Washington’s Biggest Mistake

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.

This entry was posted in American Hockey League, Braden Holtby, Hershey Bears, Michal Neuvirth, National Hockey League, NHL, Semyon Varlamov, Washington Capitals and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Washington’s Biggest Mistake

  1. RAL says:

    “With the exception of a few stinkers,”

    Do note that those stinkers make up what, 20% of his starts? Holtby hasn’t played much at all.

    Also, this is very relevant. It’s on James Reimer, who sported a .932 after 15 games, but it now just as easily applies to Braden Holtby (14 GP, .934). A must-read:


    I’m not saying Holtby is not better. I’m saying we just don’t know, and given Holtby’s age, pedigree, etc, chances are he’s not better than either Neuvirth or Varly. The last thing the Caps want to do is to put him in for the playoffs and then have the other team “figure him out” and expose him.

    Other teams have already tried to figure out Varly and Neuvirth, and both play well nonetheless. I don’t think anyone has tried to make the book on Holtby yet, but they will soon, and that’s when I think his hot streak will end. Putting Holtby in is very high risk, and the potential reward over starting Varlamov or Neuvirth IMO isn’t enough to justify taking that risk.

  2. Trailblaza05 says:

    “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.”

    So what do you think will happen to Holtby when you throw him into the fire of the playoffs? Look I like Holtby alot and I feel bad for the kid moving back and forth but when it comes down to the playoffs I think it will be Neuvy in net due to his regular season and playoff experience. I know the AHL is not the NHL but two Calder Cups is better experience than a guy who has 20% of his games in the NHL as “stinkers”.

  3. Paul says:

    I wouldn’t say that sending Holtby down to Hershey was GMGM’s biggest mistake (Poti or Nylander anyone?). Sure, I personally believe that Holtby is the better goaltender the Capitals have in their system. However, I would like to see Holtby get at least one year of playoff experience down in Hershey before being the “go to guy” in Washington.

    Also, once Varlamov got his legs underneath him during his start in Ottawa, he looked very solid. Granted, that 2nd goal was a must stop (the first goal was not his fault at all), but with the way the Capitals were playing Ottawa, they would have lost 1-0 anyways.

    Another thing, between Varlamov and Neuvirth, I think Neuvirth is the strongest candidate. He was sick, that was the only reason Holtby was called up in the first place.

    I agree with GMGM with this decision (and I’m pretty critical of him in the past), the goaltender tandem will be Neuvirth and Varlamov. I would like to see Neuvirth be the starting in the playoffs, but I’m not the coach.

  4. Mark says:

    Has any NHL Player of the Week ever been sent to the minors the following week? He’s doing everything that’s been asked of him. Then again, I don’t have the stomach for trying a new goalie in the playoffs. Varly and Neuvy should be able to step up.

  5. Murshawursha says:

    Holtby is waiver-exempt. Varlamov and Neuvirth are not. So unless we want to take the risk of some other team claiming Varlamov or Neuvirth (and I’d put the odds of that at somewhere around 110%), Holtby’s going to be the odd man out. Is it fair? probably not, as he’s been lights out. But that’s the nature of the business side of the game.

    And Holtby’s sample size is pretty small, and he doesn’t even have a full season or playoff experience at the AHL level. I’m fine carrying Neuvirth and Varly in the playoffs, and should either go down with an injury, I’m also confident in Holtby’s ability to come up and play if need be. I still don’t think it’s a good idea to rush him straight to the show.

  6. Alex says:

    @Murshawursha, Varly and Neuvy are in their EL two-way deals still hence can go down to Hershey at any point. I do agree with you and most of these comments that Neuvy is the go to guy for the playoffs with Varly on the bench. Holtby has never even been the starter in one AHL playoff game (NO PRO PLAYOFF EXPERIENCE!! WOAH NO THANKS!) Neuvy should be more than capable of handling the reins from April onwards! Varly will get a fair look even with his injuries because of his 20 playoff games.

  7. Murshawursha says:

    I’d’ve sworn waiver eligeability was based on NHL games played rather than type of contract, and I was pretty sure both Varly and Neuvrith were over the cutoff. Could be wrong though.

  8. Roderick says:

    You are looking at this in a bubble. I don’t the goal tending answer and I won’t pretend to. However you are forgetting the hockey answer. Holtby in Hershey means he continues to play every night. He gets Calder cup experience and can work the pressure of playoffs and hopefully experience success while the big club is working its magic. Should Neuvy get hurt, well the club has an opportunity to call up Holtby and slot him or Varly into the starters role.

    However on the flip side, what happens if Holtby stays here and doesn’t get another start? Maybe he gets a little down? Loses focus and gets rusty all at the same time? Then what happens if Neuvy gets hurt and Varly gets the call? Talk about devastating a kids confidence. On top of that he misses a guaranteed playoff run with a good team and a big opportunity to make a championship run.

