Does Penguins goaltender Tomas Vokoun have another playoff run left in him? Vokoun sidelined for the past five months due to blood clots, has received full medical clearance to return to play and confirmed the news today following the Penguins practice this afternoon at the Consol Energy Center. “I’m medically cleared to do anything I need to do for my job,” Vokoun said. “I did tests before the break and everything seems to be fine”, he said.
The only thing standing in Vokoun’s way of returning to the lineup is getting into game shape and for a 37 year old goaltender who hasn’t played since June and coming off his type of health issues, there’s no guarantee’s. “You never know what will happen,” Vokoun said. “The team has shown interest in me coming back. I’m still a paid player under contract.”
Word began to leak just prior to the Olympics that the Penguins felt there was a chance Vokoun could return to the lineup as early as the first or second week in March after a couple weeks of practices under his belt. There is no salary cap for the post-season but Vokoun’s return would have implications on the salary cap for potentially the trade deadline and the rest of the regular season. Vokoun has been on long term injured reserve since the start of the season.
If Vokoun does indeed return in March, as anticipated by some in the organization, what happens with Jeff Zatkoff? Zatkoff signed a two year extension in December but is currently on a two-way deal. It would be difficult for the Penguins to carry three goaltenders in the regular season. Zatkoff will have to clear waivers to be sent down to Wilkes Barre/Scranton. Zatkoff, 26, is 9-2-1 with a 2.64 GAA and .909 save percentage. He has been a bright spot for the Penguins and has shown some promise where he will be a serviceable No. 2 goaltender for the next couple seasons, a reason the Penguins rewarded him with a one-way contract for next season and beyond.
If Vokoun continues on the right path and works his way into game shape, he immediately becomes the Penguins No. 2 goaltender again and suddenly Marc Andre Fleury will have to be looking over his shoulder again.
Those close to the situation tell me this about Fleury. One feeling is from a mental standpoint, Vokoun being out since September has been a very good thing for Fleury after the fragile state he was in over the summer. Fleury has without question received at least 10-15 more starts with Vokoun out and those I’ve heard from feel it’s been a big confidence builder for Fleury in that there’s been no threat for his job this season.
Vokoun’s return will add more pressure for Fleury, especially in the post-season, and It’s only going to be natural for Fleury to start looking over his shoulder after a bad playoff game or two. Bylsma benched Fleury in the first round vs the New York Islanders with the series tied 2-2 and never went back to him. It became known after the playoffs that Bylsma even strongly considered starting Vokoun for the start of the playoffs after Fleury had a shaky April where he went 5-4 and posted a .912 save percentage.
While Vokoun at 37 years old and not playing for eight-nine months will have to earn the coaching staff’s confidence back, he’s clearly a goaltender Bylsma has a lot of confidence in and that showed last post-season.
Is Vokoun’s return good for the Penguins but possibly bad for Fleury? That answer will come in the next couple months.