Lundqvist, Rangers shut out Capitals
Maybe it was because it was the only Eastern Conference game on the NHL’s schedule Wednesday night.
Maybe it was because this is an Olympic year and between the Capitals and Rangers there were a handful of American and Canadian Olympic candidates on the ice below.
Whatever the reasons, the Verizon Center press box was the place to be for executives and scouts from around the league Wednesday night.
In addition to Team Canada representatives Steve Yzerman [Lightning] and Kevin Lowe [Oilers] and Team USA assistant general manager Ray Shero [Penguins] there were two scouts each from Chicago, Minnesota, San Jose and Pittsburgh, and one scout representing Calgary, Colorado, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Montreal, Ottawa, Phoenix, St. Louis, Toronto and Winnipeg.
Excluding the Capitals and Rangers, that’s 16 NHL teams in attendance.
So, what’s it mean? Possibly nothing.
But when TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported before the game that the Oilers might have an interest in Caps backup goaltender Michal Neuvirth, well, that wasn’t exactly coming out of left field.
Do the Caps need a major jolt to snap them out of a 2-5-0 start?
"I don't know. You never really want something like that. If that's what [we] need, that's what [we] need I guess," Caps defenseman Karl Alzner said. "We want to win and we want to change things around. It's not very fun to lose games. I don't know what's going on, but everybody's got to be more responsible here and look in the mirror."
At 25, Neuvirth is considered one of the NHL’s youngest and most talented backups and the Oilers are in desperate search of someone who can stop the puck.
Edmonton is off to a 1-5-1 start and has allowed a league-high 32 goals. The Oilers’ two goaltenders – Devan Dubnyk [5.43] and Jason LaBarbera [3.22] – have combined for the worst GAA in the NHL [4.49].
In two appearances this season Neuvirth has not exactly set the world on fire. He allowed one goal on 28 shots and earned a win in relief of Braden Holtby on Oct. 3, and surrendered five goals on 28 shots in a loss to Colorado on Oct. 12.
But Neuvirth certainly looks better than what the Oilers have right now and a trade could satisfy his burning desire to be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL.
So let’s play GM for a minute.
First, what is considered a fair return for Neuvirth, who has a respectable career record of 56-36-11 with a 2.67 GAA and .909 save percentage? And, what is the Caps’ most pressing need?
The short answers, in inverse order, are a reliable left-handed defenseman and Ladislav Smid.
Smid, 27, is a steady, 6-foot-3, 209-pound, left-handed defenseman who has spent the past seven seasons in Edmonton. He could fit nicely into the Caps’ lineup, possibly alongside John Carlson on the third pairing.
That would drop lefty John Erskine onto a third pairing with Steve Oleksy and make Alex Urbom or Nate Schmidt, who shoot left, or Connor Carrick, who shoots right, the Caps’ seventh defenseman.
Neuvirth has this season and next remaining on a contract that pays him $2.5 million a season. Smid has four years remaining on a contract that pays him an average of $3.5 million annually. The Caps would also need to recall either Philipp Grubauer [$578,889] or David Leggio [$550,000] from AHL Hershey to serve as Holtby’s backup.
To make room for Smid’s salary, the Caps might also need to carry just 22 players on their roster, which would mean a trip back to the minors for Urbom or Schmidt.
Could it happen? Only time, and two teams off to a slow start, will tell.