Going into the start of free agency, the only position not under discussion was the Lightning’s NHL goalies.
Andrei Vasilevskiy and Louis Domingue proved to be one of the league’s best tandems in 2018-19. No need to change anything there, right? Not so much.
Tampa Bay signed another goalie: former Carolina net minder Curtis McElhinney. The addition of McElhinney and defenseman Luke Schenn highlighted the opening of free agency for the Lightning.
Julien BriseBois saw an issue ahead, when Domingue’s contract expires at the end of next season. Given his success this year, reviving his career and establishing himself as a dependable goalie, Domingue and the Lightning may no longer be a great fit when negotiations open.
Tampa Bay might not be able to afford him and he’ll likely want a bigger role than he can have behind Vasilevskiy. So, a year from now, the Lightning will probably needs a new backup. BriseBois took that on Monday.
“We don’t have any young goaltenders that are knocking at the door,” BriseBois. “I look at the contracts that get handed out on days like today when you’re looking for a backup goaltender.”
Enter McElhinney, a 36-year-old journeyman with 11 years of NHL experience, mostly in the backup role. He signed a two-year deal carrying an annual-average value of $1.3 million.
McElhinney, who has played for seven NHL teams, had a revitalization of his own this year. He was waived by Toronto to start the season and claimed by Carolina. He played 33 games for the Hurricanes, with a save percentage of .912 and a goals-against average of 2.58. He and Petr Mrazek shared the net, propelling the Hurricanes to the playoffs.
“He knows the role, has a strong track record in that role and brings a veteran presence to our locker room,” BriseBois said.
So where does that leave Domingue?
BriseBois doesn’t have an answer for him right now. He (or McElhinney) would have to clear waivers to go to the AHL, which seems unlikely. There’s probably a trade on the horizon.
“These things always get sorted out,” BriseBois said. “I don’t have a timeline for that. Obviously, the sooner we can get some sort of resolution here, the better.”
In other goalie news, the Lightning signed Scott Wedgewood and Spencer Martin to play in Syracuse.
Wedgewood, a 26-year-old with seven years of mostly AHL experience, brings leadership to the Syracuse locker room and offers a reliable No. 3 in case of an injury with the Lightning. Martin has 125 career AHL games, including a 68-save shutout against Ontario last season.
D corps likely set
The blue line was the more obvious need entering free agency. The Lightning had six defenseman and needed another right shot. It got that in Schenn with a one-year $700,000 deal.
The 29-year-old played in the AHL for the first time last season, sent down by Anaheim and then traded to Vancouver. After the trade, once he was recalled by the Canucks, Schenn proved himself reliable. That’s when he caught the Lightning’s eye.
During the interview period, Schenn and BriseBois talked about his five NHL teams over the last five years. The GM liked Schenn’s answer about what he’s been doing to improve as a player.
“His play, we thought, really picked up (with Vancouver),” BriseBois said. “He brings experience and some size (6-foot-2, 221 pounds).”
Schenn figures to compete with Jan Rutta for the third-pair spot with Braydon Coburn if the Lightning decides to put Mikhail Sergachev with Victor Hedman.
BriseBois said that decision lies with Jon Cooper. Given this group of seven defensemen, it would make sense.
“The likeliest scenario is those are our guys,” BriseBois said of the players now under contract. “I feel very comfortable going into the season with those players.”
Joe Pavelski chooses the Stars
The Lightning took a shot at a big-name free agent for the first time in a few years. BriseBois felt they had a good interview as he pitched the long-time Shark center last week. In the end, Pavelski went with Dallas, signing a deal for three years at $7 million a season.
“If the cap had been set a little higher than the 81.5, then maybe we would have had a better chance,” BriseBois said.
Tampa Bay already knew Anton Strålman and Dan Girardi weren’t coming back. Girardi hasn’t signed anywhere yet, but the Lightning will see a lot of Strålman come the fall.
The 32-year-old signed a three-year, $16.5-million deal with the Panthers. That’s a $1 million raise over what the Lightning paid him last season.
Additionally, the Lightning lost Syracuse captain Gabriel Dumont to Minnesota. He signed a two-year, two-way contract worth $700,000 in the NHL.
The organization did, however, bring back former Crunch captain Luke Witkowski and added goal-scorer Chris Mueller, both on two-way deals, worth $700,000 at the NHL level.
Contact Diana C. Nearhos at email@example.com. Follow @dianacnearhos.