One of the final moves Tim Murray made yesterday was shipping Jaroslav Halak and a third round pick in 2015 to Washington in exchange for defenseman Rusty Klesla and goaltender Michal Neuvirth.
Klesla is likely more of a salary dump than anything else as he will start in Rochester and while Murray didn’t rule out bringing him up, said they didn’t want to waste one of their four post-deadline recalls on the defenseman. Neuvirth is a young, promising goaltender with plenty of upside and an additional year left on his contract. The trade sees the Sabres unload a pending UFA who wasn’t likely to re-sign for a goaltender with term and the ability to grow as he plays in tandem with Jhonas Enroth. We asked Rob Parker from Japers Rink to stop by to answer a few questions on the trade. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @RobParker_JR.
Q: So the Sabres and Caps swapped goalies yesterday with the Caps coming away with an extra third round pick and the Sabres winding up with Rusty Klesla. What are your thoughts on the trade?
A: I like the trade from the Caps' perspective. Halak is an upgrade on Neuvirth and Neuvirth doesn't have a particularly friendly cap hit for a backup goalie. The trade also clears out cap space next year, giving the team more room to work with this summer. Moving Klesla is helpful, but not a huge deal. The Caps have several AHL-caliber defenders, and taking Klesla from Phoenix seemed like the Caps taking a bad deal from the Coyotes, not getting a guy they were going to dress in the NHL (and the immediate assignment to Hershey corroborates that). Getting a third round pick is just gravy.
Q: Is it safe to say that Neuvirth’s growth and Braden Holtby’s presence led to the trade of Semyon Varlamov?
A: Semyon Varlamov requested a trade and threatened to go play in the KHL. He wasn't coming back to the Caps so George McPhee had to trade him. It wasn't really that the other goalies forced him out. However, Varlamov only became dissatisfied when Neuvirth took the starting job from him, so in that sense the emergence of Neuvirth is somewhat related to Varlamov's dissatisfaction and ultimate trade request, though in the absence of the trade request McPhee would have been more than happy (and almost certain) to keep Varlamov and let the two battle it out for the net.
Q: What went wrong with Neuvirth’s progression that has seen him get leapfrogged on the depth chart?
A: Neuvirth battled injury and inconsistency, and Holtby played very well when given the chance to be the starter. When Neuvirth started to find a groove, or when Holtby was cold, it always seemed like something freakish would happen to Neuvirth preventing him from taking advantage of the opportunity (he caught the flu, he stepped on a puck in practice and picked up a dreaded Lower Body Injury). The Caps saw enough in Holtby to determine he was the guy for the future, and from that point on Neuvirth got scraps and wasn't able to change their minds.
Q: What would be the most accurate way to sum up Neuvirth’s time in Washington?
A: Frustrating, I'd say (for the player and the fans). He showed periods of promise, notably in 2011 when he had his longest stretch as a starter, but also had periods of play that was not up to snuff for an NHL starter. Certainly not for a starter on a team that fancied itself a Cup contender. Then there were injuries and general inconsistent performance, never showing realizing the promise he had shown as a starter on the Hershey Calder Cup championship teams.
Q: Given his youth, it stands to reason that the change of scenery and proper handling from his head coach and goalie coach could reshape Neuvirth’s game and confidence. Would you say this trade was the best thing for the young netminder?
A: I do think the trade was the best thing for Neuvirth and that a change of scenery could help him grow as a player and reach his potential. He's still young, especially for a goalie, and he has talent. He should get a chance to compete for a starting job in Buffalo and I wouldn't be surprised if he seizes the opportunity and takes the next step forward and becomes an NHL starter. I also wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't seize the opportunity and cements himself as a reliable, if not spectacular, NHL backup goalie.
Q: What are Neuvirth’s greatest strengths that he’ll carry to Western New York?
A: He's a good positional goalie with great rebound control when he's on his game. He's not a guy that is going to give you a lot of spectacular highlight saves, but he's rarely in a position where he needs to recover with a big athletic movement. He's square to the shooter, moves well, and pucks stick to him. When he's on his game. If he's off his angle a little or his rebound control isn't sharp, he starts letting in goals in bunches. He's also a quiet guy that doesn't seem like he'll rock the boat. He wanted a chance to be a starter, but he wasn't making headlines with his displeasure, unlike another guy the Caps may have moved at the deadline.
Q: Rusty Klesla, we hardly knew thee. Obviously he didn’t see any time with the Caps or in Hershey. What were your thoughts on the move that saw the Capitals acquire him? What are your thoughts (if you didn’t include them in your first answer) on using him in this deal?
A: Klesla felt like a salary dump in return from Phoenix. He was a quality NHL defender, and the Caps can certainly use one (or two or three) of those, but he hasn't been the same since Jordan Nolan lit him up. The trade that brought him here has a lot of history and baggage, and suffice it to say Caps fans have a bitter taste in their mouths over the whole saga. The ultimate trade that brought Klesla over is relatively meaningless in the context of that bigger picture. Removing Klesla, and the cap hit he carries, was a big bonus in this trade. The Caps may have another forward joining the team from Russia (Evgeny Kuznetsov), and if that's to happen they'll need some cap space, rather than using it on a guy in the AHL.