WASHINGTON – Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee says he absolutely did think he was done assembling the major parts of his team for next season.
Then he heard from a veteran goaltender who was feeling kind of bummed out.
Tomas Vokoun found there wasn’t as much demand for his services as he was expecting, despite his stellar NHL record. So he let the Capitals know he’d be willing to forego a big contract to play for a Stanley Cup contender.
He was snapped up by McPhee for a bargain—a one-year deal worth US$1.5 million signed late Saturday.
“I don’t think we anticipated being this fortunate,” McPhee said Sunday. “This is a heck of a move for the organization. We thought we were done a couple of days ago. … We’ve been telling other GMs and the media that we were done making offers because we thought we were.”
The Capitals opened free agency Friday by signing defenceman Roman Hamrlik, right wing Joel Ward and centre Jeff Halpern and trading goaltender Semyon Varlamov. McPhee then said he had the team he wanted in place and was prepared to go with youngsters Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby in net.
Now it’s Vokoun and Neuvirth projected for the big league roster, with Holtby again expected to spend much of the season in the AHL. McPhee said it would be natural to expect Vokoun to be the No. 1 goalie going into training camp, but he said no such promise was made to the veteran.
“Certainly his experience would put him in that position,” McPhee said. “But, like anything else, they come in and they compete.”
Vokoun thought he would be a bigger catch on the free agent market. The two-time all-star is tied for the best save percentage (.922) in the NHL since the 2005-06 season.
“Honestly I didn’t have a whole lot of offers,” Vokoun said. “The money side, it’s not great, but the opportunity is unbelievable. Obviously it was a disappointing day for me, July 1. For whatever reason, I was basically in the bad spot and Washington came in.”
Vokoun said the best offers came from his old team, the Florida Panthers, who proposed a two-year contract and a three-year deal.
But Washington, as McPhee noted, has “become one of those destination teams” that attracts players looking to win immediately.
“I never had a chance to play for a team like this,” Vokoun said. “It came to me almost as a surprise.”
Vokoun, 34, has played for Montreal, Nashville and Florida, spending the past four seasons with the Panthers. He was 22-28-5 with a 2.55 goals-against average in 57 games last season. He also led the Czech national team to a gold medal at the 2010 world championships and has represented his county twice at the Olympics.
But, as McPhee said, he still has to win the job in camp.
“I didn’t get any guarantees or anything like that,” Vokoun said, “and I wouldn’t expect it if I were signing for $5 million.”