Since taking over the Tampa Bay Lightning’s starting goaltender role after the 2017 Trade Deadline, Andrei Vasilevskiy has been nothing short of outstanding.
In 2017-18, his first full season as a starter, he went 44-17-3, backstopping the Lightning to an Atlantic Division title. In 2018-19, he continued this success, going 39-10-4 while posting a .925 save percentage en route to the 2019 Vezina Trophy.
After all of this success as a starter, Tampa Bay rewarded Vasilevskiy with an eight-year, $76-million extension. While that was a massive contract, the Lightning felt it was worth the cost to have stable goaltending for the first time in franchise history.
Now, just 12 games into that new contract, the Lightning might be feeling a bit of buyer’s remorse as their goaltender has looked surprisingly human to start the 2019-20 season.
Vasilevskiy’s Rough Start to the 2019-20 Season
Coming off of his Vezina win, expectations were for Vasilevskiy to dominate the NHL once again in 2019-20. Through 12 games, however, that hasn’t happened. He’s has posted a 7-5-0 record, with a middling .901 save percentage and goals-against average above three.
While this is a relatively small sample size in a long season, this should be a bit concerning for fans. For the first time since taking over the starting role in Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy has looked like a mid-tier goaltender.
What this means is that Vasilevskiy isn’t making those game-winning saves as he did in 2017-18 or 2018-19. Instead, he is fighting the puck, allowing for big rebounds and scoring chances that he would normally swallow in the past.
Another issue the Russian netminder is dealing with is he simply isn’t seeing the ice well this season. He is losing track of the puck on a regular basis, causing some seemingly harmless shots to end up in the back of the net.
Are Lightning Offseason Changes Costing Vasilevskiy?
Now, it’s worth noting that some of Vasilevskiy’s struggles to start the 2019-20 season can be contributed to the Lightning’s play around him. As a team, the Bolts have looked nothing like the franchise that won 62 games last season.
Some of this is due to the Lightning’s roster changes that occurred throughout the 2019 offseason. This included the replacement of a number of defensively minded players with new faces. This means that the unit in front of Vasilevskiy is still getting their chemistry sorted out, which is allowing for more scoring chances.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than on the Lightning’s penalty kill. The unit that led the NHL with an 86% kill rate last season sits 22nd overall right now, with a 76.7% kill rate.
While some of these struggles can be placed on Vasilevskiy, it is also indicative of a unit that just isn’t used to playing together. This should improve as the season progresses, but for now, it is one contributor to Tampa Bay’s goaltending struggles.
Time Will Tell if Vasilevskiy Will Improve
Every goaltender goes through tough stretches in their career. For Vasilevskiy, this may just be a tough stretch that will be worked through as the season continues.
However, it is concerning to have these issues crop up right after he signed such a massive contract extension. As said best by loserpoints of Rawcharge.com:
Of all the big contracts for the Lightning core, this one carries the most risk. If it goes right, the number 88 could hang in the rafters. But if it goes wrong, this could be a deal that makes an already tenuous salary cap situation untenable.
Right now, things seem to be going wrong for the Lightning. Vasilevskiy has been average at best, with his contract extension looking like it was signed at the peak of his value.
The good news is, there’s still plenty of time for Vasilevskiy to get things back on track once again. Sure, he may not be fighting for the Vezina this season, but if he can stabilize his play, that’s really all that Lightning fans will care about.
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.