Why Braden Holtby can bounce back with the Canucks

Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

Braden Holtby struggled in his final season with the Washington Capitals. Here’s why he can bounce back year with the Vancouver Canucks.

The Vancouver Canucks signed former Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby to a two-year contract worth 4.3 million annually on the first day of free agency.

With Jacob Markstrom leaving for a six-year, $36 million deal with the Calgary Flames, the team needed a goaltender that could potentially be a the 1A while Thatcher Demko becomes the 1B. They hopefully have that in Holtby.

Holtby has developed a reputation for being one of the top net minders in the league over the past decade. He has earned an All-Star selection every year since 2016, won the Vezina in 2016, the William M. Jennings Trophy in 2017 and the Stanley Cup with the Capitals in 2018.

However, recent seasons haven’t been kind to Holtby. Last season he sported a 3.11 goals against average and a save percentage of .897 save percentage with 25 wins in the regular season.

Like Rian Johnson bouncing back with Knives Out after the failure (at least in my opinion) that was Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the Canucks are going to need Holtby to return to form.

What happened to Holtby’s play and can he bounce back with his new team?

What happpened to Holtby in Washington?

Since his 2016 Vezina season and Stanley Cup victory in 2018, Holtby has been on a decline. It is particularly in save percentage where his stats have dipped. Holtby’s save percentage over the last three seasons was (in order) .907, .911 and .897.

Prior to last season, Holtby never had a goals against average of over 3.00. His save percentage was always above .900 before 2019-20, too.

Sure, his age (31) is probably a reason for decline as he is in his early 30s. Goalies in this day and age often struggle to retain a high level of play once they enter their 30s, after all.

The Capitals also lost defensive stalwart and head coach Barry Trotz after their 2018 Stanley Cup run, and the team’s overall defensive structure took a hit without him.

Trotz went on to join the New York Islanders, and he’s turned them into one of the league’s stingiest defensive teams.

I also wanted to take a look at who Holtby’s goaltender coach wa,s and to see if maybe that did play a factor in his decline. To make the long story short, it apparently did.

Holtby’s best seasons of his career were from 2014-2017 where he was playing lights out and posting very good numbers. He also had a successful goaltending coach in Mitch Korn. Looking at his resume, it’s clear that Korn is one of the best in his field.

Korn has over 30 years of experience in coaching goalies. In 1991, he joined the Buffalo Sabres organization and coached Dominik Hasek to four Vezina trophies. In 1998, he joined the Nashville Predators organization. Korn’s is most notable in Nashville for turning Pekka Rinne into an elite goaltender. In 2014, he followed Trotz to Washington where he mentored Holtby.

Holtby credited Korn for his success in a 2017 interview.

"“Obviously I knew a bit about him before, but you never get to know a person until you’re working with them. Ever since day one, there’s very few people that have his passion and knowledge and is open-minded to anything…you don’t really see that from guys that have had that much success or years in the league.”"

In 2017, Korn became director of goaltender with the Capitals before going to the Islanders the next year reuniting with Trotz once again. He is currently the director of goaltending there.

Holtby was then under wing of Scott Murray who was the goaltending coach with the AHL’s Hershey Bears before joining the Capitals.

Since Korn left and Murray took over, Holtby started to struggle. I’m not saying Murray is a bad goaltending coach or anything, but the change in coaches might have been a big factor in Holtby’s decline. Maybe he and Murray didn’t click or see to eye to eye on things. Or Maybe the change of teaching methods and style wasn’t good for Holtby.

With Holtby’s down year in 2019-20 and Ilya Samsonov emerging in Washington, it was best for Holtby to move on.

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Can Holtby bounce back in with the Canucks?

Signing in Vancouver gives Holtby a much-needed fresh start. Canucks fans can only hope that he’ll be able to regain that top notch form.

I personally think he can. Sometimes a fresh start, is what a player needs. It is a new city, new country and a new group of teammates for Holtby.

There is another strong reason why I think Holtby will bounce back in Vancouver.

He has the same reputation as Korn too: Vancouver goaltending Ian Clark.

We all know about the success he has had with goalies with his tough teaching methods. He turned Sergei Bobrovsky and the aforementioned Markstrom into great goaltenders and is starting to show his wisdom to Thatcher Demko. Hopefully, he can help Holtby get his magic back.

He was asked about Clark on a Zoom press conference after he signed, per Daniel Wagner of Vancouver Is Awesome.

"“It was definitely big. I know how far a good relationship and talent of a goalie coach can go, so it was definitely a big part of really wanting to come to Vancouver and have a good chance of success.”"

Canucks general manager Jim Benning also believes the Clark can help turn Holtby around.

"“Ian is excellent at what he does. Every goalie that we’ve ever given him, from the start of the year to the end of the year, you see how much they improve, including Jacob Markstrom. He’s done a wonderful job with our goalies. Braden had Mitch Korn in Washington for a while and thrived under him and Ian Clark comes from that same school of thought as far as goaltending is concerned. I expect Ian to do an excellent job with him and I think he’s gonna have a real good season for us.”"

Holtby immediately talked to Clark after signing and also asked for Demko’s phone number. If Holtby can get back to his old self, he will set a very good example for Demko and hopefully lead the Canucks back into the playoff picture. This time, potentially, in an All-Canadian division.

Next. Canucks: Future success will come down to Jim Benning’s cap management. dark

Hopefully, Clark can take Holtby back to his level the same way Korn did.