Many people have pointed out the trades that Penguins general manager Ray Shero made around the NHL’s trading deadline as a key to his team’s success. However, his best deal may have occurred last summer on June 4.
It was then that Shero made a deal with the Washington Capitals to acquired goaltender Tomas Vokoun in exchange for a seventh-round draft pick.
Vokoun was spectacular during the regular season, going 13-4 with a 2.45 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage. But his biggest contribution came in the postseason, particularly in the Penguins’ opening-round series against the NY Islanders.
The series was tied at 2-2 when head coach Dan Bylsma inserted Vokoun into the lineup for Game 5. He responded with a 31-save shutout. Vokoun followed that by making 35 saves in Game 6 as the Penguins won in overtime to take the series, 4-2.
“Without having a Tomas Vokoun to go to in Game 5 of the Islanders series, I’m not sure what happens,” Shero said. “I’m not sure we don’t win, but I’m not sure we do.”
Vokoun was appreciative of his GM’s confidence in him.
“It’s always nice when people say nice things about you,” Vokoun said, “but I’m just doing my job.”
Shero wasn’t surprised by Vokoun’s success. Shero recalled his play from their days together in Nashville when Shero was assistant general manager and Vokoun was the team’s starting goaltender.
“It’s somewhat surprising to some people that he’s doing well for himself, but he’s been one of the better goaltenders in the National Hockey League,” Shero said. “He just happened to be playing in Nashville and Florida for a long time, not in the media spotlight. But everybody respects what Tomas Vokoun has done over the last seven, eight years in the league.”
Vokoun deserves credit not only for his play, but also for his attitude. He had been a starting goaltender his entire career, but when the Penguins acquired him, they asked that he come in and help be a piece to their puzzle.
Vokoun accepted his role and excelled.
“We talked about coming here and helping the team,” Vokoun said. “I’m trying to do what they wanted me to do in the first place. My job is to stay ready in case they need me to go in.”
“It’s a little different than he had in the past, being the No. 1 guy and playing 65 games a year,” Shero said. “He comes here and accepts his role, becomes part of the team and helps the team win.”