Pittsburgh got proactive instead, trading for the rights to pending unrestricted free agent Tomas Vokoun and signing him to a two-year deal worth $4 million on Monday. The Penguins shipped a seventh-round pick to Washington for the rights to negotiate with Vokoun.
Vokoun, 35, spent just one year with the Capitals, who landed the veteran netminder last summer for short money, signing him to a one-year deal at just $1.5 million. It was lauded by many as one of the shrewdest deals of the offseason, but Vokoun wasn't quite the difference maker the Caps had hoped for.
He was solid enough with a 25-17-2 record, 2.51 GAA and .917 save percentage in 48 games that were in line with his career numbers of 2.55 GAA and .917 save percentage over 680 games. But Voukon suffered a groin injury late in the season that gave youngster Braden Holtby a change to take over for the postseason. Holtby then guided Washington to an upset win over the defending Cup champion Bruins in the first round and helped Washington push the top-seeded Rangers to seven games in the second round.
With Holtby's emergence and the presence of Michal Neuvirth, the Capitals had no interest in bringing Vokoun back for another season.
Pittsburgh, however, definitely wanted an upgrade in goal behind overworked starter Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury, who has three years remaining on a seven-year, $35 million deal, matched a career high with 67 games played last season, and has played 62 or more in each of the last four seasons. That workload may help explain his struggles this year in the playoffs, when he had a woeful 4.63 GAA and a .834 save percentage in an opening-round loss to Philadelphia.
Vokoun's presence will give Pittsburgh the chance to rest Fleury a bit more, and may also serve to push the talented netminder who has led the Penguins past the first round just once since winning the Cup back in 2009.
Vokoun replaces Brent Johnson, who played just 16 games last season while battling injuries and was 6-7-2 with a 3.11 GAA and .883 save percentage, a notable decline from his first two years in Pittsburgh. He played 23 games in each of those seasons, going 13-5-3 with a 2.17 GAA and .922 save percentage in 2010-11.
Johnson and Brad Thiessen, who played five games for Pittsburgh this past year, are among this summer's weak crop of available UFA goalies that is heavy on experienced backups like Scott Clemmensen, Martin Biron and Alex Auld, but light on legitimate No. 1 netminders.