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.

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Photo credit: Greg Flume

The final day of media availability is often referred to by reporters as the longest day of the year — and probably the least enjoyable. The news about Dale Hunter deciding to go back to his digs in London created a lot of buzz, and stories were told– like about how Jay Beagle tried to put his skates on over his swollen, broken foot before Game Six. But the general mood was one of somber –- not surprising, given how close the team came to Eastern Conference Finals.

The Capitals have a handful of free agents to deal with during this offseason, but none of them are as high-profile or as controversial as Alexander Semin. Will he bolt for the riches of the KHL, sign with another NHL team –- or return to the Capitals? I didn’t expect a straight answer to the question, so we just talked about… well, whatever he wanted. That includes Hunter hockey vs. Boudreau’s open style, the success of Braden Holtby, and his ice time.

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Photo credit: Rob Carr

Dale Hunter is finished as the head coach of the Washington Capitals. Whether you think that is a good thing or a bad thing seems to be a 50/50 split. How fitting for a coach who played what J.P. called “coin-flip hockey.”

Hunter is being praised for bringing accountability and commitment to the Capitals. Shot blocking totals are evidence of that. But regardless of the invaluable cultural changes Hunter enacted in D.C., I think his leaving is for the best. Let me tell you why.

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Photo credit: Robb Carr

Dale Hunter played 872 games as a Washington Capitals player. He lasted just 74 behind the team’s bench.

“When I retired as a hockey player I had to retire because I was not that good anymore,” Hunter said with a laugh at his final press conference at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “But this was a tough decision.”

Hunter’s choice was not easy to make. But the reasons that ultimately lead him to make the determination seem clear. The 51-year-old former Caps captain is heading back to London, Ontario to rejoin his family and his empire. There, he co-owns the OHL’s London Knights with his brother Mark. The siblings run everything. Before taking over as Washington’s bench boss, he served as the junior club’s general manager and head coach, positions that his brother assumed in November. The team finished this season with a 49-18-1 record, winning the OHL championship. They now have a chance to take home the biggest prize in juniors, the Memorial Cup.

“I’m going home,” Hunter said Monday. “I’ve got a good thing going at home there and I’ll stay there.”

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Breaking: Dale Hunter Will Not Return as Capitals Coach

Per Nick Kypreos, Dale Hunter will not return as coach for the Washington Capitals next season. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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The Hangover: Some Questions for the Offseason

Photo credit: Paul Bereswill

Hey you: thanks for reading RMNB. Crazy season, right?

We started the year with our Winter is Coming promotional series. We documented a crazy winning streak, and then its astonishing decline. We said goodbye to one coach and hello to another. We saw gruesome injuries. We analyzed the Caps’ struggles at and before the trade deadline in our Capitals During Wartime series. We made posters and signs to pump up the fans and the team both. And we tracked the Caps as they made the playoffs by the skin of their teeth.

Yeah, we had exhaustive coverage this season, but there are so many questions left unanswered. Here are few we’d like to address this summer.

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Photo credit: Patrick McDermott

Photo credit: Mitchell Layton

The Capitals had they backs against the wall Wednesday in Game 6, down 3-2 in the series after dropping Monday’s game in heartbreaking fashion. For this team, during this year, that was nothing unusual. Their head coach was fired in November. They were on track to miss the playoffs late in the season. But they beat the defending Stanley Cup champions in the first round. And they just pushed the number one seed to a final, deciding game in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

“Everyone would like it to be smooth sailing all the time, but it’s just not the way it works around here and the way it works in the playoffs,” John Carlson, nestled in a corner of Washington’s locker room, told reporters. “I think everyone is paying the price for each other. I think everybody is sacrificing, doing what it takes, whether it’s playing, whether it’s not playing, whether it’s chipping the puck out instead of trying to stick handle, whether it’s getting the puck deep — everyone’s committed and knows when they look left, look right, look across that people want it. If you look in the playoffs right now it’s the best team teams. Teams that work together the best are most successful.”

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Photo credit: Chris Gordon

When Dale Hunter was first hired as Caps head coach, old-time fans of the team assumed #32 would bring his fiery nature behind the bench. Instead, Hunter has been cool, calm, and collected, rarely losing his composure or seeming visibly upset.

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Video: Joel Ward Scores Game Seven Overtime Goal

Photo credit: Brian Babineau

Joel Ward was a playoff hero for Nashville last year, leading the league in postseason goals at one point in the first round and ending with better than a point per game.

That grit and clutch goal-scoring was why General Manager George McPhee outbid a number of other teams to sign Ward in the summer to an expensive 4-year, $12 million contract.

In the regular season, however, things didn’t go as planned. Ward was benched one game for missing a meeting, scratched several games for poor play, and managed to tally just six goals. It was the worst offensive season of his career– though he spent most of it assigned as a fourth liner.

But Joel Ward’s play in the regular season isn’t what got him glory in Nashville. And it’s not what just put him in Capitals’ record books forever.

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Kanoobs celebrates his Game 5 goal. (Photo credit: Bruce Bennett)

After being scratched for the first three games of the Caps’ first round series against Boston, 39-year-old Mike Knuble was inserted into the lineup for Game Four and hasn’t been taken out since. The fan-favorite right wing even scored in the third period of Game Five to help the Capitals take a 3-2 lead in the series. Knuble has always been reliable for the Caps in the postseason — he’s scored 5 goals in 16 career playoff games for the Capitals and has 28 points in 57 career playoff games. The 16-year NHL veteran has also won a Stanley Cup and played in three Game Sevens, which is something not many players on the Caps roster can say.

So what should we expect to see in the deciding game on Wednesday? In an interview with DC101′s Elliot in the Morning, Knuble talks about Braden Holtby, tuning out the Bruins’ trash-talk, and Ovechkin’s limited ice time in Game Three.

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