The Tampa Bay Lightning were coming into the 2023-24 season on thin margins when it came to their goaltender situation. Andrei Vasilevskiy was anticipated to be the workhorse as always, but for the first time in a while, the Lightning are not coming into the season with a proven backup to give him a rest.
The bigger what-if scenario to cause panic was what if Vasilevskiy got hurt?
But while Vassy was Plan A, one has to assume the Lightning is working on Plan B.
As Triple H once said, there’s always a Plan B.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Hello, old friend
In case you didn’t know, the Tampa Bay Lightning were $63 billion over the salary cap in 2021. The Bolts cheated to invest in cryogenic therapy to reinvigorate Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Bobby Orr. They signed them to maximum deals to create the greatest team we have ever seen.
Or something like that.
As we know the actual story, Nikita Kucherov had surgery right before the season and was placed on Long Term Injured Reserve prior to that season. Players on LTIR don’t count against the salary cap, and once the playoffs begin, there is no salary cap.
Also, when Chicago used it to their advantage, Tampa was one of two teams to try and close that loophole after the 2015 Stanley Cup.
Funny how things come back around.
Based on projections, Vasilevskiy will come back in the middle of the season, so this is not an apples-to-apples situation.
But Julien BriseBois could use LTIR to grab a veteran rental while waiting for Vasilevskiy to get healthy.
Last year’s backup, Brian Elliott, is still a free agent and has not formally retired. Jaroslav Halák, who last played for the New York Rangers, is in the same boat. Aaron Dell is currently on a professional tryout deal with Columbus, while Martin Jones will probably get placed on waivers by Toronto trying to sneak him to the AHL.
Tampa could also opt to stick with Jonas Johansson, Hugo Alnefelt, and Matt Tompkins.
Johansson is the only one of the three with NHL experience. Alnefelt had a solid year with Syracuse last season, and Tompkins spent last season in Sweden and looked great in Wednesday’s preseason game.
We have a feeling there is going to be a bit of a goaltender by committee until Vasilevskiy gets back. Ultimately, the Tampa Bay Lightning need just one guy to go on a Louis Domingue-like run and hold the fort down for two month, or the Lightning could find themselves in such a deep hole even when Vassy comes back, it won’t matter.