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Vokoun ready for opportunity in Washington

by David Kalan /
After four straight seasons without making the playoffs, Tomas Vokoun's golf game might be significantly improved; but it's on the ice, rather than the links, that the two-time all-star makes his money.

After being traded to Florida in 2007, Vokoun has spent the past four seasons putting up solid numbers -- including a 30-win season in his first year with the Panthers -- for a team that struggled to make an impact in the Southeast Division.

Now that Vokoun has signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal to play in Washington, he expects that to change.

"In the last four years I've played a lot against Washington and I know how good that team is," Vokoun said Sunday in a conference call. "I know I'm going to have fun and I've been on winning teams before but nothing like Washington, how the team is put together now. I always think that those guys when they're walking on their rink, they know they're gonna win and they know they're a good team."

The signing improves an already strong Capitals team that is coming off its second consecutive disappointing postseason exit.

Washington was shockingly swept out of the playoffs by division rival Tampa Bay this spring in the conference semifinals a year after an even more shocking seven-game loss in the opening round to Montreal in 2010. That season, the Capitals were a Stanley Cup favorite after winning their first ever Presidents' Trophy with 121 points.

Adding Vokoun, who has won more than 260 games despite playing on just three playoff teams in his career, into the mix provides Washington with a stability between the pipes that it may have been lacking, as the team has largely relied on younger netminders like Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov, whom the team traded to Colorado earlier this weekend.

With Vokoun in tow, the Caps may be in the catbird seat in the Eastern Conference heading into 2011-12.

"I think most people would agree that this addition makes us deep again at the most important position in the game," Capitals general manager George McPhee said Sunday. "We have a real nice blend of youth and experience and talent and the depth is really important. We just feel now that we don't have to overextend anyone. If we get into a situation with injuries or illness, one person doesn't have to carry the load. We again will have three that can carry the load and it certainly helped last year and we're strong again this year."

The union is a surprising one to many.

Vokoun said Sunday that he had been seeking a multi-year offer and actually had turned down both two- and three-year offers from Florida. While he had nothing but good things to say about the Panthers organization, Vokoun felt as though his age and Florida's talent and direction meant it was best for both parties to move in different directions. In addition, with impending free-agent goalies Ilya Bryzgalov and Dwayne Roloson both signed to contracts before the free-agent signing period opened on July 1, Vokoun figured to be the most sought after player at his position.

Unfortunately for Vokoun, however, the free-agent goaltending market dried up quicker than he had anticipated, and, in the end, it seemed a one-year $1.5 million pact with Washington offered him the best chance to return to the postseason and chase a Stanley Cup.

"I found out I didn't have a whole lot of offers. Unfortunately for me the money side is not great, but I think the opportunity is unbelievable," Vokoun said. "It was disappointing, no question, but I think whatever the circumstances or reason why it happened I don't know. I think my level of my play was high for a pretty long time and I can't control what happens on the market, I can only control how I play.

"It wasn't pretty, but everything happens for a reason. I've never had a chance to play for a team like this. It came to me on a steep price but it's not just about the money."

Vokoun, who turned 35 Saturday, acknowledged that as an older player, his opportunity to win a championship before retiring played a role in his decision to come to Washington, an organization that he said he had been interested in joining for several seasons.

"It wasn't pretty, but everything happens for a reason. I've never had a chance to play for a team like this. It came to me on a steep price but it's not just about the money." -- Tomas Vokoun

The Panthers finished 2010-11 in last place in the Eastern Conference, but Vokoun himself still had the eighth-best save percentage in the League among goalies with more than 50 appearances. Playing on a team that was thoroughly in a rebuilding mode after bringing in GM Dale Tallon simply didn't seem like the right situation for a goaltender with elite skills, but limited time remaining in his career.

Washington, however, gives Vokoun the opportunity to play with a team in a win-now mode with championship aspirations.

The Capitals appeared as ecstatic as could be Sunday that they could make an addition like Vokoun to what is already a thoroughly talent-laden roster. To do so at a relative bargain-basement price made the move a no-brainer.

"The only way we would have done this would be for an elite goaltender like Vokoun," McPhee said. "Our scouting staff had him rated as one of the top ten goaltenders in the League. He's a talented, experienced goaltender who's hungry to win now. He may have been under the radar because he was with a club that hasn't been winning hockey games lately, but it doesn't mean he's not a good goaltender. He's a very good goaltender. I guess we got lucky because he wanted to go to a team that has a chance to win a Cup."

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