Last May, when Michal Neuvirth stood in front of reporters for the Capitals’ annual breakup day, many wondered if his next interview with the media would come in a different NHL jersey.
After all, how many NHL backups are scheduled to make more money this season than the goalies in front of them?
Neuvirth, 25, was coming off a season in which he appeared in just 13 of 48 games [4-5-2 , 2.74 GAA] and had relinquished the starting goaltending duties to 23-year-old Braden Holtby [23-12-1, 2.58 GAA].
“It was tough to watch Holtsy play,” Neuvirth said last May, “but I was supporting him every game. He was winning and there was no need to change anything.
“You never know what’s going to happen. My goal is to be No. 1 and I will do whatever it takes to be No. 1. I’m happy to stay with this organization and try to get to No. 1 here.”
With Philipp Grubauer, 21, coming off a strong rookie season in Hershey, many wondered if the Caps might trade Neuvirth and begin this season with the youngest goaltending tandem in the NHL.
General manager George McPhee said he had “no interest” in trading Neuvirth, whom he awarded a two-year, $5 million contract extension near the end of last season, less than the two years and $3.7 million given Holtby.
For the past two weeks Neuvirth has been skating with a handful of Caps players – Troy Brouwer, Nicklas Backstrom, Jay Beagle, along with unsigned free agent Jeff Halpern – at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, waiting for the chance to compete against Holtby for the No. 1 job he covets.
Both goalies have Olympic bids riding on their early-season performances. Neuvirth figures to make Team Czech Republic’s roster, along with goalies Tomas Vokoun and Ondrej Pavelec. But a strong start could give him the edge as an Olympic starter.
Holtby was one of five goalies invited to Team Canada’s orientation camp, joining Roberto Luongo, Corey Crawford, Carey Price and Mike Smith.
Many believe Team Canada general manager Steve Yzerman will carry a young goalie on the Olympic roster to give him the experience needed for 2018 national team and that Holtby could win that job with a strong start to the season.
From all indications, Holtby will get that chance while Neuvirth sits and waits.
But unlike last season, when he ruffled some teammates with unflattering comments about Holtby and Alex Ovechkin during the lockout, Neuvirth has arrived early at Kettler with the intention of letting his preseason play do his talking.