Michal Neuvirth: ‘If I don’t play, I don’t get better’ (updated)

December 30, 2013

(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Updated 7 p.m.: KANATA, Ontario – The day after Michal Neuvirth’s agent said he’s hoping the goaltender receives a fresh start with another team, the 25-year-old goaltender wouldn’t discuss whether he has asked for a trade.

“I don’t want to comment,” Neuvirth said Monday at Canadian Tire Center after the Capitals’ optional morning skate. “I just want to play hockey. I want to get better and if I don’t play, I don’t get better.”

ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported Sunday night that Neuvirth’s agent, Patrik Stefan, wants to a “change of scenery” for the goaltender, who will sit out as a healthy scratch for an eighth straight game as the Capitals continue to lean on rookie Philipp Grubauer.

Reached late Monday afternoon, Stefan confirmed that he has asked the Capitals to trade Neuvirth.

“My whole goal is that Michal gets moved. It’s come to the point that Michal is not even dressing, he’s in the stands and as a goalie that’s a really tough situation,” Stefan said.  “He’s 25 years old and if given a chance he can be the guy for an NHL team, but he’s got to get a shot and a chance and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be in Washington.”

Neuvirth has appeared in seven games this season, going 2-3-1 with a 2.83 goals-against average and .912 save percentage but none since Nov. 22. He was scheduled to start Nov. 29 against Montreal but stepped on a puck in warmups and injured his right ankle, knocking himself out of the lineup.

With Neuvirth sidelined the Capitals recalled Grubauer, who has made the most of the opportunity, going 5-1-2 with a 2.02 goals-against average, .937 save percentage and strong performances that have prompted the organization to keep all three goaltenders on the active roster. Grubauer will make his eighth start in 11 games Monday against the Senators.

Neuvirth, meanwhile, has been healthy and watching from the pressbox since Dec. 15, a day after he played one game with the AHL’s Hershey Bears on a conditioning stint. Back on Dec. 21 Neuvirth voiced his displeasure in his lack of playing time, stating “I want to be a No. 1 goalie in this league. If not here, maybe somewhere else.”

That Neuvirth’s stint as a healthy scratch continues with no end date in sight prompted Stefan to take his concerns public but they began much earlier in the season. Stefan said he’s held multiple conversations with the Capitals over the past several weeks, dating back to the early stages of the season when Neuvirth wasn’t seeing much playing time.

Neuvirth made two appearances and one start in the first 10 games of the season, which wasn’t the type of workload the goaltender and his agent expected after the Capitals signed him to a two-year, $5 million contract extension in April.

“We signed the two year deal in Washington with Michal being excited about potentially being the guy there, fighting with Braden [Holtby] over the No. 1 spot and that was the whole point,” Stefan said. “That’s why we signed there. It turned out to not even be that way. It’s been all downhill.”

There’s also frustration from Neuvirth and Stefan about how the lack of playing time impacted the goaltender’s chances of making the Czech Olympic team for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

“For Michal, he came into camp motivated. They signed him to the deal and all he wanted to do was be the guy there. He saw the opportunity and with the Olympics coming up and he was going to be considered a starter for the Olympic team. You’ve got [Winnipeg's Ondrej] Pavelec and Michal pretty much the only two guys playing NHL from the Czech team. The motivation was there but you look at what happened over the last three, four months it’s just been going downhill and that [Olympic opportunity] may be gone.”

Coach Adam Oates knows Neuvirth is frustrated and respects his desire to play, but that doesn’t change the fact that Grubauer is playing well and Neuvirth must wait for another chance. Oates also doesn’t want to see Stefan’s comments cause problems for the Capitals overall.

“Most of the time when guys aren’t playing we [complain] right? Everybody [complains] and I understand that it’s part of the gig and an agent’s job is to protect his client,” Oates said. “But to me, Michal came out last week and said he wants to be a no. 1 somewhere. It’s been out there before, we know it. I don’t know if the agent needs to create another distraction for the locker room in this case. It’s known.

“There’s a lot of things we like about Neuvy,” Oates continued. “He’s had plenty of opportunities to play that unfortunately he had some injuries. He stepped on a puck on his last start, there’s nothing we can do about it. Grubi’s come up and played well and now [Neuvirth’s] got to wait his turn.”

Neuvirth is now the third player to request a trade publicly, either personally or through his agent, in the last two months. Veteran winger Martin Erat previously demanded a trade in late November and Mark Gandler, the agent for defenseman Dmitry Orlov, also said he wanted the Capitals to part ways with his client.

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Neil Greenberg · December 30, 2013

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