Lets get this straight: I don’t much like the way that the Neuvirth signing was handled.
To be clear, it’s not so much the contract itself I’m upset about – Neuvirth is an above average backup and now he’ll being paid like one – but when it was done and why. Both Flyers goalies are having terrible years, so I’m looking at the bigger picture rather than just their respective records this season when saying that.
Neuvirth’s contract extension and initial concerns
My alarm bells started ringing for several reasons as rumors about what became a two-year, $2.5m annual cap hit, contract extension began to circulate. I believe Stolarz will be backup next season since Hextall has previously indicated he was keen to protect Stolarz and would be happy to sign someone in order to allow him to do that (as is required by expansion rules).
Neuvirth doesn’t have the durability to consistently play throughout a season – he played 48 in 2010-11 and other than that has managed only one other season (11-12) where he managed more than 35. Of course, Neuvirth was backup for most of that time, or at least a ‘1B’, but we know he’s also injury prone. He is listed as having 13 separate injuries / illnesses since the 13-14 season – Reimer and Griess, two netminders who I’d say are similar in age and career trajectory, have 4 and 2 respectively. Considering the cautious approach Hextall takes with rookies and prospects, I find it unlikely that he thinks Stolarz should be playing 50% or more of next season’s games.
It just doesn’t quite add up to me, and got me thinking about what players to expose (or indeed ‘sacrifice’) in the Expansion Draft. While this is all hypothetical, it still warrants investigation.
Vegas and the Expansion Draft
We know that Vegas must pick at least 3 goalies in the 30 players – one player drafted from each franchise – they have to select. It’s worth noting that Vegas will have a two-day period prior to the Expansion Draft to negotiate and sign any Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) not protected from the draft by their franchise. If Vegas sign one of these UFA’s they will not get to pick another player from that franchise. While they could potentially get some big names in early I don’t really see much reason for those player to sign before the regular July 1st free agency period when the player would have much more choice (and could still sign for Vegas anyway). Additionally, 20 of the 30 players they select must also be signed for next season, so they can’t draft a team entirely of expiring Restricted Free Agents (RFA’s) for example.
Also, Vegas has to draft between $43.8m and $73m in salary cap (using this season’s player cap hits). This equates to just $2.43m per player drafted to reach the $73m ceiling. That’s not a lot of cap hit per player per draft selection. Obviously they can take a player on $4m, but it means to balance out they’d need another player on $860k. This is one reason why MacDonald’s $5m cap hit is prohibitive for Vegas, as it uses up more that two lots of ‘average cap allocation’ (ACA) – and, you know, he’s not worth it.
This means Vegas isn’t going to draft a team of $4m+ players. As an example: if they draft 7 players (1G, 3D, 3F) on $4m they’d have to draft the remaining 23 players on less than $1.96m each. You can see if they go bigger (who knows maybe Evander Kane or Bobby Ryan are available) then they have to cut back quite hard elsewhere. It’s fair assume they will draft some players on $4m+ as there will undoubtedly be some talented players available – probably on defense as several teams have some tough protection slot choices to be made (Minnesota and Anaheim, for example).
Drafting Goalies in the Expansion
So how does this all effect Vegas’ goalie search? Well, below is a list of goalies that are either signed for next season or expired RFA’s. I’ve removed the players I think are obvious protection choices for their teams (and noted a few that I’m unsure about) and I’ve protected Stolarz for the Flyers. I realize that things will change a lot but this is what we have for now. Players with an ‘(r)’ are expiring RFA’s. The list contains no UFA’s because there’s no real point in Vegas selecting them by this point. (List compiled from the information at Cap Friendly)
- Ana: Tokarski
- Ari: Domingue (I presume Mike Smith is protected but I could be wrong)
- Bos: Khudobin, M.Subban (r)
- Buf: Ullmark (r), (protected Lehner)
- Cgy: McCollum (Elliott and Johnson both UFA’s so I presume they sign and protect one if they don’t make a trade)
- Car: Ward, Altshuller (r) (I presume Lack gets protected but he and Ward are basically interchangeable)
- Chi: Glass
- Col: Varlamov (protected Pickard)
- Cls: Dansk (r), Korpisalo (r), Forsberg (r)
- Dal: Lehtonen / Niemi, Kiviaho (r), Lagace (r) (probably one of Lehtonen or Niemi is protected but I’m sure Dallas would like both gone)
- Det: Howard, Coreau (r)
- Edm: Brossoit
- Fla: Luongo / Reimer (again I presume one is protected but don’t know who)
- LAK: Zatkoff, Campbell
- Min: Stalock
- Mtl: Montoya
- Nas: Mazanec (r)
- NJD: Wedgewood (r)
- NYI: Halak, Berube (r), Gibson (r)
- NYR: Raanta, Skapski (r)
- Ott: Hammond, Driedger (r)
- Phi: Neuvirth
- Pit: ??? (There is no way that they don’t protect Murray but I also don’t think Fleury waives his No Movement Clause for the draft, he doesn’t want to go to Vegas nor should he. He’ll either waive it to be traded somewhere he’s happy to go to or get bought out – the Pens need to acquire any other goalie on this list to expose though. I don’t think that’s hard)
- SJ: Dell
- StL: Hutton, Binnington (r)
- TBL: Gudlevskis
- Tor: Bibeau (r), Sparks (r)
- Van: Bachman
- Was: Grubauer (r)
- Wpg: Hutchinson
As you can see, it’s not really a who’s who of goaltenders. Varlamov, Howard, Halak, Raanta, Luongo / Reimer, Ward, Grubauer, and Neuvirth are about as good as it gets. Let’s say that of the three goalies Vegas picks one will be more of an AHL level prospect they can send to the farm to hopefully develop into something better down the line. It doesn’t make sense to take three NHL full time goalies and then have to waiver / trade one away before the season starts (and it would eat more of that ACA that could be used elsewhere). So, we’re looking to draft two NHL goalies from this list. Reimer, Raanta, Ward, Grubauer, and Neuvirth are the ones on under $4m, in fact only Raanta makes less than Neuvirth next season (Grubauer isn’t signed for next season but is an RFA). I’d also argue that all that none of them should be considered bona fide starters but all are still decent backups, ‘1B’ goaltenders, or simply haven’t had a shot at being a starter yet.
