Tampa Bay Lightning Banking On Andrei Vasilevskiy


The Tampa Bay Lightning surprised some fans when they signed 36-year-old free agent goaltender Curtis McElhinney from the Carolina Hurricanes earlier this summer. However, nobody was shocked when they announced the signing of 25-year-old Andrei Vasilevskiy to a $76 million, eight-year contract near the end of July.





It's believed last year's Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL's top goalie will be paid bonuses of approximately $44.5 million while his contract will cost an average of $9.5 million in salary cap space each season.

Vasilevskiy still had a year remaining on his current deal and will be paid $3.5 million for the 2019/20 campaign. The new contract represents a huge pay increase for the Russian native but Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens remains the highest-paid goalie in the league at $10.5 a year. In addition Sergei Bobrovsky, who recently left the Columbus Blue Jackets and signed as a free agent with the Florida Panthers, is making $10 million per season.

There's no question Vasilevskiy is one of the top goaltenders in the world as he went 39-10-4 last year with a 92.5 save percentage to rank sixth in the league and a ninth-best goals-against-average of 2.40. He led the league in wins even though he appeared in just 53 games. However, he and the rest of his Tampa Bay teammates struggled in the postseason as they were outplayed by Bobrovsky and the Blue Jackets and swept in the first round. The signing also means the Lightning don't have much wiggle room when it comes to the salary cap as general manager Julien BriseBois still intends on re-signing restricted free agent Brayden Point.
As for Vasilevskiy’s contract, it begins in 2020/21 and contains a no-move clause in the first four seasons. After that, the netminder will be allowed to give the team a list of 10 teams clubs he'll agree to a trade to. His actual salary varies from a low of $1 million in 2021/22 to a high of $5.5 million in 2024/25. The bonuses range from $3 million in 2026/27 and 2027/28 to $10 million in 2021/22. BriseBois told the media that Vasilevskiy is just entering his prime and the team wanted to lock up one of its key players as soon a possible.
Some experts view the signing as a bit of a risk since Tampa Bay ran away with the Presidents' Trophy this season as the league's best team with 62 wins. They came off the track in the playoffs though. Vasilevskiy's goals-against ballooned to 3.82 in the four-game sweep and his save percentage plunged to 85.6. These are well below his career stats of a 2.55 GAA and 91.9 save percentage in 208 regular-season games since entering the league in 2014/15. He's posted a 129-54-15 record with 18 shutouts during his career and was named to the First All Star Team this season.
Vasilevskiy, who was drafted 19th overall by Tampa in 2012, also led the league in wins in 2017/18 with 44, posted a league-high eight shutouts and was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. But when it comes to the postseason, he's gone 15-15 in 33 appearances with a 2.83 GAA and a 91.9 save percentage. If these numbers don't improve and the Lightning fail to win a Stanley Cup in the next two or three years it's possible the club will try to get out of the contract once the modified trade clause kicks in.
It's also interesting the team decided to sign Vasilevskiy with a full year remaining on his current contract. There's a chance it would have cost more to ink him to a new deal next year if he has another Vezina-winning season but his price may have come down if the Lightning are once again eliminated early in the playoffs. Tampa took the same risk with forward Nikita Kucherov by signing him before his contract expired and it saved them money after he won the Art Ross and Hart Trophies this season.
Even if Vasilevskiy has another excellent season in 2019/20 it's unlikely Tampa will win 62 games again or he will the Vezina again. If this happens it will appear Tampa signed their netminder at the worst possible time financially speaking since Vasilevskiy was inked when he was at the peak of his career already. The Lightning now have $10.8 million wrapped up in salary for goaltenders in 2020/21 as McElhinney signed a two-year deal this summer with an average salary cap hit of $1.3 million. 
The current situation means the writing's on the wall for fellow Tampa goalie Louis Domingue. His days with the club are likely numbered since Tampa acquired goaltender Mike Condon from the Ottawa Senators on July 30th for injured forward Ryan Callahan in a salary dump. The 27-year-old Domingue appears to be getting the short end of the stick in this case as he went 21-5 last season with a save percentage of 90.8 and a GAA of 2.88. His salary cap hit is $1.15 million for the upcoming season.
The 29-year-old Condon played just two NHL games with the Senators last season and he carries a $3 million salary cap hit for 2019/20. He's played 129 career regular-season games with Ottawa, the Montreal Canadiens and Pittsburgh Penguins with a record of 45-58-17 with six shutouts, a GAA of 2.79 and a 90.5 save percentage. He's also appeared in two playoff games with Ottawa while posting a 3.92 GAA and 87.5 save percentage. 
BriseBois will now attempt to trade Domingue while McElhinney will likely back up Vasilevskiy at least for one year and Condon will probably be headed to Tampa's AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch. All four goaltenders are signed to one-way contracts for 2019/20 with the total salary cap hit being $8.95 million. However, that number will rise dramatically in 2020/21 when Vasilevskiy's new deal kicks in. This gives the Lightning an adequate amount of time to find a new home for Domingue but it needs to be done sooner rather than later as Brayden Point's re-singing is a priority.

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