If Michal Neuvirth is going to find work next season, it won’t be with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
When the veteran netminder was inked to a professional tryout pact earlier this off-season – and he was among the first to earn a camp invite, agreeing all the way back in late-July – the expectation was he had a leg up in the battle for second-string duty behind incumbent starter Frederik Andersen. And one needed to look no further than Neuvirth’s resume to understand why.
While a few of his recent performances, namely his 2018-19 and 2016-17 outputs, left much to be desired, Neuvirth was entering camp with a fairly stellar resume as far as career backups are concerned. In the 11 seasons he’s spent plying his trade in the NHL, Neuvirth has started more than 220 games, appeared in upwards of 250, had one 20-win season under his belt, four campaigns with 10-plus victories and a career .910 save percentage, 2.17 goals-against average and 11 shutouts. All told, the 31-year-old netminder seemed certain to swipe the No. 2 spot from hopefuls Michael Hutchinson and Kasimir Kaskisuo.
But how quickly things can change. During the opening weekend of training camp, Neuvirth fell injured. Once healthy, he appeared in a 5-3 pre-season loss to the Buffalo Sabres, making 20 saves on 22 shots, but he was back on the shelf mere days later and was unable to appear in Monday’s exhibition outing against the Montreal Canadiens, a game in which Hutchinson posted a 38-save shutout. And just like that, it was all she wrote for Neuvirth in Toronto, as the Maple Leafs announced Tuesday that the keeper has been cut from camp.
Neuvirth isn’t the first PTO hopeful to get the axe, however. Among the growing list of PTOs-turned-cuts are notables such as Scottie Upshall and Stefan Noesen, both of whom were skating with the Dallas Stars, as well as nearly 300-game NHL veteran Eric Gryba, who announced his retirement shortly after he was trimmed from training camp by the Calgary Flames.
As the cuts continue to roll in, though, who are the most notable names remaining in camp and how likely are they to stick in the NHL?
Alex Petrovic, D: The longtime Florida Panthers blueliner has held onto a spot with the Bruins, but he might have a tentative grasp on the spot, at best. Already, the Bruins have seven blueliners locked in for next season, and Connor Clifton’s new three-year deal insinuates Boston has plans for him. That would make Petrovic the ninth defenseman.
Andrew MacDonald, D: We said it at the time he inked his PTO and it bears repeating: his time with the Philadelphia Flyers was tough, but he’s a solid depth option who can move the puck well and add some offense to the lineup. And given the Flames brought back Michael Stone after buying him out, Calgary might be willing to bolster their depth by buying cheap on MacDonald.
Tobias Rieder, LW: As a low-lineup winger, Rieder has value, even if he is coming off of an abysmal year with the Edmonton Oilers. The concern for the Flames, though, is finding a way to fit any additional salary onto the roster, particularly with Matthew Tkachuk yet to sign. Consider this a wait-and-see, but if there’s room, Calgary might take a chance.
Devante Smith-Pelly, RW: From post-season hero to depth winger on the outs with the Washington Capitals. If there’s no cap space reserved for Rieder, there’s less for Smith-Pelly, who isn’t likely to be a full-timer in Calgary and might be best utilized as a fringe player on a two-way pact if he’s signed at all.
Troy Brouwer, LW: Is Brouwer likely to get back to his 20-goal ways? Unlikely. What he can provide, though, is some additional scoring punch on the fourth line, which he showcased last season with 12 goals and 21 points in 79 games. The Panthers aren’t teeming with cap space, but a league-minimum pact makes Brouwer a fit. It seems more likely than not that he’ll be a Panther at this point.
Drew Stafford, RW: He’s three seasons removed from his last truly impactful offensive campaign, but Stafford fits into that Brouwer mold as a fourth-line scoring option. Stafford isn’t going to wow, but he’s consistent and he’s scored at a steady point per game rate that equates to about a 20-point clip over the past three seasons. If the Wild want the additional depth help, he’s likely to be their guy.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Luca Sbisa, D: He’s a safety net and nothing more in New York, and while there may be room for Sbisa to land back with the club as an injury fill-in, his nine-game run with the Islanders was enough to suggest that he’s nowhere near a full-time fit. He might get a deal, but don’t expect him to see much ice time once the season starts.
NEW YORK RANGERS
Joe Morrow, D: As a replacement defender or a third-pairing rearguard, the Rangers could do worse than bringing Morrow aboard. Most of the Blueshirts’ group is set, but the seventh spot could remain up for grabs if New York wants to give Libor Hajek more seasoning in the minors. Morrow can put up some points, skate the puck out of danger and moves the puck well. He’s going to have to continue to show that if he wants to land a deal.
Chris Stewart, RW: Stewart retired before the start of last season only to come out of retirement to play some senior hockey before a stint in the EIHL. He hasn’t played against top-flight competition since the 2017-18 campaign, but he’s gotten a good look in Philadelphia and his two points in four games might be enough to score him a low-risk deal from the Flyers. Familiarity with GM Chuck Fletcher won’t hurt, either.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Matt Read, RW: There is zero room for Read with the Maple Leafs. None whatsoever. That said, he did skate in a dozen games with the Wild last season and he was a key contributor with Minnesota’s farm club. He seems a safe bet for work with the Marlies and a possible two-way deal.
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