Florida Panthers' Tomas Vokoun may become expendable


GEORGE RICHARDS

The Panthers have one week remaining in the 2009-10 season. Is this Tomas Vokoun’s final week with the team?

It could be.

With Vokoun and backup Scott Clemmensen, the Panthers have a solid 1-2 combination. But Vokoun is signed only through next season and is not expected back after that because he will command another hefty contract. Florida likes its depth in goal throughout its system, which also makes Vokoun expendable.

The Panthers have two solid goalies at their AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., where Tyler Plante has taken over for Alexander Salak after he sagged following a hot start.

General manager Randy Sexton confirmed Saturday that the team is negotiating with University of Denver goalie Marc Cheverie and could have him signed and in training camp to compete for a spot in the organization.

Jacob Markstrom, the 31st overall pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, has spent the past three seasons playing in Sweden; he is expected to be signed this summer and be at training camp when it opens in September.

If the Panthers were to trade Vokoun — and his $5.7 million salary — they could bring in another veteran goalie to compete with Clemmensen and Markstrom in training camp. The Panthers would like Markstrom, 20, to start in the AHL next season to help him get used to the North American style of the game, plus the travel and heavier workload. Plante, Cheverie and Markstrom all were drafted by the Panthers.

“Our strategy of holding onto our draft picks and investing in scouting is paying off, especially at that position,” Sexton said. “Goaltending is clearly a source of strength for us. We have maturity with Vokoun and Clemmensen, and we have talented young goalies. They are big goalies. I’m a big believer in having big goalies.”

On Saturday, with Clemmensen in net for the third time in the past four games, the Panthers were eliminated from playoff contention.

Team management has said big changes are coming to the Panthers before next season, and Vokoun would draw plenty of interest from other teams during the offseason — although Vokoun would have to waive his no-trade clause, something he seemed agreeable to when he was being shopped at the trade deadline.

Top goaltenders such as Vokoun don’t make it to the free agent market often, so to pick him up in a trade (and try to sign him to a long-term deal), teams likely would be willing to give up quite a bit in return.

Although Vokoun is a known commodity as far as the Panthers go, there is nothing close to a guarantee that Florida’s young goalies will become NHL starters, much less a player of Vokoun’s pedigree.

http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/04/05/1563337/net-gain-but-vokoun-in-limbo.html