A $2 Million Backup Goalie?
Ray Shero didn’t take long to make his first post-season move, trading for the rights to pending free agent goalie Tomas Vokoun, then signing the veteran to a two-year, $4 million contract.
Vokoun, a 25-game winner with the Washington Capitals this season, was acquired in exchange for a 7th round draft pick — a typical Shero-fleecing.
But why add a starting goalie to a roster that already has $5 million tied up in Stanley Cup winner Marc-Andre Fleury?
Obviously, there are several ways to look at this bold addition.
- Shero feels Fleury no longer is capable of being a starting goalie and has brought in Vokoun to replace him,
- Shero feels Fleury needs to be pushed in order to play to his maximum capacity, or
- Shero feels Fleury has played too much in recent seasons and would fare much better with a lighter work load.
Let’s make it clear: Fleury is not done. He’s not nearing the end of his career, as I have heard/read from some fans. His playoff performance was poor, but he was not the only problem in the Penguins’ first round upset loss.
But, there’s no doubt Fleury let his guard down and did not perform remotely close to expectations – and really hasn’t for quite some time. In fact, unless he’s being pushed by another goalie, Fleury tends to lose focus and his quality of play drops.
It was the case when Ty Conklin challenged Fleury’s starting role in the spring of 2008, before Fleury turned in one of the best stretches of his career following an ankle sprain.
It was the case last season, when Fleury started so horribly and Brent Johnson started so strongly that many called for a role reversal, before Fleury pushed his game to elite level for much of the season.
Vokoun represents competition. His history as a starting goalie – and a damn good one – will be a constant reminder to Fleury that the occasional (or frequent) lack of focus won’t be tolerated. It will serve as motivation to play well every time he is between the pipes.
And when he needs a break, well, in will step a proven goaltender who is more than capable of not only earning a win, but stealing one for the team.
Let’s face it, Fleury isn’t the elite goalie he was touted to be when the Penguins drafted him first overall. But he’s also not the record-setting terrible goalie we saw in the playoffs this spring.
He’s isn’t a minute-hog goalie who thrives the more he plays. But he’s also not a platoon goaltender.
Yet the threat is there, as Vokoun will want his fair share of starts, as well.
Fleury played in 67 games this past season, 65 in 2010-11, and 67 in 2009-10. That’s a lot of playing time for a goalie who plays his best with some breaks in his schedule.
While we won’t likely see a true platoon, it’s entirely possible we could see a split of 51-31 for the duo, with Fleury being the man heading into the playoffs.
Then again, continued poor play by Fleury and strong performances by Vokoun could make things interesting.
One thing is very clear, though: the Penguins now have one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL.