Capitals General Manager George McPhee has made some absolutely gorgeous decisions this season. Whether it be the trade for Scott Hannan, picking up Marco Sturm off waivers or acquiring what appears to be the team’s new locker room leader, Jason Arnott, for almost nothing, GMGM should be in the running for GM of the year. Too bad his most recent decision, to send Braden Holtby back to Hershey, is his worst of the year and one that could really hurt the Caps in just a few weeks.
The easiest argument for Holtby’s demotion is the team has two goalies it needs to get ready for the postseason. That said, however, who says Holtby couldn’t be the guy to play in the postseason? As it stands now, Holtby has looked like the best goalie in the organization, and, on top of that, he has the numbers to back it up. Perhaps the most overlooked and best part about his performance this year is he has gotten better in almost every single start.
Think for a minute: we saw the best of Michal Neuvirth at the beginning of the season when he was thrust into the starting role with almost no warning. Since then, he hasn’t looked the same and has not posted those same numbers. Meanwhile, Semyon Varlamov had his solid stretch around the Winter Classic when he looked like the impenetrable wall we saw in the playoffs just a few years ago. Other than those games, though, Varly hasn’t stayed on the ice and his team has a big question mark hovering over their goalie stability now. Holtby, on the other hand, has come up and posted solid outings every time he has been called upon, sometimes with very little warning that he will be starting. With the exception of a few stinkers, Holtby has been dominate in the crease and has not had an extended period of time where he hasn’t been good. I don’t think we can honestly say we have seen the very best Braden Holtby yet.
Obviously Holtby hasn’t had the luxury to prove himself in a long-term stint, but he still has looked healthy and ready to start at the drop of a pin, which is more than you can say for Varly. The young Russian looked like the guy for the next decade just a few years ago and now he looks like he might not be on the team next year — all of this because of his injuries, which are coincidentally the biggest reason the Caps need to keep Holtby in Washington.
Neuvy is a fine number one, and, in my opinion, the guy who needs to start in just a few weeks. But what if he gets hurt, doesn’t look the same or falls ill? Then the team has to turn to Varly who hasn’t been able to stay healthy all season. And what if he aggravates his groin? Personally, Varly looks like a liability at this point. Is he really ready to play if needed when the Caps can’t even play him back-to-back games against Ottawa and Montreal? This team should be in tuneup time and not still finding out what they have on their roster.
Washington knows more than anyone that a hot goalie can steal a series and a bad one can cost a city a promising playoff run. Obviously we cannot predict the future, but once the first round rolls around would you be more comfortable with Holtby and Neuvy, two young and healthy guys ready to start at any moments notice, or Varly and Neuvy, two young guys one of whom has been on and off the injured reserve for the last two seasons? I think it is a clear answer.
Some may think I am being unfair to Varly, which I may be, but when it comes to the playoffs, the absolute best needs to be on the team because this same team will most likely not play together again. While some in the organization don’t believe it is “Stanley Cup or Bust,” the truth is they are. Sure, they may not bust many players if they lose early, but some may choose not to return to Washington and retire, like Arnott, some guys may move on, like Schultz, and others just might not make it back to the team.
Truth is, every team is “Stanley Cup or Bust” or they wouldn’t be playing. As a result, the front office has to give this team the best possible goalie tandem to win with. Varly may have been the guy in the past, but from what we have seen this year, it is hard not see the past fading away and see the future of Braden Holtby shining through — a future that should start now.