The comments gave the Capitals three players who, either personally or through a representative, expressed their discontent and requested to be sent elsewhere.
That Neuvirth, veteran winger Martin Erat and young defenseman Dmitry Orlov were unhappy with their playing time and limited roles within the organization wasn’t necessarily unexpected. But that one after another felt the need to go public with their demands created an odd backdrop for the Capitals as the season hits its midpoint.
As Washington (20-15-5) gets ready to host the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night, it has yet to sort out these players’ future with the team.
General Manager George McPhee, through a team spokesman, declined to comment on the growing number of players looking for routes out of Washington. Neuvirth’s agent, Patrik Stefan, said Monday “my whole goal is that Michal gets moved,” and Coach Adam Oates acknowledged he is concerned about the potential for distractions in the dressing room.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got to be professional. Everybody goes through it at some point,” Oates said. “Players when they don’t play get frustrated, and it’s how you handle it.”
Erat, 32, told reporters Nov. 25 that “it’s time for me to go” after growing increasingly frustrated by a lack of ice time and feeling as if the Capitals’ coaching staff never gave him the opportunity to excel by playing him in unfamiliar positions with no special teams time.
While the veteran right wing has seen increased ice time as the third-line center in the month since his trade request and developed strong chemistry with linemates Joel Ward and Jason Chimera, nothing has changed from Erat’s perspective.
“I’m waiting. I’m a professional. It’s all I can do,” Erat said. It’s possible the Capitals won’t consider moving him until Brooks Laich can return to the lineup consistently after missing 14 of the past 15 games with a groin injury.
A day after Erat’s request in November, Orlov’s agent, Mark Gandler, spoke out about the Capitals not playing the top defensive prospect despite numerous injuries on the blue line and said a trade would be the best solution for both parties.
Orlov’s situation seems to have changed for the better, though. He has played in 14 consecutive games since making his season debut Nov. 30 and moved up to a top-four role, skating upward of 20 minutes a night on a regular basis. His strong play now offers support to the argument he should have been in the lineup sooner, but Orlov said as long as he’s playing, he’s content.
“I’m playing. I don’t think about what happened before. I don’t think about moving as long as I’m playing,” Orlov, 22, said this week. “I don’t think about the negative. It was tough time, but it’s in the past. It’s done. I just want to keep playing, stay positive and keep working.”
For Neuvirth, who has appeared in only seven games, publicly requesting a trade seemed all but inevitable each time he walked through the press box as a healthy scratch the past eight games after returning from an ankle injury.
The Capitals have long juggled their homegrown goaltenders, but with Neuvirth, Braden Holtby and now Philipp Grubauer all vying for the top spot on the depth chart, it’s easy to see that one will eventually be forced out. Whether Washington will part with Neuvirth, 25, who hasn’t played since Nov. 22, or continue to hang on to all three netminders is unknown. Neuvirth’s agent hopes for the former.
“They’ve got three goalies that can all play. Everyone can see that. It’s come to the point where it’s getting very unpleasant,” Stefan said in a phone interview. “He just wants to prove he can be the starter, and when he’s been given an opportunity to play he’s shown he can be a number one guy, but now he’s not even on the bench.”
The players’ discontent does not appear to be affecting the rest of the team. Erat generally keeps to himself in the dressing room, leaving without more than a word to an equipment manager. Neuvirth has become the last player off the ice on most days. Orlov has settled into a routine with consistent game action.
Familiar with the situations, none of the other Capitals were genuinely surprised that their teammates decided to take action.
“Everyone wants to play. You can’t blame a guy for wanting to play. I wouldn’t say that affects us so much,” Nicklas Backstrom said, acknowledging there is uncertainty about what moves lie ahead. “We know about it, but there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s the business.”