Photo: Alex Brandon

The Washington Capitals have less than a 5% chance of making the playoffs. Tonight, they take on the best team in the Western Conference, the St. Louis Blues, in what is practically an elimination game. They need everyone on board. Unfortunately, not everyone is on board.

Speaking with the press today in St. Louis, Adam Oates revealed Braden Holtby will be starting tonight. That wasn’t too surprising until Oates explained the reasoning behind the move. Jaroslav Halak had told the coaching staff he was uncomfortable playing against his former team.

“I talked to Jaro about [starting],” Oates said. “Olie and I talked. Both of us have been traded [during our playing careers]. We know the feelings when you go into your old stomping ground. It’s not always easy; you’re not always comfortable at least the first time.”

“We talked to [Halak], and he just wasn’t 100% comfortable [playing],” he said. “Unfortunately at this time of year and where we’re at, we can’t afford that.”

Later, Halak spoke with NHL.com’s Lou Korac, saying, “It’s still too fresh. Maybe if it was under different circumstances, like next year, you know.”

I appreciate Halak’s honesty — it takes courage to be this forthright — but the Capitals are literally playing for their season tonight. This looks bad on a bunch of levels. It’s one more reason why this season has been excruciating for fans.

A goaltender making nearly $4 million— acquired at the deadline to play in big games exactly like this– doesn’t want to play–  because he’s uncomfortable?

That’s a hard sell.

Recently, Ryan Miller declined to play against the Buffalo Sabres, the team he spent his entire 15-year career with. Halak’s situation is different however. He played only in parts of four seasons with the Blues after starting his career in Montreal. It shouldn’t be that weird.

At the very least, Oates and Halak should have kept private their reasons on why Halak wouldn’t play. This situation makes Halak look meek and makes Braden Holtby look like second fiddle instead of the starting goaltender he’ll likely be next season.

So here we are, Caps fans. Here we are. Can the season end now?

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  • swhirly

    Certain goalies/players love playing their old team, ESPECIALLY the first time after a trade – mainly to show them they made a mistake. Him not having that fire in him, that is just horrible in so many ways.

  • RV

    I am not 100% comfortable with my season tickets. I think Uncle Ted should allow me a refund for the games I don’t want to watch.

  • Rob W.

    This freaking team man i swear…this is so embarrassing. With Oates throwing Ovi under the bus, Ovi making himself look bad with his defense, and now this..this organization has so many issues…I honestly cant wrap my head around Halak’s decision…

  • Josh Carey

    His thoughts are probably “there is no way we can win this game, and I’m not going to embarrass myself in front of my old teammates.”

    Which is also not a good way to think.

  • Eric Schulz

    To be fair, it’s not really a “must-win” game… Dallas and New Jersey were, and we lost both… whatever.

  • capsfan19

    Crappy crappy crappy CRAPPY

  • swhirly

    Regardless of his thoughts or reasoning, his excuse showed lack of competitive fire. Either way, it shows the kind of player he is. He can take a walk as far as I am concerned.

  • Eric Schulz

    I’ll be at the game, so I hope they win… I’m glad I get to see Holtby rather than Halak, since Holtby is a Capital, and Halak is merely passing through.

  • Lawrence

    For real.

  • Myan

    I can understand why Halak is uncomfortable but at the end of the day, don’t you get paid millions to suck it up and do your job? It’s pretty disheartening that this is what the season has devolved into but it is what it is. That said, I don’t agree with Oates publicly announcing that…I feel like Halak confided that in confidence and Oates repeating it to the media doesn’t help the team in any way. “We decided to give Holts the start” would have more than sufficed.

  • Eric Schulz

    … I just think it’s weird. When I play sports, I take particular enjoyment in showing up my friends… right?

  • Shaun Phillips

    Considering how often he has “rode the hot hand” this year, that would’ve been the easy out. “Holts stood tall last game, so we’re sticking with him this game.” But of course not, he has to throw another player under the bus and not actually give Holtby any credit.

  • Shaun Phillips

    Especially if they picked someone else over you.

  • scrubversive

    I’m avoiding contact with a good friend tonight, I warned her that any comments about tonight’s game with HER TEAM may ignite the angsty fireball of emotion that is my reaction to the haunted carnival that is my hockey team.

    Maybe it will be a nice night though and I can say, “Look at that goalie that just stoned your Blues. Yeah #70, Holtby. That’s the one I’ve been raving to you about the last few years.” Ovechkin scoring #50 against Ryan Miller in a barn he’s never scored in (that I know of) would also be nice.

