The last two days for Washington Capitals’ general manager George McPhee have been, in a word, phenomenal.  On July 1, McPhee took advantage of a relatively inexperienced general manager in Colorado, fleecing him in exchange for promising goaltender Semyon Varlamov – a deal that was both the best (for the Capitals) and the worst (for the Avalanche) of free agency’s first day.

Not content to rest on his laurels, McPhee also managed to score the biggest victory of July 2.  While most of the focus was on the signing of Brad Richards to a nine-year contract by the New York Rangers, McPhee inked the top available free agent goaltender: Tomas Vokoun, a perennial NHL leader in save percentage and one of the most grossly underrated players in the game today.  More impressive than the signing was the dollar figure – McPhee was able to land Vokoun with a one-year contract paying a relatively paltry $1.5 million.

Those who have read me for a while know that I hold Vokoun in extremely high regard.  Prior to free agency I made a case for him being very comparable to Ilya Bryzgalov as the best free agent goaltender; I think the whole article remains pertinent but given that he’s signed in Washington, the most relevant part has to be in regard to his performance in ‘clutch’ situations.  After all, there’s bound to be someone out there who views this as a team that never wins anything signing a goaltender that never wins anything.

Here’s the key segment:

[H]ere’s a comparison of the playoff success enjoyed by Vokoun and Bryzgalov:

Player GP W L SV%
Ilya Bryzgalov 24 12 10 0.923
Tomas Vokoun 11 3 8 0.922

First off, it is worth noting that neither of these goaltenders has had a chance to really show us what they’re capable of in the post-season, and as others have shown us, that matters.

Beyond that, I don’t see much to choose from here.  Sure, Vokoun’s win/loss record is uninspiring, but let’s remember the context.  He’s played in two playoff series:

  • As a member of the Predators versus the Detroit Red Wings.  The Red Wings were heavy favourites, and won every game in which Vokoun didn’t make at least 41 saves (something he did twice in the series).  In fact in games in which Vokoun’s save percentage was 0.920 or better, his record was just 0.500.
  • As a member of the Predators versus the San Jose Sharks.  The Sharks were heavy favourites, once again.  Tomas Vokoun made 30+ saves in three of the five games in that series; he lost all three.

The guy has won world championship gold on two occasions, posting a 0.953 SV% the first time and a 0.944 SV% the second time.  In 46 games representing his country at the Olympics, World Championships or World Cup, Vokoun has gone 29-14-1 with a 0.929 SV%.  To suggest that he doesn’t have the mental ability to handle a playoff run is asinine.

After today, at least, nobody should question Vokoun’s commitment to winning.  I can’t imagine how many years and how many dollars he left on the table to sign in Washington, but there is no shred of doubt in my mind that he gave up a lot.  When a franchise-calibre talent like Vokoun signs a one-year deal for almost the same money as Mathieu Garon, it means only one thing: he wants his name on the Stanley Cup.  That sort of sacrifice is incredibly admirable.

As for George McPhee, he’s done something truly remarkable: upgraded his goaltending, shed payroll, and somehow added first and second round draft picks that have the potential to be lottery selections in the process.  It’s a rare thing to see a general manager knock down so many priorities during a time when most are signing middling players to no-trade contracts heavy in both dollars and years.