Sep 7, 2011, 8:00 AM EST
The early July free agent frenzy included a lot of bewildering decisions, but the most surprising development might have been the lack of interest in underrated goalie Tomas Vokoun. Many will counter that there are only so many goaltending jobs available in the NHL, but it was still surprising that it came down to just the Detroit Red Wings and Washington Capitals. (Two teams who already had at least passable goalie situations, by the way.)
CSNWashington.com’s Chuck Gormley caught up with Vokoun on Tuesday to get his take on that decision.
Gormley is justified in calling Vokoun’s line of reasoning a “jab” at the Red Wings, pointing out that the goalie claimed that the Capitals have a better chance to win the Stanley Cup. That being said, it shouldn’t be surprising that Vokoun made that kind of comment after he signed with Washington. When you break it down, Detroit shouldn’t take it personally.
Vokoun’s true reasoning is better explained as the article goes on. The Red Wings shouldn’t be offended by Vokoun’s comments for these three reasons (even if he might have provided some bulletin board material for their first meeting on October 22, as Gormley suggests).
1. A clearer path to the starting job
With all due respect to Michal Neuvirth, Jimmy Howard‘s grip on his starting job was far more secure. The Capitals are justified in bringing in Vokoun with a one-year contract because it will gives Neuvirth more time to grow while giving the team a reason to look at both its short-term and long-term prospects. Howard, on the other hand, is right in the middle of his prime and just signed a team-friendly contract extension.
Neuvirth wants to fight Vokoun for playing time, but head coach Bruce Boudreau admitted that Vokoun has the inside track on the starting job. Vokoun took a one-year deal with a contender to compete for a Stanley Cup, but he also signed that short-term contract as a glorified audition to get a big final deal next summer. He has a much better chance to get more starts (and impress more buyers) in Washington than Detroit.
2. It’s easier on his family.
People often forget the human side of transactions, which is easy to do because money usually wins the battle. Still, Vokoun pointed to Washington as an easier situation for his family than Detroit.
Vokoun acknowledged there were also personal reasons for choosing Washington over Detroit. Because his contract is for just one year, Vokoun and his wife, Dagmar, decided it was best that he live in Washington while his family – the couple has two daughters, Adelle, 11, and Natalie, 5 – remains home in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Parkland, Fla.
“Once you get to a certain point in your life and you have other people depending on you …” he said. “It will be easier for them to visit me here. Detroit’s got the worst travel in the league.”
(Mike Modano seconds that comment.)
3. Feeling special
The least pertinent reason might be the most fun one: winning Washington’s first championship would be more “special” than winning yet another one for Detroit.
Vokoun, 35, said the challenge of being the first goaltender to bring a Stanley Cup to D.C. overrode Detroit’s reputation as Hockeytown.
“They’re comparable teams, but Detroit has won the Stanley Cup three times [actually, four since 1997] and Washington has never won it,” Vokoun said. “I think that’s a lot better challenge for me and for the team to do something special.”
Again, that might be a small reason, but let’s face it: Vokoun probably wouldn’t even be the best Czech-born goalie in Detroit’s recent history unless he did something special. (After all, the Red Wings recently employed Dominik Hasek.)
Ultimately, reason 1 probably towered over all of the other concerns, but the bottom line is that the Capitals and Vokoun needed each other this summer. Don’t be too shocked if they end up celebrating together next summer, either.
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