  • Jimmie

    I wouldn’t want to give odds on whether Holtby will be the solid choice for starting goaltender next year. Every indication right now is the organization doesn’t trust him with the job.

  • Myan

    Absolutely! It’s crappy that Halak said that but there’s really no need to throw him under the bus. Keep that stuff in the locker room, Adam.

  • scrubversive

    Aren’t we professionals on this team? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be? Sometimes professionals keep things behind closed doors -.-; Oates is not helping his case.

  • Shaun Phillips

    Want to upvote this more than once.

  • Eric Schulz


  • Eric Schulz


  • Jonah

    oh yeah totally. i got cut by a travel team, first time i played them on my new team, i scored 4 and layer out the coaches son in front of the bench. no better feeling.

  • Joe

    And there goes any appreciation Caps fans had for Halak. I honestly cannot say I’ve ever heard of a professional athlete pulling something like this, but that’s probably because the organization has never made it known to the media before. I know Miller asked not to play, but hadn’t he started the last 6 or 7 games for the Blues? Halak hasn’t started a game since last Friday.

    What a train wreck this season has become. I hope we have new leadership in place next year that can take steps towards re-establishing this team as formidable. Right now, we are a joke around the league, verging on Canucks/Maple Leafs status. Ay yi yi.

  • Matt Lauer

    I seriously don’t think I’ve ever heard of something like this before. Most athletes I know are generally excited by it. Oh man, this team is really something else.

  • Myan

    Everybody is just pointing fingers at this point. For heaven’s sake can this season please just end?

  • Adam

    Also noteworthy: Halak’s first game back in Montreal was a 3-0 shutout. He also said yesterday that he was looking forward to the game.
    As for Miller, not only was the situation different for the reason you described, but also because STL-BUF was absolutely anything but a “must-win” game for STL.

  • hockey mom

    I’ve been saying we have lots of issues that have nothing to do with actually playing hockey! Damn, I’m a Bravo Real Housewives junkie, but half of the mental crap that goes on with this team gives those ladies a run for their money! Lots of drama and shade with the Caps and not enough D and biscuits in the basket! The guys gotta get refocused on their own game and winning games, rather than giving all this other bs a platform!


  • Chris

    We need to gut this team out and start over fresh. Definitely with a new coach, preferably someone who doesn’t tell the press things like this that are best kept under wraps. Now the whole story on the night is going to be about how Halak doesn’t want to start and how Holtby is second fiddle. I hope this lights a fire under Holtby that can last in to next season. Or maybe it’ll just piss him off and he’ll want out like Neuvirth did. The coaching staff and front office of this team is such a joke.

  • Eric Schulz

    First of all, if we change the GM and coach (as we should), I can’t imagine that Holtby holds the new management accountable; thus, he wouldn’t want out. Second of all, more importantly, I think it’s about opportunity. As long as he’s given the opportunity to play and prove himself, I think he, as any athlete would, would not demand a trade; he’d let his play do the talking. Just because we’ve had a bad run of players wanting out doesn’t mean we should expect more trade demands.

  • Eddie

    At this point in the season, with playoff hopes in the balance, this guy should be prepared to play ANYWHERE. SMMFH.

  • swhirly

    That is exactly my point.

  • Shaun Phillips

    To those of us watching from the stands and that actually have a brain, no, there’s no reason not to trust him with it. Unfortunately, the people that make that decision seem to have repeatedly lost their minds this year.

  • Shaggy

    Oates and Halak both made this public – for some baffling reason. Both comical and infuriating at the same time. Then again, it doesn’t matter since both won’t be with the Caps next year anyway.

  • Eric Schulz

    Well, what I’m saying is: I don’t think it’s a reflection of him as a player. I don’t think this makes him a worse player, I just don’t understand it.

  • Big Chuck

    As a ticket holder seeing the season unravel as it did and “not feeling 100 percent comfortable” about it, can I opt for a refund or perhaps other means of compensation?

    What a joke.

  • swhirly

    I think he is a great goalie, but if he can’t turn on his competitive fire against his old team, it shows his character. He doesn’t want to be a Cap. Fine. But do your $4mill/year job.

  • Myan

    Kind of sounds like he doesn’t think we stand a chance against St Louis and doesn’t want to make himself look bad right before he’s entering the summer as a UFA looking for a 5-6m/yr deal. Cop out but Oates should have kept this between the coaches & the management.

