The Washington Times - July 3, 2011, 12:27PM

Free agents had dollar signs in their eyes going into July 1. With the salary cap and floor going up by almost $5 million, NHL teams had money to throw around. Tomas Vokoun certainly expected a big payday, too, as the best goaltender available.

That didn’t happen. His old team, the Florida Panthers, signed former Capitals goalie Jose Theodore. The Phoenix Coyotes signed Mike Smith. Then the Colorado Avalanche – considered the last team with a real need for a starter – acquired Semyon Varlamov from Washington.


So on Saturday morning, Vokoun’s agent, Michael Deutsch, reached out to the Capitals. Later in the day, they signed the 35-year-old – on his birthday – to a one-year deal worth $1.5 million, or significantly less than just about everyone anticipated.

“The money side, it’s not great, but I think the opportunity is unbelievable,” Vokoun said Sunday in a teleconference from his native Czech Republic. “Obviously it was disappointing day for me on July 1. For whatever reason I was in a bad spot, and Washington came in.”

With 31-year-old Ilya Bryzgalov off the market, signed by the Flyers for nine years and $51 million, Vokoun – despite his age – looked to be the best guy out there. Lack of interest from teams for big money and multiple years took Vokoun by surprise, given that he’s a veteran of 632 NHL games.

“Whatever the circumstance why it happened I don’t know. I think my level of my play was high for a long time,” he said. “I can’t control what happens on the market; I can only control how I play.”

Vokoun (22-28-5 with a 2.55 goals-against average and .922 save percentage for a struggling Panthers team last year) said getting stiffed won’t particularly motivate him or change his approach.

General manager George McPhee did not guarantee Vokoun he would be the starter – “I wouldn’t expect it if I was signing for 5 million,” the goalie said. He’ll split duties in some way with Michal Neuvirth but could very well be counted on as the No. 1 guy.

The Panthers had two different three-year offers on the table for Vokoun even after signing Theodore, but he wanted to “try something different.”

On the bright side for Vokoun, this is a chance he hasn’t gotten before – to compete for a Stanley Cup on a perpetual winner.

“It’s one thing I know I’m gonna have fun,” he said. “I’ve been on winning teams before, but nothing like Washington.”