The Washington Capitals will start Tomas Vokoun in net tonight, and hockey enthusiasts are in for a treat.
The offseason’s two biggest free-agent netminders, veterans moving from bad teams to Cup contenders while signing dramatically different contracts, will get a chance to show just who deserved the big bucks back in July.
Vokoun and Philadelphia’s Ilya Bryzgalov appeared poised to take the market by storm before free agency began, both having solid upsides and impressive numbers.
Vokoun had a slight statistical advantage over the course of his career—Bryzgalov was more youthful and had made the playoffs in consecutive seasons.
The Flyers appeared to have multiple options, including the possibility of signing the aging Vokoun to a short deal in order to preserve the team’s investment in backup Sergei Bobrovsky.
The team went a different direction entirely.
The Flyers traded for Bryzgalov’s negotiating rights before free agency began, signing the Russian netminder to a nine-year, $51 million deal and completely changing the face of Flyers goaltending for years to come.
Bobrovsky became instantly expendable and is expected to serve as trade bait sometime in the next few seasons. The heavy investment in an experienced netminder should have put the minds of Flyers fans at ease, but concerns arose when Vokoun signed with the Washington Capitals.
Fans were not concerned about the fact that Washington now had a capable veteran goalie—they were floored by the fact that Vokoun signed for one season at $1.5 million.
Nine years vs. one year. $51 million vs. $1.5 million.
Suddenly, the Flyers had overpaid, overinvested and overreacted to their own goaltending situation.
Since Vokoun’s signing, Flyers fans have debated the numbers of Bryzgalov’s contract and whether or not the team could have gotten a more franchise-friendly deal if they had waited for Vokoun.
Tonight’s game will be the first step in turning speculation into cold hard facts. Bryzgalov is slated to start for the Flyers, and Vokoun will find himself on the other end of the ice when the puck drops in the Wells Fargo Center.
Nothing that happens tonight will change the money, the years or the impact of either goalie’s contract. But tonight’s game will show just which team made the smarter call.
If Bryzgalov can stifle Washington’s impressive offense and hand the Caps their first defeat of the year, the doubters in the stands may take a step toward appreciating just what Bryzgalov will bring to Philadelphia for the next nine years.
If Vokoun leaves the Flyers scratching their heads, the questions will rain down immediately, planting the seed of doubt in the minds of some fans.
As if the head-to-head matchup isn’t exciting enough, both teams have offenses that have made goalies sweat in this young season.
Washington is second in the league in points-per-game, averaging 3.6 goals every contest. The Capitals are known to pepper the net with shots all game and will not hesitate to test Bryzgalov’s stamina.
Only one team outscores the fiery Capitals—the Philadelphia Flyers. Vokoun may not face as many shots as Bryzgalov, but thus far, opposing goalies have had trouble shutting down the likes of Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds and Matt Read.
These teams will meet three more times in the regular season and could face off in the playoffs as well. Each contest will deepen the rivalry, further establishing the passion of Caps vs. Flyers.
But for one night, all of Philadelphia will simply be thinking Vokoun vs. Bryzgalov.