NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -The Nashville Predators traded top goaltender Tomas Vokoun to the Florida Panthers on Friday hours before the NHL draft, unloading the priciest player on their roster for three draft picks.
The Predators will receive the Panthers' first-round pick in 2008, a second-round pick in the 2007 draft and a second-round pick they must use either Saturday or in the 2008 draft. Nashville will have at least nine draft picks in Friday and Saturday's draft.
General manager David Poile said they felt they could make the trade after watching Chris Mason, now 31, develop from a backup to a top goalie this season. They also have Pekka Rinne, a 2004 draft choice.
"With full confidence in Chris and Pekka Rinne, we felt as if we could make this move," Poile said in a statement. "Mason won 24 games for us this past season, starting 21 in a row at one point, and finished with the second-highest save percentage (.925) in the NHL.
The Panthers have been busy in the past two weeks, signing 30-goal scorer Nathan Horton to a six-year deal and defenseman and defenseman Bryan Allen to a five-year contract.
Florida coach and general manager Jacques Martin said Vokoun, one of the NHL's top five goalies, helps address the Panthers' needs in the goal with Ed Belfour set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
"He played a critical role in the success of the Nashville franchise, and we believe that he will make an immediate impact on our club," he said.
The Predators signed Vokoun to a four-year, $22.8 million contract extension - the richest they had ever given out - in September 2006. The deal was set to take effect this season.
But Nashville's future ownership is uncertain with Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie making a $220 million offer to buy the team, and that deal won't be processed by the NHL before free agency starts July 1.
Balsillie is taking deposits for season tickets in Canada, but a local group now is working to put together an alternate bid in an attempt to keep the Predators in Nashville.
Vokoun played in only 44 games last season because of a hand injury. He went 27-12-4 and had a .920 save percentage. Mason played in 40 games and went 24-11-4 with five shutouts - all career highs.
One of five goalies picked by the Predators in their 1998 expansion draft, Vokoun became Nashville's top goalie when Poile traded away Mike Dunham in December 2002. Poile said Vokoun has been a major part of their success with the Predators earning three straight playoff berths.
"It may be time for a new chapter to begin for both Tomas and the Predators, but his contributions to our franchise, both on and off the ice, have been remarkable," Poile said.
Vokoun has missed significant time to injury only twice. He missed the final eight games of the 2006 season and the subsequent playoffs because of a blood clot in his abdomen, and he had a left thumb injury this season.
The Predators have also been busy this week, trading away the rights to defenseman and captain Kimmo Timonen and forward Scott Hartnell on Monday to Philadelphia for a draft pick.
But the Vokoun trade makes financial sense because Mason was the NHL's 10th-best goalie this season with his 2.38 goals-against average, and he ranked second in the league to only Minnesota's Niklas Backstrom in save percentage.
AP Sports Writer Rusty Miller in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.