Photo credit: Greg Fiume
The Washington Capitals’ most valuable player is probably Braden Holtby. After a rough start, Holtby has improved to a solid 91.5% save percentage and recorded four shutouts. That success has been a big part of the Caps’ turnaround in the standings, but it has also given short shrift to Michal Neuvirth, whose future with the Capitals has become murky.
Neuvirth has started just 9 games this season. Coach Adam Oates has consistently turned to Holtby’s hot hand (despite how nebulous that myth is) whenever he had the option. Neuvirth has missed his recent opportunities to start due to illness and then general wooziness following a shot to his mask at practice last week. With Neuvirth playing his worst in a contract year at the same time Holtby is locking down the #1 goalie slot, no wonder there’s chatter about Neuvirth getting courted by the KHL.
Neuvirth has saved about 90% of the shots he’s faced this season, a bit below his career average of 90.8%. Of course, that’s coming from a meager sample of games (just 9 starts and 10 games played), most of them from when the Caps were atrocious (half of Neuvirth’s games were played in January). Defensive breakdowns and odd-man rushes demolished both goalies’ stats in those early games and locked the team in the basement of the Eastern Conference, though we shouldn’t absolve Neuvirth of his performance.
Since around Valentine’s, it’s been all Holtby all the time, and while the Caps have seen their possession game erode over that span, the team’s goaltending has definitely improved. Goal support and some sharpshooting has certainly helped Holtby as well. It looks like Holtby has gotten all the breaks. This next table compares the goalies’ performance and team support in games they’ve started*.
|Quality Starts (QS)||3||12|
Neuvirth and Holtby have seen a similar volume of shots in their starts, but Holtby has certainly done a better job with it. And while the Caps put around the same number of shots on the other team’s net, the puck goes in a lot more when Holtby starts. That drastic change in goal support is one of the main reasons why “wins” is an awful way to measure a goalie’s performance. That said, it’s apparent that Holtby has been the superior goalie even measuring purely off save rate.
Everything seems to be going wrong for the young Czech goalie: declined performance, no goal support, failures in team defense, badly timed illnesses and injuries, and a coach who loves to play the hot hand (even though, again, that’s a silly proposition). Neuvirth has remained publicly optimistic despite the setbacks, telling the Post’s Katie Carrera, “I wish I play more but it is what it is. I gotta handle it, but I’m looking forward to next game.”
With only twelve games remaining before the end of the season (and Neuvirth’s contract), time is running out. Cue rumors of contract offers from the KHL!
We first heard the rumor on a Czech site that you’ll have to translate for yourself. Neuvirth’s European agent then confirmed it as quoted in a report by Sports.ru and translated by RMNB’s Igor Kleyner:
“Neuvirth has drawn interest in the KHL. Re-signing with Washington will depend on how further negotiations will go,” said agent Vladimir Vujtek, according to hokej.cz.
Then, via email, Neuvirth’s NHL agent Patrik Stefan confirmed interest from the KHL, but emphasized that Neuvirth is focused on helping his team make the playoffs.
Neuvirth will be a restricted free agent at the end of this season. His current contract is worth $1.15 million a year. Given his troubled performance this year, the team’s reliance on Holtby as its number one goalie, and offers from teams outside the league, Neuvirth’s contract negotiations should be pretty interesting. Neuvirth will be seeking an opportunity to play and a contract to take him into unrestricted free agency. It’s unlikely the Capitals would be willing to part with his rights, but it’s difficult to predict at this point what a new contract may look like.
* Caveat: Started game stats includes figures for the replacement goalie (twice for Holtby, once for Neuvy). That’s not ideal, although it doesn’t seem to color the data dramatically.
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