TAMPA — Eight years is a long time. Most people have little idea where their careers will take them in eight years. Heck, think of how much trends change in that time.
At that time, Andrei Vasilevskiy was playing in the Russian juniors league. Now, he’s the second Vezina winner under 25 in 30 years. In eight more years, Vasilevskiy is scheduled to be right here, going into the final year of his $76-million contract.
Eight years is a long time, and while that term is near the top of the list, it doesn’t stand alone. Neither on the Lightning nor among NHL goalies.
When it kicks in next year, Vasilevskiy’s will be the Lightning’s fourth eight-year contract among active players. Nikita Kucherov’s starts this season. Steven Stamkos has five years left on his and Victor Hedman has six.
The Lightning has been consistent in how it hands out these contracts in the Jeff Vinik/Steve Yzerman/Julien BriseBois era.
Stamkos signed the first eight-year contract of this era. He toyed with free agency before deciding to stay in Tampa long term. Hedman, Kucherov and now Vasilevskiy all signed their eight-year deals with a year left on the existing contract, without the benefit of unrestricted free agency.
Vasilevskiy, Stamkos and Hedman’s contracts start or started at 26 and Kucherov’s at 27. That’s old enough to have proven themselves but young enough to have the bulk of their careers ahead.
The longest contract in Lightning history was also its worst (and pre-dated Vinik/Yzerman/BriseBois). Vinny Lecavalier signed an 11-year deal in 2008, one that kicked in at age 29. Lecavalier’s play declined and the Lightning bought him out four years later.
How do we know Vasilevskiy won’t do the same? The short answer is we don’t.
However, he’s one of the youngest goalies to win the Vezina. The only others to be named the league’s top goalie at age 24 in the past 30 years were Sergei Bobrovsky and Patrick Roy.
Vasilevskiy has only been a full-time starter for two seasons and quickly established himself as one of the league’s best. Goalies, especially elite goalies, tend to have long careers.
Roberto Luongo just retired at age 40. He had the longest active contract among goalies at 12 years with two more remaining. Luongo’s play did fall off at the end of his career, but that was really in his upper-30s.
Henrik Lundqvist is signed through age 39 (a seven-year deal) and Carey Price through age 38 (an eight-year contract).
Of the nine longest goalie contracts, ranging from seven to 12 years, six expire after age 35. Vasilevskiy, Tuukka Rask and John Gibson all start eight-year contracts at age 26. Their deals expire at age 34.
So, signing a goalie to an eight-year deal is a risk, but it’s not an unheard of risk by any means.
And teams are taking bigger risks with skaters. Shea Weber has the longest contract in the league, having signed a 14-year deal with Nashville at age 26. He was traded to Montreal four years in. Alex Ovechkin signed a 13-year contract at age 22 and now, at age 34 with two years left, casually pondered how much longer he might play.
The risk goes both ways, though. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signed matching 13-year deals with the Wild at age 27. Now they find themselves at age 34 with six years left and facing a possible rebuild.
There’s no way of knowing for sure what the future holds when signing a contract. But a 24-year old elite goalie for eight years doesn’t look like a bad deal at its start.
Contact Lightning beat writer Diana C. Nearhos at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @dianacnearhos.