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By Joseph Justice
Tampa Bay Lightning Writer
Trust the Yzerplan. That is the mantra down here in Tampa when it comes to personnel decisions. Since taking the position of General Manager in 2010, Steve Yzerman has shaped and reshaped the roster with a clear determination to build a winning organization. The results have been solid as the team has made at least the conference finals in three of his six seasons. Even with those results, faith in Stevie Y hit an all-time high when he won this year’s free agent frenzy by not losing. Yet.
Signing All-Star forward, and face of the franchise, Steven Stamkos to a manageable deal was almost too good to be true. Yzerman followed up by extending defenseman Victor Hedman long term. Both deals look like masterstrokes within the Yzerplan. However, the team will face major salary cap implications next offseason when key contributors Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Brian Boyle, Jonathan Drouin, and Ben Bishop all become free agents. And here is where Yzerman took a gamble. About an hour after the announcement of the Hedman extension, the Lightning announced another extension. Andrei Vasilevskiy, with a year left to go on his entry level contract, was given a three year extension at 3.5 million a season.
Hindsight is going to make an interesting bedfellow for this deal. The contract most likely signals that Ben Bishop is headed out the door in Tampa. A combination of cap space and the pending Las Vegas expansion draft apparently leave him as one of the odd men out. The 21-year-old Russian net minder is coming off a well-reviewed effort in the conference finals, and clearly possesses a ton of natural talent. But will that talent translate into a consistent starting goaltender? The point is that three or four years from now this extension will either look spectacular or terrible.
The body of work for Vasilevskiy is quite limited. He has only started in 34 NHL games, and about the same amount for the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL. As someone who had never played on North American ice until two years ago, it means he is probably still adapting to the game. His raw numbers have been good, and due to Ben Bishop’s playoff injuries, He has even appeared in 12 playoff games (7 as the starter). However, his limited body of work makes predicting his future difficult at best. Here are a few past examples for comparison:
Player Starts Record Save % GAA
Goalie A 34 18-15-1 .913 2.60
Goalie B 28 16-13-2 .914 2.53
Goalie C 19 24-14-2 .909 2.34
Goalie D 34 10-13-4 .912 2.62
Goalie E 28 10-10-4 .916 2.55
Vasilevskiy is Goalie A, all the other goalies had fairly comparable bodies of work as all as backups. They all ended up as starters for the Lightning as well. They are, in order, Anders Lindback, Mike Smith, Dan Cloutier, and Marc Denis. It would be fair to say none of them worked out. That isn’t to say the same fate awaits Vasilevskiy, who is likely more talented than anyone in that group, it is simply to say that it is very difficult to predict what will happen when he becomes the full time starter.
Trust the Yzerplan, that is the mantra down here. Yzerman has earned that trust, but thanks to Vegas, he had to roll the dice on one of the most important decisions in franchise history. Now we wait to see how they land.