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Caps Turn to Theodore

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
In their three and a half decade history, the Washington Capitals have had two Vezina Trophy winners (Jim Carey and Olie Kolzig). The Caps have had one Hart Trophy winner (Alex Ovechkin) during that span. In goaltender Jose Theodore, the Caps now have the only active player who has won the Vezina and Hart Trophies in the same season.

The Caps signed the 31-year-old Theodore to a two-year deal on Tuesday, the first day of the free agent signing period. The right-catching netminder is an 11-year NHL veteran who spent the last two-plus seasons with the Colorado Avalanche.

Washington tried to re-sign unrestricted free agent goaltender Cristobal Huet, who joined the Caps in a Feb. 26 trade with the Montreal Canadiens. Huet posted an 11-2 record down the stretch after joining the Caps, and the team wanted to bring him back on a multi-year deal. The Capitals met the asking price of Huet and his agent before the free agent shopping season started today, but the French-born goaltender elected to wait and accept a contract offer from the Chicago Blackhawks.

Huet and Theodore were generally considered to be the top two goaltenders available on the free agent market this summer.

Theodore’s Hart and Vezina Trophy winning season of 2001-02 was followed by some ups and downs. He set a career high with 33 wins for the Canadiens in 2003-04, but struggled in the first two seasons after the lockout. Montreal traded Theodore to Colorado in 2006, and it was only last season that Theodore once again began to display the form that made him one of the league’s top goaltenders in the early part of this decade.

Theodore started 20 of the Avalanche’s final 21 games and helped Colorado earn a Stanley Cup playoff berth in the process. His 2.24 goals against average after Jan. 1 was the fifth-best in the league during that span. Overall, Theodore was 28-21-3 with three shutouts, a 2.44 goals against average and a .910 save pct. in 2007-08.

In his final 18 starts of 2007-08, Theodore went 12-4-1 with two shutouts, a 2.27 goals against average and a .917 save pct.

During his career in the NHL, Theodore has posted a mark of 183-197-40 with 26 shutouts, a 2.65 goals against average and a .909 save pct. He is 19-26 with a shutout, a 2.76 goals against average and a .915 save pct. lifetime in Stanley Cup playoff action.

Theodore was 6-1 in shootouts last season, and is 9-2 lifetime in shootouts.

For the last decade, Olie Kolzig has been the man for Washington between the pipes. But Huet’s hot hand left Kolzig watching from the bench as the Capitals made their improbable run to a Southeast Division title last spring. A few weeks later, Kolzig – an unrestricted free agent – announced that he would not be returning to Washington for the 2008-09 season. The 38-year-old Kolzig signed a one-year pact with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday.

Theodore’s two-year term is shorter than what the Caps were believed to have offered Huet. If one of Washington’s young goaltending prospects is able to emerge from the pack and assert himself as a legitimate NHL netminding option in the next two seasons, getting Theodore for shorter term and lower money than Huet would have received in Washington could prove to be fortuitous.

In the last five NHL Entry Drafts, Washington has chosen six goaltenders: Justin Mrazek (eighth round in 2004), Daren Machesney (fifth round in 2005), Simeon Varlamov (first round in 2006), Michal Neuvirth (second round in 2006), Dan Dunn (sixth round in 2007) and Braden Holtby (fourth round in 2008).

Mrazek completed his collegiate career at Union College in 2007-08, but is not likely to receive a pro contract offer from the Capitals. Machesney, Varlamov and Neuvirth figure to play professionally in the Caps’ system this season while Dunn continues his collegiate career at St. Cloud St. and Holtby plays junior hockey for the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades.

In a perfect world, one or more of the above netminders would assert himself as Theodore’s heir apparent to the starting job in the District during the veteran’s two-year tenure in Washington.

Theodore becomes the second former Vezina Trophy winner to join the Capitals. Washington was briefly home to goaltender Gary “Suitcase” Smith in the late 1970s; Smith shared the Vezina with Hall of Famer Tony Esposito in 1971 when both were members of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Theodore joins Jaromir Jagr and Sergei Fedorov in becoming the third former Hart Trophy winner to join the Capitals.

The Theodore signing gives Washington a total of 20 players (two goaltenders, eight defensemen and 10 forwards) under contract for 2008-09. The Caps still have four unsigned RFAs (restricted free agents) in defenseman Shaone Morrisonn and forwards Brooks Laich, Boyd Gordon and Eric Fehr. Washington is also still negotiating with Fedorov, who gained UFA (unrestricted free agent) status earlier today. Fedorov has said he wants to play in Washington in 2008-09, if the two sides can come to an agreement on term and money.

The NHL’s salary cap maximum for the 2008-09 season will be $56.7 million. With the signing of Theodore on Tuesday, Washington has committed roughly $48 million to the 20 players it has under contract.

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