Ed. Note: Justin Goldman is the founder of The Goalie Guild, an independent goalie scouting service and overall resource for all things professional goaltending. He’s written for NHL.com, been interviewed by Stephen Whyno, and knows more about goaltending than everyone in this blog put together. Check out his story below and make sure to check out his site. Padtracker is the best.

Caps Fans:

I’m writing this note during Game 6, because regardless of whether he wins or loses, my message remains the same.

You have a very special young goaltender in Braden Holtby.

For his age, he is very polished, composed, and adaptable. In fact, when I break down his game at the elemental level, I come to find that he has many positives, and very few negatives.

Most of you are keen enough to see this with your own two eyes. It’s just the way he moves in the crease, the body language he displays. The statistical results act as the perfect “visual proof” most of us need to argue that he has a very bright future.

But it is because of this visible “elite potential” that I have to stress how important it is for you to be patient with his development.

I have seen it time and time again, for years and years, to all types of teams, and all types of goalies. That’s why this message is being written in the first place; the very nature of history repeating itself can be a total pain in the ass. Goalies that face high expectations can often face even higher expectations when the fans lack patience. This happens in all types of markets, to goalies of all ages and pedigrees and experience levels.

Please don’t allow yourself to expect great success from Holtby forevermore. Only he should expect that type of greatness, that type of constant success. Your role in this special goalie’s development should be different. Help his cause by realizing he is still a rookie, and he still has a lot to learn about stopping pucks at the NHL level.

It’s hard to believe Holtby is now the third rookie goaltender to carry the Capitals through the last three playoff runs. It’s a credit to the team’s goalie coaching and scouting staff when I say all three of them have significant long-term upside. All three of them are goalies I wouldn’t be afraid to build a team around. They are goalies everyone will want when they are in their prime, which is around four or five years for this triumvirate of Holtby, Michal Neuvirth, and Semyon Varlamov.

If Holtby is destined to be a key part of the team next season, you have to understand that struggles are going to occur. Very few goalies have ever escaped from the clutches of the sophomore jinx. Every goalie in Holtby’s situation loses some of their luster as a Dynamic Entity at some point or another. Yes, some continue to shine, and continue to get brighter, but many others inevitably fade into black.

Holtby will enter the final season of his entry-level contract next year and make a $600,000 NHL salary, and he could very well become the team’s legitimate starter. The fact he’s “just a baby” at age 22 will be lost amongst many fans, because the way he stops the puck is so darn impressive, interesting, and bold. As I have told many fans many times before, he plays the position very loud and proud, and it works for him.

But from someone who is trained to recognizes patterns in goaltending development and evolution, please understand that he will have to dig through some serious trenches over the next two seasons. He will lose tough games, he will give up bad goals, he will frustrate you. He will lose some of his luster from time to time.

I won’t go into all of the reasons why this happens, as I have many articles on my website that go into the issues of the sophomore slump. I just want to make sure as many Capitals fans as possible learn to understand that this will happen, in some way shape or form. Therefore, understand that patience from yourselves (and your favorite team) will be a major key in truly tapping into his long-term potential.

For those of you that are wondering about the process, I can’t answer that, because every goalie comes to reach their true potential in different ways, at different times, by going down different paths. But if the Capitals want to enhance the process in which Holtby gets through these potential sophomore slumps, and therefore becoming a more consistent and steady performer, they have to dedicate a hefty percentage of the workload to him. Experience is everything, and the more he plays, the faster he becomes a wiser and smarter NHL goaltender.

The message, therefore, is very simple. Don’t freak out if he plays some crappy hockey next season. Don’t expect him to be a rockstar every single night. Don’t let him overwhelm your senses. He is still a rookie. He is still very early in his overall maturation as an NHL goaltender. Yes, every goalie develops at a different rate, but very few escape the sophomore slump.

Whenever that dreaded sophomore slump happens, no matter how long it lasts (even if it is over the course of two seasons) understand that it is all part of the natural path that almost every goalie has to take to become a fully-matured goaltender. Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture, and keep this kid in a Capitals uniform. He has the potential to be extremely special…and he could win a lot of hardware by the time he’s in his actual prime.

  • ringtail

    I read this and thought of Steve Mason … I hope Caps management and fans are patient with Holtby. I will say that he shows no signs of believing the hype manufactured about him which is a good sign, IMO.

  • This is true, but we have seen him have a few bad games. I remember he was recalled in the fall of 2010 and was horrible, but his next call-up in March of 2011 was stellar. He’s had a few bad games this season (including against San Jose, when that first SJ goal was one that made me howl) and postseason (game 1 of the NYR series).

    But I will keep this in mind and be patient. He has the attitude and resilience to recover from setbacks.

