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*.

Neuvirth Holtby
Starts 9 25
Wins 2 15
Quality Starts (QS) 3 12
QS% 33.3% 48%
Shots For 28.1 26.8
Goals For 2 3.42
Shooting % 7.1% 12.8%
Shots Against 30.3 31
Goals Against 3.2 2.5
Save % 89.5% 91.9%

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.

  • i don’t know if the hot hand fallacy really applies to “playing the hot goalie”, since their performance is going to be at least partially affected by confidence. i’d say that playing a confident, winning goalie, and demonstrating your confidence in him, is probably a good idea.

  • holidayblues

    Aw, Neuvy 🙁

  • Tyler S.

    I like Neuvy a lot more than Holtby.

  • whatever happened to the idea of playing a single goalie all season unless hes injured?

  • Fedor

    Neuvirth will sign with SKA St. Petersburg, book it. They have new goalies every year and every year their goalies fail in the playoffs big time. Last year, they were after Ondrej Pavelec.

  • I think that idea is falling in popularity across the league. I much prefer the 50/30 split– especially when it’s between guys who make between 1 and 3 million– rather than one guy who makes 6-7 million and another who makes 800k.

  • …why? Holtby takes the blame for everything even if it’s not warranted while in the same situation Neuvy blames his teammates. Not to mention Holtby is substantially more talented than Neuvy.

  • Fedor, do you mean that Neuvy would definite;y go to SKA *if* he jumps to the KHL?

    Or are you certain that he *will* jump to the KHL?

  • I think I’d buy that goalies are more confidence-drive than other athletes, but I don’t think that alone would invalidate the fallacy. Plus, it’s really hard to get data on that.

  • GMGM

    I like the goalie from Hershey a lot, he started a game like a month ago. His name started with a G (sorry I don’t remember). I like Neuvy but I mean if he’s not working maybe try to trade him.

  • Fedor

    Well, I’d bet on him jumping to the KHL (I’d say 70% probability) and if he does, I’m pretty sure SKA won’t pass up on him. And with they’re money, if they’re not passing up on somebody that guy usually ends up in St.Petersburg.

  • Rhino40

    I can’t claim any special knowledge about the confidence factor, but I can say for certain that goalies are–by far–more ritual-driven and superstitious than all other athletes. heh.

  • Joben

    His name is Philipp Grubauer.

    As much as I like Neuvirth, I think they should trade him and use Grubauer as a back-up, he’s certainly shown he’s capable in both the AHL and NHL and its time for him to move up while we free up some cap space.

  • Holtbyhater

    HAHAHAHoltby….. The biggest fucking joke of them all. Holtby is mediocre. Oates is a tool. He doesn’t know how to coach, hence why he goes with Holtby. He’s been up Holtby’s ass ever since training camp in Hershey. Neuvirth NEVER had a chance with Oates. Neuvirth has done well when Holtby has fallen on his face, hell, even Grubauer has performed better than Holtby this year in the NHL. When are you damn losers going to realize that Holtby is nothing more than a .500 goalie?

  • Let me offer a stipulation: knuckleball-throwing MLB pitchers.

    They’re the snake-handlers of the sports world.

  • holtbyhater

    And for anyone that wants to go on about Holtby’s playoff run… He was 7-7.. THAT’S .500 for all you non-math majors out there. 2 series of 7 games. Joel Ward’s little miracle made the 2nd series even possible or Holtby would’ve been 3-4 in last years playoffs. So the “magical” playoff run, yeah, wasn’t so magical at all. It was .500….

  • holtbyhater

    There are plenty of teams in the NHL that need good, consistent goaltending. Neuvirth will land somewhere in the NHL, just like Varly did. Only after he’s gone and Holtby gets hurt will anyone realize that they miss Neuvirth.

    Remember, when Vokoun went down last year, Neuvirth held the fort, it was only when Neuvirth went down last year that Holtby even saw the ice for that “magical” 7-7 playoff run…. So to base a starting job off a .500 performance in the playoffs when the starter was hurt? Yeah, if I were Neuvirth, I’d want out of there, just like Varly.

  • JenniferH

    I do like Neuvy, but I love me some Holtby. Considering how the season has played out so far, I can understand how things have fallen. Oates tried Holtby first, Holtby didn’t do so hot, so he turned to Neuvy, Neuvy didn’t do much better, so he went back to Holtby… and boom! Holtby kicked it into high gear. That’s just how it’s played out.

  • If Holtby is mediocre, I wonder what your idea of “good” is

  • yv

    Speaking about other prized Caps prospect. Looks like meteor indeed brought some extra(terrestrial) energy to Kuznetsov’s Traktor Chelyabinsk. Being down 1-3 they won 3 games in a row vs. Ak Bars Kazan’ including away game 7 and now will play in KHL Gagarin Cup finals vs. Dynamo Moscow. It seems either Kuzzya or Ovi and Nicky (a possibility according to Dynamo owners) will get their champions rings.

  • we should have tried to use Nuevy as trade bait at the deadline….. Some one like the devils could have been interested considering the age of Bordeur and Hedberg.

  • marty

    Hey Neuvy fans, Pls Join US – https://www.facebook.com/mneuvirth30

  • Fedor

    Neuvirth would land somewhere in the NHL if he was either good or consistent…

  • Holtby and Neuvy are fire and ice…. Both are insanely talented, but poor Neuvy is getting screwed like Wolski. Neuvy killed the playoffs he started in too; taking the rangers down in only 5 games!

  • seandlax9

    It was the tightest series in NHL playoff history when the Caps were MASSIVE underdogs, and who kept us alive the entire time? That’s right, Holtby.

    Like he did the second series, when, yet again, the Caps were MASSIVE underdogs.

  • fire and ice??

    so you’re saying they should bone?

  • ‘S a pity. I love Holtby’s newfound stability and dynamic presence, but Neuvy is no slouch. I hope he sticks around.

  • Hockeynightincanada

    Read his name….that’s all you need to know

  • maveric101

    Not sure if troll.

  • nick rios

    honestly i hope he doesn’t but for a good reason he has the talent to be a number 1 goalie but Oates obviously doesn’t like him and he is wasting away here in Washington i hope he leaves and goes to New jersey or a team in need of a young goalie with good upside

  • nick rios

    you can say Neuvirth is inconsistent but the dude is a good goalie remember his amazing game against the devils he made save after save and the o couldn’t get him one more goal in OT and kovelchuk made one that no goalie could save or his brilliant 36 save game you just say hes bad because you never see him.

  • Another year and the #1 goalie position remains a point of contention with this team. This has been a muddled situation since Kolzig departed in 2008. Given the poor performance by the team overall in the beginning stages of the season, its hard to justify placing Holtby and Neuvy in any ranking based on performance. Its a revolving door back there in the crease. Huet, Theodore, Varlamov, Vokun, Neuvy, Holtby – all those in just 5 years! I think you have to have some stability from year to year, just to establish that good communication between skaters and the netminder.
    Dont get me wrong, Holtby played far above expectations and was a major reason the Caps advanced as far as they did last year. Neuvy did the same the year before, and Varlamov before that. Gru looked good in limited action, but rushing a young goaltender is a recipe for disaster.

  • That’s fair. Aside from his snide remarks about Holtby from before, I have nothing against Neuvirth; he’s a competent goaltender and deserves ice time.