What if Vokoun Departs?

 Tomas Vokoun is thought by many to be the best player on the entire Florida Panthers roster. He's been a main fixture on the team since Jacques Martin made a huge splash in acquiring him at the 2007 Entry Draft from the goalie factory that is the Nashville Predators. He's a world champion netminder, constantly in the upper echelon of goaltenders every year and a fan favourite. While Dale Tallon has publicly stated he wants to re-sign the 34-year old Czech, one must ask, "What if Vokoun departs?"




 On the final leg of his 4 year 22.8 million dollar contract, Tomas Vokoun sits at a very pivotal juncture in his playing career. Dozens of factors will come into play ranging from money to winning to family when Vokoun and his agent Michael Deutsch sit down and talk contract-extension with the Panthers brass but the biggest factor of them all, rests with the General Manager, "For me, everything is about the big picture and what is best for the overall future of this franchise. " And with an aging netminder in an oversaturated goaltender market, Vokoun might be on the outside looking in on Tallon's mosaic.

  Then again this is a Panthers team who has had a .379 winning percentage over the last 4 seasons when Vokoun wasn't in the net, With Vokoun in the net they win every .486 times they play. This is a very grim figure, and it makes the thought of moving on without Vokoun very difficult. However grim, If a deal cannot be hatched before the deadline it is not out of the question that this season will be the last we see Tomas in a Panthers jersey. If Vokoun left, either by trade or free-agency what would be the plan going forward? 


Goaltending Prospects



Jacob Markstrom



Alexander Salak



Sam Brittain



Marc Cheverie



Tyler Plante



Sergei Gayduchenko




 Organizationally the Panther's are perceived to be rather deep in goaltending all the way down to the minor leagues. HockeysFuture, for example, considers Jacob Markstrom to be the franchises' top prospect and it is widely believed that Markstrom is the goalie of the future in Florida. Unfortunately the future might come a lot later than first expected. It has been little talked about in Panthers circles, but the 6'3 Swedish keeper has struggled considerably. It's not even an adjustment factor to the North American game that is stifling experts in regards to his regression, as in the SEL Markstrom's inconsistent play just two years ago had him backstopping Anders Lindback now the backup goalie for the Nashville Predators. Markstrom is still very young, but the trend of young talented Goaltenders making waves in the NHL is probably not realistic in Markstrom's case, at least for now. He'll likely require a few more seasons of development in the AHL where he's currently in the bottom of the league in most notable goaltending categories (41st in GAA and 31st in sv%, and this is out of 46 total goalies)-so with Markstrom not where he was hoped to be, and Tyler Plante (Florida's oldest and arguably most developed goaltending prospect) failing to impress as even Markstrom's backup (5-5 record for Rochester), much of the organizational hope going forward could reside in Czech free agent acquisition, Alexander Salak. This year Salak is posting comparative numbers in Elitserien to Markstrom's best season, and unlike Markstrom, Salak had played very strong in net leading the Americans to the playoffs as the starting netminder a feat that looks very challenging to match this season, albeit the team in front of Markstrom is younger. With Salak being 3 years older, and playing a very strong game in net it would not be unconceivable to see him leapfrogging the depth charts and finding his way into the Panthers roster next year if Vokoun were to depart. This wouldn't be the first time a goalie with a last name ending in -ALAK usurped the reigns of the future from a highly touted youngster. A very important factor to consider though, is that like Vokoun, Salak is currently playing for a new contract.

 What about Scott Clemmensen? For the second time in two years, Vokoun's backup is making a very strong arguement to get more playing time. In fact Pete Deboer has given the nod to the Iowa native, 5 out of the last 8 games, a surprising thought when you consider Vokoun's role with the team. While Scott has spent most of career as a backup for the New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs, he did serve as a very good temporary starting goaltender in Martin Brodeur's stead for 40 games where he posted a 25-13-1 record; He was very much an unsung hero. Last season was a tale of two different backups, during the first half of the season Scott compiled a dreadful .888 save percentage, but when he was finally given the reigns in 2010 starting in March, he would post a .933 save percentage over the 11 games he would play. It was an amazing turnaround that allowed Deboer's confidence to finally blossom with the 33 year old. This season while the wins have not been frequent (He's 4-5 in 9 GS) he is playing on par with the much higher paid Tomas Vokoun and continuing his great play. In fact their save percentage is identical and "Clemmer" is 13 points better in terms of goals against average. Good enough to have some fans wondering if he could handle a starter's schedule if the big Czech were to bid farewell. Given Clemmensen's ability and statistical output, the prospect of trading away Vokoun wouldn't necessarily be giving up on this years playoff aspirations, especially when Scott kept the devils in the hunt while his Hall of Fame partner mended.

 The disparity between goaltenders league wide is very small, in terms of talent and performance there are a lot of goaltenders both internally and externally that could fill a comparable role to what Vokoun provides and with the oversaturation of the market-at a lesser price. Even when you compare Vokoun to the worst statistical goalies in the league the difference in goal output is minimal. There are a number of free agent options available in the upcoming offseason with many notable goalies looking for a change of scenery that could potentially fill a void. In fact there are 8 starting goaltenders that need new contracts in 2011, and over 15 ranging from Peter Budaj to Jose Theodore that could potentially step in and play a big role on a rebuilding Panthers team. The available funds in terms of the subtraction of Vokoun's 5.3 million dollar salary should not go unnoticed either, this saved money could be used in resigning some of the blossoming stars we're now seeing, and potentially to add to the offense through offseason acquisition without breaking the self-imposed cap.

 Some might ask if there is even a market in terms of trading partners for Vokoun or if we face a situation similar in end result to the Bouwmeester saga in that we'll hold onto our asset without getting a fair return, and the answer is this, the market is oversaturated but there are viable options. The problem of a fair return relies heavily upon how dire the situation gets for these teams that are poking around the tires of qualified goaltenders. Contending teams like Washington, Chicago, Philadelphia and even San Jose have suspect keepers, and two months of play could vastly change the market, especially if another teams starter goes down for a prolonged period or if their goalies just aren't meeting expectations. With only a $1,256,452 cap hit come trade deadline, Vokoun becomes very moveable if the right situation comes along-meaning the organization isn't handcuffed in formalizing a deal with him as the options increase.

 Goaltending is too sporadic and the disparity between goaltenders all the way down to lesser leagues is minimal. Think back to the beginning of the season, who were deemed the league's best netminders? And the worst? In todays NHL, goaltending should not come at a premium, and this is trending as we're seeing goaltending salaries continue to plummet each offseason. Life without Vokoun would be tragic, especially for the fans, but it wouldn't be the end of the world. There are a myriad of options, and because of this, negotiations with the Vokoun camp per a contract extension are certainly in Tallon's favour. Whatever happens in the next few months regarding the star of the team, one thing is for certain, each time the puck drops at the start of a game, the Panthers net will not be left empty.

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