There are three sides to every conversation about the Tampa Bay Lightning: what they were, what they are, and what they will be. It’s only natural.
After all, we’re in an era of heavy transition, meaning, what the Lightning are is drastically different than what they were, and what they will be is yet several more steps ahead of what they are now.
At no position are the lines between past, present, and future more clearly drawn than between the pipes. And believe it or not, despite last year’s less than stellar results, things are improving.
What they were: It’s easy to forget just how atrocious the goaltending in Tampa Bay was in 2011/2012. Dwayne Roloson, bless his heart, not only lost the magic that led the Lightning all the way to the Eastern Conference finals in 2011, but he lost the ability to be even a below average #1 goalie. Roloson’s performance in 2011 was the driving force of the Lightning, but it had its adverse effects as well – it raised expectations disproportionately to what the team could ever hope to accomplish (remember, this was a team that had Brett Clark playing significant minutes).
2013 rolls around, and in comes Anders Lindback, a young goalie long on potential and short on experience. Lindback’s 2013 performance was an improvement over Roloson’s in the previous year, but it wasn’t nearly good enough. Lindback was streaky, to say the least. He had exceptional games and he had games that might best be described as tragic. You never knew which version of Lindback was going to show up – and there were a lot of versions.
What they are: Ben Bishop was brought into the fold at the trade deadline last season, and performed well. As opening night looms, it would appear Bishop has the inside track to the starter’s job, but Lindback will be given significant opportunities to wrestle it away from him. The big question is: will competition breed success?
If the Lightning have some surprising success this season, and are in the thick of a playoff race (or better) come trade deadline time, they do have the resources (if not the cap space) to go after a proven goaltender. Ryan Miller, for instance, is widely expected to be available. That said, such success would likely mean the Bolts are getting good performances out of one or both of their netminders.
Anders Lindback’s contract expires at the end of this season, so whatever happens, the experiment ends this year. Lindback has to show that he is an NHL starter, not simply that he can be an NHL starter. The value of potential is dwindling. If he hasn’t proven himself, the Bolts will likely try to move him on deadline day, particularly if they have some faith that one of their AHL netminders can provide relief for Ben Bishop. If Lindback performs well this year, all bets are off, and your guess is as good as mine.
What they will be: Andrei Vasilevski (there are multiple spellings out there – I’ll go with this one). It’s pretty clear at this point. Vasilevski has done nothing but shine since the Lightning drafted him (and before), and many believe that he, already, is the best goaltender outside the NHL. Keep in mind, the KHL is regarded as the second best league in the world. He’s likely facing stiffer competition there than he will in the AHL.
That said, Vasilevski is a long-term project, so you shouldn’t be looking for him to solve the Bolts’ problems any time soon. He’ll spend at least a year in the AHL, probably more, before he gets promoted to the NHL, and then he’ll have to pay his dues as a backup. Keep in mind he’s still just 19 years old. Goalies are typically 23-26 before they finally win an NHL starting job.
With Vasilevski so far down the pipe, we bring our attention back to the two netminders already on the roster. And we hope for the best. It’s very hard to predict what will happen because we still don’t know the whole story on either of these goaltenders. No one does.
And there are so many questions.
Q: Who will get the most starts in Tampa Bay?
A: My guess? Bishop.
Q: Will Tampa Bay’s goaltending be good enough to win them a playoff spot?
A: After realignment, making the playoffs this season is a tall order. Even if one of these goalies plays the entire season on his head, it might still not be enough.
Q: If one goalie wins the starting job, is the other traded?
A: Pretty tricky again. If Lindback beats the odds and wins the job, Bishop will probably be moved. I’m not sure what happens in the opposite situation, because this might be Lindback’s last chance. If he fails, his value will plummet.
Q: Is goaltending Tampa Bay’s worst problem?
A: Honestly? I think the biggest problem with this team is a lack of leadership. Last season, they were beginning to accept the fact that they were going to lose most nights. So they lost most nights. Goaltending needs to be improved, but it’s the team’s mentality, their culture if you will, that is the biggest problem.
All that said, let’s take a deeper look inside the two men who’ll stand guard in the Lightning crease this year. If nothing else, it should be interesting.
Welcome to the third installment of the Tampa Bay Lightning season forecast: Goalie Edition.
(Listed numerically… / Stats listed W-L-OTL-GAA-S%)