Capitals sign Holtby, Erskine to two-year extensions

Monday, 02.25.2013 / 3:50 PM
Corey Masisak  - Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- George McPhee and the Washington Capitals have never been shy about extending the contracts of players well in advance of when their current pacts expire, and Monday was a busy day at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on that front.

The Capitals inked goaltender Braden Holtby and defenseman John Erskine to two-year contract extensions. Each was in the final year of his current deal -- Holtby would have been a restricted free agent July 5 and Erskine would have been unrestricted.

Holtby, 23, will make $1.7 million next season and $2 million in 2014-15. He was one of the breakout stars of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Despite only 21 NHL games before the postseason began, Holtby helped the Capitals to within one win of the conference finals.

"It is the same thing we went through with Michal Neuvirth a couple of summers ago, trying to do it ahead of time, doing it in the summer," McPhee said. "This one we started in the summer -- it just took a little longer. We all believe there's a lot of upside here and the deal makes sense to do now."

Holtby began this season as the team's No. 1 goaltender, but that position has been a tenuous one in recent years in Washington and Neuvirth, who has held the title before, was still around. Holtby gave up a total of 10 goals in his first two starts, and then six more in his fourth start.

Neuvirth took control of the job, and ended up starting seven of the first 11 games. Holtby replaced him during a second-straight decisive loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and has started every game since.

He'll make his seventh straight start Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes, and he's only allowed 14 goals in the past six contests -- four of which were wins.

"The way things go, the bounces seem to be going more our way the last little while, but consistently I think it hasn't changed a whole bunch," Holtby said. "It's just the way hockey's gone, and it's going better know.

"It's nice to have that support, but at the same time it's the business side. My job is the hockey side of it. They're two totally different things. My job is to focus on the games and make sure I'm performing well, no matter what the contract numbers are, whatnot. That's what my agent looks after, and I look after the hockey."

Neuvirth is a restricted free agent in July, as he's in the final year of the two-year, $2.3 million pact. Just as they did with Semyon Varlamov before Holtby arrived, the Capitals have two young goalies who will continue to fight for the No. 1 job.

"I don't talk about other players and their contracts or anything else, but it doesn't change opinions or anything," McPhee said.

Erskine, 32, will make $1.925 million next season and $2 million in 2014-15. He has long been on the fringes of being a regular for the Capitals and typically a third-pairing guy, but an injury to Mike Green has allowed him to earn more ice time than ever before in his career in 2012-13.

He's averaging 19:30 per contest, which is nearly 90 seconds more than his career high (18:03 in 29 games for a rebuilding Washington club in 2006-07) and more than two and a half minutes more than any season since the Capitals became a consistent playoff contender.

"He's been here seven years and he'll be here a couple more years at least," McPhee said. "He's really improved as a player. He plays a lot now. He's a good penalty killer. He brings some size and some reach and some grit that we like. It was a contract that made sense for us, so we're willing to go ahead and do it."

Two seasons ago was a big one for Erskine. He played a career-high 73 games and added his best offensive totals (four goals, 11 points) as well. Last season was a step back, as he spent many nights as a healthy scratch and averaged less than 13 minutes when he did play.

Even with a crowded defense corps, made more fluid by the surprise return of Tom Poti from a long-term groin injury, Erskine has forged a consistent role and has been rewarded for it.

"He's played very well and he's played well for us over the years," McPhee said. "I thought he should have played more for us last year. Unfortunately he didn't. He brings something that we like a lot. He's a good player who plays tough. He keeps people honest."

Added Erskine: "Last year I've put behind me. It wasn't my favorite hockey year, but things are off to a better start for me this year for me. The coaches have been giving me minutes and I've been playing with confidence. Good things are happening. … We made this city our home for the family and the kids go to school here, so it is good. We've enjoyed it a lot here."

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