Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Glut of goaltenders gives Lightning options

Did you know the Lightning never has developed a No. 1 goaltender?

It has tried. From the team's first draft in 1992 to 2009, Tampa Bay selected 18 goalies, including Riku Helenius 15th overall in 2006.

From that group, only eight played a combined 109 games for the Lightning: 48 by Karri Ramo and one by Helenius, whose contract this season was terminated.

This is noteworthy because Tampa Bay, with the signing last week of uberprospect Andrei Vasilevskiy, has perhaps its best chance at developing a No. 1.

So much is expected of the 19th overall pick of the 2012 draft that general manager Steve Yzerman believed he had to tap the breaks.

"Let's be cautious and conservative," Yzerman said Tuesday after signing Vasilevskiy to a three-year entry-level deal. "Let's not overhype anything. Let's bring him over and see how he looks, and it'll sort itself out."

Actually, Tampa Bay has a lot of sorting to do, and it is all because of savvy drafting since Al Murray was hired in August 2010 as director of amateur scouting.

The Lightning has drafted three goalies under Murray: Vasilevskiy, Kristers Gudlevskis (124th overall in 2013) and Adam Wilcox (178th overall in 2011).

Each has a role to play in how Tampa Bay configures next season's goaltending.

About the only certainty is Ben Bishop will be the No. 1, assuming his recovery from last month's ligament surgery on his right wrist goes as expected.

After that, the variations are numerous.

• Tampa Bay could re-sign potential restricted free agent Anders Lindback to remain the backup and have Vasilevskiy and Gudlevskis share duties at AHL Syracuse, which would give both valuable experience. The kids also would be in Syracuse if the Lightning decides to go with a different veteran backup.

• The Lightning could use either Vasilevskiy or Gudlevskis as Bishop's backup. Vasilevskiy certainly has been impressive playing against men in Europe's KHL. And Yzerman said that despite the small sample size, Gudlevskis, 21, the first goalie to play in the ECHL, AHL, NHL and Olympics in the same season, showed enough to at least get into the conversation as a possible No. 2.

• Add Wilcox, 21, and things get even more complicated. But the University of Minnesota sophomore — a finalist this season for the Mike Richter Award, given to collegiate hockey's top goalie — might see the glut and determine his best chance for playing time right now is at school.

• Don't discount the possibility of Yzerman using one of his goaltending chips in a trade. In fact, Gudlevskis might be trade bait if the team wants Vasilevskiy as Bishop's backup and Wilcox under contract.

That's quite a difference from the barren wasteland that had been Tampa Bay goaltending. Remember, this is a team that has used 20 goalies since Nikolai Khabibulin led it to the 2004 Stanley Cup championship.

"We've got to sort out our goaltending," Yzerman said.

What a nice problem to have.

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