A strange thing happened to Tomas Vokoun on his way to a fat new contract via NHL free agency.

It never materialized.

The Brinks truck got hijacked.

The Swiss bank account number was canceled.

The golden ticket he was clutching got swept away by a gust of wind.

Instead, the veteran goaltender spent his 35th birthday Saturday scrambling for a job after the Panthers, his employer these past four seasons, decided they couldn't wait around any longer.

"I didn't want to receive a phone call from Tomas' agent on July 1 saying he had chosen to go somewhere else and we were left holding the bag," Panthers Assistant General Manager Mike Santos said Sunday on WQAM (560-AM).

Jose Theodore, two months younger than Vokoun and with significantly more playoff experience, was quickly signed as his replacement soon after free agency opened.

Theodore, bouncing to his fourth team in 38 months, gladly accepted a two-year, $3 million deal to hold down the job until highly touted prospect Jacob Markstrom is ready to take over in South Florida.

That could be a year from now. Could be two years from now. Could be midway through next season.