For the Tampa Bay Lightning, their 2021 free agency is likely to be an uneventful one. Due to being hard up against the cap, the team will have very little room to make deals to bring new players onto the roster. This isn’t that much of an issue for their forward or defensive corps, as the Lightning have been building a solid crop of young players who should be ready to make the transition to the NHL next season to fill in the gaps upfront.
However, in net, things are a bit murkier for Tampa Bay. While the franchise has Andrei Vasilevskiy as their sure-fire number-one starter, behind him there isn’t an NHL backup caliber goalie. While the team doesn’t necessarily need a big name free-agent to take on this role, they do need someone who can confidently start 25 games or so next season in order to keep Vasilevskiy’s workload reasonable.
What this means is that the Lightning should be looking for a low-cost veteran who will be willing to commit to a backup role for the next season or two. Given their current cap situation, it’s likely that this player would need to make no more than $1.5 million at a maximum, and would preferably be in that $800 thousand range on more of a show-me deal to the NHL.
Most years, this would be a difficult set of restrictions to work around, but in the 2021 offseason, Tampa Bay will find a lot of goalies on the market that fit this description.
Lightning Could Find Gold With Recent Buyout
As the impact of the flat cap continues to be felt across the league, this has led many teams to pull the trigger and buyout one (or even two) of their undesirable contracts. Due to this, there has been a few big-name goaltenders to suddenly hit the market who may be willing to sign on a minimal contract as they are already being paid by another team next season.
The two names on this list are Martin Jones and Braden Holtby, who were some of the biggest names in goaltending just a few years back, but have struggled in recent years. While neither player has shown that they are a true starter right now, having a season behind Vasilevskiy where they know they can focus on being a backup might be what their careers need.
In this scenario, these players may be willing to take a short-term show-me deal for the 2021-22 season. If things go well, then they would be able to rehabilitate their recent mediocre statistics and then go for a bigger deal in the 2022 offseason.
Plenty of Free Agent Goalies for Lightning to Target
If the Lightning are unable to entice either Holtby or Jones to a deal this offseason, that doesn’t mean that their options are limited. In 2021, unrestricted free-agent goalies are plentiful on the market, and with so many options it’s hard to imagine Tampa Bay not finding someone in their price range who would be willing to play for the team this year.
A few notable names include Cory Schneider, David Rittich, James Reimer, Devan Dubnyk, and Aaron Dell. These players may not be seen as NHL starters anymore, but they have all acted competently as a backup in recent years and could find a consistent role behind Vasilevskiy.
Of the name listed above, Schneider and Dell were both signed to less than $1 million contracts last season, meaning they might be more willing to take a similar pay rate again. Dubnyk is also interesting because he is coming off a five-year contract and is 35-year-old, meaning that he might be more willing to take a discount in order to play for a contending team to end his long career.
Lightning Need To Add Goaltending Depth
No matter how the Lightning handle the offseason, they will need to address their relatively weak goaltending depth. While Vasilevskiy may be able to start every game in the postseason, he shouldn’t be overused in what should be the first full NHL season in a few years.
If the Lightning can get one veteran backstop to buy in at a relatively low cost, that would give them that little bit of needed depth to take on what will be a long season. Given the number of options on the board, Tampa Bay should be able to find a solid option to help fill in that gap.
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.