The Game’s Chess, It Ain’t Checkers: Holtby’s Strategic Move Takes the Capitals to Arbitration

Pictured: Braden McDuck

Pictured: Braden McDuck

Did you hear the air raid sirens and emergency broadcast not-a-tests this morning?

Braden Holtby and the Caps are going to arbitration over the goaltender’s contract, and Holtby’s camp is reportedly demanding EIGHT MILLION DOLLARS per year.

As I previously stated here, Holtby is probably worth about $6 million per year, and everybody – you, me, your mama, your daddy, your auntie – knows it. So what happened?

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“If you grew up with holes in your [goalie skates], you would celebrate the minute you was havin’ dough.” – Jay-Z (kinda)

Greed, gluttony, and other sexy, sexy sins. That’s what.

See, Holtby wants $6.5 million per year. He has all along.

The Capitals would like to pay him $5.5 million per year, but are realistically willing to pay $6 million, because that’s how negotiating works.

But Holtby really, really wants that extra $500,000. Why? Because he and the Capitals were talking about a 5-6 year deal. That little .5 at the end of the number means an extra 2.5 – 3 million dollars over the course of the contract.

Would I be fighting tooth and nail for that kind of money, if I were a goalie whose body could implode and render me worthless and valueless at any moment? You bet your ass.

So if Holtby is dead-set on making $6.5 million, and the Capitals are dead-set on only paying him $6 million for salary cap reasons (which I think are stupid but whatever), and neither is willing to budge, what happens?

The two sides go to binding arbitration. Under arbitration, both sides present their case for what they think the player is worth. They will present lots of charts. There will be graphs involved. They will use terms like “market value” and “comparable players” and “injunction,” which only sounds dirty but isn’t. But the very first thing they do is announce the salary they are seeking.

Holtby’s camp stated they were seeking $8 million.

Why? Because the Capitals stated they were after $5.1M. In this particular case, an arbiter is likely to split the difference between the two demands.

And what is dead center between 5.1 million and 8 million?

Six. Point. Five. Million.

Holtby gets the salary he really wants, not the absurd number presented to arbitration to balance out the Capitals’ bid.

Braden Holtby, wearing sunglasses because his future is so bright.

Braden Holtby, wearing sunglasses because his future is so bright.

So, what’s to stop every player who wants more money from holding out until arbitration?

Under arbitration, players can only agree to one or two year deals. So yes, Holtby may get the increased salary he was after, but it may only add up to $500,000.

Goalies have notoriously streaky careers, plagued by inconsistency and injury, so being able to sign a big-time, long-term contract right at the height of their prime and value is the dream for any of them. Lock down those millions while you can. Feed your family. Make a trust fund out of a contract.

Holtby is coming off of the best season of his career – and the best season any Washington Capitals goalie has ever had. Is his value going to be higher in a year or two, when he can once again try to negotiate for a long-term contact? I really, seriously doubt it.

Which is exactly why I expect both sides to put away their willies and stop the pissing contest, and to agree to terms voluntarily before arbitration binds them. Certainly for 5-6 years, probably for $6 – 6.5 million per year.

And if they don’t?

Well, wouldn’t that just be the most Washington thing ever?

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About Jason Rogers

Jason Rogers lives in D.C. and writes for PuckBuddys, Japers' Rink, and The Classical. Follow him on Twitter @HeyJayJRogers.
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