Report: Maple Leafs bringing in Neuvirth to compete for roster spot

It appears we have a third entry in the battle to back up Frederik Andersen.

Former Philadelphia Flyers netminder Michal Neuvirth has reportedly accepted a tryout with the Toronto Maple Leafs, according to Bill Meltzer of the Flyers’ official website.

Neuvirth figures to compete with Michael Hutchinson and Garret Sparks for the No. 2 role with Toronto, which at this point does not feature a clear front-runner.

Currently training with Czech club Sparta Prague, Neuvirth was limited to just seven starts with the Flyers last season and only eight overall. Injuries and the emergence of prized rookie netminder Carter Hart factored into his lost season, but Neuvirth did nothing to help his cause in his limited appearances. He won once in his seven starts, and allowed 26 goals.

Even in being cut short, Neuvirth’s difficult season fits the pattern that has played out throughout his career. Strong seasons in support with Philadelphia, the Buffalo Sabres and Washington Capitals have been broken up by poor spells, often for entire seasons. In the five years that he’s seen the most usage, Neuvirth has posted save percentages of .914, .902, .914, .924 and .891.

Neuvirth is two seasons removed from that .891 mark, and a year that ended very seriously with an on-ice medical incident. He was able to bounce back the next season by slightly overshooting his .910 career average in 22 appearances.

Neuvirth could challenge for the Leafs' backup job next season. (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)
Neuvirth could challenge for the Leafs' backup job next season. (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

Given the ups and downs and the absence of an immediate sample, it’s hard to say which Neuvirth will show up for training camp in Toronto. For now it can’t be viewed as much more than a no-risk move that carries some potential upside, whether Neuvirth wins the job or simply helps to push either Hutchinson or Sparks.

But there probably is some belief inside hockey operations that he can exceed most expectations.

Fired last season as the head coach in Philadelphia and recently brought on to Mike Babcock’s coaching staff, Dave Hakstol will be as familiar with Neuvirth as anyone, and surely advocated on his behalf.

If nothing else, there’s reason to believe that Neuvirth could play in Toronto next season due to the limitations of both Hutchinson and Sparks.

Hutchinson is five years removed from his only plus backup season in the NHL, and has been limited to 12 appearances over the last two years combined. The Maple Leafs can bury his $700K salary in the minor leagues without penalty, which could render him vulnerable.

Meanwhile, Sparks was handed the backup role last season over the reliable Curtis McElhinney after leading the organization to a Calder Cup title. He failed to adjust to a support role and struggled before eventually being sent away from the team in favour of Hutchinson for the stretch run and into the playoffs.

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