The Panthers acquired Vokoun from the Nashville Predators for a package of draft picks in a blockbuster deal a few hours before the first round of the entry draft, giving up a first-round draft pick in 2008 and a pair of second-draft picks, an ’07 and a conditional ’07 or ’08.
The surprising move helps undo what was a terrible mistake a year ago when the Panthers shipped superstar Roberto Luongo to Vancouver.
“Our staff felt that (Vokoun) was one of the top five netminders in the National Hockey League,” Panthers GM Jacques Martin said moments before the first round began. “Whenever you can acquire a goaltender of his status that’s already signed for four years, I think it really helps your budget and your planning.
“We really now with him in goal, the core of the defence that we have coming back, we’re really establishing ourselves to move up in the standings.”
The massacre continues in Nashville, where the Predators have now dumped their No. 1 goalie as well as winger Scott Hartnell and top defenceman Kimmo Timonen within the span of a week and there’s hardly any chance that pending free agents Peter Forsberg and Paul Kariya will be back.
Owner Craig Leipold is tired of losing money and while his sale to Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie drags on, he’s making sure next season’s Predators won’t cost too much to run just in case he’s still in charge.
On the flip side, Chris Mason is a terrific netminder and now takes over as No. 1 job in Nashville, probably to be backed up by Finnish prospect Pekka Rinne.
Vokoun and Toskala may not be the only goalies to move this weekend. The Anaheim Ducks, according to multiple sources, were shopping Ilya Bryzgalov on Friday, a day after re-signing starter J.S. Giguere to a US$24-million, four-year contract.
The Leafs beat out Boston and Phoenix for Toskala’s services, leaving the Bruins and Coyotes to find other options in their search for a top goalie. One is Bryzgalov, who has one year left on his deal for next season at $1.362 million after which he becomes an unrestricted free agent. He turned 27 on Friday.
The Ducks signed standout Swiss netminder Jonas Hiller on May 25 in a move that flew under the radar but he’s got the goods to back up Giguere next season, making Bryzgalov available.
In others moves Friday:
-Chicago and Calgary made official a deal struck late on Thursday night, the Blackhawks unloading defenceman Adrian Aucoin and the $8 million that was left over the final two years on his contract as well as a seventh-round pick in ’07 to the Flames in exchange for defencemen Andrei Zyuzin and Steve Marr. The deal required the veteran Aucoin to waive his no-trade clause.
-Veteran forwards Mark Recchi and Gary Roberts, both slated to become unrestricted free agents July 1, re-signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Roberts signed a one-year deal worth $2.5 million, while Recchi’s is a one-year deal with a $1.75 million base salary and a $250,000 bonus if the team makes the playoffs.
-The Sharks re-signed veteran defenceman Craig Rivet to a four-year deal. The former Habs blue-liner would have been an unrestricted free agent July 1.
The trade talk has picked up to a feverish pitch.
“There’s a lot of chatter, probably the most I’ve seen in three years,” said Sharks GM Doug Wilson.
Meanwhile, another option for Boston and Phoenix is Minnesota Wild goalie Manny Fernandez, who became expendable when Nicklas Backstrom replaced him as the No. 1 goalie and was signed to a $6.2-million, two-year extension. Fernandez, 32, has $9.25 million left over the final two years of his contract.
“There are a lot of goalies out there,” said Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli.
John Ferguson no longer has to look for one after acquiring a goalie on draft day for the second year in a row. One year after trading for Andrew Raycroft, the Toronto Maple Leafs GM made another splash Friday, reeling in Toskala from the San Jose Sharks – arguably the most attractive goalie available on the trade market this off-season.
“These things do take some time, there were many moving parts and different clubs involved,” Ferguson said. “Different priced goaltenders, obviously both in terms of acquisition cost and with the cap, what it’s going to be. So we’re really pleased with what we were able to get done.”
Forward Mark Bell also came in the deal, in exchange for a package of draft picks: either a first-rounder this year or in 2008 (San Jose’s option), a second-round pick this year and a fourth-round pick in ’09.
The Leafs added some protection in case the Sharks chose the first-rounder in ’08 – San Jose cannot take it if it’s top 10 overall. In that case, they get an ’09 first-rounder instead.
The 30-year-old Toskala has one year remaining on a contract that pays him only $1.375 million. The Leafs will hope to sign him to an extension and already began talks Friday.
“We had some good conversations today,” said Ferguson.
The clincher for Toronto getting the deal done was picking up Bell, who disappointed in San Jose last season and who still has $4.5 million left on his deal for another two years.
The Flames, meanwhile, needed to acquire a top blue-liner because both Brad Stuart and Roman Hamrlik are expected to be lost to free agency.
“I’d rather have a player under contract than trying to negotiate a contract when you don’t know what the marketplace is,” said Flames GM Darryl Sutter.
Hawks GM Dale Tallon said with the development of his young defencemen led by Brent Seabrook, there was no longer room for the veteran Aucoin to play those kinds of minutes.
“Adrian needs to play 28-30 minutes a game to be successful and that wasn’t going to happen with us next season,” said Tallon. “And obviously there was a financial consideration in this deal.”