Friday, July 1, 2011
Will Tomas Vokoun find opening with Caps?
By Scott Burnside
As we watched the Washington Capitals send former starter Semyon Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche for a first- and a second-round draft pick, we were reminded of a visit we made to Washington not long before the 2007-08 trade deadline. Veteran netminder Olaf Kolzig was struggling under new head coach Bruce Boudreau's run-and-gun style, and we asked GM George McPhee if he was thinking of trying to upgrade his goaltending at the trade deadline.
McPhee was emphatic he was not.
At the deadline, however, the Caps' GM picked up Cristobal Huet from Montreal, and Huet was splendid down the stretch in helping the Caps win the Southeast Division.
McPhee was likewise emphatic in recent days that in spite of contract issues with Varlamov he was not interested in trading any of his three promising young netminders.
Things change, though, and Varlamov will now get a chance to be the starter in Colorado where, at this point in time, there isn't much in the way of competition.
McPhee has said Varlamov would have had the same chance to outplay last year's starter, Michal Neuvirth, and Braden Holtby, who might be the best of the three, when training camp started in September.
Now it's a moot point, as the Avs hope they've solved their goaltending woes not just for next season, but for the future, as well.
McPhee got a good return for a player who has been prone to injury and was threatening to go back to the KHL, if the Twitter buzz was at all accurate.
Now the question is whether McPhee turns over the goaltending reins to youngsters Neuvirth and Holtby -- which is the Caps' company line as of Friday afternoon -- or takes the opportunity to bring in a top veteran netminder like, say, Tomas Vokoun after another disappointing playoff run for the Caps this past spring.
Certainly the free-agency goaltending landscape took a right turn when Varlamov went to the Avs, who were thought to be one of a handful of teams that would take a run at Vokoun, the top free-agent netminder on the market.
When the Florida Panthers, Vokoun's old team, signed Jose Theodore to a two-year deal early in the going Friday, that seemed to close the door on a return to Florida for Vokoun, who turned down the Panthers' last offer on Thursday.
And when Phoenix signed Mike Smith to a two-year deal at $2 million a season, that seemed to close another door to Vokoun.
"I'm really excited," Smith told ESPN.com Friday afternoon.
He and his wife are expecting a child on July 15, their first, so the security of a two-year deal was important.
"But the opportunity to play was the most important," Smith added.
The former Dallas Stars prospect will reunite with head coach Dave Tippett, and Smith said he's also looking forward to working with goaltending coach Sean Burke, who helped Ilya Bryzgalov become a Vezina Trophy nominee.
Bryzgalov signed with Philadelphia after his rights were acquired by the Flyers before the draft.
"I feel like I could follow in his footsteps," Smith said.
Also on Friday, three other teams filled their goaltending needs when Josh Harding (Minnesota), Brian Boucher (Carolina) and Peter Budaj (Montreal) all signed.
One wonders, though, whether a door will open in the nation's capital before all is said and done.