BRANDON — The contract is huge, no doubt about that. The eight-year, $76 million extension signed by goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy matches the largest deal ever given to a Lightning player.
It’s also fairly historic, trailing only the $84 million deal given to Montreal’s Carey Price in terms of the total amount of cash committed to an NHL goaltender.
But is it a bargain?
And was it a wise move for Tampa Bay?
Obviously, the answers lie somewhere off in the distance. If Vasilevskiy continues playing at an elite level, his $9.5 million annual salary will look better and better over the years. And if the Lightning wins a Stanley Cup with Vasilevskiy in goal, no one will ever question the wisdom of stretching the salary cap.
Still, the sheer size makes this deal a tremendous risk.
But, ultimately, a risk worth taking.
“If you don’t have elite goaltending, you’re chasing it. And you can chase it for a long, long time because it’s pretty rare,” Lightning GM Julien BriseBois said. “He’s just entering his prime now, and his best years are still ahead of him. There’s tremendous value in knowing that we’ll be able to count on him for the next nine seasons.”
Vasilevskiy will play the upcoming season under his current $3.5 million salary and the eight-year extension will kick in during the 2020-21 season. The extension has a no-trade clause for the first four years, then a limited (10 teams) no-trade clause the final four seasons.
Because he was not due to hit the restricted free agent market until next summer, the timing of the deal was somewhat unusual. Except that the Lightning has not been shy about tying up franchise cornerstones ahead of schedule, and Vasilevskiy was not inclined to shop himself around the NHL.
He told agent Dan Milstein that his priority was remaining in Tampa Bay and he was willing to take a slightly undervalued contract to make it happen and to give the Lightning some cap flexibility.
Considering Sergei Bobrovsky, who soon turns 31, recently signed a seven-year deal for $10 million a season with Florida, it’s not a stretch to assume the 25-year-old Vasilevskiy left money on the table.
So with Vasilevskiy and teammate Nikita Kucherov fishing at Milstein’s house just north of West Palm Beach on Friday, the agent went to the airport to pick up BriseBois, who was interrupting his own family vacation in Montreal, to work out the final details of the contract.
“Andrei could have gone for a short-term deal, and then made more money as a free agent, but we never even had that conversation,” Milstein said. “He wanted to get a deal done with Tampa as soon as he could so he didn’t have to worry about it anymore. And he wanted to make sure there was enough funds to take care of some of the other contracts Tampa has coming up.”
As magnanimous as that sounds, the Lightning is still going to have trouble fitting everyone under the salary cap once the extension goes on the books in 2020-21.
Tampa Bay still needs to sign restricted free agent Brayden Point — and BriseBois said he is confident the deal will get done before the start of training camp — and that is going to push the cap to the limit.
Between Kucherov ($9.5 million), Vasilevskiy ($9.5 million), Steven Stamkos ($8.5 million), Victor Hedman ($7.875 million), Ryan McDonagh ($6.75 million) and Point (probably a minimum of $8 million), the Lightning could have six players eating up close to 60 percent of the salary cap.
That means, like J.T. Miller this summer, the Lightning could be saying goodbye to players such as Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat or Tyler Johnson next year.
“We knew eventually we’d have to make decisions, we wouldn’t be able to keep everyone we’d like. J.T. Miller is a really good example. We would have loved to keep J.T. Miller but we couldn’t keep everyone and keep everyone under the cap,” BriseBois said. “That’s just a reality of the cap system. And a year from now we’re going to have other tough decisions to make.”
In the meantime, Vasilevskiy understands what this contract means.
He was a Vezina Trophy finalist at age 23, he won it in June at 24, and he led the NHL in goaltender victories both seasons.
He’s also got a 15-15 career record in the playoffs, and his career goals-against average is 2.55 in the regular season and 2.83 in the postseason.
That explains why his idea of celebrating his new contract was a workout at the Ice Sports Forum Monday that included weightlifting, yoga, treadmill and sauna.
“The regular season wasn’t bad. The Vezina Trophy is good, too,” Vasilevskiy said. “But you know, the main goal is to win the Stanley Cup and I won’t be happy until we win it.”
Times columnist Ernest Hooper contributed to this report.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.