Pittsburgh's busy offseason started earlier than expected Monday when GM Ray Shero addressed an area of concern by bolstering the team's goaltending.
The Penguins sent a 7th-round pick in the upcoming draft to Washington for the rights to would-be-free agent goalie Tomas Vokoun, who signed a two-year, $4 million deal with the Penguins immediately after having been traded.
The move gives Pittsburgh a strong 1-2 goaltending punch at a time when goalie tandems are growing in popularity.
“The whole team is great. I’ve played against them for five years,” Vokoun said. “I know that was one of the reasons why I decided to [sign]. I want to be part of teams that are winning.”
Much like Steve Sullivan, who came to Pittsburgh as a free agent last summer, Shero's time as an assistant GM in Nashville helped lead to the signing of a former Predators' product.
“Tomas is a good goaltender; he’s a good person,” Shero said. “I was with him for a number of years in Nashville. Tom Fitzgerald played with him in Nashville, so we know the character of the player."
Vokoun's $2 million annual cap hit is a hefty step up from Brent Johnson's $600,000 salary, but perhaps indicates that Shero believes the salary cap will indeed reach the projected ceiling of $70.3 million (up from $64.3 million, based on league revenue).
Cost aside, Pittsburgh was lucky to nab the 35-year-old Czech netminder, who would have hit free agency as the best available asset in a very thin FA goalie market. While this might have made him an attractive option as a starter elsewhere, Vokoun was sold by Pittsburgh's championship prospects.
Does the signing of Tomas Vokoun jeopardize Fleury's starting role?
“I really liked what [Shero] was saying," Vokoun said. "I like Ray personally, and I’ve known him for a long time. But Pittsburgh, it’s a great hockey city. It’s a great team. I’m happy to be playing in hopefully a winning environment.”
The veteran goalie has a career record of 287-284-78 (2.55 / .917) with 48 career shutouts, 36 of which have been earned in the seven seasons since the lockout. He posted a 25-17-2 record in his lone season with Washington, where a groin injury forced him to sit.
While the signing solidifies the team's goaltending depth for the next two seasons, it is in no way an indictment of Marc-Andre Fleury, who is and will remain the team's starter.
“Marc is a goalie who’s won a Stanley Cup," Vokoun said. "He’s played quite a lot of hockey. I don’t think he needs anyone to tell him what he needs to do."
Vokoun's signing is the first item to be checked off the list in what figures to be Shero's busiest summer as Pens' GM. Jordan Staal and Sidney Crosby will be eligible for re-signing on July 1. RFAs Matt Niskanen, Eric Tangradi and Brian Strait will be awaiting potential new deals, as will UFAs Sullivan, Arron Asham and Richard Park.
With so much on the team's plate—including hosting the 2012 NHL Draft in just a few weeks—taking care of backup goaltending duties was a good place for Shero and his team to start.
“It didn’t take too long to get a deal done," Shero said. "It’s good for both of us.”