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Holtby expected to become free agent, Capitals will stay in contact

Goalie, who turns 31 on Sept. 16, had 3.11 GAA, .897 save percentage in 48 games

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

Braden Holtby is expected to explore the unrestricted free agent market when it opens Oct. 9, Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said Tuesday.

Holtby, who turns 31 on Wednesday, has played 10 seasons with the Capitals after being selected by them in the fourth round (No. 93) of the 2008 NHL Draft. The goalie is in the final season of a five-year, $30.5 million contract ($6.1 million average annual value) he signed July 24, 2015.

"I would expect him to go to free agency," MacLellan said. "The goalie market is probably a little unusually deep this year. I talked to his agent last week briefly about where he's at and the kind of opportunities he's looking for.

"I would assume he goes to free agency, and we'll keep in contact with him throughout the free agency period to see if he's getting what he wants."

The Capitals are limited in what they can offer Holtby because they are projected to be against the NHL salary cap, which will remain $81.5 million next season. With 23-year-old Ilya Samsonov coming off a strong rookie season as Holtby's backup, and him likely to be Washington's No. 1 next season, it seems unlikely Holtby will be re-signed.

Samsonov was 16-6-2 with a 2.55 goals-against average and .913 save percentage in 26 games (22 starts) in the regular season. He did not play in the postseason because of an injury sustained before the start of training camp in July.

After the Capitals were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the New York Islanders with a 4-0 loss in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round on Aug. 20, Holtby acknowledged it might have been his final game with Washington.

"Certainly a chance it is," Holtby said. "Who knows? Live one day at a time and go from there."

Holtby is coming off a disappointing regular season, when he was 25-14-6 in 48 games (47 starts) and had the worst GAA (3.11) and save percentage (.897) of his NHL career. He was 2-5-1 with a 2.49 GAA and .906 save percentage in eight postseason starts.

Holtby is second among Capitals goalies in games played (468) and wins (282), behind Olie Kolzig (711 games, 301 wins), and Holtby and Kolzig are tied for first with 35 shutouts. Holtby won the Vezina Trophy voted as the best goalie in the NHL in 2015-16, and had a .922 save percentage and two shutouts in 23 playoff games in 2018 to help the Capitals win the Stanley Cup for the first time.

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