For much of this season, Washington Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth has been the de facto starter in net because Semyon Varlamov has been dealing with a variety of chronic injuries. Despite Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma’s assertion that he is a “shaky” goalie, Neuvirth responded to the opportunity with some nice work (making him a steal in fantasy hockey leagues to boot).
Yet the Capitals emphasized the need for a deep reserve of quality netminders this season, as injuries to both Neuvirth and Varlamov forced the team to turn to the third goalie on their depth chart: Braden Holtby.
Instead of stumbling with another inexperienced starter, Holtby is carrying the torch from Neuvirth, as he earned three consecutive wins to stretch the Capitals’ winning streak to a 2010-11 season-high of seven games. In fact, Holtby has been doing so well lately – only one goal allowed in his last three appearances, one of which came in relief of an injured Neuvirth – that Mark Zuckerman of CSN Washington wonders if the 21-year-old goalie might be pushing for more than just an interim hold on the No.1 job in DC.
In 11 NHL games so far this season, Holtby has allowed a scant 1.84 goals per game (best among any goalie in the league with at least as many appearances) while stopping 93.4 percent of shots fired his way (second only to Boston’s Tim Thomas).
But are 11 games enough to convince the Capitals’ decision-makers Holtby deserves the starting job through the final month of the regular season and into the playoffs?
For now, Holtby gets the nod over Neuvirth (who appears to healthy enough to return) and Varlamov (who has been out since February 20 with a knee injury).
“It’s a chance for him,” winger Mike Knuble said. “That’s the way he looks at it. It’s a chance. He gets a chance to play while the other two guys are down. As a young goalie, you’ve got to relish those moments. You want to take those opportunities when you can.”
Some people might get anxious regarding the idea of a team lacking a clean-cut answer for a starting goalie, but simply looking at last year’s injury-plagued Philadelphia Flyers net situation shows that quality depth can keep playoff runs alive. Besides, internal competition is a great way to spur productive results on the ice.
It’s too early to say that Holtby has a legitimate chance to steal one of the top jobs, but he gives the Capitals a valuable option in case Neuvirth (apparently healthy now) and/or Varlamov get banged up again. Having a third option as steady as Holtby could prove crucial as the Capitals hope to bring a more defensive-minded approach into another postseason.
Nashville’s momentous offseason continued today with the signing of forward Calle Jarnkrok to a six-year, $12 million contract.
That’s a cap hit of just $2 million, all the way through 2021-22.
Suffice to say, it’s not often that a player signs such a long deal, for such a modest cap hit. Jarnkrok notched career highs in goals (16) and assists (14) in 81 games last season for the Preds. He kills penalties, too.
At the very least, the 24-year-old has some financial security now. But for Nashville, as long as his production doesn’t fall off a cliff, he could end up being a great bargain.
Jarnkrok had an arbitration hearing scheduled for Aug. 4.
Related: Preds avoid arbitration with Petter Granberg — two years, $1.225 million
The Detroit Red Wings didn’t need Petr Mrazek‘s arbitration hearing either.
The day after the Wings avoided the process by locking up defenseman Danny DeKeyser, they agreed on a two-year deal with Mrazek, with a reported cap hit of $4 million.
Mrazek, 24, went 27-16-6 last season with a .921 save percentage. Those numbers compared favorably to Jimmy Howard‘s (14-14-5, .906); however, GM Ken Holland has argued that keeping Howard could be best for Mrazek’s development.
“It could possibly be detrimental if we put Petr in a situation where we’re just going to throw him out and play 70 games and no matter how you play, we’re going to keep putting you out,” said Holland.
Granted, it may be that Howard is simply untradeable. He’s 32 years old, hasn’t put up solid numbers the past three seasons, and has three years remaining on his contract with a cap hit of just under $5.3 million.
If Howard remains, the Wings will have just under $9.3 million in cap space allocated to their goaltenders next season, one of the highest totals in the league.
Mrazek, by the way, will still be a restricted free agent when his new contract expires in the summer of 2018.
With new majority owners and now talk of a new arena, the future of the New York Islanders has been a popular topic lately.
Not surprisingly, it’s led to plenty of discussion about the future of captain John Tavares, who can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018.
Ownership has insisted that it won’t get that far, that Tavares will be re-signed. The Isles will have “no financial constraints,” owner Jon Ledecky promised.
But what about Tavares? What does he think?
“I think I’ve always showed my commitment, my appreciation and my desire to play on Long Island,” the 25-year-old told Sportsnet 590 radio on Tuesday, per NHL.com. “I would love for that to continue for the long haul. I think you look at some of the greatest players in the game have been able to spend their entire career somewhere. I hope I’m in that same position.”
As for the speculation he could sign in Toronto?
“I would not count on that,” he said.
So start the countdown to July 1, 2017. That’s when Tavares can officially start negotiating an extension with the Isles.
Perhaps by then we’ll even know where the team will be playing its future games. Will it be Brooklyn or somewhere else?
Only 18 NHLers have scored more goals than Mike Hoffman has over the last two seasons.
Today, the Ottawa Senators signed the 26-year-old sniper to a four-year contract with a reported cap hit of $5.1875 million.
Hoffman had an arbitration hearing scheduled for Aug. 4. The breakdown of his new deal, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman:
His contract done, Hoffman can now focus fully on next season, which he’s excited about.
“New coach coming in, Guy Boucher, I had him in junior when I played in Drummondville of the Quebec League,” Hoffman said recently. “Very good relationship with him, we won a championship together. So definitely looking forward to working with him this year.”
As for Sens GM Pierre Dorion, he’s still got some offseason work to do. Defenseman Cody Cedi is a restricted free agent, and there’s no arbitration date to encourage a settlement in his case. While Dorion is confident that something that will get done with the 22-year-old, what remains to be seen is if it’s a short- or long-term deal.