Why would the Capitals sign backup goaltender Michal Neuvirth to a two-year contract extension that will pay him more than starter Braden Holtby? And what will his signing mean to their salary cap next season?
That’s a question Caps fans are asking today after learning the team handed Neuvirth a two-year, $5 million extension two months after giving Holtby a two-year, $3.7 million contract extension.
Neuvirth [4-5-2, 2.74 GAA, .910 save percentage] will carry a cap hit of $2.5 million in each of the next two seasons. Holtby [22-12-1, 2.62 GAA, .919 save percentage] will carry a $1.85 million cap hit.
“I don’t see myself as a backup,” Neuvirth said Saturday morning. “I’m better than that and that’s why they offered me more money than the backups in the league.”
Neuvirth, 25, would have been a restricted free agent on July 1. Holtby, who also avoided restricted free agency, seemed unfazed by the news of Neuvirth’s signing.
“Congrats to him,” Holtby said. “I didn’t think it would be any different. It’s great to have him back. Obviously, we’ve been together for a long time and hopefully for a long time in the future. He’s a pretty easy guy to work with, pretty laid back.”
Holtby and Neuvirth were teammates with the Hershey Bears in the 2009-10 season and have remained friends ever since. But it became abundantly clear midway through this season that Holtby entrenched himself as the team’s No. 1 goalie and there are no plans for that to change anytime soon.
Capitals coach Adam Oates said Neuvirth has been an “ultimate pro” in handling a lighter workload this season. After playing 48 games two seasons ago and 38 games last season, Neuvirth played in just 13 games this season.
“When it’s not your night you still have to be a pro about it,” Oates said. “While of course you’re competitive and of course it’s a business, it’s great that you don’t begrudge the other guy because it’s not that guy, it’s you. At the end of the day it’s you.”
The question, of course, is where Neuvirth fits into the Caps’ long-term plans. With Holtby cemented as the No. 1 goalie and Philipp Grubauer being groomed in Hershey, there doesn’t seem to be room for Neuvirth to grow into what he wants to be – an NHL starter. But now that his contract terms have been determined other NHL teams would know exactly what they’re getting in a trade.
With the re-signings of Holtby, Neuvirth, John Erskine, Steve Oleksy, Jack Hillen, Eric Fehr and Aaron Volpatti, the Caps’ payroll next season stands at $58.6 million. That leaves just $5.7 million to sign restricted free agents Karl Alzner [currently at $1.285 million] and Marcus Johansson [$900,000], along with unrestricted free agents Mike Ribeiro [$5 million] and Matt Hendricks [$825,000].
It should make for some creative maneuvering for general manager George McPhee in the offseason.