Now that hockey is on its way back people are excited for the March Madness-style tournament that the NHL has constructed. Dates are set for the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Entry Draft, free agency, and the start of 2020-21 season. It seems that everything is going according to plan with training camps. Reports and rumours swirling around about players being “unfit to play”(for reasons unknown), hasn’t stopped the NHL from returning. With every team coming off a nice break, it is anyone’s race to win the Stanley Cup. Along with the perfect opportunity for unrestricted free agents to prove they are worth it come October seventh. Some big-name guys like Taylor Hall and Alex Pietrangelo will be on the market. Yet, it will be most exciting to see what comes next for Braden Holtby and Robin Lehner.
What’s Next for Braden Holtby and Robin Lehner
Holtby or Lehner?
When it comes to goaltending, there is only one job. Stop the puck… although this is much easier said than done. It is arguably the most important position in the game. If you can’t keep the puck out of the net, you’re going to have a tough time winning games. With Braden Holtby and Robin Lehner both becoming unrestricted free agents, there are surely going to be many teams in talks with one, if not both of them, this off-season.
Now the question becomes, who would you rather have? Before you answer that, let’s look at them and see where they differ. Due to the cruel hand of random variation or “puck luck”, goalies save percentage constantly fluctuates each year.
We could just look at past seasons to compare these two goaltenders but then that leaves the argument of who had the better team in front of them. For example, since joining the Washington Capitals in 2010-11, they only missed the playoffs once in 2013-14. Every other season they finished as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Yes, Holtby was a big part of that, yet it would be hard to find too many goalies to fail in that situation. One of the true ways to see “who’s better” is not by comparing wins and losses. But focusing more on shot quality, distance, speed, power, accuracy, how many shots saved vs. let in. At the end of the day, whoever can stop more of the “dangerous” shots is a better indicator of a goaltender’s true value to their team.
Who Has a Bigger Impact?
Both goaltenders have played ten years in the league. Holtby has played in 468 games compared to Lehners 301. Holtby has the more decorated career yet put him on a different team and it probably wouldn’t look the same.
Lehner looked like he was fitting in nicely with the Vegas Golden Knights. In only three games, Lehner recorded three wins with only letting in five goals through 83 shots. With a higher quality start percentage of 59.9 percent, compared to Holtby’s 46.8 percent. Yet, Holtby has recorded more quality starts with 22. Lehner is not far behind with 19. Then consider that Lehner has only had four bad starts, versus Holtby’s 11. While this may not seem like much, consistency is the name of the game for starting goaltenders.
According to chartinghockey statistics, this season Lehner has faced 1,547 shots and scored on 99 times, leaving him to save about 93.60 percent of the shots he faces. Not to mention, 79.7 percent of those shots were on target. Compared to Holtby, who saw 1,895 shots allowing 142 goals to go in. While fewer shots were on target for Holtby at 72.93 percent, he saved 92.51 percent. Which brings into question the team they have in front of them.
Most of this season, Lehner played with the Chicago Blackhawks who finished 12th in the Western Conference versus Holtby and the Capitals at third in the Eastern Conference. Going back to shot quality, Lehner even faces more “dangerous shots” with an average shot distance of 35.5 feet, while Braden Holtby faces an average shot from 36.7 feet away. Even though this is just over a foot indifference, it could be viewed as another example of a better team in front of him who can keep the puck out of their defensive zone. Showing that Lehner is playing slightly better as of this season, with teams not as talented.
Where They Are Now
While there are many teams who could use goaltenders like Lehner and Holtby. The NHL salary cap announcement for the 2020-21 season of $81.5 million, really handicaps some teams. Moving forward with any sort of free-agent signings, every team will always look to the Florida Panthers and Sergei Bobrovsky situation as a reference point of what not to do.
In recent weeks, rumours have begun to swirl around about where both Holtby and Lehner could end up next year. For Braden Holtby, NHL Staff Writer Tom Gulitti quoted Holtby in a recent article saying, “My focus right now is to win a championship and moving forward is to find the next best place to win a championship with.” He continued in the article to say that he wanted to remain in Washington, “but you never know.” Holtby will be searching for a raise next season, especially if he’s lights out in the playoffs. With Ilya Samsonov and Pheonix Copley, the Capitals have their duo of the future and for the sake of cap space may be forced to move on from Holtby.
On the other hand, the Vegas Golden Knights have Marc Andre-Fleury under contract until the end of the 2021-22 season, although at 35 he is not getting any younger. They also recently signed goaltender Oscar Dansk to a contract extension, leaving them with guys in the system moving forward. Danny Webster of NHL.com reported that Lehner is looking to stay in Vegas, if possible. “I really like it here. Great team, great organization, great group of players. We’ll see what happens. You never know, but its a very good impression here so far.”
Lehner will most definitely be looking for a raise from his $1,400,000 contract with Vegas. If the Golden Knights and Lehner could figure a long-term extension. It could leave the Western Conference in danger of Vegas leading the way. With under $6,500,000 in cap space for next season, the potential to reach an agreement is there.
Where They Could Sign Next
When it comes to needs and cap space, there is only a handful of teams that seem realistic to go after one of these starting goaltenders. With both Braden Holtby and Robin Lehner looking for raises, their best options may be either the San Jose Sharks who have over $14 million in space or Minnesota Wild who have roughly $16 million in space starting next season. There is also the Detroit Red Wings with more than $35 million, and/or the Buffalo Sabres who also has over $34 million in space, all according to CapFriendly.com.
But wait, Braden Holtby said he wants to go “to the next best place to win a championship.” If that is truly the case, on paper his best options may be the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers finished second in the Pacific Division before the break. Going into the start of next season they will have roughly $10 million in cap space. Along with Mike Smiths‘ contract expiring at the end of this season. To bring Edmonton back to their glory days and not waste any of Connor McDavid‘s best years, this could be the best solution for both parties.
With that being said, Robin Lehner’s best options most likely remain in the Western Conference. If he can figure out a deal with Vegas, and they have some room to work with. The goaltending duo of Fluery and Lehner would be devastating for the rest of the league. If not, heading to San Jose may be another good option. Not only do they have the money and the need. This could be extremely healthy for Lehner who has battled with mental health issues and addiction. Being able to head to the beach after practice may be the best thing for him both mentally and physically.