Leafs Should Pursue Vokoun
With news of Roberto Luongo requesting a trade from the Vancouver Canucks, and the Tampa Bay Lightning deciding to explore other options for a starting goaltender, rumours of the Toronto Maple Leafs pursuing the 33-year-old goaltender have heated.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie, however, mentioned that the Leafs, as of now, are not believed to be interested.
Assistant general manager Dave Nonis has made it clear that the Leafs intend on acquiring a veteran goaltender this summer with James Reimer and Ben Scrivens expected to battle for the back-up role.
So, if not Luongo, which goaltender may the Leafs acquire?
Enter Tomas Vokoun.
The 36-year-old goaltender recently declined an offer from the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. Vokoun expressed a desire to play in the National Hockey League and is reportedly willing to play as part of a goaltending tandem.
With that in mind, general manager Brian Burke should be gearing up to sign Vokoun at all costs on July 1. While he is three years older than Luongo, he also doesn’t carry a mammoth contract as if he is an unrestricted free agent. Obviously the issue with acquiring Luongo is that the Leafs would have to take on a contract that runs through the 2021-22 season. The cap-hit is a reasonable $5.33-million and the last three years can easily be bought out, but that’s still another seven years, which is a large commitment for a team that is somewhat littered with lucrative contracts.
It should be noted, however, that Luongo ranks seventh in save percentage among goaltenders to play in 50 or more games since the lockout. He registered an impressive .919 save percentage during that span. Vokoun, meanwhile, ranks fifth with a .921 save percentage.
While it is unreasonable to expect Vokoun to sign at a measly $1.5-million cap-hit as he did with the Washington Capitals last summer, the Leafs could probably acquire the veteran if they’re willing to pay him in the $4-million vicinity. If Vokoun is indeed willing to play as part of a goaltending tandem, then Reimer will be provided with ample opportunity to rebound from a sub-par sophomore season. Relieving the 23-year-old goaltender from the pressure of being a number-one in Toronto could aid his development, too. If Vokoun is signed to, say, a two or three year deal, the Leafs will have an idea whether Reimer is the goaltender of the future or simply a reliable back-up. With Luongo, the Leafs would have to stick with him for at least seven years and if Reimer, or even Ben Scrivens, grab the reins as the starting goaltender than that’s a lot of money towards the salary cap for nothing---and the Leafs have experienced this aplenty with the likes of Colby Armstrong, Mike Komisarek and Matthew Lombardi essentially serving as dead weight.
Another unrestricted free agent that is an intriguing option is Josh Harding. The soon-to-be 28-year-old has played 117 NHL games---34 games is the most he’s played in a single season---and has a .916 save percentage, a 2.65 goals-against average and six shutouts. Nothing remarkable, but some believe he could thrive as a starting goaltender if given the opportunity. Personally, I’m not sure I’m OK with another experiment between the pipes. It’s in the Leafs’ best interest to acquire an established goaltender capable of instilling confidence into a young squad. Vokoun and Luongo can do that. Harding, if nothing else, could make acquiring one of the aforementioned goaltenders that much easier. The Lightning are believed to be searching for a young goaltender that could provide stability between the pipes for several years. Harding could be that goaltender. If the reports are indeed accurate, the Leafs will have one less team to worry about entering a bidding war---and the Lightning were believed to be the frontrunners for Luongo, so that could carry over to Vokoun as well.
The Leafs are not in a position to pick and choose, however, and if Vokoun signs elsewhere and Luongo is still on the trade block, Burke should do whatever it takes to have the veteran netminder don the blue and white. Despite some of the concerns listed above, such as that insane contract, Burke will have to swallow his pride if he wishes to finally end the Leafs’ playoff drought.
You stay classy, TCL.
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