NEW PLAYERS 8
NEW RULES HELP
BETTER THAN '03-04? YES
Goalie Tomas Vokoun finally accepts that he can't prevent the last goal, only the next one. "This game is based on 18,000 people cheering when the puck goes in your net," Vokoun says. "You have to be free of thinking, What should I have done?" Vokoun is free now, with the help of medication, of the obsessive-compulsive disorder that slowed his NHL progress. Vokoun, whose OCD was diagnosed in 2002, no longer minds if the grass on his lawn is not uniformly cut or if his car has a scratch. At least he doesn't mind as much. Instead of the constant fretting he used to do, he now has a certain insouciance. In a league that seems to have a new "it" goalie every season-- Anaheim's Jean-S�bastien Gigu�re in 2002--03, Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff in '03--04--the confident 29-year-old is the most likely candidate to join the goaltending elite.
"We don't make the playoffs [in '04] without Tomas, and we don't feel the way we do today about our team without Tomas," says G.M. David Poile. "Everybody in hockey has been envious of New Jersey for 12 years because, with Martin Brodeur in net, they have a chance to win every night. That's what Tomas does for us."
Actually, Vokoun outplayed Brodeur in the 2005 world championships, backstopping the Czech Republic to the title, his first as a professional. "Nothing replaces winning," says Vokoun, whose athleticism will be even more evident now that goalie equipment has been shrunk. "You play with the comfort of having done it."
His job should be made easier by a defense that has added robust veteran Danny Markov, reducing the stress on a group of 22-and-unders-- Dan Hamhuis, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber--that could dominate the NHL by the end of the decade. If Nashville develops a true No. 1 center, Vokoun could be part of playoff runs this season and well into the future. As goalies coach Mitch Korn puts it, "Tomas is in a good place right now." --M.F.
Terrific skill and speed make this a team you want to watch.... Marek Zidlicky will become a top-scoring defenseman.