The Capitals traded veteran goalie Tomas Vokoun to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday for a seventh-round draft pick in 2012. Vokoun, 35, had said last month that he would not be back with Washington next season.
Essentially, the Penguins were getting an exclusive window to negotiate a new contract with Vokoun, who could not officially become an unrestricted free agent until July 1. They took advantage by signing him to a two-year, $4 million contract, according to the team.
The Caps acquired Vokoun last summer when the market for goalies unexpectedly collapsed early in the free-agent period. He signed with Washington for just one year and $1.5 million – a bargain for a goalie that had been a strong, consistent presence on bad Florida Panthers and Nashville Predators teams for the majority of his career.
It was a difficult season for Vokoun, however. He fired his agent, Michael Deutsch, shortly before signing with the Caps, where he hoped to rebuild his value on a short contract with a Stanley Cup contender. Things didn’t quite work out as planned, however. Vokoun was 25-17-2 with a .917 save percentage. Not bad. But that save percentage was 17th overall in the NHL among qualifying goalies and was his lowest since 2002-03 with the Predators.
Usually a workhorse, Vokoun played in just 48 games for Washington. Over the previous nine seasons, only in 2006-07 (44 games) did he appear in fewer. Vokoun battled a groin strain late in the season and played in just three games between Feb. 22 and March 16. After another two-week break, Vokoun returned March 29 in a game at Boston and suffered a groin tear late in the first period of that contest. He never played for the team again. Rookie goalie Braden Holtby, 22, had become a playoff star after leading the Caps to a first-round win over Boston and to a Game 7 against the New York Rangers in the second round. By then Vokoun knew for sure his time in Washington had passed. Michal Neuvirth, just 24 and the team’s playoff starter in 2011, is also under contract for a relatively cheap price ($1.150 million) in 2012-13.
“I wasn't plan on being back here anyways. So for me, situation like that, I'm happy for [Holtby],” Vokoun said on May 14. “For me, it was never intention to be here more than a year. For me, it's more disappointing about how it went and obviously getting hurt and not having the chance to play in playoffs. That's what I regret more than worrying about what's going to be next year. I was looking at it as a one-year thing and I'm sure that's how it's gonna be."
It’s a compromise of sorts for Vokoun, who was looking for big money and a chance to play for a true contender last summer. He does get a raise from $1.5 million with the Caps to $2 million with Pittsburgh. But Vokoun will be a backup goalie for the Penguins, who start Marc-Andre Fleury, a 27-year-old who helped the team win a Stanley Cup in 2009. But Fleury is also coming off a rough season, where he finished 27th in save percentage (.913), and an even worse playoff performance. Vokoun is a nice alternative, if needed. Vokoun’s last three years in Florida (.926, .925 and .922) were all better than Fleury’s best season (.921 in 2007-08).
There were off-ice issues during his time with the Caps. Vokoun’s family, wife, Dagmar, and daughters, Adelle, and Natalie, remained in Florida – a sensible decision given his contract status. But he also lost a good friend, Josef Vasicek, in the Russian plane crash last September that took the lives of 43 members of the KHL’s Lokomotiv hockey club. That tragedy weighed heavily on Vokoun throughout the season.
“It's just one of those things when you can't control. Fact of life,” Vokoun said of his disappointment with how things ended in Washington. “I wait for chance like this [unrestricted free agency] very long time. Then you get hurt and you're not able to participate. That's life. A lot worse things happen to people. It just didn't work out.”
Follow me on Twitter @bmcnally14