Sorting out the Panthers' Goaltending: Tomas Vokoun

An area the Florida Panthers have always been strong in may lose some stability this off season, the organization may have to shift gears in their goaltending department as veteran starter Tomas Vokoun faces free agency. An anchor for the Panthers for the last four years, Vokoun has been a critical part of the team's success and consistently keeps Florida in the game when called upon. It may not be a difficult decision on how to address Vokoun; the club should try as hard as possible to resign him before attempting to move his rights, but we must remember that players have agendas of their own that may complicate negotiations. Motives behind this situation after the jump.

2010 - Tomas Vokoun 57 3224 22 28 137 2.55 1753 1616 .922 6

Tomas Vokoun- UFA, 34 years old, 4 seasons with Florida

Although his numbers dipped a little lower this year than those of his last few seasons, Tomas Vokoun is still an elite goalie in the NHL even though he has played with a not-so-elite team over the last 4 years. While with the Panthers, Vokoun has become one of the leagues best goaltenders putting up a very respectable .923 save percentage and 2.57 goals against average. For comparison, other elite goalies like Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres has put up marks of .917 SV% and 2.5 GAA, and Roberto Loungo of the Vancouver Canucks has put up marks of .920 SV% and 2.35 GAA over the last four years. The difference of course is that Vokoun does not play on a playoff team, meaning he could put up even better numbers with a contending team. Vokoun certainly has a market of teams eying him this off season. For Dale Tallon, this could be an advantage in negotiating with teams eager for a star goalie, or it could mean shelling out big money to keep Vokoun.

Why Tallon would resign Vokoun:

One of the most important building blocks for a cup winning team is a goalie with cup winning potential, something Dale Tallon did not exactly have when he joined the Chicago Blackhawks organization. I would be surprised if Tallon did not actively try to resign Vokoun, in his first year as the Panthers GM it should be apparent that his team needs Vokoun to succeed. At least for now anyways.

While many agree that prospect Jacob Markstrom is the Panthers future in goal, he still needs to gain experience on North American ice, and who better to mentor him then a 12 year veteran in Tomas Vokoun. Besides being an elite goalie that keeps the Panthers in games, Vokoun would undoubtedly be the best and most practical teacher for Markstrom or Tyler Plante. If Markstrom or Plante were to be promoted to the backup role for the Panthers next season, the team would still have the stability of Tomas Vokoun while giving the young goaltenders for a future starting role.

Why Vokoun would resign with the Panthers:

Vokoun has seen some rough times and heart break with his time with the Panthers, yet has never said he wishes to leave the team. Said Vokoun last off season after talks with Dale Tallon:

I came here with one goal and that was to make the playoffs here. And I haven't reached it. I don't like to leave with something you set to do and you didn't do it. So I definitely would like to stay.   (per Sun-Sentinel 6/15/10)Despite another difficult season (he finished with the second most losses in the league with 28) Vokoun was not traded at the deadline and reminded the press that he wished to stay with the Panthers. Just days after the deadline, Tvo had this to say:

You want to play in the playoffs. In a way, it is a little bit disappointing. But I like being here, too. It’s not like I asked to leave. I told them I’d like to stay. (per Miami Herald 3/2/11)

To add to the desire of Vokoun to stay, last season's coach Peter DeBoer was fired and the Panthers organization is searching for a new coach more compatible with the team's needs. With a new coach comes a clean slate and renewed hopes for a playoff spot, something that many fans argued DeBoer could not provide. Vokoun will hopefully give the new coach a chance and see how the new relationship works out. To Vokoun's luck, Dale Tallon has 40 million dollars to spend this offseason, meaning a lucrative contract could be in order to keep him in South Florida, especially if the contract is only for a few years.

Why Tallon would not resign Vokoun:

Although Vokoun is a crucial element to the Panthers success, one cannot ignore the fact that he has immense trade value for teams looking for a playoff caliber goalie. If negotiations to resign Vokoun go sour, look for Tallon to try and trade Vokoun at the Entry Draft for roster players or 1st and 2nd round draft picks. At the trade deadline, Vokoun did give Tallon three teams he'd be willing to waive his no movement clause and be traded to, meaning potential deals could be made to trade Vokoun. The possibilities of acquiring natural scorers and top draft picks might be the most important thing for Tallon when negotiating with Vokoun.

Though Dale Tallon has nearly 40 million dollars to spend, there is no guarantee that he is willing to throw big money to try to keep Vokoun. If Vokoun demands too much, Tallon may pass on him in order to keep as much money free for UFA signing day. Backup Scott Clemmensen is under contract for next year and has shown the potential to be a starting goalie, so there is not as much pressure on Tallon to keep Vokoun as a starter. Not to say we don't need Vokoun, but Clemmensen has shown he can take the reigns if Vokoun is not back for next season.

For whatever reason Dale Tallon might choose not to resign Tomas Vokoun, it seems very, very unlikely that he will simply let Vokoun walk scotch-free into free agency. Vokoun is too valuable of a player, and Tallon will not twiddle his thumbs as another Jay Boumeester incident unfolds.

Why Vokoun would not resign with the Panthers:

To put it simply, it may be now or never for Vokoun to win a Stanley Cup. Even for super optimists like me, not many realistically expect the Panthers to waltz into a playoff spot next season, and if the Panthers were to squeak in, don't expect a deep playoff run. All NHL players have the ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup, and for an elite goalie like Vokoun, time is often the limiting resource. If Vokoun wishes to increase his chances to win a championship, it may mean leaving the Panthers. Don't hold it against him if he were to leave, every player dreams of hoisting the cup regardless of what team they play for.

The trade-off for Panthers fans is a troublesome ordeal, should the team keep the one of the Panthers best goaltenders in franchise history or should Tallon try to get the best return possible for Vokoun? Vokoun has made it clear he likes Florida, but is now the time to go for broke and join a contending team? If Vokoun does leave by one way or another, the Florida Panthers organization will have to make huge decisions to address the tremendous hole he leaves behind, whether it means finding another free agent goalie or absorbing the shock within the team's talented but inexperienced prospect goalies. Tallon will have to execute his decisions carefully to keep his team's goaltending situation from unraveling in the absence of Vokoun.

Up next: Scott Clemmensen