The story of how elite goaltender Tomas Vokoun was signed by the Capitals to a one-year deal at the astoundingly low price of $1.5 million is about timing (bad for Vokoun) and dumb luck (good for Washington).
Vokoun was without a team when he offered himself and his bargain-basement price to the Capitals after other teams looking for goalies in the free-agent market made their signings.
Those teams include the Lightning, which July 1, the day free agency opened, inquired about Vokoun, who with a 2.55 goals-against average and .922 save percentage was one of the few reasons the sad-sack Panthers were competitive last season.
With those numbers, Vokoun's price must have been high, certainly more than the $3 million Tampa Bay spent on its one-year deal with Dwayne Roloson.
But a funny thing happened. The goalie market dried up.
Credit an already tight market squeezed more after the Flyers, before free agency began, signed Ilya Bryzgalov for nine years and $51 million, the kind of deal Vokoun would have liked.
Then the Coyotes lured Mike Smith away from Tampa Bay with a two-year, $4 million deal. The Avalanche traded for Capitals goalie Semyon Varlamov, and the Panthers, knowing they would lose Vokoun, signed Jose Theodore for two years, $3 million. And just like that, teams were set in net.
That is when Vokoun, 35, approached Capitals general manager George McPhee, who after dealing Varlamov was ready to play next season with Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby.
Why Washington? Because, Vokoun said, he wanted a chance to win the Stanley Cup.
Told McPhee should have bought a lottery ticket that day, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman said, "He didn't need to. He already won the lottery."
Even so, Yzerman said he has no regrets he signed Roloson, who will be 42 next season but was so good for the Lightning in 2010-11. "When we have to make our decision, he's the best option," Yzerman said. "I like Roli. He's a battler, and when we need him, he'll be there for us. We're happy with our decision."
WHAT'S LEFT? With Smith's departure, every player Tampa Bay received from the Stars in the February 2008 trade of Brad Richards is gone. But follow the permutations. The trade over the long haul helped Tampa Bay land a couple of pretty good players: defenseman Eric Brewer and right wing Teddy Purcell.
The original deal: Richards, MVP of the Lightning's 2004 Stanley Cup run, and goalie Johan Holmqvist for Smith, forwards Jussi Jokinen and Jeff Halpern, and a 2009 fourth-round draft pick.
Smith, an unrestricted free agent this year, left with no return, and the draft pick went to the Wild for negotiating rights to Brian Rolston, whom Tampa Bay could not sign before the 2008 free-agent period, so no return there.
Jokinen was traded in February 2009 to the Hurricanes for Wade Brookbank, Josef Melichar and a 2009 fourth-round pick that became part of a March 2009 deal that sent goalie Olaf Kolzig and defenseman Jamie Heward to the Maple Leafs for defenseman Richard Petiot.
Brookbank and Melichar are no longer with the organization, and though Petiot was signed this month as a free agent, his in-between stint with the Oilers takes him out of this discussion.
Halpern in March 2010 was traded to the Kings for Purcell and a 2010 third-round pick that turned into defensive prospect Brock Beukeboom, who last season was traded to the Blues in the deal for Brewer.
So, that's it: Brad Richards for Brewer, the cornerstone of the defense, and Purcell, a budding star. Was it worth it?
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]