Michal Neuvirth, cloaked in all black with his hat backward, paused for a moment. He wasn’t sure if he was permitted to talk about what was wrong with his own body.
“I don’t know if I am allowed to tell you,” Neuvirth said last week.
The season is over and whatever in-season mandate the Flyers have about never disclosing to the public precisely what’s wrong with their players no longer applies. No more “upper-body” and “lower-body” injuries that lead to speculation and misinformation.
“My hips,” Neuvirth said.
With that, Neuvirth outlined his offseason game plan. He will have arthroscopic surgery on both hips. He’s staying in Philadelphia and then heading to Kelowna, British Columbia, for 10 weeks for training.
Then comes the most significant change, which, considering the player, might not be that big after all. Neuvirth will be switching trainers for the third straight year.
“It’s just not working out for me,” he said. “I know I can play in this league. I know I can be the difference maker. I just got to find a way to stay healthy.”
Neuvirth now turns to sports performance trainer Adam Francilia, who has worked with Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck and Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk, as perhaps his last resort.
Injuries have plagued Neuvirth throughout his career, especially with the Flyers. Neuvirth, in each of his three seasons in Philly, has been a constant on the upper/lower body report, and his games played have decreased each season, from 32 in 2015-16 to 28 in 2016-17 and 22 this year.
At some point, though, Neuvirth will have to stay healthy. He’s making the necessary adjustments this offseason, but on his third trainer in three years, the question will soon no longer be asked. If injuries continue to haunt him, he’ll no longer be trusted, in Philly or elsewhere. A reputation is hard to shake, and this one’s stapled to his name.
“It’s tough for me to say,” Jake Voracek said, adding he’s been lucky to avoid major injuries. “Everybody knows their body. If you are 30-years-old, you should know what to do to get better.”
Statistically speaking, Neuvirth was far better in 2017-18. After finishing 2016-17 with the worst save percentage among qualified goalies in the NHL, Neuvirth bounced back for a .915 clip.
Neuvirth started 18 games — back-to-back twice, and four straight games in February after Brian Elliott required core-muscle surgery. In that fourth start in February, Neuvirth suffered another “lower-body” injury. Then, the Flyers were forced to trade for Petr Mrazek, which brings us to the elephant in the room. Are they still comfortable with their tandem?
“I’m comfortable where we are as an organization with our goaltending,” Ron Hextall said. “I think Neuvy knows where he is at in terms of his career. He needs to have a big year next year. He needs to find a way to stay healthy. We fully support what he’s doing.”
Reading between the lines, Neuvirth’s spot next season isn’t a lock despite being under contract. Hextall views goaltending as tandems and gave a ringing endorsement for Elliott. To be fair, he said Neuvirth is a good part of a tandem too. But Hextall also sounded like he wanted to see a progress report on Neuvirth’s training program before making a decision.
Both Elliott and Neuvirth enter 2018-19 in the final year of their contracts as the Flyers wait for their kids to graduate. One can only hear Carter Hart is coming before it gets old, but the 19-year-old turns pro next season.
As for Neuvirth, he has to find a way to shed the stature as the guy who always gets injured.
“I can’t change the history. I can only change the future,” Neuvirth said. “I will do whatever it takes to stay healthy and help my team on a regular basis.”
His NHL career hinges on it.