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Goalie Talk: Is Vokoun Out? If Panthers Really Want to Rebuild, Yes

Vokoun3 The Panthers have one more week remaining in the 2009-10 season. Is this Tomas Vokoun's final week as a member of the Panthers?

Very possibly.

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

The Panthers have a pair of solid goalies at their AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., as 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 somewhere within the organization.

Jacob Markstrom, who was the 31st overall pick in the 2008 draft, has spent the past three seasons playing professionally in Sweden and should be under contract sometime 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 likely 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 game as well as the travel and heavier workload. Plante, Cheverie and Markstrom were all drafted by the Panthers.

“Our strategy of holding onto our draft picks and investing in scouting is paying off, especially at that position,'' said Sexton. “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 the playoffs.

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

Top end goaltenders like Vokoun don't make it to the free agent market very often, so to pick him up in a trade (and try and sign him to a long term deal) teams would likely 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 Florida's youngsters will turn into NHL starters much less a player of Vokoun's pedigree.

Goalies traditionally take a long time to develop, with Florida goalie coach Robb Tallas pointing out that Team USA goalie Ryan Miller played in the AHL for three seasons before finally taking over in Buffalo. That said, the Panthers do like what they have in the system and the franchise has a history of good goaltending starting with picking up John Vanbiesbrouck in the 1993 expansion draft.

“I'm not a big believer of forcing younger guys in,'' Tallas said. “There's a long maturing process. We want them to be comfortable so we develop them the right way. You see so many guys come up, have a great first season and then the second is a struggle. Then it's a struggle to find their game.''

Clemmensen has been one of a few players to improve his stock in the final month of the season.

“A coach's confidence in a player, especially a goaltender, is directly related to winning games,'' coach Pete DeBoer said on Saturday. “Are you part of the problem or part of the solution? Clemm has been part of the solution around here the past handful of times he's played. That's important.''

Said Clemmensen: “After the break I wanted to make sure whatever chance I got, I would make the most of it. Even though it's late in the season, every game means so much to me.''

-- The Panthers sent center Jeff Taffe and winger Mike Duco back to Rochester on Sunday. Winger Gregory Campbell is expected to return from his broken foot on Tuesday against Ottawa. Byron Bitz (elbow) and Victor Oreskovich (lower body) have also been out and could return.