From a hotel room Saturday evening in Turkey, Tomas Vokoun admitted he was stunned when a former teammate text messaged him 24 hours earlier to tell him he had been traded to the Panthers.
Vokoun, vacationing with his family, added; “I wasn’t expecting it so I think it would have shocked anyone.”
But the 30-year-old Vokoun, who helped turn Nashville into a playoff team the past four seasons by winning a total of 122 games, admitted he had a different reaction after the shock wore off.
“If I knew I was getting traded, Florida would have been one of my top choices.”
The acquisition of Vokoun just hours before Friday evening’s NHL Entry Draft “sufficiently addresses our goaltending needs and proves that we are committed to bringing success to the Panthers organization,” said GM and coach Jacques Martin said.
A native of Czechoslovakia, Vokoun has won at least 25 games in each of the past four seasons for Nashville and has clearly established himself as one of the league’s top goalies.
In 2005-06, he was 36-18 with a 2.67 goals against average and a .919 save percentage. Last season, Vokoun was 27-12 with a 2.40 goals against average and a .920 save percentage.
With the sound of children in the background, Vokoun admitted he had mixed emotions about leaving Nashville, which is in a state of flux due to ownership and relocation issues.
“I’m sure everyone is feeling uncertainty in Nashville,” Vokoun said. “I spent eight years there and everyone has tried to help build the team and now it’s crumbling. I mean, I hope it’s not. But I guess this is the case of teams going in different directions.”
Vokoun’s acquisition comes nearly a year to the day after the Panthers traded Roberto Luongo to Vancouver. When asked about the pressure to live up to expectations in Florida, Vokoun replied; “Part of why you do this is to have enjoyment but also to get recognition from people who know and love hockey.”
“I know the team has missed the playoffs the last couple years, but it’s something I am looking forward in helping to change,” he added. “It’s a good franchise and the stuff I’ve heard is all good and makes me excited. I know there are large shoes to fill, but I want people to expect me to fill them. That’s why you play and compete.”
Vokoun, who has vacationed in Florida, said he knows new teammates Olli Jokinen, Jozef Stumpel and Rostislav Olesz and will head to South Florida shortly with his family.
Vokoun was originally selected by the Canadiens in the ninth round of the 1994 Draft. He was chosen by Nashville in the ’98 Expansion Draft.
Vokoun has been a workhorse for the Predators with only two exceptions. He was out from Oct. 23 through Jan. 9 last season after injuring his thumb during a 6-0 victory over Canucks. And in 2005-06, Vokoun missed the final eight games of the regular season and the Predators’ five playoff games against the Sharks due to a blood clot in his abdomen.
Martin said with the acquisition of Vokoun, free agent Ed Belfour would not be brought back. Craig Anderson and Alex Auld are currently the Panthers other goalies.