It came as a surprise to a lot of people around the Washington Capitals and the NHL on Friday afternoon when Tomas Vokoun revealed that he would not be starting the season opener Saturday night against the Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center.
To Vokoun’s agent, it was not only a surprise but it also could be “perceived as a slap in the face.” Allan Walsh told The Washington Times in a telephone interview Friday night that his client was “very disappointed” by the decision.
“He was told he was coming into Washington as the No. 1 goalie,” Walsh told The Times. “They were very public in their comments about that. … There’s a certain symbolism attached to who starts the first game of the season at home. It doesn’t mean he’s not a No. 1 goalie. But this can certainly be perceived as a slap in the face.”
Vokoun on July 2 signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the Caps, turning down a similar offer from the Detroit Red Wings, who wanted the 35-year-old to back up Jimmy Howard. The expectation was that he would be “the man” for the Caps and that Michal Neuvirth — now the opening-night starter — would be the backup.
Boudreau, who did not want to comment Friday about starting Neuvirth, has said since mid-July that Vokoun deserved the respect of the starting label.
“Tomas is No. 1, but we’ve got a No.1A,” Boudreau said Sunday after the preseason finale. “Training camp, you got guys that come in that deserve the respect to be where they were, and Tomas has earned that.”
Neuvirth impressed in the exhibition season with a 1.34 goals-against average, while Vokoun put up a 3.26 GAA. But, Walsh said, the preseason is about getting ready for the regular season — a season he and Vokoun expected would begin with the veteran between the pipes against the Hurricanes.
Vokoun could be seen walking around Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Friday afternoon with his two daughters and other family members whom Walsh said flew in from all over for the occasion.
“All around the league, the No. 1 goalie on teams is starting opening night,” Walsh said.
Except, apparently, for Vokoun, who will watch from the bench as Neuvirth does the honors.
“It certainly feels like a slap in the face to be told today he won’t start in net in that game,” Walsh said.