Heading into the 2019 offseason, the Tampa Bay Lightning looked to have their NHL goaltending situation figured out. With starting goaltender Andrei Vasilevski coming off a Vezina trophy-winning season and backup Louis Domingue rejuvenating his career, there seemed to be little reason to make a change.
Despite this, general manager Julien BriseBois made a
Besides signing McElhinney, Tampa Bay also added Scott Wedgewood, Spencer Martin and Zachary Fucale in free-agency. These depth goaltenders were needed after both of their AHL starters departed the franchise during the 2019 offseason.
Now the Lightning finds their AHL goaltending on the polar extreme of where they stood before free agency, going from no AHL options to an overabundance of talent. This leads to the question… what are they going to do with these players?
Lightning Sorting out the Backup Role
With the signing of McElhinney, the Lightning
If a trade doesn’t happen though, BriseBois may be hoping to sneak McElhinney through waivers at the end of training camp in order for him to take over the starting role for the Syracuse Crunch. While he would be unlikely to clear waivers, this gamble is a low-risk, high-reward move by the Lightning.
If McElhinney is claimed on waivers, Tampa Bay won’t have to worry about paying his two-year contract. If he goes unclaimed, then they would add a needed veteran goaltending presence on a Crunch team lacking in precisely that area.
Depth Goaltending Still Uncertain for Tampa Bay
By signing three depth goaltenders in Fucale, Wedgewood
Assuming that neither of the Lightning’s veteran backups makes it to Syracuse, one would expect career AHL goaltender Wedgewood to take on the starting role at the beginning of the season. Should he struggle in that role, Martin could become the de facto starter, as he is the younger player with more room to grow with the franchise.
Of the three players signed, Fucale still has arguably the highest ceiling. After being the first goaltender selected at the 2013 Draft, he has struggled to establish himself at the professional level. Despite this, the 24-year-old still has the potential to put it all together and become an AHL starter.
If all three goalies struggle, then the Lightning would need to make a midseason trade to right the ship. This has worked out well for them in the past, so it isn’t
Goaltending Will Follow Lightning to Training Camp
Despite stocking up on a number of AHL and ECHL goaltending options, the Lightning still find themselves unsure of who will be taking over what position with the team. Outside of Vasilevskiy, every other goaltending role could have a different face compared to the 2018-19 season.
This is a bit of a gamble by BriseBois, but he has given the franchise flexibility. While we don’t know if that flexibility will work out in the long-term, it could set the Lightning up for success throughout the 2019-20 season.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.