Jul 2, 2011, 8:01 PM EDT
When free agency began yesterday, Tomas Vokoun was set to be the goalie to make the biggest splash on the open market. As it turns out, he’s made a huge splash but not with the contract he signed. Instead, he’s making waves by who he’s signed up with.
Vokoun signed a one year contract with the Washington Capitals worth $1.5 million to be the Caps starter next season and make them the one of the on-paper favorites to win the Stanley Cup in 2012. Vokoun comes to Washington from division rival Florida where on many nights he was the Panthers’ best player by far.
Playing goal for a team that didn’t do much in the way to support him with goals, Vokoun still had stellar numbers last season going 22-28-5 with a 2.55 goals against average and a .925 save percentage. Vokoun also pulled off six shutouts in an up and down season that saw him sometimes have issues dealing with coach Peter DeBoer. DeBoer’s insistence during part of the season to split time between Vokoun and backup goalie Scott Clemmensen got Vokoun a bit riled up and essentially sealed the team’s fate in being able to keep him after his contract was up.
Now, Vokoun heads to the Capitals where he’ll tutor fellow Czech goaltender Michal Neuvirth and help ensure that fellow youngster Braden Holtby continues his growth in the AHL. Vokoun will also finally be playing for a team that can score a ton of goals to support his play in net. After a career that saw him go from Nashville to Florida, one thing he’s never gotten before is offensive support. Joining up with a team featuring Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Knuble getting goals, despite the Caps problems last year, won’t be a problem.
The most remarkable thing about Vokoun’s deal is that it’s both neither a long one nor an expensive one and there may be a guy he’s got to thank for that: Evgeni Nabokov. Last year, Nabokov was poised to cash in on a long-term deal worth a ton of money only to find there weren’t any starting jobs to be had. Teams either filled needs in goal internally or with cheaper players. Nabokov was left on the outside looking in during free agency and ended up signing to play in Russia before coming back to the NHL in a tumultuous affair that saw him sign a deal with Detroit only to be taken on re-entry waivers by the Islanders. He’s still currently Isles property and hasn’t played in the NHL since the end of the 2009-2010 season.
At 35 years old, Vokoun likely didn’t want to suffer the same fate and after the Colorado Avalanche acquired Semyon Varlamov from Washington in a seemingly lopsided deal in favor of the Caps, the starting opportunities around the league were all but gone. Considering that Caps GM George McPhee was able to get a first and second round pick from Colorado for Varlamov and he landed a #1 goalie in Vokoun for just $1.5 million, we’re starting to think McPhee is a Jedi master.
The signing is a great one for the Capitals as they’ve now got the #1 goalie they’ve never had before. While goaltending wasn’t always the major issue with Washington, they now have no doubts whatsoever about who their big game guy is in net. Vokoun will help accent the Caps’ dedication to defense and help make everyone’s numbers a lot better by giving them someone to believe in. One thing’s for sure, after the moves the Caps have made already two days into free agency, they’re looking awfully strong.
If it all pays off in a Stanley Cup next June, the Caps and their fans will get to have that celebration they’ve been praying for since Alex Ovechkin put the team on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the regular season standings.
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