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Numbers Game: Vokoun winds up in Washington

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Scott Cullen
7/2/2011 11:30:07 PM
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Washington added a veteran goaltender who has been among the game's statistical best.

Numbers Game digs into the acquisition of Tomas Vokoun.

The Capitals Get: G Tomas Vokoun.

When the free agent goaltending carousel stopped, Tomas Vokoun was suddenly left without a starting job, as the Colorado Avalanche traded (with the Capitals) for Semyon Varlamov, the Phoenix Coyotes signed Mike Smith and the Florida Panthers snagged Jose Theodore to fill Vokoun's spot.

Whether Vokoun has the qualifications or not (he does), the veteran puckstopper appeared to be out of luck, perhaps pricing himself out of a long-term free agent deal after he saw Philadelphia ante up $51-million over nine years for Ilya Bryzgalov.

Then, on his 35th birthday, Vokoun signed a one-year, $1.5-million deal with the Washington Capitals, potentially one of the great value signings of the summer.

It's true that Vokoun hasn't won more than 30 games in a season since 2005-2006. Is that a reflection on the quality of his goaltending or the quality of his supporting cast? He has played at least 55 games in seven of the last eight seasons, so he has been durable and is getting a starter's workload.

Vokoun has played in just 11 playoff games in his career, all with Nashville, losing eight and winning three. Some further examination:

In the 2004 playoffs, Vokoun and the Predators lost in six games to Detroit. The Predators scored a total of three goals in their four losses, leaving Vokoun on the wrong end of the series despite allowing 12 goals in six games and posting a .939 save percentage.

His only other playoff appearance came in 2007, losing in five games to San Jose, as Vokoun posted a 2.96 goals against average and .902 save percentage while the Predators scored five goals in the last three games of the series, while getting outshot 99-69, after splitting the first two games with the Sharks.

Do these past playoff performances mean that Vokoun is incapable of backstopping the Capitals to postseason success?

Since the lockout, Vokoun has recorded a save percentage of .918 or better in all six seasons; no other goaltender has surpassed that threshold more than four times (Anaheim's Jonas Hiller is the only one with four).

Putting up these sensational numbers for an also-ran Florida team has kept Vokoun far out of the spotlight, something that will definitely change when he joins a Capitals team that has Stanley Cup aspirations. However Vokoun's inability to win with a weak supporting cast in Florida is no more an indictment of his ability that it was for Roberto Luongo, who lost year-after-year for the Panthers too, before realizing more significant team success in Vancouver.

Incidentally, Vokoun's save percentage in four seasons with Florida was .923; Luongo's save percentage in six seasons with the Panthers was .920. Luongo's save percentage in five seasons with the Canucks? Also .920, so supporting cast can go a long way towards changing the perception of a goaltender's value. 

One other point worth putting into Vokoun's favour is that he has played well internationally, posting a .936 save percentage for the Czech Republic at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and a .944 save percentage for the gold-medal-winning Czechs at the 2010 World Championships in Germany.

None of this guarantees that Vokoun is going to be a playoff saviour for the Capitals, but they've upgraded their goaltending and have a better chance to win this season because of that improvement. On top of that, he's signed at such a reasonable rate that he won't inhibit the Capitals from acquiring more talent if that's deemed necessary.

Vokoun's presence delays the development of 23-year-old Michal Neuvirth, who will be the Capitals' backup, and 21-year-old Braden Holtby, who will hold the top spot in Hershey for another season.

With Vokoun signed for one season, the Capitals will be able to re-evaluate their organizational goaltending needs again next summer. If Vokoun performs at his customary high level, maybe the Capitals will be willing to sign him to an extension; if not, the tandem of Neuvirth and Holtby should be ready to take on the challenge.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

Tomas Vokoun (Photo: Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
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