  • Fahn_Dahn_Go

    This just feels so… Redskins.

  • Ludvigs

    Neither Halak nor Oates will be Washington Capitals next year and I say good riddance! Good day sir! You lose!

  • Todd N

    well i guess he’s not coming back next year….

  • Shmoo

    Man, that game on Sunday against the Lightning is going to be a major rager.

  • aminoacid

    Maybe he’s covering his back side in case holtby pitches a stinker

  • Myan

    Come on, we are not verging on Canucks status! Canucks have fired their GM and shown signs that they want to reboot for next season. We still don’t know if the GM-Oates tandem will still be here next season!

  • Barrett

    Bye bye Halak. Enter a real veteran goalie in the offseason to backup Holtby in 2014-15.

  • Myan

    Holtby is going to be a badass tonight.

  • scrubversive

    At this point, covering his backside by throwing the goalies under the bus is like taking cover behind a chainlink fence in a gunfight. It ain’t gonna help.

    I’m also onboard the optimism train tonight. I left my playoff hopes in my winter jacket, but maybe our dispirited team will muster enough determination to make it a fun watch. I plan to follow STL through the playoffs in lieu of Caps, it will be a primer for me.

  • afreeman

    Oh c’mon. What professional goalie WOULDN’T be uncomfortable playing with this defense in front of him?

  • Myan

    This team is going to bounce back next season under new (but experienced) leadership. There’s just too much talent in that locker room for us to be so mediocre.

    I’m pulling for Minnesota in the playoffs because I suffer from dark horse syndrome and Bryz has been killing it in net since he got traded. When you go 6-0-3 after getting traded, you can pontificate about the universe until your heart’s content!

  • aminoacid

    That’s what Oates should have said instead

  • Barrett

    I hope the new GM and coach acquire a real veteran goal tender (like a Theodore, Nabokov, Bryzgalov, Khabibulin, Thomas, Giguere or Vokoun). These guys aren’t looking for 40 starts and if you have to rest them due to minor injuries and call up Grubauer that’s fine. It’s the veteran presence there for Braden Holtby. He should be the guy moving forward. Give him every opportunity to succeed.

  • frowning

    Why do you feel qualified to assess how he *should* feel in a situation like this? He doesn’t feel like he can give it his all, so he shouldn’t start, end of discussion.

  • Hockey mom

    Completely agree, but the only people that need to know this are Halak, Oates and maybe the other coaches. It brings about more unnecessary distraction for the team when they ALL need to be thinking about bringing their best game to the ice tonight…

    Why publicize our weaknesses and undermine Holtby’s confidence?

  • Barrett

    Halak isn’t a great goalie. He’s a good goalie along with about half the goalies in this league.

    A great goalie would be a Ryan Miller or Henrik Lundqvist. I’d put him below about 15 other goalies in the NHL right now.

  • GuestZ

    Um. Hello? Your point just goes to show that we still have our heads up our collective asses. Dead weight = dead weight. If a turd is hanging from your ass, you get rid of it, not carry it around with you. At least the Canucks owners had the decency to treat the fans right and show they’re about to make changes…

  • scrubversive

    Minnesota’s a good one too. I feel for their goalie situation. I knew Harding’s MS diagnosis was a deathknell for his career, but I thought his fight to keep playing was inspiring.

    And if we didn’t all suffer from dark horse syndrome we wouldn’t be Caps fans

  • GuestZ

    Unfortunately I agree that you’ve hit the nail on the head here. Thank Jebus Mike Green is out… wait, you mean GMGM DIDN’T pick up another top-4 d-man?! WHAT?!?!?!

  • riggorules

    Being a Caps fan, I used to take comfort in saying to myself “at least they’re not the Redskins.”

  • Myan

    I think you really misread my tone there! Sarcasm doesn’t translate via text.

  • JenniferH

    My jaw dropped when I read that about Halak. I have to say, I’m not sure how it makes Holts look second fiddle though. If the plan was to have Jaro start (which I expected), and he unexpectedly couldn’t start then of course the start would go to his back-up. Because unfortunately that is what Braden is with Halak’s hire, Braden Holtby is the back-up goalie now. And Oates’ quotes about Holtby over the last couple of months have made it clear he has no affinity for him so I’m not surprised.

  • johnnymorte

    Whatever the hell happened to: you go into your old barn, shut the freakin’ door and make them pay for trading you? Jeez, what a bunch of pansies. Grow some balls.

