By Allan Muir
If Marc-Andre Fleury has somehow managed to ignore the pressure to rebound from last season's disastrous playoff performance, there's no avoiding it now.
Fleury will be without his partner, and safety net, Tomas Vokoun for 3-6 months while the backup keeper recovers from the effects of dealing with blood clots in his pelvis.
"[Vokoun] will be on blood thinning medicine," Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero said Wednesday morning. "During this time he's OK to workout and do everything except play hockey."
That's understandable given the danger posed by even a small cut when taking this type of medication.
"Right now, I'm not thinking about my career or playing hockey," a sullen Vokoun said. "I'm more worried about long-term health. I know where I stand [short term]. Three months is a minimum. After that I'll evaluate where I am."
While Vokoun will be fine in time, it's hard to read this as anything but a devastating blow to the Pens. Vokoun was regarded as the stabilizer, a fail safe if Fleury was unable to find his game. Now, Fleury will be asked to carry an even heavier load, with unproven rookie Jeff Zatkoff slotted into the relief role.
"I want to go with the goaltending we have here and see how we do," Shero said. Like anything, you’ll evaluate as you go. Since Tomas has been out, I know who every available free agent goalie is because I’ve gotten calls from their agents and other teams. Right now I want to go with this and see how we do. I want to give Jeff the opportunity, which I think he’s deserved."
It is a great opportunity for Zatkoff, who has posted solid numbers in the AHL, but he feels like a very short-term solution for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations.
Shero may be willing to let this play out through Christmas with the hope that Vokoun will be ready somewhere near the short end of the estimate. But if it looks like his recovery will require the full six months, the Pens will have to consider bringing in a proven veteran. There's not much available in free agency (sorry, Bryz), but Tim Thomas and Ryan Miller would seem to be obvious trade targets. Both players are in the final year of their contracts and have big game credentials, but neither will come cheap. The Pens would have to sacrifice one (or more) of their high-end defensive prospects to snag either of those players . . . and they may not be the only team in the market for goaltending help. Stay tuned.