In conjunction with my blogger brethren Adam Vingan of Kings of Leonsis, we present a point-counterpoint on which new member of the Washington Capitals in under the most pressure this upcoming season.  Adam thinks winger Joel Ward has a target on his back, I think it's veteran goalie Tomas Vokoun. 

Later this week we'll take a look at which veteran Caps player fits that description.  As always, your comments and debate are welcome in the comments section.  Which of the new Caps do you think is under the most pressure to succeed this season?
_______________________________________________

On the surface, it might not look like Tomas Vokoun has anything to prove. A ninth round pick in the 1994 entry draft, Vokoun, 35, has been proving himself his entire career. He has posted 262 wins in parts of 13 seasons in his NHL career with a robust .917 save percentage and 2.56 goals against average in 632 career games. Last season, playing for one of the worst teams in the league, he finished sixth in shutouts and tenth in save percentage, facing the 11th most shots of any goaltender. Not bad for the 226th overall selection in 1994 -- it must have been a deep draft.

Vokoun has been the best player on some pretty bad teams his entire NHL career, toiling in Nashville from 1998 to 2007, then backstopping the mostly woeful Florida Panthers for the last four seasons. His 11 career playoff games can attest to the lousiness of the teams he's had to play for. He's tasted glory representing his homeland of the Czech Republic, guiding them in World Cup play and two Olympics, but he's never had the chance to play for a championship on any level. Presumably, the plan is to rectify that this season.

The microscope will not only be on Vokoun the player, but also the very idea that the Caps (finally, in some eyes) went out and acquired a "No. 1 goalie". Since Olie Kolzig left the organization as a player following the 2007-08 season, the Caps relied first on Jose Theodore, but quickly turned to their pair of homegrown baby goalies, Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth. When GM George McPhee traded Varlamov to Colorado in July, McPhee announced they were perfectly happy going into the season with Neuvirth -- who carried this team much of last season -- and Braden Holtby, another raw, but extremely talented, home-schooled netminder. But then, Vokoun fell into McPhee's lap during the free agency period, accepting a much-below market one-year deal to join the perennially contending Caps.

Vokoun automatically becomes the No. 1 goalie in D.C. His experience, reputation and success in the league on poor clubs dictates that he'll be "the man" between the pipes this season, with Neuvirth garnering 20-25 starts and Holtby learning to control his emotions and honing his craft in Hershey, under the tutelage of the former player he most resembles -- Kolzig -- back in the fold at Kettler as the newly appointed Associate Goaltender Coach. But playing time is not assumed. Vokoun must keep Neuvirth and Holtby at bey while being a mentor and leading the team, all at the same time.

The Capitals are past the expectation phase of their development with the fan base and around the league. McPhee made significant changes to the lineup, adding grit and strength -- especially on the wings -- and this team now has the label of "Stanley Cup or bust" tattooed on their foreheads. Vokoun not only is under pressure to perform and succeed for his current employer, but at 35 years of age, Vokoun will be auditioning for what will most likely be his last good contract next off-season. A Stanley Cup would certainly be the crowning achievement on his resume and whether he is to stay in D.C. or take his services elsewhere, a long playoff run could add a zero to the end of the salary portion of his contract.

1 comments

  1. capsrockva // August 14, 2011 at 4:36 PM  

    I would agree that it's gotta be Vokoun