2018-19 Player Review: Nick Holden’s first season in Vegas was marred by sloppy play

The veteran rearguard logged an average of 18:18 per game but didn’t exactly thrive on the back end for Vegas.

In the 2018-19 Player Review series, we will evaluate the 2018-19 performances of each member of the Golden Knights. Players were evaluated based on overall performance in both the regular season and playoffs, especially with regard to pre-season expectations and how that player performed in his particular role.

Nick Holden signed a two-year, $4.4 million contract with the Golden Knights last summer after playing parts of seven seasons with the Blue Jackets, Avalanche, Rangers and Bruins. He was brought in to bolster Vegas’ depth on the back end; while he technically did that, he was a source of frustration for many Golden Knights fans, particularly with regard to his casual play in his own end. Here’s a look back at his 2018-19 season.

Season in review

It’s hard to believe Holden scored 11 goals and 34 points with the Rangers just a few seasons ago; let’s just say he didn’t find that scoring touch in his first year with Vegas.

In fact, he scored just three goals and 15 points in 61 games last year. Ironically, all three goals came in the span of 11 days in November as he scored three times in seven games. The 32-year-old spent most of the season as a third-pair defenseman, averaging 18:18 of ice time per game. He recorded three multi-point efforts throughout the 2018-19 campaign.

Holden finished the season with decent possession stats, including a 55.97 Corsi For percentage and 54.26 High-Danger CF%, though his Goals For percentage of 49.41 and HDGF% of 45.83, which ranked third-worst among Vegas defensemen, were less palatable.

The team’s save percentage at 5-on-5 was .904 when Holden was on the ice, which was the lowest among all defensemen who played in at least two games.

That being said, the Knights were slightly more effective in keeping pucks away from the net when Holden was on the ice.

Holden spent most of the season paired with Jon Merrill or Colin Miller.

While the Knights’ third pairing of Holden and Merrill was quite problematic at the start of the season, the duo put up decent numbers nevertheless. However, both Merrill and Miller were better overall without Holden. This was particularly true for Miller, who saw improvements in almost every category when he was away from Holden, aside from GF%, as you can see in the table below.

5-on-5 stats with and without Holden

Miller with Holden244:0149.5446.9657.1448.0444.4450
Miller without Holden790:1957.8956.4449.1857.8262.4651.22
Merrill with Holden367:3959.9458.65061.8561.8350
Merrill without Holden556:4358.6158.2662.165863.362.96

But while Holden’s overall possession numbers may have been decent, far too often his play simply wasn’t.

Holden was officially credited with 30 giveaways, but that number doesn’t come close to accurately conveying just how often Holden fumbled the puck or misread or misplayed a situation that led to an extended shift in the defensive zone or to a turnover or goal.

In order to paint a more complete picture of Holden’s 2018-19 performance, it’s worthwhile to take a look at some of those plays.

(Warning: some of the following clips may be difficult to watch.)

For example, in a game against Chicago in late November, Holden sent this careless centering feed out from behind the net, which led to multiple prime scoring chances for the Blackhawks. If not for Marc-Andre Fleury doing Marc-Andre Fleury things, the puck would have ended up in the back of the net.

Almost two weeks later, Holden pulled off this blunder, which did directly lead to a goal.

But this sort of thing didn’t just happen against the Blackhawks.

In the first game of the season (and his first as a Knight), Holden inadvertently kicked the puck into his own net.

Later in the game, a game in which he and Merrill were on the ice for three goals against, the duo left Wayne Simmonds all alone in front of the net (spoiler: this is not a winning strategy). It’s unclear exactly what Holden was doing in this play, though he had a good view as he watched the Flyers take the lead.

One of the most notable plays of Holden’s season was another instance in which he scored on his own team (there were several). In this case, he pushed the puck from the crease into the net during a wild December matchup against New Jersey. The goal helped the Devils tie the game, a game they eventually won 5-4 in overtime despite trailing 4-1 in the second period.

Earlier in that frame, Holden’s speed (or lack thereof) was exposed as Miles Wood blew past him en route to a glorious scoring opportunity, ultimately thwarted by Fleury.

In this example, Holden’s lack of effort getting back leaves Alex Edler all alone as he puts in a juicy rebound.

These are just a few examples of Holden’s gaffes throughout the season. Some were more glaring than others, but unfortunately, plays like these were all too common for a player who so often stood out for the wrong reasons.

It was no surprise, then, that Holden played in just one playoff game in the first-round series against San Jose, serving as a healthy scratch in the other six. Miller was a healthy scratch in Game 1 of the seven-game series, which is when Holden got his chance. However, the “bold” move by Gerard Gallant did not pay off.

Not only did San Jose come away with a 5-2 victory to take a 1-0 lead in the series, but Holden had a less-than-stellar performance. He finished the game with a minus-two rating and three giveaways in 13:34 of ice time (his three giveaways tied a team high among defensemen for the entire series). Holden did not return to the lineup for the rest of the series, and it’s likely he would have remained in the press box even if Game 7 had gone differently.

Standout moment

Holden’s style of play doesn’t lend itself to highlight-reel goals. Unfortunately, many of his most memorable moments were of the variety outlined above. But the universe reversed course at one point as Holden was able to benefit from an own goal.

It was one of the flukiest goals in Golden Knights history, but Holden was credited with the goal after the puck took a crazy bounce off the boards before getting tucked into the net by the opposing team.

A prettier strike came six days earlier against the Senators as Holden protected the puck from several stick checks as he drove to the net and scored.

Looking ahead to 2019-20

Holden is on the books for one more season at a cap hit of $2.2 million. Though he’s not exactly breaking the bank, considering how this offseason has gone, Holden’s questionable play makes his contract feel rather costly. Arguably, the losses of Erik Haula and/or Nikita Gusev are at least in part a result of the team’s inability to move Holden.

The St. Albert, Alberta native is at best a third-pairing guy, though he’s better suited as a seventh defenseman. His role on the team will depend on what Vegas decides to do with its young defensemen, as well as on the type of role Gallant has in mind for Deryk Engelland.

The Knights always have the option of burying Holden’s contract in the AHL, which would clear up $1.075 million in cap space. That may make sense since players like Zach Whitecloud, Nic Hague, Jimmy Schuldt, Jake Bischoff, etc. have a real shot of making the club out of camp. Either way, though, it appears as though Holden will remain with the organization for the 2019-20 season.

How would you grade Holden’s 2018-19 performance?

A+ or A0
A- or B+1
B or B-2
C+ or C17
C- or below41