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Capitals, Braden Holtby ready for arbitration

Braden Holtby proved last season that he among the top goaltenders in the NHL. Now he wants to be paid like one.

Holtby and the Washington Capitals have approximately a week to agree to terms on a new contract, as the netminder’s arbitration hearing is scheduled for July 23 in Toronto. A restricted free agent, Holtby filed in early July after being unable to hammer out a new deal with the team.

The Capitals reportedly offered the 25-year-old a contract worth close to $5.5 million per season, while Holtby countered by asking for around $1 million more each year. The native of Saskatchewan made $1.85 million in 2014-15.

“I think we’ve made an aggressive offer with Holtby, hoping to get it done sooner than later,” Washington general manager Brian MacLellan told the Washington Post during last weekend’s Fan Fest. “I like what we’ve offered. We’ve offered a term deal with a good salary. The total dollars is pretty significant.

“Unfortunately, I guess you play it out. If you’ve got to go to arb, you’ve got to go to arb. It’s part of the process.”

Holtby certainly is deserving of a significant pay raise after his performance last campaign. He appeared in a league-most 73 games, matching the franchise record set in 1999-2000 by Olaf Kolzig and eclipsing his career high by 75.

He led the NHL in minutes played, saves and shots faced, as one would expect from his number of appearances. And he finished tied for second in both victories (41) and shutouts (nine), with his win total also tying the club mark set by Kolzig.

A contract of $6.5 million per year is a reasonable request for Holtby. It would put him in the same ballpark as Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens ($6.5 million) and Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes ($6.3 million).

One could make the argument he should be paid in the same range as Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins and Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators, both of whom will make $7 million next season. However, Holtby’s request would pay him more than both Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings ($5.8 million) and Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks ($6 million) – both of whom have backstopped their respective teams to two Stanley Cup championships.

The Capitals are around $11 million under the salary cap, leaving them enough to sign both Holtby and fellow restricted free agent Marcus Johansson. They would be wise to lock up a netminder like Holtby, who can be the backbone of the team for another eight to 10 seasons.

Anyone believing his regular season was a fluke need only look at his performance in the playoffs. Holtby posted a 1.71 goals-against average and .944 save percentage with one shutout in 13 games, limiting the New York Islanders to fewer than three goals in five of the six games in which he played in the first-round series while keeping the Rangers under three tallies five times in their seven-game Eastern Conference semifinal matchup.

Holtby definitely will be receiving a sizeable pay raise next season. All that remains to be decided is whether the sides can come to a compromise before putting it in the hands of a third party.

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