The Washington Capitals stunned the NHL world yesterday when they signed one of the best goalies in the league, Tomas Vokoun, to a one year $1.5 million deal to become the Caps starter and turn the Capitals into the offseason’s leader in the clubhouse (sorry Philly). A big part of the equation of the Caps landing the best free agent goalie was the man himself.
Heading into the offseason, the 35 year-old Vokoun seemed likely to land in one of a few spots. Teams like Phoenix, Colorado, and his own team Florida had openings in goal. Vokoun could’ve stayed in Florida to help the Panthers with their total rebuild, but they opted to go with Jose Theodore instead. Phoenix decided that former Lightning goalie Mike Smith was their man in goal and the Avalanche swung a deal with Washington to get Semyon Varlamov to be their starter.
All of a sudden, Tomas Vokoun was a potentially high-priced goalie alone on an island with no place to go.
That position is one that last year’s top free agent goalie, Evgeni Nabokov, found himself in. After a stellar career in San Jose, Nabokov at age 35 was poised to hit the market as the hottest of goaltending commodities. After all, teams like Chicago and Philadelphia despite Stanley Cup finals appearances were in the market for goalies. The Flyers went so far as to acquire Nabokov’s rights to negotiate with him. Instead the Blackhawks opted to sign Marty Turco on the cheap and the Flyers went full speed ahead with Michael Leighton and Nabokov was out of options to his liking.
While Nabokov could’ve taken reduced offers in both years and money like other goalies did that summer, he opted to jump to Russia and the KHL instead. With Tomas Vokoun potentially looking at a similar fate he decided to change up his personal view on things as The Washington Post’s Katie Carrera shares.
“The money side, it’s not great, but I think the opportunity is unbelievable,” Vokoun said in a conference call with reporters. “Obviously it was disappointing day for me on July 1. For whatever reason I was in a bad spot, and Washington came in.”
Throughout Vokoun’s career he’s played with mostly losing teams. After eight years in Nashville from 1998 to 2007 he moved on to Florida where the Panthers haven’t seen the playoffs since the 1999-2000 season. That kind of career path can lead you on the road to being thankful for a shot to play for a winner, something Vokoun took very seriously. After all, he was looking at the possibility of not having an NHL job at all even in spite of being one of the best and most unfortunate goalies the last three years in the NHL.
Whereas Nabokov and his stats and records showed that he had a major case to make as the go-to guy, some couldn’t get past Vokoun’s win-loss record while playing for some very bad Panthers teams. Instead, his last three years were stellar putting up save percentages of .926, .925, and .922. His goals against averages over that time are equally consistent going 2.49 three seasons ago and 2.55 in the last two. And those are his numbers on a bad team, imagine what he might be able to do on a team that’s newly committed to playing tough defense and is capable of scoring a ton of goals. All of a sudden things are looking good for Tomas Vokoun going into free agency after next season.
If the gamble on Vokoun’s end pays off, he’ll show that sometimes swallowing your pride is worth it in the long run.