As the Tampa Bay Lightning approached free agency in 2019, it was clear that they needed to add goaltending depth to their organization. Due to players not working out with the organization, the Lightning had no depth at the position, leaving them with only Andrei Vasilevskiy and Louis Domingue.
To rectify this, general manager Julien BriseBois decided to cast a wide net in order to acquire goaltending depth. He replaced Domingue by signing veteran free agent Curtis McElhinney to a two-year deal, while also adding Scott Wedgewood, Spencer Martin, Mike Condon, and Zachary Fucale in order to have them fight for playing time with Tampa’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch.
While McElhinney has seen mixed results this season, you can argue that this was due to the team in front of him playing poorly on the nights where he started. If something minor happened to Vasilevskiy, McElhinney could take on a short-term starting role and likely be able to do enough to keep the Lightning in the playoff hunt.
However, Tampa Bay’s AHL goaltending has been, to put it bluntly, abysmal. As we crossed the halfway point in the season, no goaltender with the Crunch has a save percentage (SV%) above .900 or a goals-against average (GAA) below 3.00.
Due to this huge gap in organizational depth, the Lightning may need to acquire a goaltender at the 2020 trade deadline to prepare for a worst-case scenario: a goalie injury before the playoffs. Some years, this may be a tough move to make, but with New York Rangers’ Alexander Georgiev on the trade market, there’s a perfect option potentially available.
Why Georgiev Fits for the Lightning
Due to the situation the Lightning find themselves in, they need a cheap goaltending option who can sit behind Vasilevskiy if all goes right, but who can be a starting option should injury strike.
Over his two and a half seasons with the Rangers, a team that was rather mediocre during that stretch of time, Georgiev posted a respectable .915 SV% behind starter Henrik Lundqvist. So, he has shown that he can be a solid option when called upon, but he also knows that he won’t be in the spotlight just yet, either.
Most importantly, Georgiev is in the final season of the three-year, $2.77 million contract he signed with the Rangers back in 2017. This means that his cap hit is only $792,000 this season, making him one of the most affordable options potentially on the market.
With such a small cap hit, the Lightning could easily fit Georgiev onto their roster without having to shed salary before a potential playoff-push. This would give them some needed depth at the goaltending position without having to take on a veteran contract.
Where Would McElhinney Fit Into This Equation?
Now, if the Lightning were to acquire Georgiev, this would leave them with three goaltenders on their roster, something that simply wouldn’t last. If this were to occur, Tampa Bay would likely need to waive McElhinney, sending him down to play with the Crunch.
Assuming that he is able to clear waivers, this could be the best thing to happen for Syracuse. By all accounts, their goaltending is a mess this season, which has been consistently costing a developing team games.
For McElhinney, he would become a veteran presence in the locker room, who could help turn around what looks like a lost season for the Crunch. With stability in net, Syracuse may be able to make a push in the second half of the season, perhaps even fighting their way back into the playoff hunt.
Also, with Georgiev becoming a restricted free agent in 2020, the Lightning would have an asset that they could move in the offseason through a trade or simply by parting ways. This would give McElhinney his backup role with the franchise once again for 2020-21 while letting BriseBois take one more shot at fixing Tampa Bay’s goaltending depth in the 2020 offseason.
Georgiev Would Be a Safe Move for Lightning
If you look at the Lightning over the last decade or so, there’s no reason to believe that they will actually pursue Georgiev. This would be a pure luxury trade that adds extra depth to the organization in case of an emergency, a move that a typically shrewd franchise doesn’t make.
However, given the fact that Tampa Bay is in win-now mode, they should be making some moves to act as a precaution against worst-case scenarios. Yes, it is unlikely that Vasilevskiy will suffer an injury right before they make a playoff run, but it is absolutely a possibility.
By adding a player like Georgiev, the Lightning would be able to run a goaltending tandem with McElhinney, similar to what the Carolina Hurricanes did last season. This would give both players the best opportunity to succeed should the worst-case scenario strike while helping to bring stability in net.
Yes, this would likely be an unnecessary move, but sometimes it is best to be prepared for the worst-case scenario instead of hoping that it simply won’t happen, especially with the Lightning being built to challenge for the Stanley Cup right now.
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.