Canucks turn to ex-Capitals goaltender Holtby

    Emily Kaplan is ESPN’s national NHL reporter.

Goalie Braden Holtby signed a two-year, $8.6 million deal with the Vancouver Canucks on Friday.

The signing came after the Canucks were unable to come to an agreement on an extension with Jacob Markstrom, their primary starter last season. Holtby, 31, played his entire 10-year career career with the Washington Capitals and led the franchise to its only Stanley Cup in 2018.

However the Capitals let Holtby walk as a free agent this summer, choosing to go with a 23-year-old Ilya Samsonov, whom they drafted in the first round in 2015. On Friday, the Capitals signed Henrik Lundqvist to a budget one year, $1.5 million deal to backup Samsonov.

Holtby, who was coming off a five-year contract with a cap hit of $6.1 million per year, will go down as one of the all-time great Capitals. During the 2018 Stanley Cup run, Holtby had a save percentage of .922 and a goals-against average of 2.16.

However Holtby has stalled since then. This season, he had career lows with a 3.11 GAA and .897 save percentage. In the playoffs, he gave up 14 goals as the Capitals lost in five games to the New York Islanders in the first round.

Holtby will share the net in Vancouver with 24-year-old Thatcher Demko, who has long been one of the Canucks’ top prospects, although management has been patient with his development. Demko started in 25 games last season as Markstrom’s primary backup, posting a .905 save percentage, then shined when Markstrom got injured in the postseason. In four appearances (three starts) in the 2020 playoffs, Demko dazzled by allowing just two goals — equating to a .985 save percentage and 0.64 GAA.

The Canucks wanted to re-sign Markstrom, but negotiations fell apart. One of the sticking points was a reluctance to give Markstrom a full no-movement clause, which would have protected him from the 2021 Seattle expansion draft. Holtby’s two-year deal only includes a limited no-trade clause, so he will be available to the Kraken during the expansion draft.

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