NHL Free Agency: 8 Reasons Tomas Vokoun Made the Right Choice in Washington

Ryan DavenportContributor ISeptember 21, 2011

NHL Free Agency: 8 Reasons Tomas Vokoun Made the Right Choice in Washington

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    When Tomas Vokoun elected to sign a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals worth just $1.5 million, it shocked the hockey world.  

    That's because Vokoun was widely considered the best goaltender on the market entering Unrestricted Free Agency and there were a number of teams in search of help in between the pipes.  

    However, instead of pursuing Vokoun, teams like Phoenix and Colorado went for younger goaltenders, with the belief that they'd be more affordable than the veteran Vokoun.

    With Vokoun still without a contract on July 2nd, the Capitals were able to snap up the talented Czech stopper and ink him to a deal that has to be considered the best bargain in the league at this point.  

    Since we already know that it makes all the sense in the world for Washington, here are eight reasons why Tomas Vokoun made the right choice by signing with the Capitals.  

8. He Has the Chance to Earn His Big Payday Next Summer

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    Over the course of the last four seasons, Vokoun has made nearly $23 million in salary while playing for the Florida Panthers.  

    Unfortunately, the Panthers never qualified for the postseason during Vokoun's time in South Florida and with the team clearly in rebuilding mode, they didn't see a reason to spend top dollar on a veteran goaltender.  

    So, Vokoun left town in search of either more money or a better opportunity to win hockey games, and he found the latter with the Washington Capitals.  

    The deal he signed with Washington is perfect for Vokoun because it allows him to show the rest of the league (not to mention George McPhee) what he's capable of and in July of 2012, he could be signing a deal that pays him even more than his previous one.

    He's obviously worth more than $1.5 million, but Vokoun himself said that he doesn't need the money. He'll make up for it next summer anyways.  

7. The Opportunity to Mentor a Promising Young Fellow Countryman

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    Since Dominic Hasek began to show his age in 2006, Tomas Vokoun has been the Czech Republic's starting goaltender in all major international tournaments.  

    Now, at age 35, it's unlikely Vokoun will be the first choice in net for his country at the next Olympics (assuming NHL players are permitted to play), but as a Capital he'll have the opportunity to help groom his country's next elite goaltender.  

    Washington's Michal Neuvirth is the Czech Republic's most talented goaltender since Vokoun, and he could significantly improve his nation's chances at the next Olympics by mentoring the 22-year-old stopper.  

    Neuvirth has all the tools to be a starting goaltender at the NHL level, and Vokoun could help the promising youngster develop into the next leading man for both the Capitals and their country.  

6. The Chance to Contend for the Cup Doesn't Come Often

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    Since cementing his status as a full-time starting goaltender at the NHL level in 2002-03, Tomas Vokoun has played a grand total of 11 Playoff games.  

    That's largely because he's been the best player on a number of bad Florida Panthers teams and mediocre at best Nashville Predators squads.  

    Either way, at this stage in his career, Vokoun has already demonstrated that he's capable of being an All-Star calibre goaltender during the regular season, but he hasn't had the opportunity to play for teams that have the talent to do any sort of damage during the playoffs.  

    In Washington, he has the chance to play for a team that's not only capable of contending for a Stanley Cup, but also expects to.  

    Nothing short of a Conference Finals appearance will be considered good enough for this Capitals team, which is a big reason why Vokoun decided to take a big pay cut in order to join this group.    

5. He Doesn't Have to Be a Savior

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    With Nashville and Florida, in order for Vokoun's team to win games, he usually had to outplay the goaltender at the opposite end of the ice, as the skaters in front of him weren't exceptionally talented.  

    In Washington, Vokoun doesn't need to be his team's best or most valuable player every night, he simply needs to make the saves expected of him, because the Capitals are loaded with talent from top-to-bottom.

    The Capitals have the skill and speed to outscore their opposition on a nightly basis, and if Vokoun performs anywhere close to the level that he has in Florida for the last four seasons, Washington will run away with the Eastern Conference title in the regular season.  

