The Bolts are in win-now mode and in need of playoff vengeance after this spring’s first-round swoon. Locking down their Vezina-winning goaltender will require some salary cap juggling soon, but it was a move that had to be done – and the price is right.
Andrei Vasilevskiy|Scott Audette /NHLI via Getty Images
Vezina Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy has signed a big-time, eight-year extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning, giving the goaltender and the team peace of mind for the next nine years. Vasilevskiy’s contract is worth an average annual value of $9.5 million and will kick in for the 2020-21 campaign. This is vitally important for the Lightning, as the franchise still needs to sign center Brayden Point to a new deal this summer and it won’t come cheap.
Vasilevskiy’s current contract carries a cap hit of just $3.5 million for the 2019-20 season and that’s great value for a team that is basically surviving on Ryan Callahan’s back injury right now when it comes to the cap. Point could easily eat up another $9 million of cap space, though Tampa Bay has been adept at getting home-town discounts from its stars in recent years. Part of that is undoubtedly because of Florida’s friendly tax laws, but it’s also because the Lightning have built a consistent winner. The downside of these discounts is that there are a slew of no-trade clauses dotting the roster, making GM Julien BriseBois’ job more difficult as he tries to stay cap compliant in the future (Vasilevskiy has one in his new deal, too).
This problem will only escalate next summer when Vasilevskiy’s new extension kicks in and young defenseman Mikhail Sergachev and invaluable center Anthony Cirelli need new contracts (though both could go with bridge deals, a common practice in Tampa Bay). But that’s for the future to worry about, right?
The mission in Tampa Bay right now is obvious: Stanley Cup or bust. The Lightning should have been at least a final four team this past summer, but a whirlwind from Columbus swept them into the Gulf of Mexico before you could say the word “momentum.” This team is built for the present and as currently comprised, has some of the most high-end talent in the NHL. They have a bench boss in Jon Cooper who has won titles at every other level he has coached in and the NHL Awards are always littered with members of the team.
In Vasilevskiy, the Lightning have the type of netminder who can take a team to the promised land and the fact he got injured this past season (missing 14 games after hurting his foot) actually just showed a good path for the future: backup Louis Domingue came in and was dependable. This summer, the Bolts brought in Curtis McElhinney from Carolina and he has become well-known the past couple seasons as a no-fuss veteran who can spell a starter when necessary and come up big.
Ultimately, the Lightning should be playing Vasilevskiy between 55-60 games a year. If that sounds like too little for a guy about to be making $9.5 million a year, step back a second because you’re thinking about this wrong.
Today’s game is so fast and the schedule so packed-in that Cup contenders need at least two solid goalies. Keep in mind; Tuukka Rask only played 46 games for Boston this past year, while Cup champ Jordan Binnington didn’t make an NHL appearance until Dec. 16, ultimately suiting up in 32 regular season games before guiding the St. Louis Blues to the title.
In previous seasons, Vasilevskiy showed late fatigue, even as a young NHLer. Balancing his work load is beneficial to Tampa Bay and in no way an indictment of his skills. Because Vasilevskiy is one of the most elite netminders in the world right now and having just turned 25 a few days ago, his new contract will all be prime years of his career.
The beauty of this deal for Tampa Bay is that they’ve paid their No. 1 guy at precisely the right time. Contrast that with Carey Price in Montreal and Sergei Bobovsky in Florida, both elite netminders but both at least five years older than Vasilevskiy and both making more than the Lightning stopper on similarly termed deals. None of the three have won a Cup yet, but Tampa Bay is currently in the best position to do so and Vasilevskiy is a big reason why.