Lightning puts goalie Nabokov on waivers, recalls Vasilevskiy

Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Evgeni Nabokov on the ice during practice at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon on Tuesday (09/09/14). DIRK SHADD   |   Times
Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Evgeni Nabokov on the ice during practice at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon on Tuesday (09/09/14). DIRK SHADD | Times
Published Feb. 2, 2015

The Lightning signed veteran goalie Evgeni Nabokov in the offseason, in part so he could mentor prospect Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Seven months later, Vasilev­skiy is taking Nabokov's spot as the backup. The Lightning placed Nabokov on waivers and called up Vasilevskiy from AHL Syracuse on Sunday.

"We decided we wanted to give (Vasilevskiy) more games," general manager Steve Yzerman said. "We didn't feel it was right for Evgeni or the team to kind of keep him here if he's not going to play."

Nabokov is three games shy of 700 in his 14 seasons with the Sharks, Islanders and Lightning. With New York last season he was 15-14-8 with a 2.74 goals-against average and .905 save percentage.

Popular in the Lightning locker room, Nabokov struggled to adapt in his first year as the backup to Ben Bishop. The 39-year-old Russian was 3-6-2 with a 3.15 goals-against average in his 11 games. His .882 save percentage entered Sunday third worst in the league among goalies with at least 10 games, and he had appeared in only two games since Christmas.

Yzerman said he told Nabokov of the move after Saturday's 3-1 home win over the Blue Jackets. He declined to reveal exactly what was said and to speculate on what might happen if Nabokov clears waivers by noon today.

"(Nabokov is) a really good guy," Yzerman said. "He's a professional."

Vasilevskiy left a lasting impression in his brief time with the Lightning this season.

The highly touted 20-year-old Russian won three of his first four NHL starts. He posted a 1.76 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage during his two stints with Tampa Bay, and set a club rookie record with 45 saves against the Islanders on Dec. 20.

While adjusting to the North American game, Vasilevskiy had a 14-5-5 record with a 2.38 goals-against average in Syracuse.

"He's handled it well," Yzerman said. "He's been very mature about it, recognizing, 'Hey, I've got some work to do, and I'm determined to get better and improve as quickly as possible.' "

The move comes as the Lightning enters a tough February stretch, starting with two road games in three nights this week, at St. Louis and Dallas, before hosting the Kings and Ducks back to back next weekend.

Tampa Bay also has a five-game western road trip this month, so it wants to keep Bishop fresh while not assigning a set number of games for Vasilevskiy.

"We need some games to just give (Bishop) a break and make sure he's at his peak as the season moves on," Yzerman said. "We want to give Andrei some starts. How he performs will really determine how much he plays."