    I think sending Holtby back to Hershey was one of the smarter things GMGM could have done. There is no starting goalie controversy. I think we all know Neuvy will start the playoffs and Varly will site until needed and I am certain we will need both goalies if we want to win the cup. Maybe next season Holtby earns his way onto the team and sticks from the start…? Either way he will have some quality experience under his belt in big time pressure situations. The organization is lucky to have him.

  9. RWilliams says:

    Alex is wrong. Holby started several games and won them in the Bears playoff run to winning their 11th Calder Cup last year. He played versus the Bridgeport Tigers and the Albany River Rats. You should really check the history of a goalie before stating facts

  10. Cathy W says:

    Varly and Neuvy are NOT on the AHL Clear Day List; Holtby is on the list. Only Holtby is eligible to play for Hershey for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs. So Varly can’t just go to Hershey. Unless there is an injury, having three goalies means someone will be in the press box and better Holtby be playing in Hershey than wind up sitting in the press box. I am also confused as Schultz is signed for the next three seasons so how is it he may be moving on unless traded.

  11. sean says:

    I agree with this wholeheartedly. But to keep them all playing Holtby has to go to Hershey. I don’t buy the naysayers in regards to experience, Varly had 4 starts before he played in his first playoffs. Varly is trade bait and if he does well in the playoffs so much the better. If he doesn’t it won’t that much of a stretch for him to have another ‘injury’ and get Holtby called up. I don’t want us to resign him and only get another 25-30 games next year. I do think it is curious how he gets ‘healthy’ in March.

  12. Murshawursha says:

    Holtby started a grand total of three playoff games for Hershey, going 2-1, .857, 3.60. Hardly stellar numbers, and not enough to qualify as substantial experience IMO.

    I agree with Sean, no reason to rush his development if we don’t have to.

  13. RWilliams says:

    Murshawursha. My comments were made to the fact that Alex stated that Holby never started a Playoff Game. That was untrue. I didn’t make a statement about whether he should be starting in a Stanley Cup Playoffs. My issue is that if you make statements about someone stats you should be correct. You didn’t comment on the fact that Alex was wrong.

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  15. Chris says:

    I guess the only thing I disagree with is you reference Varly injury history and that Holtby should be playing, in part, because of that. I guess my thought is if Varly is playing and gets injured what makes you think Holtby would not be here the next day. I am not arguing the merits of which one is the better player. I am just saying that saying someone is injury prone is no reason not to play them if they are healthy.

    To use a football analogy, Bob Sanders was the best Safety that the Colts had but he could not stay healthy. If he was healthy, he played. If he wasn’t then someone else played. The colts didn’t bench him when healty because he was injury prone. No wheter to keeping him long term, that is a different decision and ability to stay healthy has to play into that.

  16. Alex says:

    Sorry RWilliams, you’re right I should check my facts. But @Sean common man it has everything to do with experience. The fact that Neuvy has 40 AHL playoff games and two championships and Varly has what?… 20 NHL playoff games and a series win… Yeah Neuvy has not lost a pro playoff series has he? Start him. And I think all three guys are trade bait, but maybe Varly the most given his injuries. I can’t see GMGM parting with any of them so soon though.

  17. Dave H says:

    I like Holtby, I think he’s our future, but we have to remember that his insanely hot streak has come during a period where the team as a whole is playing significantly better hockey than they have for most of the season. Neuvlamov put up very good numbers behind a team that was giving them very little help a lot of the year, especially early on.

    Also, I think to be fair, we should factor in his numbers from Hershey this month, as games with the caps only account for part of his pro play this month. Including that data drops his SV% for March to .929, still very good, but slightly less super human.

  18. Eric says:

    @Chris, I don’t think the injuries Varly’s had are as much to blame with the writer’s preference for Holtby over Varly as much as it’s been Varly’s inconsistencies coming off of the injuries. For instance, in the Ottawa and Carolina games, Varly ABSOLUTELY should’ve had goal number 2 in both of those games. In the Ottawa game, sure, we weren’t doing anything. But mentally it’s harder to come back from a 2-0 deficit when you can’t get anything going in a game. Had he made the save, and the Caps score, they now have confidence and a momentum swing in their favor. The outcome could’ve been totally different. And against Carolina, that was a deflating goal that he should’ve had, and we might be at 100 points right now. Varly hasn’t been the same goalie since the playoffs two years ago. I say if he wants to go to Russia, let him. We have Holtby with Grubauer in the pipeline.

  19. Avtopilot says:

    I actually think, we don’t know enough to fingerpoint anybody and make the statements.

    There were so many panic this season during the 8-game losing streak : “BB must go!” “GM must go!” “Trade Semin!” “Give C to Laich!” and so on.
    Where are those critics now, eh?
    But have no doubt – another PO stinker will return all the critics.
    The same about Varly – this PO run will answer the question, who is #1. I think, that Varly is the best goaltender in the team with most PO experience and it’s stupid to trade him away now.
    If his health is still a liability he will be traded next season after the successful (hopefuly) PO run when his price is high. If not – Holtby will be traded. We’ll see.

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