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Vokoun Reflects, Looks Ahead

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
Tomas Vokoun makes a save against Atlanta Thrashers left wing Ilya Kovalchuk during the first period of an NHL hockey game at Philips Arena, Thursday, April 9, 2009, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Gregory Smith)
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com


SUNRISE – After he cleaned out his locker Monday morning and finished his end-of-year meetings, Tomas Vokoun stood in a hallway at BankAtlantic Center wondering like the rest of his teammates what could have been.

But Vokoun, who wears his heart on his sleeve, once again shouldered blame for his team missing the playoffs.

“I know I have to be better,” Vokoun said.

For Vokoun, finishing second in the league in save percentage (.926), pitching six shutouts and winning 25 or more games for the sixth consecutive season simply wasn’t good enough. He admitted Monday his season was a rollercoaster. For the second consecutive season, he didn’t start as strong as he would have liked.

He was removed from goal in favor of backup Craig Anderson by coach Peter DeBoer for six of nine games from Nov. 28 through Dec. 14 (including four consecutive games), and four consecutive games at the most critical time of the season between March 26 through April 3.

Vokoun didn’t make any excuses Monday before leaving BankAtlantic Center, especially about going 5-10 in his first 15 games.

“I know I have to be better, especially at the start,” he said. “It’s been a couple years now, since I came here, I’ve had a slow start. It’s something I’ll hopefully address and improve on next year.”

When asked if his season mirrored the teams, Vokoun said, “Yeah, it was the most up-and-down kind of season I had in a long time.”

“Sometimes you have to deal with different stuff,” he said. “Andy (Craig Anderson) had a great season and every start he got he definitely deserved. He helped this team a lot, through tough times, and won some big games.

“Ultimately, this is a team sport. We’re all connected. I always believe we win and lose as a team. We have lots of contributions from a lot of different guys. Sometimes you play, sometimes you don’t. You like it, you don’t like it. The most important thing is the team is winning.”

And the team, with Vokoun and Anderson in goal, won 41 games and earned 93 points, losing out to Montreal for a playoff spot based on a series tiebreaker.

Whether Anderson is part of the Panthers goalie pairing next season remains to be seen. Anderson, 15-7-5 with a .924 save percentage and 2.71 goals against, is an unrestricted free agent July 1 and said Monday that, if given the opportunity, he would like to be a No. 1 goalie, whether in Florida or elsewhere.

Martin said Monday it’s too early to tell what will happen next year in goal. He said Vokoun is looking to be more consistent next season. When asked if goaltending was an issue for the Panthers, Martin replied; “Goaltending is not an issue with our team.”

“I think our goaltending has been pretty good during the season,” he added.

Vokoun said he would spend the offseason making sure he got off to a better start next season.

BOOTH AND PANTHERS TO TALK

Martin reiterated he will work to sign restricted free agent David Booth over the offseason. Martin’s track-record of signing the team’s core players here has been solid.

“He’s a player we’d like to keep in the fold,” said Martin of Booth. “He exemplifies what we’re here for. We’ve been able to negotiate contracts with people who want to be here and play here. I don’t think we’ve taken any of those players to arbitration and been able to come to an agreement that’s been fair to both parties.”

MARKSTROM A YEAR AWAY

Goalie Jacob Markstrom, the Panthers first pick (31st overall) at the 2008 Entry Draft, will likely spend another year playing in the Swedish Elite League, according to Martin.

“He has another year on his contract,” Martin said. “That’s great development for him. It’s equivalent if not better than the American Hockey League (AHL). At only 19, I’m OK with that. Hopefully, at the end of next year, we’ll get him under contract and it will be up to him, his performance, to dictate whether he’s ready to play here or whether he needs more time in the (AHL).”

The organization’s feelings about Markstrom have not changed.

“My projection is he should be a No. 1 goalie at some point in time,” Martin said.

HIGHS

Several Panthers set career highs this season.

Stephen Weiss in assists (47), points (61) and plus/minus (19).

David Booth in goals (31), assists (29), power play goals (11) and points (60).

Gregory Campbell in goals (13), assists (19) and plus/minus (0).

Karlis Skrastins in assists (14) and points (18).

Keith Ballard in plus/minus (14).

Jay Bouwmeester in power play goals (9) and tied career high in goals (15).

Radek Dvorak tied a career high in short-handed goals (4).

Addendum: Bouwmeester and Ballard were the only Panthers to play all 82 games. Bouwmeester holds the current NHL record for most consecutive games played 344

PLAYOFF CONUNDRUM

While the Panthers finished the season with the same record as the playoff-bound Canadiens, the Panthers are on the sidelines during the playoffs because of a series tiebreaker (Montreal won three of the four games).

So it begs the question whether the NHL should have a playoff system?

“When you look at our record, and the fact there’s teams in the other conference with less points (in the playoffs)…it’s something we need to look at as GM’s and at the league level,” Martin said.

DeBoer made no secret during the season or after he would prefer a one-game playoff.

“I like the playoff, and I came from a league where you had a one-game playoff as a rule,” he said. “It’s appropriate after you play 82 games that if you are tied and have identical records, you should play once to decide the last spot. Use the mathematical formulas to decide who hosts. For me, that’s a lot easier to swallow in your exit meetings than losing on a statistic.”

And just to make all this harder: If the Panthers played in the Western Conference, they’d be the No. 6 seed.

NOTE

The NHL Draft Drawing, a weighted system to determine the order of selection for the first 14 picks at the 2009 Entry Draft, will be held at 8 p.m., Tuesday evening. The Panthers percentage chance of being selected in the Draft Drawing? 0.5 percent. The Entry Draft will be held June 26-27 at the Bell Centre in Montreal…Strength and conditioning coach Andy O’Brien said he expects as many as 15 players to stay in town to work out over the offseason…
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