There was a surprising bit of news this morning in the hockey world, as goaltender Tomas Vokoun’s negotiating rights were traded by Washington to Pittsburgh for a seventh-round pick. Subsequently, Vokoun inked a two-year contract with the Penguins.
The move makes sense for both Vokoun and the Penguins.
We already know the Pittsburgh Penguins are a deep team that is fully capable of winning another Stanley Cup. They were the Cup favorite going into this postseason, and they will be a Cup favorite going into the 2012-13 season. But there biggest flaw came between the pipes.
Marc-Andre Fleury was awful in giving up a total of 17 goals in the first three games of the series. At the same time, he was hung out to dry by the fact that (a) the Penguins’ defense was shoddy, and (b) there wasn’t a reliable backup goaltender for head coach Dan Bylsma to turn to.
Fleury can be a really good goalie in this league. He proved that in 2010-11 when he carried the Penguins to the playoffs without Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin for the second half. He proved that in 2009 when he backstopped the Penguins to a Stanley Cup.
However, he needed more help behind him and that’s what Vokoun will provide. Brent Johnson and Brad Thiessen aren’t quality backup options for a guy like Fleury that needs more rest throughout the season to stay on top of his game. Fleury played in 67 games this past season; he’d probably benefit from playing just 60-62 games.
That’s where Vokoun comes into the equation.
Vokoun didn’t have a great one-year stint with the Washington Capitals. He battled injury en route to a 25-17-2 record with a 2.51 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. Not bad, but not great compared to preseason expectations.
The thing is, he’ll be turning 36 years old in July and his best years are behind him. He’s no longer considered a ‘must-have’ starting goaltender. He also doesn’t have a Stanley Cup, something he has a realistic chance at winning next season in Pittsburgh.
Vokoun is a consummate pro that will do his job and support Fleury. He’s not signing in Pittsburgh to put Fleury on the hot seat; he’s signing there for a chance to win and play on a great team, even if it’s just for 25 games or so.
Signing in Pittsburgh is a much better option for Vokoun than him going over to the KHL and quietly ending his career.
On the flip side, grabbing Vokoun for two years and $4 million is a wise move on the part of Penguins GM Ray Shero, who knows Vokoun from their days in Nashville. The signing will give Fleury more time to stay fresh, especially late in the year heading into the playoffs.
The Penguins’ most important off-season need has been scratched off the list on June 4th. How many other teams can say that?
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