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.
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.