The Vokoun Effect
By Greg Moshopoulos @GreekGoalie35
Some of you in middle Tennessee tortured yourselves with another listless performance by the Titans on Sunday and are counting down the days until April, hoping against hope that your team doesn’t draft another 1st round bust of a quarterback. While you were wallowing away in what the future held for soon-to-be ex Titans’ QB Jake Locker, former original Nashville Predator, and fan favorite Tomas Vokoun called it a career at age 38.
The official retirement of the Czech net-minder left only two players still in the league from the inaugural Preds—-Kimmo Timonen, and the franchise’s first ever draft pick David Legwand.
“Evil Knievel” as color commentator Terry Crisp often referred to him as for his frequent wandering away from his crease, perhaps embodied the spirit of the underdog Predators better than anyone. Vokoun was taken in the ninth round (which doesn’t even exist anymore) of the 1994 draft by the Montreal Canadiens. He made his NHL debut on February 6, 1997 for the Habs at the fabled Spectrum in Philadelphia…..and promptly gave up 4 goals on 14 shots before being pulled. He spent the majority of that season and the following year with AHL affiliate Fredericton before being unprotected in the 1998 expansion draft where his career would change forever.
He was the last of 5 goalies the Predators selected in the expansion draft, thought to be nothing more than a developmental prospect at the ripe age of 22. It didn’t take long for him work his way up and by November 7th, he made his Nashville debut. Unfortunately, this debut was no better than his first, giving up 5 goals on just 21 shots in a 5-3 loss at Vancouver. One could hardly blame Vokoun if his confidence was at its lowest point after getting another crack at the NHL. However, Vokoun finished the season on the expansion Preds with a respectable .908 sv% in 37 contests. In his first four seasons, Vokoun never won more than 13 games, but as he and the rest of the team matured, he would win no less than 25 games the next four years, and made this song as popular as any in Music City.
Entering their sixth season of existence, the Predators had finally built a foundation strong enough to start thinking about the playoffs. They snuck into the post-season as the 8th seed with a roster that included blue-liners Shane Hnidy, Brad Bombadir and Jason York. They would face the Detroit Red Wings who were the measuring stick of the NHL for a decade. With no salary cap at the time, the Red Wings would spare no expense every year to win the Stanley Cup, and succeeded in doing so 3 of the previous 7 years. Keep in mind that the current-day salary cap is $69M, the Wings’ payroll that season was $77.8M! The Preds’ payroll….. $21.9M… or just barely more than double what Nicklas Lidstrom made. Logically, nobody expected the small market Nashville franchise to give the mighty Wings any competition. Though the Preds eventually lost the series in 6, Tomas Vokoun carried the team and became a hero in Music City. His .939 sv% in the playoffs led the league, giving up only 12 goals in 6 games, including a 41-save shutout in game 4.
Amazingly, Vokoun would only register one more playoff victory in a Preds sweater as a blood clot in his hip forced him to miss the 2006 playoffs vs the Sharks, and an uninspired team was ousted in 5 games the following season, also at the hands of San Jose. This also marked a sad end to his career in Nashville as the team began a fire sale of cost-cutting moves under the infamous ownership of Craig Leipold, leading Vokoun to be traded to Florida for three draft picks. It was an anti-climactic end to a successful run with the Preds, as he finished with 161 victories while posting a .913 sv%. Vokoun would eventually go on to finish his career with 300 victories, 2nd only to Dominik Hasek amongst Czech goaltenders, and ahead of legendary names like Eddie Giacomin, Bernie Parent and Ken Dryden.
Vokoun himself stated that he’s proud of what he’s accomplished during his career as he steps away from the NHL with dignity. Nobody can argue that Vokoun helped put the Predators franchise on the map. So for all of us here in Smashville…. Tomas…… we say thank you. Your body of work will remain in Predators lore forever.