The Pittsburgh Penguins have acquired potential free agent Tomas Vokoun from the Washington Capitals in exchange for a seventh round pick. The Penguins then immediately signed him to a two year deal worth $4 million dollars.
On the surface, this move seems to be a preemptive strike to shore up the backup goaltender position, as the Penguins stand to lose the long-serving Brent Johnson to free agency this summer. Vokoun ended up the third man in a three ring goaltending circus in Washington, as injuries shortened his season and allowed rookie Braden Holtby to emerge.
But if one digs a bit deeper, could this be a subtle sign that Pens’ management may have lost a bit of faith in current starter Marc-Andre Fleury?
Make no mistake, Marc-Andre Fleury came into the league with a lot of expectation, as he was selected 1st overall by the Penguins in 2003. However, he has followed up some sensational regular season records with some questionable playoff performances, most notably the last series against the Philadelphia Flyers. Fleury posted some of the worst goaltending stats in recent memory, as the Flyers upset the Penguins in six games.
While it is unfair to put the blame solely on Fleury’s shoulders, it appears as though the Vokoun signing may be designed to put an insurance policy in place. Let’s remember that Vokoun posted some pretty solid numbers as a starter for both the Nashville Predators and Florida Panthers. He was signed as the go-to guy in Washington before injuries derailed him last season. The guy is a workhorse in nets, having played an average of 60+ games a season over his National Hockey League career.
There’s no doubt that Fleury’s psyche may be a bit shaken after his last playoff performance, and there’s no telling which Fleury may show up this season. While no one will doubt Fleury’s ability when he is on his game, it is the times he is off his game which may be causing the Penguin brass to at least take out the Vokoun insurance policy.
This signing will have one of two reactions to Marc-Andre Fleury. He could crumble knowing there is another goalie ready to push him for the Number 1 spot between the pipes, something he has never really experienced in his Pittsburgh career. The other effect could see Fleury realize that he needs to develop the weaker parts of his game and he will rise to the occasion, becoming more reliable in goal than he has been.
The sentiment among many Penguin fans is that this current Pittsburgh roster should have won more than one Stanley Cup by now. While there are a number of factors that play into their lack of postseason success in recent years, one must cast at least a look towards Fleury when looking to allocate the blame. He simply has to be better than he has been in recent playoff runs.
Hopefully, the presence of Vokoun will push Fleury to reach his superstar potential. There is no denying Fleury’s talent. If it doesn’t, it could mean the beginning of the end of Fleury’s Pittsburgh career.