-known players are beginning to emerge to take their place.
Here are the six goaltending developments we found most interesting in 2019-20 so far… with storylines still to play out should the NHL be able to return this summer.
WASHINGTON, AND WHAT OF BRADEN HOLTBY?
We don’t yet know what impact this pandemic will have on the NHL’s salary cap, but it’s hard to see how it would go up at this point. And even if the cap remains flat, the Capitals will have an interesting decision to make in goal.
Right now, Washington has $71.1 million committed to its 2020-21 roster and the only big contract to get done is Braden Holtby‘s. But just how expensive should he really be? If Holtby is rewarded for past performance he’ll return to at least the same $6.1 million AAV as before, if not get a raise. But, he struggled this season and has a save percentage under .900, plus it’s been three years since he was a contender for the Vezina Trophy.
At the same time, rookie and 2015 first-round pick Ilya Samsonov arrived to post a .913 save rate and 16-6-2 record in a little more than half the amount of games as Holtby played. His numbers may have been stronger in a small sample, but would a Cup-winning team feel comfortable moving ahead with Samsonov in his second season minus Holtby as his safety net?
If the cap stays flat, Washington can probably keep them both for next season, but in the summer of 2021, UFA Alex Ovechkin and RFA Jakub Vrana will need new deals and it’s likely the cap will still be impacted by our current situation at that time. Can the Caps manage to keep Holtby around at a manageable rate, or will they have to wade out in the deep free-agent pool to find a tandem partner for Samsonov?