The Lightning was expected to be the envy of many this season with its goaltending glut, an established starter in Ben Bishop backed up by prized prospect Andrei Vasilevskiy, a future No. 1.
But Tampa Bay might soon be the one wanting more. Vasilevskiy, 21, is expected to miss two to three months after having surgery Thursday to remove a blood clot near his left collarbone. Vasilevskiy arrived in Tampa this week reporting swelling in his upper left arm, diagnosed as a type of thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition considered rare among hockey players.
"It's a little bit of a setback for the start of the year," general manager Steve Yzerman said.
With Bishop coming back from a torn groin suffered in the Stanley Cup final and Vasilevskiy's extended absence, the crease will be a big area of focus when training camp opens Sept. 17 at Amalie Arena.
Before deciding to sign another veteran to temporarily back up Bishop, Yzerman said Kristers Gudlevskis, 23, who has played three NHL games, and Adam Wilcox, a former University of Minnesota star who turned pro last spring, will get an extended look and preseason playing time. Plus, Yzerman said the Lightning wants to get a better feel for whether Vasilevskiy will be cleared to play in closer to eight weeks or 12 (not counting a likely conditioning stint at AHL Syracuse).
This will be a huge training camp for Gudlevskis, who was inconsistent last season for Syracuse but is the more likely in-house candidate for the fill-in No. 2 role. With little salary cap space, acquiring an experienced goaltender for a couple of months isn't ideal for the Lightning, though it could bring in a veteran on a camp tryout to carry six goalies total.
The Lightning opens the season Oct. 8 at home against the Flyers but plays 11 of its first 16 games on the road, a crucial stretch.
"We think between a healthy Andrei, Adam and Kristers, and now with (Allen) York in our organization (at Syracuse), we're comfortable with the young goaltenders," Yzerman said. "To go out and sign a player, which ultimately we may end up doing, I'd prefer to wait and see."
There appears to be no concern as of now about Bishop, who battled through the groin injury in the Cup final loss to the Blackhawks. Bishop reported Friday to Brandon, where he joined several teammates in informal workouts.
Vasilevskiy is coming off an impressive first taste of the NHL last season (7-5-1, 2.36 goals-against average), including starting Game 4 of the Cup final for the injured Bishop. The Lightning had hoped to give Vasilevskiy a larger load this season, maybe 20-plus games, to further his development and rest Bishop.
Yzerman was encouraged that Vasilevskiy's surgery would not affect him long term. Dr. Karl Illig, who performed Vasilevskiy's procedure at Tampa General Hospital, said the condition is unusual for hockey. It is most commonly found in baseball pitchers, tennis players and swimmers, who have arm-over-head motions.
Illig, the director of USF's division of vascular surgery, said that if the condition is diagnosed early, surgery can result in an elite athlete returning to his previous form.
"We've had pro pitchers throwing 95 miles per hour, a Division II multiple national champion swimmer and All-American college skier," Illig said. "I'd say 90, 95 percent of people get back to (being) a high level of athlete."
JOHNNY BE GOOD: Yzerman said he expects All-Star center Tyler Johnson, who broke his right wrist in the Stanley Cup final, to be "ready to go" when training camp opens.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.