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Flyers sign Michal Neuvirth to 2-year contract extension, for some reason

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The Flyers’ eagerness to re-sign their Czech netminder opens up a lot of questions regarding their plans for next season.

NHL: Stadium Series-Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Recapping the 2017 Flyers NHL trade deadline

The NHL trade deadline has come and gone. Let's recap the Flyers moves!

Опубліковано Broad Street Hockey: For Philadelphia Flyers Fans 1 березень 2017 р.

Last night, word broke that the Flyers had been negotiating with Michal Neuvirth on a potential contract extension, as they approached this afternoon’s trade deadline.

And just before 1 p.m. today, the team made it official: they’ve not only signed Neuvirth to an extension, but it’s a multi-year extension. Pierre LeBrun reports that it’s a two-year deal worth $2.5 million per year, a raise of roughly $900,000 from his current salary of $1.625 million.

So let’s talk about this a bit more. As Travis posited last night, there are a few possible reasons for a Neuvirth extension that make varying degrees of sense:

* They like Neuvirth and legitimately want him to be the starting goaltender next season. (This would be weird since uhhhhh, Neuvy has been #bad this year. No offense or anything, bro.)

* They are trying to sign Neuvirth so that they can protect Anthony Stolarz and leave Neuvirth up for grabs in the expansion draft.

* They are leaking to the media that they want to sign Neuvirth to give the illusion that they value him so that — maybe, just maybe — they can move him for something of value on Wednesday. (As we’ve discussed, that seems unlikely.)

* The idea of breaking up a family is just too much for Ron Hextall to handle.

Much hand-wringing has occurred via social media this morning over the fact that the Flyers were looking to re-sign Neuvirth despite what has been, objectively, a bad year for him. This is fair, and it’s fair to ask why the Flyers seem so eager to retain him that they’d make it a priority in advance of the trade deadline.

But it’s fair to at least guess that Neuvirth isn’t going to be this bad again next year, just like it was reasonable to believe that he wasn’t going to replicate the .924 save percentage season he had last year. Neuvirth’s career resume is that of a respectable platoon goalie, and unless you think he’s really fallen off the aging curve this year at 28, it’s reasonable to think he’ll be back around that level when he’s on the ice next year, with the possibility existing that he ends up playing well below or above that level.

The problem is that “respectable platoon goalie” is basically all Neuvirth’s shown he really is in the NHL. By a combination of injury-proneness, inconsistency, and being on rosters with guys who are outplaying him, Neuvirth hasn’t played more than 32 games in an NHL regular season since 2011-12, when he was with the Washington Capitals and was eventually overtaken by Braden Holtby. He’s played more than 40 games in a season just once, in 2010-11. Even before he reached the NHL, Neuvirth never played more than 41 games in any of the four seasons prior to that 2010-11 season, dating back to his time in the OHL and AHL.

By signing Neuvirth now, you’re essentially locking him in to one of your two NHL-level goalie spots for next year, despite the fact that we neither have evidence that he can handle a starter’s workload nor any obvious alternative to handle a starter’s workload. Meaning that, if Michal Neuvirth returns to the Flyers, it means that they’re essentially banking on one of the following three things to happen:

  1. Neuvirth is able to buck the trends of his career history and play both well and often, enough that he can be considered a respectable starter (think 45+ games at an NHL-average level, something he has done once before, seven years ago). In that case, you find a backup and roll with them.
  2. One of the Flyers’ many goalie prospects turns out to not only be NHL-ready but ready to handle a starter’s workload by next fall. Anthony Stolarz is by far the guy most likely to fit that bill, but it’s worth noting that not only is he in the middle of a pretty average AHL season, but he too has limited experience playing a lot, having only played more than 35 games in a year once since his draft season (that being last year, when he played 47 games for the Phantoms). And while yes, Stolarz looked good in his limited NHL time this year, a) we’re talking about two starts and four games here, and b) what does it tell us about his NHL-readiness that the Flyers started Steve Mason — a guy who they have lately been keeping off the ice like he’s allergic to it — in all but two games during the six or so weeks that Stolarz was with the Flyers? It seems like a stretch that the team would suddenly find him ready to play more than half of the Flyers’ games next year, but if Neuvirth’s around and not that guy, then it almost has to be Stolarz.
  3. The Flyers think they’ll be able to find someone worth handling a starter’s workload via other means, whether that be free agency or trade. Here’s the list of unrestricted free agent goalies next summer. Who really catches your eye on that list? The only obvious starter there is Ben Bishop, and who knows what kind of contract he’ll command. Otherwise, you’ve got a combination of old guys, potential reclamation projects, and good backups who may be ready for bigger roles but who — stop me if you’ve heard this before — haven’t really proven they can handle a bigger workload. That’s not to say that none of those could work out! Some of them probably will! But most of them probably won’t, and trying to guess which one will is a risky proposition for the Flyers.

Now, to be very clear: the problems above would mostly still be in place if the Flyers weren’t re-signing Neuvirth. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the Flyers’ goalie situation, there has been dating back to last summer, and it’s only been exacerbated by the crappy years that Neuvirth and Steve Mason have both had. At this point, we have no clue who the Flyers’ starting goaltender is going to be next year.

But the issue at hand now is that re-signing Michal Neuvirth doesn’t get us much closer to answering that question of who the Flyers’ starter will be next year. And unless Neuvirth’s signing a contract that would make it easy for the Flyers to bury him in the minors — in which case, why would the Flyers be so eager to do that now, and why would Neuvirth even sign it? — then they’ve only got one more spot on the roster to try and get that guy, with no obvious path there in mind.

All of this proactiveness for a guy who, quite literally, has maybe been the worst semi-regular goalie in the NHL this season. I’d understand if the Flyers waited a bit to see if any prospects or big deals would pan out, and then if neither did, then you go back to Neuvirth in July, bring him back for a year, and have him compete with someone (probably Stolarz), all risks acknowledged. Locking yourself into a multi-year commitment right now, though — especially when you consider that this exact same deal could probably be reached in June, when you’ve got more information on the goalie picture and can still sign Neuvirth for the sake of protecting Stolarz in the expansion draft — seems wholly unnecessary.