A day after trading goalie Semyon Varlamov to Colorado for a pair of draft picks, General Manager George McPhee added a veteran presence to the Washington Capitals’ depth chart in net by signing Tomas Vokoun.
Arguably the biggest name among goaltenders in this year’s class of unrestricted free agents, Vokoun accepted a meager one-year, $1.5 million contract to compete for a Stanley Cup.
“He’s been on teams with no chance to win for a very long time,” Vokoun’s agent, Michael Deutsch, said. “The opportunity to compete for a Stanley Cup means a great deal to him.”
Vokoun, 35, spent the bulk of his 13 seasons in Nashville and Florida and now will join Washington and should compete for starting duties alongside fellow Czech native Michal Neuvirth, 23. In 2010-11, Vokoun went 22-28-5 with the Panthers and had a 2.55 goals-against average and .922 save percentage.
“We are excited to add an elite veteran goaltender to the Capitals,” McPhee said in a news release. “We now have a nice blend of talent, depth, experience and youth in the goaltending position.”
Acquiring the 6-foot, 215-pound Vokoun, who is tied for the best save percentage (.922) in the NHL since the 2005-06 season, offers some closure to what’s been an offseason of change for the Capitals in goal.
As the start of free agency neared, questions arose about the Capitals’ ability to re-sign restricted free agent Varlamov, the lone member of the team’s trio of young goaltending prospects — along with Neuvirth and 21-year-old Braden Holtby — who was without a contract for the new season.
Reports based on comments from Varlamov’s Russian agent surfaced, stating that the explosive talent had elected to return home to play in the Kontinental Hockey League — a choice that would yield no return for the Capitals. Instead, within the first three hours of the free agent market opening, McPhee sent oft-injured Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche for a first-round and a second-round draft pick. In discussing the move Friday, McPhee expressed his surprise in being able to get so much in return for the former first-round selection who has yet to assert himself as an NHL starter.
Asked on Friday if Washington would be comfortable handing the reins exclusively to Neuvirth and Holtby, McPhee maintained his poker face.
“Let’s let these two guys go at it, share the responsibility and see how they do,” McPhee said.
With Vokoun in the mix, though, the Capitals gain a mentor for Neuvirth and a player who has proved he can withstand the rigors of being relied upon as a No. 1 goaltender.
“I’m very excited to join the Washington Capitals organization,” Vokoun said in a team news release. “It is a terrific team with a lot of talent and I look forward to doing everything I can for us to reach our ultimate goal in winning the Stanley Cup.”
The signing came after a busy first day of free agency for the Capitals, who in addition to trading Varlamov on Friday brought back former captain Jeff Halpern (one year, $825,000) and signed winger Joel Ward (four years, $12 million) and defenseman Roman Hamrlik (two years, $7 million).
Washington is just more than $500,000 away from the salary cap of $64.3 million after the inclusion of Vokoun’s contract. Teams may exceed the maximum by up to 10 percent in the summer and must be in compliance by the start of the season. Washington, though, still has two restricted free agents to sign in defenseman Karl Alzner and winger Troy Brouwer, and that may make the possibility of an offseason trade more likely.
If comments from owner Ted Leonsis are any indication, a trade may be more than just likely.
“We will be able to resign Karl Alzner and Troy Brouwer so everyone who is amped up, please try to relax just a bit,” Leonsis wrote on his blog, Ted’s Take, on Saturday. “We will look to make some trades in the offseason maybe even sign another free agent. We will continue to look at all of our options. We may not be able to get anything done. We may be able to do something. Time will tell.”