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Vokoun sees his free-agency options narrow

by Corey Masisak
Only one goaltender has stopped more pucks during the regular season in the past four seasons than Tomas Vokoun.

He was clearly one of the top two goaltenders on the free-agent market in mid-June, and the other (Ilya Bryzgalov) took himself off it by signing a nine-year, $51 million contract with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Not only has Vokoun faced a heavy workload while playing for the Florida Panthers, he has the second-best save percentage (.923) among the 15 NHL goaltenders who have made at least 5,000 saves in the past four years. Bryzgalov's move to Philadelphia took away one of the potential suitors for Vokoun, but it also left the 35-year-old from the Czech Republic as the clear top choice available.

Yet despite all of this, a series of events on the first day of free agency has left Vokoun with limited options and unlikely to sign a contract anywhere near the value of Bryzgalov's.

Philadelphia was one of the teams in the market for a No. 1 goaltender this offseason, but the trade for Bryzgalov and subsequent deal appeared to shape the market for Vokoun. His old team, Florida, needed a goaltender. So too did Phoenix after losing Bryzgalov.

The other two top possibilities were Colorado, which had dealt away Craig Anderson at the trade deadline, and Tampa Bay because Dwayne Roloson was also an unrestricted free agent and will be 42 years old next season.

Unfortunately for Vokoun, those four teams didn't waste much time -- by mid-afternoon Friday all four of those clubs were set in net.

Tampa Bay re-signed Roloson on Thursday night to a one-year deal.

Adrian Dater of the Denver Post reported Colorado discussed Vokoun with his agent, but the Avalanche traded first- and second-round picks to Washington for the rights to 23-year-old restricted free agent Semyon Varlamov and later added Jean-Sebastien Giguere as a backup/mentor. Phoenix signed Mike Smith, who backed up Roloson last season after he was traded to Tampa Bay, to a two-year contract. The Avalanche have reportedly signed Varlamov to a three-year, $8.5 million contract, according to, apparently dispelling notions that he wants to play in the KHL next season.

Florida has perhaps the top goaltending prospect in the world in Jakub Markstrom, so the Panthers were likely lukewarm about a long-term deal for Vokoun -- the opted instead to sign Jose Theodore to a two-year deal. Theodore and Scott Clemmensen will likely be paired together if Markstrom hasn't recovered from a knee injury in time for the start of the season.

All of this leaves Vokoun without a clear place to end up. It is, ironically, the same situation Theodore found himself in last summer. When the Capitals elected not to retain him because they were ready to move forward with Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth, he did not sign quickly and then had to wait for months without a contract. He eventually landed in Minnesota after Josh Harding was lost for the season to a knee injury, but Theodore's one-year deal was for far less money than he expected in July.

So what could be some of the options remaining be for Vokoun? Here are a few, though none of these teams are likely to give him anything approaching what Bryzgalov received from the Flyers.

* Columbus Blue Jackets -- Steve Mason has not been the same since his rookie season, but the Blue Jackets do have two more years at $2.9 million committed to him. They also signed Mark Dekanich on a one-way deal and Curtis Sanford to a two-way pact on Friday. This is probably an option only if Mason were moved.

* Detroit Red Wings -- There aren't many teams left that only have one NHL goaltender under contract, but the Red Wings are one of them. Jimmy Howard has established himself as a legitimate No. 1 goaltender, but grabbing Vokoun on a cheap, short-term deal might not be a bad move for GM Ken Holland.

* Phoenix Coyotes -- Smith has never been able to prove he's a true No. 1 goaltender in this League. Backup Jason LaBarbera is OK, but Vokoun would still be an upgrade for the Coyotes. One drawback: Smith and LaBarbera both are signed for two years, and it is unlikely Phoenix would be willing to send a guy with that type of salary to the minors.

* Washington Capitals -- This will be a popular choice among pundits for Vokoun. He could even serve as a mentor to fellow Czech goaltender Neuvirth. The problem is general manager George McPhee was adamant last summer about not adding a veteran goaltender, and his stance is the same at this point. Neuvirth and Braden Holtby are expected to share the workload for the Capitals, who are also pretty tight against the salary cap ceiling and wouldn't be able to offer Vokoun much anyway.

That's pretty much it. There aren't a lot of enticing options right now for Vokoun.

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