Well. That’s it, folks. Braden Holtby is no longer a Washington Capital. Not going to lie, typing that was hard. It’s always sad to see a long-time player on your favorite team leave in free agency, but this departure hits different.
Holtby is one of, if not the, best goalies the Capitals have ever had; he brought a Vezina Trophy and a Stanley Cup to Washington in his time here. However, his impact in DC was more than what he did on the ice - he is also one of the best human beings the DC sports world has ever had. Losing him on the Caps’ roster will sting, but the team can adjust and come back from that. Losing his, and his wife Brandi’s, presence in Washington, on the other hand, feels almost insurmountable. That’s going to take a while to process, and I don’t think Caps fans will ever stop missing him. I know I won’t.
Holtby has done some incredible charity work in DC, and the catalogue of those charitable deeds is far too long to list in its entirety. However, there are some moments that stand out. Holtby has granted two children’s greatest wishes to spend the day skating with him, one in 2014 through the Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada and one in 2015 through Make-A-Wish. The Holtbys launched their “Get Off the Bench for Racial Equality” auction in June of this year, which benefitted Black Lives Matter DC and the The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. They donated $5,000 to each organization and also matched the funds raised by the auction; the total amount in donations was $39,400. Braden and Brandi Holtby also made a hefty donation of 50,000 meals to the Capital Area Food Bank in March and spearheaded fundraising efforts on social media during the COVID-19 pandemic. I could go on and on and give a million more examples of Excellent Human™ Braden Holtby, but you get the picture so I’ll cool it.
Now I’d like to get a little sappy here for a moment if that’s okay with everyone, because I think it’s necessary. I don’t think Braden Holtby will ever truly realize the impact he had on Capitals fans who are part of the LGBTQ+ community. The NHL likes to preach “Hockey is for Everyone”, but those are often empty words with no tangible action. This is why what Holtby does means so much to LGBTQ+ fans. To watch a player who you’ve loved and idolized for years, especially someone who plays in an incredibly non-diverse and heteronormative league that is overly focused on masculinity, stand up for you and to say that you matter as a human being is incredibly powerful. As an LGBTQ+ hockey fan, it can be downright painful to hear and see homophobia and intolerance in the sport I love. But when Braden Holtby speaks up for LGBTQ+ rights, when he marches in Capital Pride Parades, when he speaks at the Human Rights Campaign National Dinner, when he serves as the Caps’ You Can Play ambassador, when he is appointed as the Caps’ LGBT-inclusion ambassador by the NHL, when he refuses to visit a Trump White House, when he proudly uses rainbow stick tape on Pride Night? I feel seen. I feel validated. I feel like a valued member of the hockey community. That is no small thing.
Finally, I’d like to say something to Braden Holtby himself: thank you. Thank you for everything you did during your time in DC. Thank you for everything you did for the Capitals organization. Thank you for everything you did for the fans. Thank you for everything you did for the city. Thank you for everything you did for LGBTQ+ fans and fans of other marginalized groups. Thank you for making our DC hockey world that much better and brighter for 12 years. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Wherever you end up, just know that you have lifelong fans in DC who will be waiting to give you the warmest welcome for your first game back at Capital One.