Why have 2 stellar young goalies when you can have Vokoun?

By Stu Krantz
To many, perhaps the most surprising of the Caps’ free agent dealings, as I wrote in my offseason review, was the signing of former Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun. I, too, was surprised. And puzzled.Don’t get me wrong. Vokoun is a very good regular season goaltender, posting a goals-against average of 2.55 and a .922 save percentage, good for 16th and 8th in the league, respectively. Keep in mind the Caps got all that for a mere $1.5 million, which, as I said before, equates to about ⅕ of Scott Gomez’s salary.
Also keep in mind that Vokoun played on a truly atrocious, last place in the East Panthers team whose best skaters included the likes of Stephen Weiss (team-high 49 points), David Booth (40 points and a -31), and Marty Reasoner (32 points, good for 5th best on the team). The argument need not be made that the Panthers were not a good team. Yet Vokoun still posted above-average numbers. Again, for $1.5 million, you could do much, much worse. Unless you already have 2 outstanding NHL-ready U23 goaltenders.

What puzzles me are two things: first, Vokoun has seen extremely limited Stanley Cup Playoff action, and when he has, he has been only slightly above average. He has only played in 2 Playoff series before, both when he was with Nashville. The first was in 2004 when the Preds were knocked out by Detroit in 6 games. Vokoun played every game, going 2-4 with a 2.02 GAA and a .939 save % and 1 shutout, which I admit is very good. This was Vokoun’s breakout performance and where he started to establish himself as one of the world’s elite goaltenders.

Alright, alright, that’s not bad. In fact it’s quite good. But take a look at what he did in the 2007 playoffs, when Nashville was eliminated in 5 games by San Jose, all played by Vokoun: a 2.96 GAA and a .902 SV %. That is far from his stellar 2004 performance. Now, you could argue with me all day about which one is the anomaly, but it doesn’t matter. The mere fact that we could argue about it means that Vokoun is at least unproven in the Playoffs, the only place it matters now for the Caps. Plus you already have 2 goalies who could easily equal or outmatch his production.

Which brings me to the second thing that puzzles me: why sign him in the first place? The Caps already had 3 extremely young, extremely talented, NHL-ready goaltenders last year in Michal Neuvirth, Semyon Varlamov and Braden Holtby. They traded away Varly, so now they have their 2 goalies for this year, right?…wrong. If all we’re talking about is regular season, Neuvirth posted a 2.45 GAA and .914 SV%, while Holtby had a 10-2 record, a 1.79 GAA and .934 SV%. Neuvirth’s numbers are very good, especially for a 23-year-old, while Holtby’s were simply ludicrous. And Holtby is 2 years younger than Neuvirth. (!) If I was Boudreau, Holtby would be my starter, no question!

And then there’s the Playoffs, where Neuvirth started all 9 of the Capitals’ games and posted a 2.45 GAA and a .914 SV%, which, again, are very good numbers for a 23-year-old on a team that played no defense towards the end of their run. And yes, I know Holtby hasn’t played in the Playoffs. However, coming into the League as a call-up and having 2 of his first 7 games in Montreal, the most pressure-filled place to play, and shutting them out twice?! That leaves little doubt in my mind that Holtby would not pull a Jose Theodore in the Playoffs.

And that puzzles me. When you have 2 special goalies like Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth, who have proven themselves to be NHL-ready, and, more importantly, Stanley Cup Playoffs-ready, why bring in a 35-year-old who has not shown enough in the Playoffs for us to judge him (to say the least)? And then name him your starter?

That means that someone who is 12 years older than Neuvirth who is less proven (worse) in the regular season and Playoffs than Neuvy will be replacing him and forcing the younger goalie who severely outplayed every other Capitals goalie last year, Holtby, to be sent to the minors.

And even for $1.5 million, that puzzles me.

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