So Vegas could look at Varlamov, Halak, Howard and Luongo / Reimer as the ‘starter’ and then either Raanta or Neuvirth as the backup or ‘1B’. I think there are a few decent tandems there and while Raanta is on less money and has played much better than Neuvirth (albeit on better teams) there are other considerations. Primarily that only one player per team can be taken. The Rangers will have to leave one forward unprotected from: Nash (were he to waive his NMC which is unlikely), Stepan, Kreider, Zuccarello, Miller, Zibanejad, Hayes, and Grabner, all of whom are at least at a 0.6 point per game pace (or 49 points through 82 games). Additionally they will likely have to leave defenseman Nick Holden unprotected, who has 28 points in 63 games so far. I am fairly comfortable saying I’d take any of those players over what we are likely to have on offer: Read, Weise, Raffl, Laughton, Bellemare, Leier, or MacDonald (Cousins takes my last protection slot for the forwards). Read leads that list of player in points per game with a whopping 0.27. I hope you can see my argument here, I’m not selecting Raanta over several other solid Rangers options when the Flyers have a bunch of mediocre and worse options on the table. Thus, Neuvirth isn’t a poor selection choice. The same issue applies with Grubauer in Washington.
They could, for example, end up with Halak, Neuvirth, and a decent prospect (Ullmark, Korpisalo, Forsberg, Coreau, etc.) for only around 500k more than the ACA of 3 players. I don’t think that’s a terrible NHL tandem and prospect to acquire for free.
Neuvirth will also be 29 entering next season and signed for two years, which would give Vegas a little more flexibility while not breaking the bank. It’s additionally worth noting that Neuvirth worked with, and was drafted by, Vegas GM George McPhee back when he was the Capitals GM. It might not mean much but it’s worth consideration (thanks to BSH Radio for that bit of information).
If Neuvirth was selected by Vegas where would it leave the Flyers?
Though Stolarz would have been protected we’d still need a starting goalie and, by my estimations, we’d have somewhere between 4 and 6 million dollars in cap space. Term is the real issue, with the Flyers ideally needing a player on a two or three year deal. Budaj, Mason, Miller, Condon, Elliott, Darling, Bernier, and Nilsson are just a selection of guys who will be UFA’s and probably around that price range for the term. Although it might feel more remote right now it could also leave the door open for Mason, the club would have 10 days after the Expansion Draft to work out a new deal before the free agency period begins. Failing that, as there won’t be that many starting jobs up for grabs in the NHL next season I’d imagine that one of the others could be signed on a decent deal. Chad Johnson and Scott Darling are probably the standouts though I’d suspect Johnson gets re-signed unless Calgary trade for / sign another netminder (Fleury, Bishop?). Either way I’d feel more comfortable with one of those guys splitting the net with Stolarz than with Neuvirth next season.
Obviously we can’t accurately predict what Vegas will do and the behind the scenes deals that are going to be (or have already been) done. But I don’t think it’s beyond belief that Vegas might have interest in Neuvirth and that the Flyers are working from there. Of course it could also be entirely the opposite and Hextall and Co. really do think Neuvirth can play 50+ games next season, or that Stolarz is capable of playing 40+ games. Or maybe they don’t think Stolarz is going to be NHL ready and will sign another goalie to keep the ‘1A’-‘1B’ idea going. None of those arguments seem to sit quite right with what Hextall has recently said, his manta of patience, and the general direction he has taken the team though. In the end we don’t know but I hope this has also showed the complexity of the decision making progress Vegas will be going through while also highlighting that Hextall has done quite a good job at having very little of significance on offer for Vegas.
How it will turn out, time, as ever, will tell.
*Photo by: Matt Slocum