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Caps' Vokoun-Neuvirth duo impressive, inexpensive

by Corey Masisak
There have been three philosophies for NHL teams in the salary-cap era when it comes to managing money allocated to goaltenders -- spend a lot on an elite guy, go young or go cheap.

After a pair of surprising moves this past weekend, the Washington Capitals might have forged a unique path -- they are going cheap in net but without sacrificing experience or talent. The Capitals likely are going to spend less money (and salary-cap space) on goaltenders than any other team in the NHL during the 2011-12 season, while possibly creating one of the League's most formidable tandems as well.

Washington added veteran goaltender Tomas Vokoun at a bargain rate of $1.5 million for one season, one day after dealing away Semyon Varlamov to Colorado for first- and second-round draft picks. Vokoun will team with 23-year-old Michal Neuvirth, who played every minute of the team's nine games in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs and nudged ahead of Varlamov in the duo's battle for the job since being drafted together in 2006.

Neuvirth signed a two-year contract extension at a team-friendly rate of $1.15 million for this season and next. That deal provided the Capitals with a lot of leverage when negotiating with Varlamov, who was a restricted free agent. The 23-year-old Varlamov's desire to be a No. 1 goaltender ultimately led to his departure. Trading him to Colorado would help provide additional dividends a day later, because it removed the Avalanche from the list of suitors for Vokoun.

So now the Capitals will spend $2.65 million on the two goaltenders expected to be on the opening-night roster. They also have one of the sport's top prospects at the position in 21-year-old Braden Holtby, who now will be the No. 1 goalie for Hershey in the AHL instead of splitting time with Neuvirth.

Washington's current total will be less than any other team in the NHL, according to figures at The Detroit Red Wings currently are lower at $2.25 million, but they do not have a backup signed to an NHL contract, and even someone making the League minimum would push their total higher than Washington's.

There are 10 teams that appear likely to use less than $4 million in cap space, while the New York Rangers ($7.75 million), Philadelphia ($7.416 million) and Carolina ($7.25 million) are the only teams projected to spend more than $7 million.

While Washington's tandem may be cost effective, the Capitals are not short on talent at the position, and the addition of 35-year-old Vokoun means they're not short on experience, either. Vokoun finished last season 10th in the League with a .922 save percentage, and he boasts the second-best save percentage among the 15 NHL goalies who have faced at least 5,000 shots in the past four seasons (behind only Boston's Tim Thomas).

Neuvirth finished his first full season in the NHL with a .914 save percentage -- tied for 24th in the League -- and he posted a .912 save percentage and a 2.34 goals-against average in nine postseason games. Washington will be one of only four teams (along with Boston, Vancouver and Philadelphia) to employ two goaltenders who finished last season with at least a .914 save percentage and qualified for the League leaders with enough games played.

The Bruins and Canucks met in the Stanley Cup Final, while the Flyers spent $51 million to acquire Ilya Bryzgalov, who was among the top two free agents available at the position, along with Vokoun. All three of those teams are among the 10 in the League slated to use at least $6 million of cap space on the position in 2011-12.

It would be hard to argue that any of the other nine teams planning to spend less $4 million have a No. 1 as accomplished as Vokoun or a No. 1A as talented as Neuvirth. Thanks to the deft maneuvering of Capitals general manager George McPhee, the Capitals have both.

Washington also might have the best No. 3 goaltender in the League in Holtby, who was dynamite for the Capitals when needed last season (10-2-2, 1.79 GAA, .934 save percentage).

The Capitals had an envious situation in net before this past weekend because of their three highly-rated young goalies. They still have two of them, but the Capitals also have one of the top veterans in the League and the extra cap space has allowed McPhee to improve the team's depth in other areas.
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