Tomas Vokoun acknowledged it wasn’t always easy last season.
Admitting last week it was “somewhat of a shock” to him he had been traded from Nashville last June to Florida – from cowboy boots to bathing suits – Vokoun spent a sometimes trying season in South Florida.
He was a bonafide all-star – winning 30 or more games for the third time in four seasons and more than 25 for the fifth consecutive season - but he couldn’t single-handedly lift his team into the post season. He gave the Panthers a shot to win every night, but he was peppered by a league-high 2,213 shots. He was a team leader, but sometimes frustrated by night’s end.
“There were times last year I took things too hard,” he reflected last week. “But that’s the way I am.”
But Vokoun, who has always worn his heart on his sleeve, enters the season more comfortable. He’s settled with his family in Florida, he feels optimistic about the team’s direction, and, more importantly, he returns for his second season with the Panthers looking at a new and improved blue line.
In fact, some consider the Panthers’ blue line to now be one of the elite in the league. Start with Jay Bouwmeester and Bryan Allen, a healthy Noah Welch and Cory Murphy, iron man Karlis Skrastins, and add veterans Keith Ballard, Bryan McCabe and Nick Boynton.
“We’ve definitely improved,” Vokoun said. “If you look at the teams that have been successful, Anaheim a couple years ago and Detroit, they have tremendous depth and a strong defensive core. Today, you have to get the puck out of your own end and play with the puck. If you do that, you have a good chance of winning games.
“I think that was our problem last year. We never had the puck because even when we had it we couldn’t make a good first pass and we always seemed to be playing without the puck. From there we gave up a lot of shots and chances, and that’s not a high percentage game to be successful.
“We needed to change that, and the people here in charge that did that.”
For Vokoun, who played 69 games last season and walked away with a 2.68 goals against average and .919 save percentage, his arrival at training camp is a lot different this year after having left Nashville last year after nine seasons.
“I think it’s a little different if you get traded three, four times,” he said. “You kind of know what’s going on and you get used to it. But as a player with one team for nine years…it was tough for me. You can say all you want, it was somewhat of a shock I got traded.
“You come here and there’s a lot of expectations and that’s tough sometimes, too. When people don’t expect much and you play well, everyone is patting you on the back. Anything less than very good is not good. You know, the culture was a little bit different here than I was used to. Everything was different. But that’s all behind me now. I’m adjusted. I have enough experience to know what I need to prepare to play well.”
Like other Panthers, Vokoun said he wants to help the team to the playoffs.
“There’s a lot to prove and there’s a big challenge here, and I like that,” he said. “This team hasn’t been doing well and we have to change that. I think a lot of positive steps have been taken and I think the atmosphere in the room is going to be different and I’m excited.
“You know, every season, everyone has the same chance. How many people thought Pittsburgh was going to be that good last year. The guys played well and had game confidence with winnning. You never know what’s going to happen. That’s why we have to get off to a good start and build winning and confidence. I’m really looking forward to a good season.”