It is a common belief that accumulating the most talent you can at any position is a good thing, particularly in net. Having a 1-1a situation in goal is an envied position to be in, but it brings its own set of problems. Keeping two goalies happy who are used to being starters is difficult. It becomes even more difficult when you throw another goalie into the mix, and that very unenviable position is where the Lightning are about to find themselves.
Mike Smith has been cleared to play. Since his injury, the Lightning acquired Dwayne Roloson through trade, and he has repaid them with a 4-3 record, including two shutouts against the Washington Capitals. For the time being, GM Steve Yzerman has sent Smith to the Norfolk Admirals of the AHL on a conditioning stint. By rule, this conditioning stint can only last 14 days. At that time, the Lightning will have three viable, NHL caliber goalies to handle.
One of the three will without a doubt be moved. Every previous situation like this has ended in disaster, whether it was in Detroit, Washington, or anywhere else. In Washington, the end result was franchise goaltender and fan favorite Olaf Kolzig signing with the Tampa Bay Lightning, severing connections with the Capitals on a very sour note after the team spent two months with three goalies.
Hopefully it will never come to that, but one of the three goalies will need to be moved soon to avoid that conflict. Having Smith in the AHL buys the team some time, but once he comes back things must happen quickly. The longer the process is drawn out, the more it is a damper on the team and the locker room. Never, ever underestimate the effect of morale on performance, and morale will be affected by this.
Now the question becomes, which goalie do you move? It likely won’t be Roloson because he was recently acquired and is just starting to find a consistent game. That leaves Dan Ellis and Mike Smith. There seemed to be w market for Ellis over the summer, but his numbers this season have taken a downturn. His SV % is down from .909 last year to .884 this year, and his GAA is up to 3.07 from 2.69 last year. Granted, he was playing in a much stricter defensive system with the Predators last year, but not many teams are going to want to take on those numbers, even if his cap hit is only 1.5 million dollars.
Which brings us to Mike Smith. His numbers aren’t any better than Ellis’, with a SV% of .883 and a GAA of 3.20, and his price tag is higher at 2.2 million. However, his contract ends after this season, which may make him attractive trade bait to some teams. Teams will be able to see through his numbers for what they are: a goalie who is solidly average, but is too often put behind a defensively sloppy team.
He or Ellis could make a good backup for a team looking to take some pressure off their starter. The fact the Smith is less of a commitment may make him more marketable, but the Lightning should look to add defensive depth with whoever they trade. They probably won’t be able to get much, but it would be a much bigger problem to keep all three goalies for an extended period of time. Yzerman should use these two weeks of Smith’s conditioning stint to test the waters and try to make a deal. If no deal can be made, he can always put one on waivers en route to the minors, but clearly the best outcome would be to get some return back for one of them. With a three-way rotation between the pipes, no one wins.