  • serpent

    Well written and full of good information, this article needs to be read by all Caps fans.
    Love the video!

  • My daughter made me watch the holt beast video 3times. She kept head banging and saying “holt”. She loves her hock hock

  • About 25 years ago I spent what amounted to roughly 60% of my dad’s monthly salary to buy this Maiden’s vinyl… This video just made my day!

  • wish the Caps management would have taken this info to hear in relation to Varly. He should still be in a caps jersey. Definitely a not so good judgement (one of very few) on their part.

  • I think they did well. We got great return for an injury prone goaltender, that would have left for the KHL if we didn’t guarantee him the #1 spot. People lose sight of the fact that you can only have one “number 1” goaltender.

  • MCalvert70

    Great article. As a Holtby fan from his first call-up from the Stingrays, I have seen many Hershey fans make the mistakes you describe, and expect Braden to be always at his best. Many have now become self-described “Holtby haters” who are clueless as to what goes into the development of a great goaltender. In my opinion, the view that he didn’t want to be here and therefore didn’t give his all is a product of those unrealistic expectations. I feel fortunate to have experienced his play “up close and personal” and hope that Washington and the Caps appreciate his amazing talent!

  • Agree with great return. The “would have left if we didn’t guarantee #1 spot” assumption is wrong. He had his reasons for leaving. That was NOT one of them.

  • My daughter is a Tier 1 goalie (who loves Goalie Guild) so watching Holtby with her has been enlightening. I agree with everything said in this article and would even say that he has made rookie mistakes this playoff run … about 1/4 of the goals he’s let in (a small number to be sure) have squeaked past him almost entirely due to his level of experience. A more experienced goalie would have handled each particular situation differently or been able to anticipate things differently. That doesn’t take a single thing away from him, just acknowledging that he’s got a lot to learn. And it will be fun watching him do that 🙂

  • BA

    I find it very interesting that Varly left the Caps and no longer has injury issues, although you probably can’t be bothered with facts like that. Also, people seem so convinced they know exactly why Varly left, but where did you hear it from him directly? You didn’t, he never said anything other than he wanted to start fresh somewhere else, so we’ll never really know.

    Varly has gone through some of the struggles Justin outlined in the article. I’ve followed him in Colorado and hopefully he is figuring out the whole starting goalie thing, he did well the past few months of the season. He said in Russian interviews after the season that he had a tough time mentally playing so many games, the ASG break was good for him, and he played much better after that. I imagine that we’ll see Holtby have his ups and downs adjusting to becoming a starting goalie in the NHL next season.

    I do find it interesting that Caps fans are so quick to declare that Varly wasn’t good and Holtby is better. It’s really hard to compare them until they get a few years farther along in the development process.

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  • Folks,

    something to remember about groin injuries and knee injuries in particular is that once you have them, you’re going to be prone to them for the rest of your life. Trust me, I have had both in my time playing. He may go two more seasons and never miss a game, but that threat will ALWAYS be there.

    The Caps made ABSOLUTELY the right move in shipping Varly ff this off season. They got incredible value for a guy who is one groin pull away from being a serious liability on a roster, as well as a serious cap hit. In Neuvirth and Holtby they had two incredibly stable and talented goaltenders, and by bringing in Vokoun, they added a veteran presence who took all of the pressure away that would have existed were the tandem called upon to back stop a cup-minded team from the word go.

    We had an embarrassment of riches going into this season, with three goaltenders who all could play every night in the NHL (As we’ve proven). I think that in that difficult situation, Varlamov was the correct piece to eliminate, as he fetched the highest value, had the most question marks to him, and would have required the highest up front cap hit. He’s an awesome kid, and a great goaltender, and I hope he never gets injured again, but dem’s the breaks.

  • It just made my day again today! Sometimes, a dreary Friday morning needs some Maiden.

    And by sometimes, I mean always.

  • Hey Danielle,

    Absolutely right, but the wonderful thing I have noticed about Holts is the way that he rebounds. He’s yet to lose consecutively in the playoffs, and with the way that every Rangers win has been this series, I wouldn’t have blamed him at all if he did.

  • Difference with Mason (from someone who lived in Columbus in his rookie year), is that for the ENTIRE season, the team was *just* Steve Mason. It was literally the only thing the hockey community there talked about. Holtby benefits from having an elite team in front of him (which Mason never has had), and a goalie partner in Neuvirth who is every bit as good as him, and who will challenge him every step of the way, while also being there to step in and take some of the pressure off on that night where he has a sinus infection and just could really use a break or something.

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  • I agree. He did frustrate the hell outta me in Hershey, but i never waned in my support for the guy.

    He was born exactly 24 hours after i was!