Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Another Article About José and His Signing

Been There, Done That: The Jose Theodore Saga
By Bill Whitehead

Newly acquired Florida Panthers goalie Jose Theodore knows all too well about the current goalie market. It’s about as kind to money-seeking netminders as a Steven Stamkos one-timer on the power play. He also considers himself lucky to be a Panther, knows what former teammate Tomas Vokoun is going through and understands his role.

“What I’ve been looking for is consistency, and I’ve had it the last few years,” Theodore said last Friday at BankAtlantic Center. “The last two years in Washington we had a great team. My last year in Washington I felt really confident.”

Theodore, now 34, expected to cash in on a big payday after going 30-7-7 for the President’s Trophy-winning Capitals in that final season in DC. He ended the regular season strong, posting a 20-0-4 mark, but he was pulled in Game 2 and never returned as the Caps were upset by Montreal.

Surely the body of work he authored in the regular season would outweigh the quick, disappointing postseason showing and guarantee him a hefty contract, right?

“I thought when July 1 came I’d get offers as a No. 1 guy, but you could see the way the market was going,” said Theodore, who signed with Minnesota last season to back up starter Niklas Backstrom. “Sometimes the offers are not coming. Last year was a great opportunity for me to show people that you can put me on any team and I can do my job. I finished with a winning record (15-11-3). I just want to show people what I’m capable of doing.”

The goaltender market did change for the financial betterment of one player, former Phoenix Coyote Ilya Bryzgalov. The Philadelphia Flyers, plagued for years by schizophrenic play in net, signed the 31-year-old Russian to a nine-year, $51 million deal. Writer Frank Seravalli of the Philadelphia Daily News reported last week that the Flyers began floating goalie Sergei Bobrovsky out on the market after signing Bryzgalov, but there were no bites. A similar situation faced Vokoun, whom Theodore played with in 1996 in Montreal and Fredericton of the AHL.

“You could see what happened to Vokoun,” Theodore said. “My take is what happened to him right before. If you get available on July 1 as a No. 1 goalie, you’re looking for No. 1 goalie money, just like I was when I had 30 wins and seven losses. Then the teams start signing guys at $1.5 (million), 1.2, 1.6, and the next thing you know there’s no opening.

“From what I could see, after July 1 I was just wondering where would Tomas go. Philly had Bryz. All the teams where he had a chance to go — Denver, Phoenix — they all signed goalies. So you’re like, ‘Well, he’s a great goalie, really a top goalie, but if there’s no room there’s no room.’ I was kind of surprised. It just seems like now a lot of guys are getting signed for 1.5 or 1.7.”

When faced with his second July 1 free agent decision almost two weeks ago, Theodore didn’t hesitate. The 2002 Hart and Vezina trophies winner said he wanted to play in Florida, where his parents vacationed in nearby Boca Raton, and contacted his agent about the possibility of playing in Sunrise.

“When July 1 comes, a lot of times it’s a gamble,” he said. “You have a quick call and it’s like take it or leave it now or they’re going to sign another guy. You can’t wait for the next offer. I know for myself that when Florida called, that was my No. 1 choice. That’s the truth. I told my agent, ‘If you can make something happen with Florida, forget the rest.’ It was my No. 1 choice.”

Ultimately, Theodore said he expects to play well, and his numbers over the past four years in the NHL have been strong — 105-56-15. Also, he realizes his mentor’s role with young Swedish goalie Jacob Markstrom, the Panthers’ highly touted phenom who is recovering from a knee injury.

“Markstrom’s a top prospect. And like I did with (Semyon) Varlamov and (Michal) Neuvirth in Washington, I’m a team guy at the end of the day. And if I can help these kids out to have a good career and show them a trick here and there, I really enjoy that part of the game now at that point in my career. I’m looking forward to meeting him and just trying to help him the best I can. If he can be dominating for the next 10 or years, perfect. I’m looking forward to meeting the kid.”

If a Florida fan were arguing as to who might be the most important piece of the possible/potential postseason puzzle that GM Dale Tallon has been assembling, a convincing discussion might center around the Laval, Quebec, native and his right-handed catching success between the pipes. Without it, Florida likely won’t get very far. With it, the Panthers could be playing meaningful games in late March and maybe in April, too.

But for right now, let Jose Theodore enjoy the moment. He’s just happy to be here.

By Bill Whitehead
NHLHS Florida Panthers Credentialed Correspondent
Twitter: @BillWhiteheadFL

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