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Soon might be the time for Caps to trade goaltender Michal Neuvirth

Neuvirth Catches Puck

Neuvirth Catches Puck (Photo credit: clydeorama)

Much of what I’ve written below could go right out the window if the Washington Capitals continue winning because you don’t necessarily want to be an injury away from Phillip Grubauer in net for the playoffs just yet…

Should the Caps decide between now and the April 3 NHL trade deadline to not re-sign soon-to-be free agent center Mike Ribeiro, they have a coveted asset to sell when teams often give up more for players than at any other time. As a club with several holes to fill in its roster, a Ribeiro trade could be an opportunity for the Caps to pick up somewhere between one and three players or draft picks that could help them next season or beyond.

The Caps have another, less-often-discussed player they might be able to move at the deadline for an asset or two as well, provided they’re no longer in the playoff hunt or simply want to take a risk now for possible reward in the future: Goaltender Michal Neuvirth.

There’s no chance that Neuvirth would bring the Caps the same return that the veteran Ribeiro and his more-than-a-point-per-game average would at the deadline but, particularly given the number of injured goalies around the league at the moment, there might be some takers for the soon-to-be 25-year-old netminder.

Nuevirth will be a restricted free agent this July and he could very well be re-signed and back with the Caps for next season. But keeping Neuvirth may not be the best way for the Caps to put the best team on the ice for the next few seasons.

This week on The Sports Reporters on ESPN 980 AM, Yahoo Puck Daddy blogger Greg Wyshynski said that Braden Holtby seems to be the guy the Caps want in net, citing his mental game as one of the reasons.

If Holtby is the guy the Caps want in goal the majority of the time going forward, then it makes some sense to deal Neuvirth now, when teams could use him down the stretch, either as a back-up or as a starter, and to compete for a number one spot next season.

The New Jersey Devils—who have 40-year-old Martin Brodeur dealing with back pain, 39-year-old back-up Johan Hedberg struggling and two AHL goalies without almost no NHL experience—might be one possible trade partner for Washington.

There are other teams in the playoff race that lack experienced goaltending depth or are only an injury away—during a condensed season that has brought many for goaltenders—from having their back-up in net and mostly unproven AHL prospects on the bench. And if an in-conference trade, as a deal with New Jersey would be, isn’t the Caps’ preference, several teams in the Western Conference fit this description. A read through’s March 2013 depth charts provides some good perspective on where each team stands. No one is necessarily desperate enough to make a move just yet, but they could be in the coming weeks.

It’s extremely doubtful that the Caps will find someone willing to give them what the Colorado Avalanche gave them for goaltender Semyon Varlamov back in 2011: a first and a second round pick. But if the playoffs look out of sight for the Caps at some point and they get an offer half as good as what Colorado gave them, they should take it. The Caps could even consider a Neuvirth trade regardless of the playoff picture, provided they’re comfortable enough with Grubauer as a back-up.

Then this off-season, the Caps can sign a veteran back-up for Holtby for close to what it would cost them to re-sign Neuvirth. The team would then have an insurance goalie behind Holtby for next season, with Grubauer getting more time to develop at the AHL level. And the Caps would have the additional asset or two they got for Neuvirth as well.

As NHL’s latest lockout lingers on, a basement hockey league goes overseas

Habits and even loyalties can change during an NHL lockout, and that’s especially possible during the 2012 edition, as fans sour on a league that has played the work stoppage card four times since 1992. As the NHL owners and players squabble, the hockey-starved can find games elsewhere, from college to the minors or even overseas, where many NHL players have gone in search of playing time and a paycheck.

Monday afternoon, I showed my four-year old, hockey-crazy son an online stream of Washington Capitals stars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom playing together in the KHL for Dynamo Moscow against former Caps goaltender Semyon Varlamov and his team, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.

My son doesn’t fully understand the NHL lockout, but he knows it’s hockey season here in North America and that his favorite team isn’t playing until the owners and the players come to a new agreement. He had a few questions as I showed him Ovechkin and Backstrom on the ice together, and he was excited to see some hockey.

As I watched more of the game, my son went into the other room, grabbed his gloves and stick, and started playing a game of basement hockey as he does almost every day—except this time the two teams involved were from the KHL. He ran into the room every couple of minutes with game updates and questions, such as how to say “Varlamov’s team’s name again,” and eventually Ovechkin scored in a shootout to give Moscow a big victory in our downstairs arena.

Should the lockout go much longer, my family and I will likely seek out some live, non-NHL hockey to fill the void left by the absence of Caps games at Verizon Center. Maybe it will be an AHL or ECHL game or some college hockey. Whatever it is, I can’t help but wonder what will happen with younger fans like my son if the NHL cancels most or all of the 2012-13 season.

I already know that I, like some other fans I’ve spoken with, are frustrated enough by the NHL and NHLPA’s inability to get a deal done that we won’t be rushing to the games as soon as they start-up again. Sooner or later though, I’ll get the urge to venture back into an NHL arena. I imagine it could be requests from my kids to go to Caps games again that first lead me back to Commissioner Gary Bettman’s league. But what if by the time the NHL resumes games, their favorite team is the Hershey Bears or someone else?

If the owners and players keep their ridiculousness going much longer and younger fans latch onto teams from other leagues, perhaps some customers will be gone for a while; I doubt many will be gone for good. Having waited out a few of these NHL dramas before, I wouldn’t mind seeing the league struggle to draw spectators before things return to normal. Considering the two sides had years to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement that could have prevented the cancellation of games and satisfied all parties—including the seemingly forgotten customers—Bettman, the owners and the players deserve it, especially when they’ve behaved as if they learned little, if anything at all, about fan frustration from the 2004-05 lockout.

For now though, there’s a kid in my house who’s just thrilled to have some hockey to watch and mimic. It doesn’t seem to matter much to him that it’s not the NHL brand.

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