    While there are high expectations of this Capitals team, he won't face the same level of pressure individually, which is a welcome sight for a goaltender who hasn't had much help in front of him for far too long.  

4. The Chance to Show the Panthers They Shouldn't Have Let Him Go

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    On July 1st, the Florida Panthers decided to let Vokoun walk and signed Jose Theodore to a two-year deal, handing the slightly younger but more inconsistent French Canadian the keys to their franchise.  

    Though the team reportedly made multiple offers to Vokoun in the days leading up to the opening of Unrestricted Free Agency, they made it clear that they would not be willing to continue to pay Vokoun over $5 million a season to remain a Panther.  

    That left Vokoun scrambling to find a new home on July 2nd, and while he signed for much less than his initial asking price, he'll have the opportunity to show his former team and new division rival what they gave up on at least six times in 2011-12.  

    Both the Panthers and Vokoun's agent believe the Czech net-minder wanted to remain a Panther for the rest of his career and there's no better way for him to exact revenge on his former team than to help the Capitals capture a fifth straight Division title, leaving the Panthers to wonder what could have been.  

3. The Defense Corps in Front of Him Are Far Better Than He's Ever Had

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    While the signing of Vokoun obviously bolstered Washington's defensive game, it's not as if the team wasn't already stocked with talent in their own end.  

    On the blue line, the team boasts a pair of emerging stars in 2011 All-Rookie Team selections John Carlson and Karl Alzner, who have developed into the Caps' top pairing very quickly.  

    In addition, the Capitals have one of the best offensive rearguards in the game in two-time First Team All-Star Mike Green, and added a marquee shot-blocker in Roman Hamrlik via Free Agency this summer. 

    To round out the team's top-six, the Capitals have former 50-point man Dennis Wideman and Jeff Schultz, so Washington now has one of the most formidable defensive groups in the league.  

    They'll limit the opposition's chances, so Vokoun won't have to make nearly as many difficult saves as he's become accustomed to in Florida.  

2. Vokoun's Regular Season Workload Will Allow Him to Focus on the Playoffs

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    In Washington, Tomas Vokoun will obviously be the number one guy in net, but he does face some considerable competition from fellow Czech native Michal Neuvirth and 2010-11 rookie revelation Brade Holtby.  

    Though they'll certainly push Vokoun, the two young stoppers will likely be of more help to him than anything, as they will each make his workload in the regular season more manageable, allowing him to stay fresh for the Playoffs.  

    Neuvirth, coming off a season in which he set the Capitals' franchise record for wins by a rookie, will probably start at least 20-25 games in Washington, as the team wouldn't risk stunting his development.  In addition, Holtby, who sported a sparkling 10-2-2 record last season, could earn somewhere around ten games with the big club, leaving somewhere between 45-55 games for Vokoun.  

    That's an ideal number for a 35-year old goalie like Vokoun, as he'll play enough to be more than prepared for a long playoff run, while keeping his body fresh for the rigors of the postseason.  

1. Vokoun Could Win a Cup in June, and Sign His Last Big Deal in July

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    If all goes to plan, Vokoun could parlay his first deep postseason run into his final big-money contract the following month, which is a chance the two-time All-Star couldn't pass up on.  

    Washington has all the pieces in place to make a deep playoff run in 2012 and if they win a Stanley Cup, Vokoun's value as a starting goaltender will be higher than ever.  

    As things stand today, there will be at least three or four teams in search of help in net next summer and Vokoun will be an even more desirable option than he was in 2011, if he can help Washington advance beyond the second round of the playoffs.  

    It wouldn't be impossible for Vokoun to remain a member of the Capitals beyond 2012, but he'll have his choice of suitors if Washington meets or exceeds expectations this season.  

    There would be no better way to show the other 29 clubs in the league what they passed up on in the summer of 2011 than by winning a Stanley Cup in the summer of 2012.