After going through the rigors of an arbitration hearing in Toronto on Thursday morning, Braden Holtby and the Washington Capitals reached an agreement on a five-year, $30.5 million contract, which the two sides signed on Friday afternoon.
The decision means Holtby, formerly a restricted free agent, and the Capitals will not be bound by the ruling made from that hearing — one in which the team made a one-year offer of $5.1 million as Holtby’s agent pressed for $8 million.
“It’s all part of the process, and when you’re an RFA, it’s a bit longer of a process, but the biggest thing is that both sides really wanted to get something done to work toward accomplishing a team goal,” Holtby said. “We have it, and I’m just thrilled to be a part of this organization for years to come.”
The $6.1 million average annual value of Holtby’s contract will be the seventh-highest salary cap hit for a starting goaltender in the NHL. It also represents a significant increase in pay for the 25-year-old, who made $2 million last season while setting multiple team records.
Holtby will make $3.5 million this season with a $3 million signing bonus, then will make $7 million in 2016-17 and 2017-18 and $5 million in 2018-19 and 2019-20. Negotiations didn’t pick up until three days ago, Holtby said.
The outcome of Holtby’s arbitration hearing was due Saturday afternoon, but general manager Brian MacLellan said that after each side presented its case, the negotiations became easier.
“The arbitration process for goalies, I think, is a difficult one, because there’s limited comparables, and some of the contracts are a little awkward,” MacLellan explained. “Some were signed in mid-season, and it’s hard to get an apples[-to-]apples comparison. We were kind of close, we got apart, and then after the arb process, I think it helped solidify numbers for both parties after we had gone through that.”
A former fourth-round draft pick, Holtby tied a franchise record with 72 appearances last season, including a stretch of 27 consecutive games, and finished with a career-best 2.22 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage.
His 41 victories were second only to the Montreal Canadiens’ Carey Price, and he had a 1.71 GAA and a .944 save percentage in the playoffs, including a shutout of the New York Rangers in Game 3 of the teams’ Eastern Conference semifinal series.
“I think just the whole complete [package] — the ability to handle that workload, the ability to compete at that level,” MacLellan said. “I thought the way he handled the playoffs, I thought he turned it up a notch and took his game to another level. I think everything that’s gone on this past season solidified our confidence in him to give him a five-year deal.”
Holtby’s signing leaves the Capitals with approximately $5 million remaining against the salary cap, not counting the salary of either Justin Peters or Philipp Grubauer, one of whom will be ticketed for the minor leagues.
The team also has an arbitration hearing with left wing Marcus Johansson scheduled for Wednesday.
“I’m very relieved to have it over with, and now, we can just focus on the real thing — my job — and accomplishing our goals as a team,” Holtby said.