The Vancouver Canucks will have to be cautious with how this plays out, but signing goaltender Braden Holtby could be a very nice move for a franchise on the cusp of contending.
Holtby, a Vezina Trophy winner and Stanley Cup champion with the Washington Capitals, hasn’t been in that top-level form for a couple years, but his wealth of experience and ability to take some starts will be great for youngster Thatcher Demko, who proved in the playoffs that he is ready to become the starter in Vancouver.
“We are pleased to add Braden, an experienced and established goaltender, to our roster,” said GM Jim Benning. “Braden is a Stanley Cup champion, brings leadership and has demonstrated the ability to rise to the occasion in big games. He will be an important part of our team.”
The risk for the Canucks is if Demko gets off to a slow start and Holtby begins to eat up minutes, because the last thing a rabid hockey market like Vancouver needs is a goaltending controversy. This season was fine because Jacob Markstrom played so well and Demko was still on his way up in the organization, but now it’s the kid’s turn to shine full-time. Markstrom priced himself out of Vancouver with his stellar play and realistically, it was best for the Canucks not to sign Markstrom to a long-term deal. With Holtby, they get short-term insurance and a solid mentor for Demko. Thinking big-picture, Holtby could also become expansion bait for Seattle thanks to his new two-year pact; perhaps he becomes the Marc-Andre Fleury of the Kraken.
Off the ice, Holtby has long been a dedicated member of the community in Washington, teaming up with his wife as advocates for a number of causes that will surely resonate with fans in Vancouver as well. He’s a Western Canadian boy and even though he’s not from that far West, Vancouver still gets him a lot closer to his roots, for what it’s worth.
The challenge for Benning now is to deal with the other holes in his lineup. Thanks to the Holtby signing, Vancouver has less than $8 million of cap space and a couple more needs to take care of. If the Canucks can’t bring Chris Tanev back into the fold, they’ll need a top-four defenseman for sure and it wouldn’t hurt to add another experienced blueliner on top of that, as well.
Vancouver is about to enter its Cup window thanks to a great young core and as became very clear in the playoffs, teams need to have two goaltenders they can trust (with Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy being the exception to the rule). If Holtby embraces a mentor role in Vancouver, the Canucks will be in a great position. But if a goaltending controversy erupts, this deal will be a lot more costly than the cap hit would indicate. Most likely the former will occur rather than the latter.