Analyzing Braden Holtby’s Canucks performance so far this season

After Jacob Markstrom signed with Calgary in the offseason, the Vancouver Canucks needed a goalie to share the net with Thatcher Demko, and the team eventually settled on Braden Holtby.

A former Vezina winner and Stanley Cup champion, Holtby has seen his numbers drop off significantly over the last two seasons. After posting a 0.925% save percentage in 2016-17, he followed that up with 0.907% in 2017-18, 0.911% in 2018-19, and finally, a horrendous 0.897% last year.

So far this season, that number has dipped even further, as Holtby currently sports a 0.893% save percentage while also owning a 3.51 goals-against average, the worst mark of his career. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the latter number is more of a team stat than an individual one and save percentage is a much better representation of a goaltender’s performance.

Even so, save percentage doesn’t take into account the quality of shots that a netminder faced, which is why we should instead use Evolving Hockey’s goals saved above expected metric to gauge Holtby’s performance so far this season.

This stat isolates a goalie’s performance with his team’s play by measuring how many goals a netminder let in against how many he was expected to concede, based on the quality of shot attempts that he has faced. So far, Holtby ranks 41st out of 44 goalies (as of February 23) who have played over 250 minutes this season at five on five, as he’s let in 4.95 more goals than expected (-4.95 GSAx).

Now, it’s important to keep in mind that this stat is accumulative and not based on per-minute metrics, so Holtby’s numbers could be negatively inflated due to him playing more than other goalies. With that said, we can’t use that as an excuse because more minutes also means more opportunity to improve his stats.

On the other hand, Holtby has been a lot more reliable on the penalty kill, letting in only 0.08 goals more than expected, so he’s basically break-even when the Canucks are shorthanded. Even with this caveat, it’s hard to argue against the fact that Holtby has largely struggled so far this year.

The one sliver of hope lies in Ian Clark, Vancouver’s goalie coach. Heralded as one of the best in the business, Clark has transformed countless netminders into elite players over his career, including Markstrom. After he returned to Vancouver in 2018, it took about half a season before Markstrom began playing like one of the better goalies in the league, so we need to preach patience when it comes to Holtby’s performance.

Now, I’m not saying that Holtby will re-discover his Vezina form, but given Clark’s track record, he deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to improving a goalie’s performance. In the meantime, the Canucks should rely more on Demko, which they’ve already started to do.

What do you think, Canucks fans? Are you optimistic about a bounce-back from Holtby? Let us know in the comments below!