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Penguins have new questions in net

Wednesday, 10.02.2013 / 1:55 PM
Corey Masisak  - NHL.com Staff Writer

Goaltending was already going to be a spotlighted topic for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2013-14, but an extended absence for Tomas Vokoun adds a new wrinkle to the situation.

Vokoun is expected to miss up to six months after recently having a blood clot in his pelvic region dissolved, general manager Ray Shero said. He will able to work out and stay active, but he won't be able play hockey at least until he is evaluated again in three months.

"Physically he's doing great. Mentally he's doing great, which is good news," Shero said. "[Vokoun] will be on blood thinning medicine. During this time he's OK to work out and do everything except play hockey. We'll evaluate this as we go along.

"The most important thing for Tomas and for us is his short-term health and long-term health. He's in good hands."

Marc-Andre Fleury is the starting goaltender in Pittsburgh, but Vokoun was the team's "in case of emergency, break glass" option during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Vokoun helped the Penguins defeat the New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators after a rough start to the postseason for Fleury.

For now, Jeff Zatkoff will be Fleury's backup when the Penguins open the season Thursday at home against the New Jersey Devils. Zatkoff's next NHL appearance will be his first. The 26-year-old did have a .920 save percentage in each of the past two seasons in the American Hockey League, but he's going to have to prove he can handle the job, and probably in a small number of appearances.

Shero has other options should he choose to pursue them. The Penguins are quite close to the upper limit of the salary cap, actually spilling into long-term injury reserve territory at this point. Vokoun's injury actually allows the team to be cap compliant, but any replacement wouldn't be able to count more than $2 million against the cap without other money moving out as well.

If Shero decided to add someone from outside the organization immediately, Scott Clemensen was reportedly placed on waivers Wednesday by the Florida Panthers. The 36-year-old is in the second year of a two-year, $2.4 million contract.

There are several goaltenders with NHL experience who remain unemployed, notably Jose Theodore and Ilya Bryzgalov. Theodore would probably be a more likely option for a team that is looking for more stability, not less, in net.

Another option for Shero is making a trade. As pointed out, someone off the current roster would need to be part of the deal if the target costs $2 million-plus against the salary cap.

Buffalo Sabres general manager Darcy Regier has been open about his willingness to trade Ryan Miller, who is in the final year of his contract. The St. Louis Blues have three goaltenders who played at least 10 games in the NHL last season, and could want to make room at the NHL level for Jake Allen.

Another trade route would be to try and acquire a young goalie who is blocked in his current NHL organization, with Boston's Niklas Svedberg or Martin Jones of the Los Angeles Kings as examples.

Vokoun's injury could force an interesting crossroads for the Penguins and their goaltending depth chart. It is also another bit of adversity for Vokoun, who has dealt with a blood clot issue in the past and returned to be a solid NHL goaltender.

He's 37 years old now, and in the last year of his contract. Vokoun had said prior to the injury that he wanted to retire from international duty, so he might not have wanted to play for the Czech Republic at the 2014 Olympics anyway.

"Right now I'm not thinking about my career or playing hockey, I'm more worried about long-term health," Vokoun, 37, said. "I've gotten great care from the doctors and the team. Top professionals are giving me advice.

"I know where I stand. I'm going with the short term. Three months is a minimum. After that I'll evaluate where I am."

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