  • @CapsFan1921

    Bottom Line: GET OVER YOURSELF! You are a professional, paid lot’s of money to provide a service. Shut up, grab your sack and go play!

    P.S. I hope this a$$wipe is gone at season’s end.

  • Sarah

    To be fair to Halak, it’s not a step down but a step sideways to start Holtby instead. His reason for wanting to sit may not be as deep a tie to the other team as Miller had to his, but it doesn’t have to be– there isn’t the huge difference between Holtby and Halak that there is between Miller and who’sits.
    Maybe Oates and Halak think the confidence they both have in Holtby is implicit, but it probably would have been smarter to phrase things in those terms. Still, I fault Halak at most for awkwardness in the press, not lack of commitment.

  • Matt McNeely

    What a mess.

  • hockey mom
  • <3

  • swhirly

    OK, fine, yes, a “good” goalie. I’m questioning Halak’s dedication, passion, fire, competitiveness and loyalty to who pays him. The last thing I give a crap about is his playing ability right now. This isn’t about whether or not he can stand on his head, it’s the fact that he won’t for the Capitals, the name across his chest for the next 4 games.

  • Chris

    Y’all would blast Oates for starting Holtby over Halak if he didn’t put the reason public…

  • VeggieTart

    Balls are weak and sensitive. He should grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.

  • VeggieTart

    Not if he said that Halak wasn’t feeling 100 percent (as in physical) or that Holtby was good in his last game, so he was getting the start. Given Oates’s “hot hand” theory, it would have been credible.

  • kuznetsy

    It was also a very different game for Miller. The Blues had already clinched their spot, or were close to clinching their spot, and were about to play the worst team in the league, so there was no reason to use their starting goaltender.
    In this situation, the season is on the line and therefore your starting goaltender needed.

  • EmilyC

    You got any lottery numbers to offer too?

  • scrubversive

    19 70 74 84 92 and the power ball is 8. Play those numbers. #TheBank

  • Dark Stranger

    Even though, from past experience, the Blues are usually disappointments in the playoffs. Another team who’s had a long history of regular season success, only to get dumped in playoffs.

  • bskillet

    Awesome game for Braden, I wouldn’t give Halak a sweater again.

  • Eric Schulz

    I agree, that’s what I’d prefer. I said somewhere else a “Brent Johnson-type.” Hopefully higher caliber than that, but he was a pretty solid backup.

  • Rhino40

    Please not Thomas. Also Theodore has mad skills, but also much baggage.

  • Rhino40

    I propose a new form of punctuation to convey sarcasm in written text, independent of the phrase’s context. I would call it the “Sarcasmé” (pronounced sar-kaz-MAY): Ø

    Just use a Sarcasmé at the beginning and end of the sarcastic phrase. For example:

    Ø “Mr. Cherry’s wardrobe ensemble last Saturday night bespoke conservative taste and exemplary restraint” Ø

    Keycode for the Sarcasmé is [Alt+0216]

  • Team Slovakia

    I’m not clear as to why this is an issue in the media. Halak has been playing and practicing with the St.Louis players for the past 4 years. They obviously know his every tendency and weaknesses. Why would the Caps want to give the Blues such an advantage by playing Halak? That’s like handing the opposing team your play book. The Blues are not familiar with Holtby and it showed last night. I’m just not convinced that this is a lack of competitiveness or loyalty on Halak’s part – seems more like a sound strategy to put the Caps in the best position to win. And it worked!

  • dontevengothere

    ok, as a primary skins fan since birth (this is rapidly changing to the nats and caps), i can confirm the caps are NOWHERE NEAR that dysfunctional. the oilers are about the equivalent of the redskins. i mean GMGM is no Cerrato. at least he gets a couple right occasionally. and oates may be a knob, but id rather have oates and his lot than shanahan. The same applies with ovechkin. I mean at least on offense, Ovi plays like his head aint up where the sun dont shine. RG3…. just shut up and play football already.

  • Jimmie

    I agree with you, but team management has shows every sing they’d rather he not be the starting goaltender next year. Maybe the new guys will think differently. I hope so.

  • Owen Johnson

    Also, Leonsis isn’t trying to convince people that his teams name isn’t a racial slur by hiring a former politician as a spokesperson. Said politician had his political career derailed by using a racial slur on camera. At least the Caps probably won’t hire a coach simply because his brother was a good coach. And damn, it’s amazing what one bad year can do to a player’s reputation. It’s almost as if RG3 were coming off a serious injury last year or something…