The Tampa Bay Lightning will start the season with a different look between the pipes. Superstar goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy is out for 8-10 weeks after receiving back surgery. The netminder has been the backstop of the franchise for the past six seasons. The organization has a couple of options for a short-term solution.
Tampa Bay Lightning Short-Term Goaltending Options
The Lightning have never relied on a true backup goaltender since Vasilevskiy took ownership of the crease over Ben Bishop. The club trusted Brian Elliott, Curtis McElhinney, and Louis Domingue in previous backup rolls. Last season’s backup, Elliott, was released and is an unrestricted free agent. However, the Lightning have their eyes set on a younger goalie.
Jonas Johansson Likely Taking the Keys
Standing at 6’5″ and 220 pounds, the 28-year-old Jonas Johansson from Gavle, Sweden, is the front-runner for the interim starting position. The Buffalo Sabres selected Jonas Johansson in the third round, 61st overall, at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Johansson didn’t earn his entry-level deal until the 2017-18 season. He appeared in 13 games for the Sabres spanning from 2019 to 2021.
Then, Johansson received the opportunity to play for the Colorado Avalanche. In March 2021, the Avalanche traded away a sixth-round draft pick to acquire Johansson. He suited up in 20 games for Colorado over the past three seasons, recording a record 10-3-2. In addition, he posted a .901 save percentage and a 2.10 goals-against average during that time.
Moreover, Johansson found success with the Colorado Eagles of the American Hockey League. In 26 games last season, Johansson recorded a record of 14-9-2 with a .920 save percentage and 2.33 goals-against average.
Johansson signed a two-year, $1.55 million contract with the Lightning on July 1st. The contract carries an annual average value of $775,000, the current league minimum. The Lightning found the most efficient and cost-friendly option in Johansson. Their salary cap crunch didn’t allow them to hunt for an elite backup.
Johansson played his first game with Tampa Bay on Friday night in a pre-season showdown against the Carolina Hurricanes. He led the Lightning to a 4-0 victory, stopping all 42 pucks thrown his way for the shutout. This performance left many fans optimistic about handing the keys to Johansson to start the season.
Why Organizational Depth Matters
Organizational depth at the goaltending position is becoming a trend in the modern NHL. Recent successful teams have relied heavily on their second, third, and fourth goaltenders. For example, the Vegas Golden Knights started Logan Thompson, Adin Hill, Jonathan Quick, and Laurent Brossoit during their Stanley Cup Championship season. Additionally, the Florida Panthers trusted Sergei Bobrovsky, Spencer Knight, and Alex Lyon throughout their Stanley Cup Final run last season.
The NHL is shifting to a 1A and 1B tandem of goaltenders. A few workhorse starters remain, but teams like the Hurricanes, Boston Bruins, and New Jersey Devils embrace this strategy to keep their goalies fresh. The Hurricanes run a tandem of Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta. Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman offer the Bruins an elite option in net every night. The Devils constantly ride the hot hand between Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid.
Lightning Goaltending Depth
The current depth of the Lightning goaltending consists of Hugo Alnefelt and Matt Tomkins. Both netminders have no NHL experience whatsoever. However, these two will have to step up their play during this time for the club.
The Lightning selected Alnefelt in the third round, 71st overall, during the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. The 22-year-old pieced together his best professional performance during the 2023 season. Alnefelt started 33 games for the Syracuse Crunch and found success. He posted a record of 17-12-2 with a .904 save percentage and a 2.77 goals-against average.
Alnefelt has the opportunity to establish himself as a legitimate NHL goaltender in the absence of Vasilevskiy to start the season. The rookie will be hungry to steal minutes and claim the primary role over Johansson.
Tomkins spent his past two professional seasons in the Swedish Hockey League. In 65 total games, Tomkins posted a record of 39-25-0. In addition, he recorded a .910 save percentage and a 2.50 goals-against average. Tomkins likely won’t see any starts for the Lightning, but his consistent SHL box score numbers offer a potential candidate if all else goes wrong.
Outside The Organization
The free-agent market for goaltending is lacking outside of Jaroslav Halak. Halak is searching for a club that offers more than standard backup minutes. The Lightning may be a short-term solution to benefit both parties. However, Halak turned 38 during the off-season. The Lightning are looking for youth to cap out their roster.
Calgary Flames goaltender Daniel Vladar is involved in several trade talks. The 26-year-old netminder is looking for a change of scenery. While the move seems intriguing, the Flames are looking for a solid return of draft capital. Unfortunately, the Lightning don’t have the resources to acquire Vladar. Furthermore, his cap hit of $2.2 million won’t work without the Lightning sacrificing roster pieces.
Tampa Bay must rely on the organizational depth to get the job done. The Panthers placed trust in Lyon last season and he earned them a playoff birth. Tampa Bay must do the same to stop the bleeding heading into the 2024 season. The roster and depth are much younger heading into the season. Fans should remain optimistic despite Vasilevskiy’s absence.
Main Photo Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports