Tomas Vokoun chose to play for the Washington Capitals last summer because they afforded him the opportunity to start. A similar offer by the Detroit Red Wings did not, so Vokoun signed for one year and $1.5 million and went about trying to win a Stanley Cup.
It didn’t work out, and Vokoun accepted that it was only a one-year situation with the Caps. Now he’ll chase the Cup again, but in a lesser role with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Caps dealt the unrestricted free agent goaltender’s rights to Pittsburgh on Monday for a seventh-round pick in the draft later this month, and Vokoun soon after signed a two-year contract worth $4 million.
“I want to be in a team like I was in Washington when there’s winning atmosphere, you go into the playoffs and stuff like that,” Vokoun said, pointing out that he wanted the security of a two-year deal. “You never know what’s going to happen. I’m just going to look at it like I’m going to prepare myself the best way as I can. You saw what happened in Washington last year. So you just never know ahead of the time what’s gonna happen. In a month I’m 36 years old. I think it’s a good fit for me at this point.”
Vokoun, who missed the end of the regular season and the playoffs with a groin injury, declared himself healthy when everything was over. He went 25-17-2 with a 2.51 goals-against average and .917 save percentage.
In Pittsburgh, Vokoun will back up Marc-Andre Fleury, likely seeing something in the neighborhood of 30 games. Fleury appeared in 67 this past regular season before stumbling with a 4.63 goals-against average and .834 save percentage in a playoff series that was the worst of his career.
Fleury is the starter, but that won’t stop Vokoun from challenging him.
“I understand the situation. On the other hand you never know what’s gonna happen and who knows?” Vokoun said. “Pittsburgh’s just like Washington, a team who they want to win. It’s not about who’s [No.] 1 or what is his name. It’s who gives the team the best chance to win. Saying that obviously I know that Marc is young and he’s long-term and all that. But all that I can control is to prepare myself that when I get the chance to play so I play good and enjoy myself.”
The Caps were already set in goal with Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth, and this move was another expected step toward that end. Vokoun never saw this being more than a one-year fix and voiced appreciation for general manager George McPhee giving him the chance to look elsehwere before becoming an unrestricted free agent July 1.
“We all know what happened. We can’t control injury. I enjoy my time up there,” Vokoun said. “When I talk to George, George said even if my year went really well, then they wouldn’t probably be able to squeeze me under the cap. The way it went, I kind of figure they’re going to go with the young kids. It’s normal. It’s business, right?”
Vokoun could see the Caps up to four times next season. Facing his last former team, the Florida Panthers, he went 3-0-0 with two shutouts but he said there isn’t any special motivation moving forward.
“You go into every game you want to win. I had really good time in Washington,” he said. “Any game I ever suit up in NHL I wanted to win. It doesn’t really matter. If we win 5-4 it’s fine, if we lose 1-0 it’s not good. I’m just going to, if I get a chance to play, try to win the game.”