In recent weeks the Washington Capitals have witnessed one of the surprise players of the 2013-14 season, as the relatively unheralded Philipp Grubauer has emerged as a top notch goaltender. Since coming up in the early part of December the 22 year old has racked up a 5-1-1 record with a 2.18 GAA and .937 save percentage while leaping the struggling Braden Holtby to become the Capitals’ undisputed starter between the pipes.
While the play of Grubauer has made him an easy choice to start consistently, it has also created a logjam at the goalie position that must be tended to in quick fashion. This is because Capitals head coach Adam Oates does not only have to worry about trying to keep Holtby happy on the bench but also figure out what to do with the forgotten Michal Neuvirth — if he even remembers who that is.
Just for a reminder to Oates, Neuvirth was once the backup goaltender to Holtby at the beginning of the 2013-14 season and picked up a 2-3-1 record with a 2.83 GAA and .912 save percentage before going down to a freak leg injury late in November. This injury was the thing that allowed Grubauer to come up to the NHL in the first place and in turn created the logjam that resulted in Neuvirth coming back to health nearly two weeks ago.
Since returning to Washington following a one game rehab stint with the Hershey Bears of the AHL on December 14, Neuvirth has not even had a sniff of the ice. And as could be expected this has not made the goaltender happy, which he recently expressed by stating to the Washington Post: “Like I said, I want to be a No. 1 goalie in this league and if not here maybe somewhere else.”
It can be made certain that this is not an outright trade request — Neuvirth does not appear to be that type of guy — but it is certainly an indication that he feels left out in no-man’s land. And for a guy who was a starter in Washington during the 2010-11 season — compiling a 27-12-4 record with a 2.45 GAA, .914 save percentage and four shutouts — it is certain that he has reason to feel confident as a starter at the NHL level.
What is also certain, though, is that Oates does not feel Neuvirth should be a starter. In fact it seems he doesn’t even feel he deserves a spot on Washington’s roster. Since taking over prior to the 2012-13 season the coach has repeatedly looked over the goaltender, first choosing Holtby and now Grubauer, and the time is now ripe for a move.
If Oates and general manager George McPhee do choose to go this route, there would likely be no shortage of suitors. After all Neuvirth is still only 25 years of age, is under contract through the 2014-15 season with a very affordable $2.5 million cap hit, and has a career 57-38-12 record with a 2.67 GAA and .910 save percentage. To say that he has a long future ahead would be an understatement, and the dividends for any trade would show this.
One must only look back to the fact that McPhee was able to obtain a first and second round draft pick from the Colorado Avalanche in the summer of 2011 for Semyon Varlamov as a guide book on what could be received in a trade. That trade was brought upon by Neuvirth taking up the starting reins away, and although some time has elapsed since he was last a starter, either a second round pick or second line defenseman could be expected in a trade.
Pulling the trigger on a trade with this value of return would be a genius move by McPhee at this point as Neuvirth is only going to lose value sitting on the bench. Somehow turning the situation into a gain for a Capitals team that is currently 20-14-4 and on the way to the playoffs would certainly be a win for the team as they search for an ever elusive Stanley Cup victory.