What can the Lightning do to deal with Andrei Vasilevskiy’s extended absence?

It’s safe to say that training camp didn’t go quite the same way Tampa Bay Lightning hoped it would be so.

Captain Steven Stamkos expressed his dismay at the lack of contract extension talks with the organization right from the start. Then the team announced the star goalkeeper Andrei Vasilevskiy would miss about two months of the regular season after undergoing surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back.

Tampa has dealt with its fair share of serious injuries over the years – including a few to Stamkos – and has continued to chug along. But if there’s one position where the Bolts appear ill-prepared to take the lead next, it’s the blue color.

Unless nothing changes, Jonas Johansson – he has 35 career NHL games – will be the go-to guy in Tampa for the near future. Stands behind him Matt Tomkinsa 29-year-old who was a seventh-round pick in 2012 and has yet to make his NHL debut.

For much of the past few years, finding someone who can spell Vasilevskiy has been a problem for Tampa. Since the start of the 2017-18 season, Vasilevskiy has seen the most action in the league – with 335 games played – aside from only Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets.

Behind him, eight other goalies played for Tampa during that time and combined for a save percentage of .898.

October is never a month to panic in the NHL, especially for a team as accomplished and successful as Tampa. Still, this team has a prime problem here, as its internal options are untested – at best -, it’s beyond tight against the cap, and it plays in an Atlantic Division where eight bad weeks could really put you behind 8 Ball.

Tampa may be forced to take some action. Here’s a quick overview of the admittedly not very appetizing list of options.

Call an old friend

The two best backups Tampa has had over the last half decade are Brian Elliott and Louis Domingue. Elliott, who was the No. 2 pick the past two seasons, has not officially retired. He struggled mightily last year, but is just one year removed from a .912 save percentage in 19 appearances heading into the 2021-22 season. Surely GM Julien BriseBois still has the 38-year-old’s number and could at least give him a call.

Domingue, meanwhile, is in the second year of a two-year deal with the Rangers that counts $775,000 against the cap. He sits behind Igor Shesterkin and Jonathan Quick on the depth chart. The question at hand here (and with other Eastern Conference rivals), however, is whether New York has any interest in helping a roster at all, even if New York is inclined to put in an additional tender (realistically for one starvation wage). could it be in contention for a playoff spot?

Try another UFA veteran

The athlete emphasized Jaroslav Halak, At 38, out of contract, he’s still training in Boston in hopes of getting a ride this season. The experienced Slovakian still managed a .903 save percentage with the Blueshirts last year and would certainly qualify for the league minimum.

Monitor the waiver line

We’ve already seen Spencer Martin claimed by the Blue Jackets, and some teams, including Toronto, Florida and Pittsburgh, may need to claim a goalie off waivers as opening night rosters are reduced to 23 men. Would Martin Jones (Leafs), Anthony Stolarz (Panthers) or Magnus Hellberg (Penguins) be worth it?

Make a small trade

While some teams in the Eastern Conference may have no interest at all in helping the Bolts in any way, the same may not be true when it comes to rebuilding rosters in the West. Anaheim has John Gibson and the up-and-coming Lukas Dostal under its belt and could be interested in adding any draft pick it can get for the next year or so. Alex Stalock signed a one-year, $800,000 deal with Anaheim over the summer that would provide a bit of stability for two months. The 36-year-old posted a .908 save percentage last season while playing for last-place Chicago.

Drive it out

I mean, not for nothing, but Johansson hasn’t allowed a goal in two full preseason games this year. He shut out the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night, a performance that immediately followed him stopping all 42 shots at him by the Carolina Hurricanes on September 28th.

Johansson had a .920 save percentage in the AHL last season and has the 6-foot-3 frame that everyone wants in a goaltender these days.

Essentially, even if Vasilevskiy didn’t return until early December, the Bolts would need about 20 starts from him, including a handful for Tomkins. It’s undoubtedly a risk, but in the absence of a truly great alternative, perhaps the task is to find out what Johansson has in the hope of having found not just a temporary starter, but also a man who will be Vasilevskiy’s burden going forward can reduce.

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