As you may or may not know, Tomas Vokoun is in a contract year. His current deal, which pays him $6.3 million this season with an annual cap hit of $5.7 million, is set to expire come July 1, 2011. This is his fourth season as the Florida Panthers starting goalie and most likely his last.
Through four games this season, Vokoun is 2-2 with a .952 save percentage, a 1.26 GAA and two shutouts, which is good enough for fourth place for save percentage and goals against, and first for shutouts in the league.
The 34-year-old Vokoun seems to be on a mission to prove that he still has some bright years ahead of him and to give teams a reason to take a chance on him when July rolls around. Although it is only four games, his numbers from last season also seem to indicate that he still has some solid years left in this league.
In 63 games, he had a .925 save percentage, 2.55 goals against average, and a career high seven shutouts. In fact, every season in the NHL he has had above a .900 save percentage (with the exception of 1996-97 when he played one game for Montreal), and his highest GAA in his career was his rookie season when it was 2.95 in 37 games with the Predators (again, minus the 1996-97 year, when his GAA was 12.00, he gave up four goals in one period).
In 579 NHL games so far, Vokoun is 242-241-35-36 with 40 shutouts, a .916 save percentage and a 2.55 GAA, making him a very solid goalie throughout his career and one that is notorious for giving his team a chance to win every night. He was the bright star in an otherwise dull sky for the Panthers last season.
So why, you ask, would an organization want to get rid of a goalie like him? The first and foremost answer is a kid named Jacob Markstrom. A native of Gavle, Sweden, the young Markstrom is the future for the Florida Panthers.
He was selected 31st overall in the 2008 Entry Draft and has played exceptional at the world stage, backstopping Sweden to a silver medal at the 2009 World Junior Championships, a bronze in 2010 at the WJC, and a bronze in the 2010 World Championships as well.
Markstrom has also proven that he can play at an elite level by posting a .927 save percentage and a 2.01 goals against average, leading the league in both categories all en route to winning the Elitserien rookie of the year for 2010, where he played for Brynas IF.
With Markstrom now down in the AHL for the Rochester Americans (where he is currently 3-3 with a 3.34 GAA and an .891 save percentage), it’s only a matter of time until he gets adjusted to the North American game and should see some starts for the big club. If team brass is impressed with him there would be no reason to delay the Markstrom era and Vokoun would most likely be traded at the deadline in favor of the rookie.
Scott Clemmensen is also more than capable of assuming the starting role for the remainder of the season if Markstrom can’t handle the full load, but expect Markstrom to be starter come opening day 2011-12.
Vokoun’s current play is another reason why he may find himself out of Sunrise. So far this season he has been remarkable, posting great numbers (.952 1.26) and two shutouts, and through four games, has himself among the league leaders in multiple categories. Considering his history, it's not out of the question that Tomas keeps this kind of play up the entire season, especially because he is in a contract year.
It may sound odd trading away an elite goaltender but Vokoun has a rising stock if he can continue playing the way he his throughout his career. He is a steady goaltender that any team would be happy to have. With his contract expiring at the end of this season and no room for him on the roster, it would be a shame for the Panthers to let him walk.
If he were a RFA, they would at least get some compensation for him but since he is eligible for UFA it would be for the better if the Panthers received something for his services instead of letting him walk out of Sunrise with nothing to show for it.
Finally, if the team could manage a bona fide scorer or a solid top six forward and a draft pick for Vokoun, that would be more beneficial than keeping him. That’s not out of the question for the Czech netminder, especially if a team is in desperate need for a proven goalie for the playoff push.
The Panthers look to be a bit more dangerous than they were last season, but a proven scorer could help them take the extra step into the playoffs themselves. A scorer would be more beneficial to them because their D corps is already very solid this year and will only get better when some of the youngsters make the squad next year (like Erik Gudbranson) and they're set with goalies with Markstrom and Clemmensen.
Tomas Vokoun needs to stay with the Panthers only until management believes that Markstrom is ready to take over. A few months in the AHL and he should be ready to make his NHL debut and by the time the trading deadline rolls around he should be ready to assume the starting role, leaving room for Vokoun to be traded for a top forward that will ultimately help the Panthers in the long run.
Trading Vokoun is necessary for the overall good of the team, but he will be missed, and I wish him the best where ever he may end up.