Braden Holtby figures he’ll have no trouble fitting in with his new team.
The veteran netminder signed a two-year, US$8.6-million deal with Vancouver on Friday as the Canucks made a key change between the pipes on the opening day of free agency.
“I’m a guy who believes in hard work and competitiveness and a hard style of hockey. And you see a lot of the players on the Canucks that fit right into that mold,” the former Washington Capital told reporters on a video call.
“From an outsider looking in, I think it’s going to be a great fit and I’m really excited to get after it.”
Signing the five-time all-star means the Canucks are moving on from previous starter Jacob Markstrom, who also hit the free-agent market on Friday and signed a six-year deal with the Calgary Flames.
Holtby now becomes a teammate of 24-year-old goaltender Thatcher Demko, who nearly led the Canucks to a comeback victory over the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference semifinal after Markstrom was injured in Game 4.
Each team can protect only one goalie in the Seattle expansion draft next year.
Heading into free agency, Holtby said he was looking for a city that was a good fit for his family and a team that had “an extremely good chance of winning.”
Holtby, 31, has spent his entire decade-long career with the Capitals, winning a Stanley Cup with the club in 2017-18.
The native of Lloydminster, Sask., posted a .916 save percentage with a 2.53 goals-against average and 282-122-46 record during his time in Washington.
Canucks general manager Jim Benning said in a release that the team is pleased to add an “experienced and established goaltender” to the roster.
“Braden is a Stanley Cup champion, brings leadership and has demonstrated the ability to rise to the occasion in big games. He will be an important part of our team,” he said.
Holtby struggled last season, however, and his save percentage fell to .897 with a 3.11 goals-against average.
He admits that the season was “a bit of a struggle at times” and “didn’t go as planned.”
During the COVID-19 hiatus, Holtby worked with Washington goalie coach Scott Murray to break down his game and find ways to address what wasn’t working.
“When things came back, I felt as good as I have in a long time,” he said.
In Vancouver, Holtby will share the workload with the up-and-coming Demko.
The American made a name for himself during the Canucks’ playoff run, stealing a pair of games against the Golden Knights to force a Game 7. Demko posted a 13-10-2 record with a .905 save percentage in regular-season play.
Working with a talented young goalie will be exciting, Holtby said.
“You want to be able to push each other and have success that way and I think that’s really exciting to me,” he said. “Puts some young blood back into me, too. It’s always exciting to work with the young guys, they see things a different way too and you can learn a lot from them.”
Having two good goaltenders will be essential for any team looking to make a playoff push next year, Holtby added.
“It’s going to be a condensed schedule, it’s going to be a grind and I think you’re going to have two guys that are going to win games for you,” he said. “In order to have success as a team and a chance to win a championship, you need to have two goalies who are going to get you there.”
The Canucks also locked up Tyler Motte on Friday, signing the depth centre to a two-year deal worth $2.5 million.
Motte put up eight points (four goals, four assists) in 34 regular-season games with the Canucks last season. He also had a solid playoff run, adding five points (four goals, one assist) in 17 appearances.
“Tyler is a hard-working, physical player,” Benning said. “He adds versatility to our lineup, reads the game well and plays an important matchup role for our group.”
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press
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