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McPhee happy with unexpected signing of Vokoun

by David Kalan /
To be a successful general manager in the NHL, solid training in the nuances of negotiations and the art of making the deal are a necessity.

Sometimes, though, you just get lucky.

Just ask Washington GM George McPhee who may have engineered the most surprising signing of the free-agency period, inking goalie Tomas Vokoun to a one-year deal on Saturday.

"We had been telling other GMs and the media that we were done making offers because we thought we were," McPhee said during a conference call Sunday. "But we were told early yesterday that Tomas Vokoun wanted to play on a top team and that he would forego a big deal to do it, so we got involved, we expressed interest, we weren't sure it would go our way, but we're certainly happy this morning that it did."

Washington had been prepared to go into 2011-12 with youngsters Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby splitting time in net. A team that has won four straight division titles, the Caps were plenty comfortable letting Neuvirth and Holtby shoulder the load as they gunned for the franchise's first elusive Stanley Cup title next spring. The two young goalies, who are 23 and 21 years old, respectively, only have 84 NHL starts between them, but each has shown impressive flashes at the game's top level. Their combined record this past season was 37-14-6.

In fact, the duo had so impressed McPhee that he felt comfortable shipping the Capitals' other young goalie, Semyon Varlamov, off to Colorado for first- and second-round picks Friday. At the same time, Vokoun and his agents had anticipated a lucrative multi-year offer as the biggest name remaining among free-agent goaltenders when the signing period opened July 1st. But when the right situation didn't materialize, the two-time all-star began looking at other options.

"Obviously it was a disappointing day for me on July 1st," Vokoun said Sunday. "For whatever reason I was basically in the bad spot."

When McPhee and the Caps unexpectedly heard that Vokoun was willing to sacrifice his price tag for a chance at a championship, the philosophy changed.

"When we made the Varlamov trade we got a call from Tomas' representatives and they asked if we were interested and we said we certainly like the goaltender but we're prepared to go with these kids," McPhee said. "Then we got a call the next day basically saying, 'This player wants to win right now. He does have offers on the table. There are some handsome offers, but he's always liked your situation.' I guess he indicated that he's wanted to come here for the past couple of seasons. We weren't aware of that, so when that call came in we said, 'Jeez, if he's willing to play the number that works for us then we're certainly interested,' and it took off from there.

"This is we believe quite a move for our organization that no one was anticipating -- that a player of his caliber would be available."

The Vokoun signing, one year at just $1.5 million, gives Washington impressive depth at a position that some have questioned in recent seasons. While Holtby and Neuvirth's numbers are impressive at the NHL level, the sample size and their youth left some uncertainty. Vokoun, who turned 35 Saturday, brings an experienced component to the Caps' netminding to go along an impressive playing resume that has gone under the radar in Florida, which finished last in the Eastern Conference this past season.

McPhee said Sunday that despite not making the postseason the past four years in Florida, Washington's scouts had Vokoun ranked among the top ten goalies in the League. The Capitals don't necessarily expect Vokoun to serve as a mentor for Neuvirth and Holtby, but they believe the impact of his experience and work ethic can only benefit their goalies of the future. With the opportunity to add a talent like that, particularly given his monetary flexibility, it was nearly impossible not to bite.

"This is we believe quite a move for our organization that no one was anticipating -- that a player of his caliber would be available," McPhee said. "If he wanted to take a long-term deal, we couldn't have done it, but he indicated that he'd be willing to forego that to have that opportunity now."

Ironically, McPhee said Sunday that Washington had actually been seeking to add a top minor league goalie to their organization before Vokoun came along. With Holtby and Neuvirth both expected to play on the big club, the Capitals were seeking depth to stash on their AHL affiliate in Hershey. Having three quality goaltenders, as the team had this year with Varlamov in the mix, gave the Capitals a strong support system whenever injuries occurred.

Instead, however, Washington was able to revamp its goaltending and put the franchise in as good a position as it's ever been in to chase the Stanley Cup next spring. After a busy week that saw the Capitals also add Jeff Halpern, Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer, Vokoun may be the final piece to a championship puzzle.

If Washington winds up achieving that ultimate goal next year on the back of their new goalie, Vokoun may be proof that sometimes the best moves are the ones you never see coming.

"This was a significant move that we weren't anticipating," McPhee said. "But when it presents itself and you look at it, every way you look at it you say, 'This is tremendous for this organization,' you have to do it.

"Two days ago we were happy with our team now, willing to go forward with it as is, but that changed in 24 hours."

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