Caps re-sign goalie Michal Neuvirth

Loose Pucks,Sports,Brian McNally

The Capitals have re-signed goalie Michal Neuvirth to a two-year contract extension worth $5 million, the team announced on Saturday.

Neuvirth, 25, was going to be a restricted free agent this summer. He has only played in 13 games this season thanks to illness and also strong play from fellow goalie Braden Holtby. His numbers: A .910 save percentage and 2.74 goals-against average. Neuvirth will make $2.4 million next season and $2.6 million in 2014-15. He started on Thursday against Ottawa, but will not play tonight in the regular-season finale against Boston. Holtby will be the No. 1 goalie to start the Stanley Cup playoffs next week.

This is Neuvirth’s second contract signed as a restricted free agent after his three-year, entry-level deal expired after the 2010-11 season. He signed a two-year, $2.3 million contract that summer. Holtby’s first contract after his entry-level deal expired was for two years, $3.7 million. He won’t be a restricted free agent again until after next season. Holtby was the playoff starter last spring and has started 34 of 47 games during this lockout-shortened campaign. Still – that apparently wasn’t an issue for Neuvirth, whose ability to move was limited by his RFA status anyway.

“Yeah, we talk about it and I don’t feel as a backup,” Neuvirth said. “I feel I’m better than that, and that’s why they offer me more money than the backups in the league.”

But where does that leave Washington with regards to next year’s $64.3 million salary cap? Things are getting tight. Just in the last month alone general manager George McPhee has re-signed Neuvirth, forwards Eric Fehr and Aaron Volpatti, defensemen John Erskine and Jack Hillen, added forward Martin Erat via a trade with Nashville.

Who’s left? Winger Marcus Johansson and defenseman Karl Alzner are restricted free agents. Forwards Matt Hendricks and Mike Ribeiro are unrestricted free agents. Defenseman Tom Poti and forward Wojtek Wolski are also unrestricted free agents, but it appears unlikely either returns.

So let’s do the math: Raises for Johansson ($1.5 million) and Alzner ($3 million) – those are conservative, educated guesses, but the dollars could be more – leaves only about $1.765 million left to re-sign Hendricks and Ribeiro, who the team acquired to be its second-line center just last June. That would likely be enough to sign Hendricks, but McPhee would have to get creative to free enough space to be a factor in the Ribeiro sweepstakes.

Following the new collective bargaining agreement between the NHL Players’ Association and league owners in January, the Caps are allowed to buy out a player this summer and not have it count against their salary cap. They could also trade a player to free space. There are ways to free those dollars.

But there’s also the question of what the team expects from top prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov, who still has one more year under contract in the KHL, but could be available as soon as next March. If the organization sees him as a center capable of playing right away would it even want Ribeiro around long term? Or do they find a short-term solution for one season until Kuznetsov is ready. In that case the heavy lifting for the summer is virtually over – barring trades, of course, which are always a possibility.

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