Battling two other goalies for playing time is nothing new for Michal Neuvirth. Trades can resolve such logjams. This time, though, Neuvirth could be the one to go.
"My goal is to be a No. 1 in this league," Neuvirth said after practice Dec. 19, "and if I'm not going to get the chance here, I would like to get a chance somewhere else."
The 25-year-old Neuvirth, a second-round selection of the Capitals (34th overall) during the 2006 NHL Draft, has served as backup to Braden Holtby this season. He's made five starts and has missed time with a couple of minor injuries.
Neuvirth's ankle injury suffered during warm-ups before a Nov. 29 game opened the door for Philipp Grubauer, who has played so well that the Capitals are now reluctant to return him to AHL affiliate Hershey.
A Czech Republic native, Neuvirth said his preference was to achieve his goals with the Capitals. But a move is obviously a possibility.
"It's a business," he said. "It's part of hockey. If I'm going to get traded, you know, great, and if not, great [also]. I always want to play for Caps -- been good to me. But for right now, just going day by day and we'll see what's going to happen."
Playing time is important, he said.
"I want to play as much as I can," Neuvirth said. "I feel like I play best hockey when I play on a regular basis. It's been a battle so far through the first few months of the season -- just got to stay positive."
Neuvirth is 2-3-1 during seven appearances this season, with a .912 save percentage and 2.83 goals-against average.
Head coach Adam Oates said he considered Holtby to be his No. 1 goalie, and all three netminders were scheduled to make the trip to Carolina. The Caps play the Hurricanes Dec. 20, and host the New Jersey Devils Dec. 21.
Oates, echoing earlier comments, said a decision would come soon.
"You're only allowed 23 spots, so it will be difficult," Oates said about carrying three healthy goalies for an extended period of time. "It's something we'll try [to] address as fast as possible."
The easiest solution would be to send Grubauer back to Hershey. He doesn't need to clear waivers. But Grubauer, a 22-year-old German, has been impressive at a time when Holtby has struggled. Grubauer is 3-0-1 during five appearances with a .937 save percentage and 2.06 goals-against average.
Holtby, 24, has been pulled from two of his past four starts. He is 13-10-1 this season with a .917 save percentage and 2.91 goals-against average.
Of the trio, Neuvirth has the most NHL experience, with 137 games played (including playoffs). He compiled 27 victories during the 2010-11 season, after which the Caps traded fellow goalie Semyon Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche.
But Neuvirth is also the highest paid of the bunch, which could be extra motivation for a trade. He's being paid $2.5 million as a backup.
"It is what it is right now and got to stay positive," Neuvirth said.
During the 2011-12 season, Neuvirth shared duties with free-agent signee Tomas Vokoun, who became expendable when Holtby surprised with a great playoff run. Vokoun was dealt away during the offseason, and Holtby has been the team's No. 1 since.
The Capitals acquired a first-round draft pick and a second-rounder in 2012 as part of the Varlamov trade. They selected Filip Forsberg (11th overall), but last spring traded him to Nashville in exchange for Martin Erat and Michael Latta.
Varlamov, drafted by the Capitals 11 spots ahead of Neuvirth, is 15-8-1 for the Avalanche this season with a .924 save percentage and 2.39 goals-against average. A Russian, Varlamov is a candidate for his country's Olympic team.