Goalie Vesa Toskala. (AP File/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
The Panthers acquired Vokoun from the Nashville Predators for three draft picks (a 2008 first-round selection, '07 second-round pick and conditional '07 or '08 second-round pick). Vokoun signed a four-year, US$22.8-million contract with the Predators prior to the start of last season but appeared in just 44 games due to a hand injury.
The surprising move helps undo what was a terrible mistake a year ago when the Panthers sent star goalie Roberto Luongo to Vancouver.
"Our staff felt (Vokoun) was one of the top five netminders in the National Hockey League," Panthers GM Jacques Martin said. "Whenever you can acquire a goaltender of his status that's already signed for four years, I think it really helps your budget and your planning.
"We really now with him in goal, the core of the defence that we have coming back, we're really establishing ourselves to move up in the standings."
The dealing of Vokoun continued a trend for the Predators, who've dealt their star goalie as well as winger Scott Hartnell and top defenceman Kimmo Timonen within a span of a week. That creates serious doubts that pending free agents Peter Forsberg and Paul Kariya will be back.
Owner Craig Leipold is tired of losing money and while his sale to Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie drags on, he's making sure next season's Predators won't cost too much to run just in case he's still in charge.
Chris Mason, who played in 40 games last year and posted a 24-11 record with five shutouts, takes over as Nashville's starter. He'll likely be backed up by Finnish prospect Pekka Rinne.
Vokoun and Toskala may not be the only goalies to move this weekend. The Anaheim Ducks, according to multiple sources, were shopping Ilya Bryzgalov on Friday, a day after re-signing starter J.S. Giguere to a $24-million, four-year contract.
The Leafs beat out Boston and Phoenix for Toskala's services, leaving the Bruins and Coyotes to find other options in their search for a No. 1 goalie. One is Bryzgalov, who has one year left on his deal for next season at $1.362 million after which he becomes an unrestricted free agent. He turned 27 on Friday.
The Ducks signed standout Swiss netminder Jonas Hiller on May 25 in a move that flew under the radar but he's got the goods to back up Giguere next season, making Bryzgalov available.
Another option for Boston and Phoenix is Minnesota Wild goalie Manny Fernandez, who became expendable when Nicklas Backstrom replaced him as the starter and signed a $6.2-million, two-year extension. Fernandez, 32, has $9.25 million left over the final two years of his contract.
"There are a lot of goalies out there," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli told reporters Friday.
John Ferguson no longer has to look for one after acquiring a goalie on draft day for the second year in a row. One year after trading with Boston for Andrew Raycroft, the Toronto Maple Leafs GM made another splash, reeling in Toskala from the San Jose Sharks - arguably the most attractive goalie available on the trade market this off-season.
"I think every player in the world wants to play in Canada at one point in their careers," Toskala told The Canadian Press in phone interview from his native Tampere, Finland. "The fans, the media, people live for hockey in that country, especially in Toronto. I'm actually very, very excited to take on that challenge."
And Toskala wasn't surprised when the phone call came.
"I was prepared for something to happen. I had thought that Toronto was one of the places I might end up. So it wasn't a shock.
"It's a big change though, coming from California to Canada, it's huge."
Forward Mark Bell also came in the deal for a package of draft picks: either a first-rounder this year or in 2008 (San Jose's option), a second-round pick this year and a fourth-round pick in '09.
The Leafs added some protection in case the Sharks chose the first-rounder in '08 - San Jose cannot take it if it's top 10 overall. In that case, they get an '09 first-round selection instead.
Toskala, 30, has one year remaining on a contract that pays him only $1.375 million. The Leafs hope to sign him to an extension sometime this summer.
Ferguson has been under immense pressure in his market to make a big move and he made a great one Friday. Toskala, 26-10-1 with a 2.35 goals-against average and .908 save percentage this past season. has long been viewed as a capable No. 1 goalie but had to share the net with Evgeni Nabokov in San Jose.
But Toskala wasn't ready to anoint himself No. 1 in Toronto out of respect to Raycroft.
"Raycroft is a good goalie, it'll be good competition," said Toskala. "I hope to see more ice time than last year, but you never know."
The clincher for Toronto getting the deal done was picking up Bell, who disappointed in San Jose last season and still has $4.5 million left on his deal for another two years.
Chicago and Calgary, meanwhile, made it official a deal struck late Thursday night, the Blackhawks unloading defenceman Adrian Aucoin and the $8 million that was left over the final two years on his contract as well as a seventh-round pick in '07 to the Flames for defencemen Andrei Zyuzin and Steve Marr. The deal required the veteran Aucoin to waive his no-trade clause.
The Flames needed to acquire a top-four defenceman because both Brad Stuart and Roman Hamrlik are expected to be lost to free agency.
"I'd rather have a player under contract than trying to negotiate a contract when you don't know what the marketplace is," said Flames GM Darryl Sutter.
Hawks GM Dale Tallon said with the development of his young defencemen led by Brent Seabrook, there was no longer room for the veteran Aucoin to play those kinds of minutes.
"Adrian needs to play 28-to-30 minutes a game to be successful and that wasn't going to happen with us next season," Tallon said. "And obviously there was a financial consideration in this deal."
Also on Friday, veteran forwards Mark Recchi and Gary Roberts, both slated to become unrestricted free agents July 1, re-signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Roberts signed a one-year deal worth $2.5 million, while Recchi's is a one-year deal with a $1.75 million base salary and a $250,000 bonus if the team makes the playoffs.
The Colorado Avalanche also re-signed forward Tyler Arnason to a two-year deal while the Ottawa Senators re-signed forward Dean McAmmond, 34, to a multi-year contract.