Tomas Vokoun got all dressed up for 2011 summer free agency, put on his glittering career numbers and his solid veteran history and waited for a dancing partner. It didn’t go as planned.
He watched his old team hook up with a new French Canadian flame, watched the Philadelphia Flyers fall all over themselves for Ilya Bryzgalov and the Phoenix Coyotes chase a tall dark unknown. Somehow, at the end of all the frenzy, Vokoun was left without an offer.
Left with few options, Vokoun agreed to a mercenary marriage of convenience with the Caps, an embarrassingly cheap, $1.5 M one-year deal. The Czech veteran got to play on what should have been a contending team and get his name back out there; the Caps got an apparent upgrade in goal. Everyone wins, right?
Wrong. The loveless arranged marriage quickly went sour, and abruptly came to an end today as the Caps traded Vokoun’s rights to bitter rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he promptly signed a two-year deal. How could things have gone so wrong with a goaltender who could been the MVP? Let’s take a look.
Photo credit: Toni L. Sandys
Fast forward to Tomas Vokoun’s first game in a Caps uniform. While the Caps appeared to have a very talented tandem of equally matched goalies, as the unofficial 1A goaltender Vokoun was within reason to expect that he would be playing that game. Which was why he flew his kids in, from Florida.
To watch him sit on a bench.
His family did not make the move with Tomas, he left them back in Florida for the year, and while $1.5 million is certainly enough money to fly them in again, the situation seemed mishandled and quickly took on a life of its own. Vokoun’s agent Allan Walsh told the Washington Times:
“He was told he was coming into Washington as the No. 1 goalie. They were very public in their comments about that. … There’s a certain symbolism attached to who starts the first game of the season at home. It doesn’t mean he’s not a No. 1 goalie. But this can certainly be perceived as a slap in the face.”
Then there was the Panthers game on December 5th. Another one of those rare opportunities — Vokoun got tickets for his family so that they could come to see him play. It was expected that he would, even the Panthers’ website had a splash page with his face plastered across it — but once again Vokoun sat on the bench. Once again his family watched someone else in net.
Then came the second away game against the Panthers in Sunshine, Florida. Surely now Vokoun would get that start, right? Nope. Michal Neuvirth was in net, and while using both your goaltenders for back-to-back games is almost a must, it was puzzling to see Neuvirth play in Florida and Vokoun the night before.
Vokoun’s family has had plenty of chances to see him play over his 14-year career, and I’d bet he is not sensitive enough that this kind of decision would have sent him sulking to his room. Still.
Photo credit: Andre Ringuette
Vokoun had a bad slide at the end of February, getting pulled two games in a row. Things came to a head after a game against the Senators in which Vokoun let in four goals on eleven shots. “They jumped on us, (Tomas) would like a few of them back,” Hunter admitted, when asked about Vokoun’s game. “He wasn’t as sharp as he should have been, and it’s in the back of our net. We need some big stops early, that’s part of the game.”
Allan Walsh fired back, releasing a statement about Hunter’s comments:
I’m not going to comment directly on what someone may have said after a game. I will point out though that hockey’s great coaches throughout history never resorted to publicly singling out a particular player, blaming him for a loss. Where I come from, you win as a team and lose as a team. The oldest, most tired excuse in the book is to blame the goalie.
No effort was made not to fight in front of the kids.
Photo credit: Patrick McDermott
Tomas Vokoun first went down with a lower body injury in late February, which was later revealed to be a groin strain. As if the romance weren’t already dying.
He appeared to recover from the strain enough to make it back onto the ice six games later, but it was enough for Michal Neuvirth to get his foot in the door again — and by the end of March, Vokoun was out of the lineup again, having re-aggravated the groin injury with two attempts to return before it was entirely healed. This time the injury seemed to be worse, characterized as a “groin tear” and requiring a lot more rest. The regular season closed with Vokoun on the bench, with his goaltending partner Neuvirth also injured and the team rallying around rookie goaltender Braden Holtby.
For the first time in five years, Tomas Vokoun’s team was in the playoffs. He did not play a single game.
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