A report in the Czech press this morning says that goalie Michal Neuvirth told reporters there he’s going to try out for a job on the Toronto Maple Leafs at training camp this fall.
“I definitely want to go back to the NHL. I’ve been dealing with a couple of teams, and we’ve agreed with Toronto, so I’m going to try out to the Maple Leafs,” said Neuvirth, who has a free $5 million status after a two-year contract with Philadelphia.
”It’s a big challenge for me. When they called me from Toronto, I let go of all the other teams. The Toronto Maple Leafs - that’s an honor. Like Sparta here in the Czech Republic, such a Real Madrid in hockey about it, “said Neuvirth enthusiastically. - translated via Google
Following the David Clarkson for Garret Sparks trade bomb that fell on Tuesday evening, the Maple Leafs announced officially on their Twitter account that Neuvirth has indeed received a PTO with the team.
Neuvirth’s club team in Czechia is the storied Sparta Praha, and he has been training with them ahead of this season.
He is coming off a two-year deal with the Flyers with an AAV of $2.5 million per year, which was the highest salary of his career in the NHL. As you may remember, the Flyers had troubles in net last season, and were only saved by the arrival of Carter Hart. With a rotating cast of goalies, often injured, none of them had save percentages that looked good, and Neuvirth only played in seven games. He also had one AHL start on a conditioning loan that was cut short after one day. He went on IR in January and never came off after spending most of November on IR as well. All-in-all, nothing the Flyers did last year sounds good for the goalie when viewed in hindsight.
The purported cause of all that goalie shuffling, and some of the injuries, was the Flyers coach Dave Hakstol. Or maybe it was the goalies that got Hakstol fired, opinions vary. In case the summer news has gotten away from you, the Maple Leafs hired Hakstol as their assistant coach a few weeks ago. So if anyone knows the story of Michal Neuvirth’s terrible, no good, bad and injury riddled season, it should be him.
So how bad was Neuvirth’s season?
A quick look at Moneypuck’s Save % Above Expected, which compares how well Neuvirth did to how well a league average goalie should have done facing the same shots, he’s at -2.879%. For reference, a really good backup last season like Ryan Miller was just in the positive range at 0.047%. A tolerable one on a bad or struggling team, like Carter Hutton, clocked in at -0.324%. Garret Sparks, the worst goalie to play at least 20 games, was at -1.116%, Michael Hutchinson was at -1.719% in nine starts (includes his time on both the Leafs and the Panthers), and Mike McKenna, the worst goalie to play at least 10 games (all on the Flyers), is at -2.084%.
It was a bad season. But neither of the Maple Leafs other backup choices were much better, although Hutchinson’s very small number of games for the Leafs were better than his Florida performances.
Neuvirth has had some success as a backup in the past, playing meaningful numbers of starts on both the Sabres and the Flyers. If you go back far enough — he’s 31 now, so he’s had a varied career — the Washington Capitals were trying to use him as a starter, and he wasn’t terrible. He’s about league average on a good season, and his career NHL average shakes out a little better than Hutchinson’s . That is exactly what you should expect from a backup. The occasional hit on a backup who performs like Curtis McElhinney last season is not something that you can just go out and get.
The best way to solve a backup goalie dilemma is simply to have a lot of options. And now the Leafs have three.
On a PTO, Neuvirth does not count against the salary cap or take up one of the SPC slots. And he doesn’t require waivers to go anywhere. As it stands now, the Leafs will enter training camp with Hutchinson and Sparks, who both require waivers to go to the AHL. They also have Kasimir Kaskisuo, Ian Scott and Joseph Woll, all of whom are waiver exempt and will play in the minors. Neuvirth is there to prove himself and to act as insurance if waiver claims cull the herd of Leafs choices.
So maybe going for an ex-Flyers goalie in this way was a very good idea. If nothing else, it will give us something to talk about in training camp.