When Philipp Grubauer was called up by the Washington Capitals on November 30 there were very few people who believed he would even be given a chance to hit the ice. Grubauer was only given the opportunity to even be on the NHL roster as a result of backup goaltender Michal Neuvirth going down to an ankle injury, and Braden Holtby had been the undisputed No. 1 all season.
After only featuring in 20 minutes during the next three games these thoughts were firmly cemented, and it appeared that Grubauer would go back to the AHL with his tail between his legs. But then on December 8 the goaltender was given a chance to shine, and he has not looked back ever since.
During his first start of the season at the NHL level Grubauer was dominant, outplaying Henrik Lundqvist on the way to a 4-1 victory. In the three games between then and now the 22 year old has started twice more and gained the decision in all three games as Holtby has struggled mightily. Overall he has gone 3-0-1 during this reign in between the pipes, compiling a 2.06 GAA and .937 save percentage for the 2013-14 season along the way.
What has also been accomplished is that Grubauer now legitimately has a reason to believe he should not only remain on the Capitals roster but should be the team’s starting goaltender. At only 6-foot-1 190-pounds some certainly wonder if he can be a viable option long term as a starter, but with an athleticism level that is off the charts and a compete ability that never fades away there is no doubt in my mind.
When it comes to what to do with Holtby and Neuvirth another decision must be made as after the latter was taken off the injured reserve list on Sunday the Capitals now have three goaltenders on their roster.
Out of the two Holtby is clearly the better option long term and deserves to be kept on the team’s roster accordingly. Even after undergoing a poor run of form previously he has compiled a 13-9-1 record with a .920 save percentage and 2.82 GAA after successfully leading the Capitals to the playoffs just last season. When this is taken into account with a $1.85 million cap hit for the 2014-15 season, it would be foolish not to keep the 24 year old in town as a 1B to Grubauer.
Meanwhile, when it comes to Neuvirth a move out of town has appeared to have been in the cards for a while now, and this appears to be the moment to make it happen. Since taking over as head coach of the Capitals Adam Oates has never been a big fan of Neuvirth, and the 2013-14 season has not proven to be any different. He started only five of 25 games while healthy, combining to pick up a 2-3-1 record with a 2.83 GAA and .912 save percentage in seven games played.
Still, after previously guiding Washington to a playoff appearance as a starter in 2010-11 and picking up a 57-38-12 record with a 2.67 GAA and .910 save percentage in parts of six seasons it is clear Neuvirth has some value. Additionally at only 25 years old this value is only heightened, and it makes no sense to leave him in as a backup goaltender when some teams would offer a good return in a trade to make him their starter.
When this is combined with the fact that Grubauer appears to be ready to be a starter at the NHL level — or at the very least be a capable backup — it makes no sense why Washington general manager George McPhee does not move Neuvirth to another team. Doing so would make the Capitals a better team in the short and long run and ultimately position the city of Washington to bring home the Stanley Cup they have been craving.