Canucks sign Braden Holtby after losing Jacob Markstrom in wild first day of NHL free agency

by Kevin Nesgoda

If you’re following along with the first day of NHL free agency, I hope you brought your coffee with you. Deals were struck all over the league, including a number of goalies finding new homes.

The Canucks were involved in the goalie chaos, losing Jacob Markstrom to the Flames while adding Braden Holtby, who joins Vancouver after a decade in Washington. Holtby, a native of Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, now returns back to his home country for the first time as a pro.

“My two things I were looking for was a place where there’s an extremely good chance of winning, and it’s going to be a good fit for my family,” said Holtby. “Being closer out west was something that was very intriguing for us.”

Holtby’s deal is for two years and is valued at $8.6 million. One thing of note for Seattle Kraken fans is that his contract does not include a no-movement clause. That means if Thatcher Demko pans out for the Canucks, they would likely expose Holtby in the upcoming expansion draft. While Holtby isn’t a young goalie per se (he recently turned 31), just ask Vegas how Marc Andre-Fleury worked out when they took him in the expansion draft at age 32.

Last season, Holtby’s performance dropped off a bit as his GAA of 3.11 was the highest of his career, and the first time that it has ever been above 3.00. His .897 save percentage was also a career-low and the first time it has dipped below the .900 mark.

“Last year was a bit of a struggle at times, it didn’t go as planned,” said Holtby. “After things kind of shut down , it was kind of a blessing in disguise that we were able to break things down and find some different ways to train. When we came back, I felt as good as I have been in a long time.”

It is expected that he will serve as backup to Thatcher Demko, who took the NHL by storm in the playoffs against the Vegas Golden Knights. However, with the condensed schedule coming up, it appears that it will be more of a tandem situation. The league has expressed a goal to start next year on January 1. They’ll likely have to finish the season by the time the Olympics are scheduled to start on July 23. NBC needs to air both the Stanley Cup playoffs as well as the Olympics, so you know they are trying to avoid any overlap. That means 82 games, plus playoffs, in about 203 days. For context, the last “normal” NHL season took 252 days to complete.

“We need two goalies to withstand the amount of games we’re going to play in a short period,” said Canucks GM Jim Benning. “He’s going to be a real good leader for us.”

Holtby’s signing came on a busy first day of NHL free agency, especially for goalies. Other notable moves included Jacob Markstrom to the Flames, Henrik Lundqvist to the Capitals and Cam Talbot to the Wild.

“We tried to figure it out as best we could, but as you know, everything is different this year, “said Holtby. “It’s not an experience that I think is that fun for anyone, not knowing. I’m excited to now have it over with and to go to a great team and great city.”

During Holtby’s tenure with the Capitals, Holtby posted a record of 282-122-46 with a 2.53 GAA, a .916 save percentage and 35 shutouts in 468 career games. He was also a pivotal part of Washington’s championship run in 2018, going 16-7 with a 2.16 GAA, a .922 save percentage and two shutouts in 23 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

“We accomplished what we wanted to do there,” said Holtby. “We won a championship and I think that’s something you can never take away.”

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