Unless he's really after starter's money rather than starter's minutes, Michal Neuvirth would be wise to reconsider signing on for another go with the New York Islanders.
The Czech goalie is widely reported to be looking for a starter's role -- a long-running quest for him -- when free agency opens on July 1, but it doesn't look like the openings are out there.
Neuvirth was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres at the trade deadline to back up incumbent starter Jaroslav Halak, but he only saw five games plus a brief playoff mop-up turn after shining in 27 games with the Sabres. Halak is entering the second year of a four-year contract, so in theory Neuvirth would be looking at continued life as a backup in New York.
But here's the thing, or several things really:
- Teams need two good goalies these days (see: Dallas. See: Chicago's run to the Cup. Also see: Why Neuvirth was acquired), and the starter's role can change hands often in today's NHL. Including for contenders. (The Isles are a contender, by the way.)
- Halak, who has excelled in platoons in Montreal and St. Louis, has also been bumped from the role in both of those places.
- Neuvirth, 27, is three years younger than Halak, 30. Though Halak was a major ugprade from what the Isles previously had, his season wasn't exactly stellar, and it wouldn't be a shock to see his performance plateau.
- Halak's 59 games last season was a career high. You might also call that a peak. As in, don't bank on him repeating it.
All those NHL teams chasing a starter via trade last week -- all ones chasing sleeper backups-but-could-be-starters like Cam Talbot, Eddie Lack, Martin Jones? They all successfully acquired one over the last week. The "guaranteed" starter's roles are already filled. Everyone is now juggling for backups.
In a weird way, Neuvirth's free agent status hurt him, as it meant his competitors for jobs were all available and on the move last week, while Neuvirth had to wait for the July 1 free agency opening. Once there, he'll be in a pool of names that also includes Thomas Greiss and Karri Ramo, as well as several other recognizable if not promising names.
While it's true the names that moved last week don't have the track record Halak has, so in theory they'd be more liable to lose their gig to a second acquisition like, say, Neuvirth, the teams they joined all already have a second goalie on an NHL contract.
I say this not as an Islanders partisan -- I'd be pleased if Neuvirth stayed on, but wouldn't mind Greiss either -- but as someone looking at the landscape and concluding a few things: Neuvirth isn't going to get a "sure" starter's role anywhere out there. But with the Islanders, he'd have a decent chance of both 1) playing for a winning team and 2) seeing that team need him to carry the load for a contract-garnering stretch sometime this season and/or next.