Bad Romance: The Saga of Tomas Vokoun

Photo credit: Patrick McDermott

Tomas Vokoun got all dressed up for 2011 summer free agency, put on his glittering career numbers and his solid veteran history and waited for a dancing partner. It didn’t go as planned.

He watched his old team hook up with a new French Canadian flame, watched the Philadelphia Flyers fall all over themselves for Ilya Bryzgalov and the Phoenix Coyotes chase a tall dark unknown. Somehow, at the end of all the frenzy, Vokoun was left without an offer.

Left with few options, Vokoun agreed to a mercenary marriage of convenience with the Caps, an embarrassingly cheap, $1.5 M one-year deal. The Czech veteran got to play on what should have been a contending team and get his name back out there; the Caps got an apparent upgrade in goal. Everyone wins, right?

Wrong. The loveless arranged marriage quickly went sour, and abruptly came to an end today as the Caps traded Vokoun’s rights to bitter rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he promptly signed a two-year deal. How could things have gone so wrong with a goaltender who could been the MVP? Let’s take a look.

October 8, 2011 – Opening Night

Photo credit: Toni L. Sandys

Fast forward to Tomas Vokoun’s first game in a Caps uniform. While the Caps appeared to have a very talented tandem of equally matched goalies, as the unofficial 1A goaltender Vokoun was within reason to expect that he would be playing that game. Which was why he flew his kids in, from Florida.

To watch him sit on a bench.

His family did not make the move with Tomas, he left them back in Florida for the year, and while $1.5 million is certainly enough money to fly them in again, the situation seemed mishandled and quickly took on a life of its own. Vokoun’s agent Allan Walsh told the Washington Times:

“He was told he was coming into Washington as the No. 1 goalie. They were very public in their comments about that. … There’s a certain symbolism attached to who starts the first game of the season at home. It doesn’t mean he’s not a No. 1 goalie. But this can certainly be perceived as a slap in the face.”

December 5, 2011 – The Return of Vokoun

(Photo credit:

Then there was the Panthers game on December 5th. Another one of those rare opportunities — Vokoun got tickets for his family so that they could come to see him play. It was expected that he would, even the Panthers’ website had a splash page with his face plastered across it — but once again Vokoun sat on the bench. Once again his family watched someone else in net.

February 1, 2012 – Seriously is Someone Doing This On Purpose Now or What

Then came the second away game against the Panthers in Sunshine, Florida. Surely now Vokoun would get that start, right? Nope. Michal Neuvirth was in net, and while using both your goaltenders for back-to-back games is almost a must, it was puzzling to see Neuvirth play in Florida and Vokoun the night before.

Vokoun’s family has had plenty of chances to see him play over his 14-year career, and I’d bet he is not sensitive enough that this kind of decision would have sent him sulking to his room. Still.

February 22, 2012 – Drama

Photo credit: Andre Ringuette

Vokoun had a bad slide at the end of February, getting pulled two games in a row. Things came to a head after a game against the Senators in which Vokoun let in four goals on eleven shots. “They jumped on us, (Tomas) would like a few of them back,” Hunter admitted, when asked about Vokoun’s game. “He wasn’t as sharp as he should have been, and it’s in the back of our net. We need some big stops early, that’s part of the game.”

Allan Walsh fired back, releasing a statement about Hunter’s comments:

I’m not going to comment directly on what someone may have said after a game. I will point out though that hockey’s great coaches throughout history never resorted to publicly singling out a particular player, blaming him for a loss. Where I come from, you win as a team and lose as a team. The oldest, most tired excuse in the book is to blame the goalie.

No effort was made not to fight in front of the kids.

March 3, 2012 – Attack of the Groin

Photo credit: Patrick McDermott

Tomas Vokoun first went down with a lower body injury in late February, which was later revealed to be a groin strain. As if the romance weren’t already dying.

He appeared to recover from the strain enough to make it back onto the ice six games later, but it was enough for Michal Neuvirth to get his foot in the door again — and by the end of March, Vokoun was out of the lineup again, having re-aggravated the groin injury with two attempts to return before it was entirely healed. This time the injury seemed to be worse, characterized as a “groin tear” and requiring a lot more rest. The regular season closed with Vokoun on the bench, with his goaltending partner Neuvirth also injured and the team rallying around rookie goaltender Braden Holtby.

For the first time in five years, Tomas Vokoun’s team was in the playoffs. He did not play a single game.

  • Wow. Well, when you put it THAT way…

    Another excellent writeup.

    I guess we knew he wouldn’t stay. Just, why did it have to be Pittsburgh…

  • Vokoun came to Washington thinking he was entitled to the number 1 spot, his mentality was just not right from the start. He should know more than anyone that being a goalie in the NHL is extremely hard and competition is very strong. The fact that the Caps had a stable of young goalies in the system foaming at the mouth for their shot at the starting job made things more difficult for Vokoun. He is 35, Holtby and Neuy are both in their early 20s and both are NHL caliber goalies. At the end of the day, Vokoun needed to be more humble and he ran out of luck when injuries struck. Thanks for the effort Vokoun but we have bigger issues to deal with than a 35 year old pretending to be Brodeur.

  • And you just KNOW he’ll win the Vezina next year. Because the hockey gods hate us that much.

  • bellka

    Vokoun was the best goalie available on the market at the time and Capitals were in need of a solid veteran goaltender. I am sorry, I was not counting on the “early 20s” goalie to carry us through the season. In fact, I had no good reasons to count on the young goalie. Somehow this season Caps managed not to fully use the great assets they had. Too bad. I hope Vokoun does well in Pittsburgh, it clearly did not work out with Washington.

  • serpent

    Volks is a talented vet who got on the hockey gods sh*t list. I wish him all the best, just not in the Pitts!

  • roadworrier

    Look forward to seeing Vokoun mop up after Flower gives up 4 goals in a period. Not quite what TVo was expecting, I’m sure.