There is little doubt that goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy has been nothing but spectacular since he was drafted in the first round, 19th overall, by the Tampa Bay Lightning at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Since he has assumed the starting role, he has led the league, or tied for the lead, in wins over the last five seasons and has posted a 229-101-24 record in his eight-year career. However, Vasilevskiy and the Lightning have made deep runs in the postseason during the last three years, and they may need to give their 28-year-old goaltender some more rest in the upcoming season.
Vasilevskiy Had a Heavy Workload the Past Three Years
During the 2021-22 season, Vasilevskiy played 77 percent of the Lightning’s games during the regular season and in every game in the postseason. In fact, no goaltender has played more games in the past three seasons. He is also the first goalie to play every minute in back-to-back Stanley Cup playoff runs since Ken Dryden did so with the Montreal Canadiens in the late 1970s. Last season, the Lightning tried to ensure that he stayed rested, as they lowered his ice time in practice while allowing him to get in his workout in the weight room, which is a vital part of his routine. However, it may be time to cut back on the number of starts in net that he has had in previous seasons.
Starting 63 games last season while also starting in 71 combined playoff games the last three years might start taking their toll on the Vezina Trophy winner’s production. He did have some off games in their last run to the Stanley Cup, while at times looking slightly slower in covering the crease. This was very evident in the first two games of the Eastern Conference Final when the Lightning dropped the first two games to the New York Rangers. As he has done repeatedly, the young Russian finished the playoffs with a .922 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.52 goals-against average (GAA). With all of the work he has put in during the last three seasons, it might be time for him to dip just below 60 starts in 2022-23.
Lightning Have a Reliable Backup
After going 4-7-2 without Vasilevskiy during the 2020-21 season, the Lightning signed veteran Brian Elliot to a one-year contract before the 2021-22 season. In limited duty as the backup, the 37-year-old was 11-4 with a .912 SV%. This included playing in only 17 of the team’s first 75 games. He would stay sharp by putting in a great deal of work during practice, treating those situations as if he were playing in a real game. His best game came on April 10 against the Buffalo Sabres when he stopped all 28 shots he faced to record his first shutout with the Lightning.
Elliott has played 15 seasons in the NHL with six teams: the Lightning, Ottawa Senators, Colorado Avalanche, St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames, and Philadelphia Flyers. He owns a career record of 265-158-52 with a 2.52 GAA and a .911 SV%. He was originally drafted in the ninth round by the Senators in the 2003 Draft, a time when it had that many rounds. The two-time All-Star twice posted the best save percentage in the NHL (.940 in 2011-12 and .930 in 2015-16). He also has playoff experience, getting as far as a Western Conference Final with the Blues in 2015-16. A valuable resource to have if the Lightning decide to rest Vasilevskiy more in the upcoming season.
The Lightning Have Some Goaltending Prospects
Three straight trips to the Finals and corresponding depth moves have left the team with a limited prospect pool. However, they have goaltending prospects that could possibly be suitable backups when Elliot retires or if he gets injured during the season. Even though he struggled in his first year in North America, Swedish native Hugo Alnefelt has great athleticism that could eventually lead him to the NHL. The 2019 third-round draft pick played in 23 games for the Syracuse Crunch, posting a 10-7-4 record while having a 3.14 GAA and a .882 SV%. Despite his struggles, Elite Prospects describes him as a goaltender who utilizes his quick reflexes to make dynamic saves and is a calm and composed netminder.
Another possible option is the Lightning’s recent fifth-round draft pick, Nick Malik. The 20-year-old appeared in 34 games with KooKoo of Finland’s top league last season, where he posted a .922 SV%, the fourth-highest in the league, and added four shutouts with a 1.97 GAA. He is also the son of former Lightning defenseman Marek Malik.
Maxim Legace is a player who has some NHL experience, recording some time with the Vegas Golden Knights and the Pittsburgh Penguins before signing with the Lightning. Playing most of last season in Syracuse, he started two games for the Lightning last season, going 1-1 with a .828 SV%.
Elliot is probably the best backup the Lightning have had in Vasilevskiy’s tenure. As such, it may be wise at this point that the team is making sure they have the right workload for their star netminder. With such a reliable backup, it makes sense that they give him a bit more of a breather this season, which would keep him fresh and ready for another long playoff run in 2023.