Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Lightning goalie intrigue rises with Andrei Vasilevskiy's strong start

Andrei Vasilevskiy entered Saturday leading the league in goals-against average (1.50) and save percentage (.951).

DIRK SHADD | Times

Andrei Vasilevskiy entered Saturday leading the league in goals-against average (1.50) and save percentage (.951).

TAMPA — In September, I asked Andrei Vasilevskiy if he thought he was ready to be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL.

"I think I'm ready, but I can't say 100 percent," he said. Then Vasilev­skiy smiled. "This season will show us."

It has so far. Vasilevskiy, 22, is playing like a No. 1 in his stellar start, entering Saturday leading the league in goals-against average (1.50) and save percentage (.951). He has won four straight starts and six of his eight overall, with two shutouts. Vasilev­skiy said the more he plays, the more comfortable he gets. And it shows.

"You never want to cap him or put a ceiling on him," center Tyler Johnson said. "Because you always know he's going to bust through it at some point."

But barring a trade, Vasilev­skiy isn't supplanting Ben Bishop soon. Bishop, a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist, is still the deserving starter. Coach Jon Cooper has also said he has no intention of altering the preseason plan to give Bishop the lion's share of starts while upping Vasilevskiy's load to one a week.

But Vasilevskiy's performance — this season and in last year's Eastern Conference final after Bishop got hurt — must be making the Lightning's much-debated decision about what to do in net a whole lot easier. Tampa Bay should feel comfortable eventually handing the reins to Vasilevskiy, who is signed for three more years at a team-friendly annual salary cap hit of $3.5 million. Bishop is making $5.95 million in the final year of his deal. So money plays a role in the decision.

When Vasilevskiy takes over remains to be seen. There's a realistic scenario in which the Lightning keeps Bishop, who can be an unrestricted free agent in the summer, and Vasilev­skiy through the end of this season for another Stanley Cup run. The Lightning has needed both in each of the past two playoffs because of injuries to Bishop.

"I'm a believer that you need two guys," Cooper said. "I think 29 other teams in the league probably look at us and say, 'We'd like to have what they have.' "

But it wouldn't be surprising to see envious teams try to pry Bishop away (see Calgary, Dallas). Calgary nearly did at the June draft; talks with the Lightning advanced far enough to where Bishop was discussing a potential contract extension with the Flames. Calgary eventually acquired cheaper Brian Elliott, who has struggled (3-9-0, 3.43 GAA). Bishop is 7-7-0 with a 2.97 goals-against average through 14 starts.

Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman can be picky. Even if Bishop walks in free agency, the Lightning doesn't lose him for nothing. It would gain $6 million in cap space, which could be used on restricted free agents Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin.

It's a good problem to have. Cooper believes Vasilevskiy has improved in all areas this season, most noticeably in puck-handling. Vasilevskiy gets tips from Bishop, one of the best puck movers in the game. Bishop is keeping all doors open with Tampa Bay, but he realizes he could be mentoring his successor.

"He's going to be a star in this league," Bishop said of Vasilev­skiy. "I'm sure we'll be playing against each other many times down the road. But right now we're on the same team."

The question is, for how long?

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

Lightning goalie intrigue rises with Andrei Vasilevskiy's strong start 11/26/16 [Last modified: Saturday, November 26, 2016 6:41pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Vibe is good around Clearwater volleyball this season

    Volleyball Preps

    CLEARWATER — Katy Rice knows what a good volleyball team looks like, and the Clearwater coach believes she has a pretty good one this year. Rice was a left-side hitter on the only two teams to win a volleyball state championship at Clearwater, in 1997 and 2000.

    Clearwater High School girl's volleyball player Hailey Bosetti (OPP) plays the ball during team practice on Monday (8/14/17) at the school in Clearwater.
  2. Jameis Winston's subtle but strong moment of leadership displayed on 'Hard Knocks'

    Bucs

    Quarterback Jameis Winston went to each teammate in the locker room prior to the Bucs' preseason opener Friday at Cincinnati with one message: 'I got your back.'

    Then he proved it.

    Jameis Winston sarcastically tells offensive linemen James Stone and James Harrison he's glad glad they're having fun while quarterback Ryan Griffin is being attended to in the locker room by the Bucs medical staff. [HBO/NFL FILMS]
  3. Bucs Cannon Fodder podcast: Highlights — and fights — from Jacksonville

    Bucs

    Greg Auman is back home after two days of joint practices between the Bucs and Jaguars in Jacksonville. He recaps those practices — and fights — and talks about highlights from Tuesday's episode …

    Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Kenneth Walker, right, cannot snag a pass against Bucs cornerback Ryan Smith during a joint NFL football practice Monday in Jacksonville. [Will Dickey/Florida Times-Union]
  4. Who's No. 2: Florida State Seminoles or Ohio State Buckeyes?

    Blogs

    The toughest decision in my first stint as a voter for the AP Top 25 came at the top.

  5. Rays morning after: The real reasons behind Tuesday's win over Blue Jays

    Blogs

    Scoring six runs was the big news for the offensively challenged Rays in Tuesday's victory over the Blue Jays.

    Corey Dickerson (10) celebrates Tuesday's victory with Steven Souza Jr. (20) and Peter Bourjos (18).