Of the Capitals’ six unrestricted free agents, the obvious candidate to leave early was goalie Tomas Vokoun. Not exactly difficult math to come to that conclusion. He had a so-so regular season by his lofty standards with a 25-17-2 record, a .917 save percentage, his lowest since 2003-04, and a goals-against average of 2.51. Not bad. But Washington was hoping for more. And so was Vokoun, who admitted Monday he will not re-sign with the Caps when he becomes a free agent on July 1.
Vokoun, 35, suffered a groin strain in late February, took some time off in March and lasted less than one period in a March 29 return against Boston. Won’t forget him saying the day before that start, essentially, that he had no reason to hold back. He was going to play in pain until his groin blew out. Unfortunately, that took about 18 minutes. When Michal Neuvirth had Florida Panthers forward Marco Sturm fall on him in the crease in an April 5 games – the second-to-last of the regular season – the net went to rookie goalie Braden Holtby. You know the rest.
There were other issues. Vokoun chafed when he was skipped to start the season opener at Verizon Center on Oct. 8. Instead, he was in goal for the Tampa Bay game on Oct. 10. He did start 46 games to Neuvirth’s 30 – but there were several stretches where was out of the lineup. In seven of the previous eight years Vokoun had started at least 55 games. He wasn’t used to sitting – even for brief stretches.
Vokoun could also be a little too honest with the media in his assessment of teammates when they made mistakes in front of him. We appreciated it. But it was no surprise that at the end of the season, multiple Caps lauded Holtby for keeping his mouth shut in those situations and always made sure to let you know there were goalies who didn’t hew to that code – leaving aside specific examples, of course.
“You see a lot of goalies when they get scored on put their hands up in the air looking around, seeing who is to blame. [Holtby is] not that kind of guy,” teammate Jason Chimera said on May 6.
Just an example. Chimera wasn’t necessarily referring to Vokoun in that case, though some other players clearly were. All in all, a disappointing season and the groin injury was the capper. Obviously, Vokoun was also still grieving the loss of his good friend Josef Vasicek, who was playing for KHL club Lokomotiv Yaroslav in Russia when he and 43 others were killed in a plane crash last Sept. 7. Vokoun’s wife and two daughters also stayed in the Miami area even after he signed with the Caps. He previously played for the Florida Panthers. This was always going to be a short-term relationship.
“It's just one of those things when you can't control. Fact of life,” Vokoun said. “I wait for chance like this very long time. Then you get hurt and you're not able to participate. That's life. A lot worse things happen to people. It just didn't work out.”
Reports that Vokoun was about to sign with Lokomotiv this week were shot down by agent Allan Walsh via Twitter – though Europe remains a possibility if Vokoun wants to make up the money he lost when the free-agent goalie market collapsed in the NHL last summer. There should be some NHL teams interested, though, and that's the preference. Vokoun is healthy now after that severe groin tear – though he wasn’t ready to rejoin the active roster during the playoffs.
"For me, I'm at that point I'm going to just deal with stuff when it comes at me at that moment,” Vokoun said. “But it's nice to be, obviously, healthy and feel if whatever happens you can play and be effective there and be able to play without pain.”
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