Bargain-bin goalies Lightning could target with Vasilevskiy injured
The Tampa Bay Lightning have a goalie problem. All-world netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy will miss approximately two months after having back surgery. That leaves 28-year-old backup Jonas Johansson alone to weather the storm until Vasilevskiy can return.
Johansson's NHL career has not been promising to this point - he owns an .887 save percentage in 35 appearances across four seasons. But it's much less inspiring behind him. There's 22-year-old prospect Hugo Alnefelt and 29-year-old journeyman Matt Tomkins, who've combined to make seven career NHL saves.
The Lightning won't be going big-game hunting to find a Vasilevskiy replacement. The netminder's $9.5-million cap hit can be placed on LTIR while he's out, but the team will need that space for when he's back. So the Bolts, who are extremely close to the cap, will have to scrape the bottom of the bargain bin to find someone to pair with Johansson in the meantime.
The ideal candidate brings NHL experience, the ability to be somewhat competent, and as low a salary as possible - ideally around $1 million or less. Below, we present our most realistic options.
Editor's note: The Columbus Blue Jackets claimed Spencer Martin on Friday.
Brian Elliott, free agent
Bringing back Elliott makes sense. He spent the last two seasons as Vasilevskiy's backup, so he'd be a familiar face in the room, and he's familiar with the Lightning's defensive system. The former William M. Jennings Trophy winner also brings 543 games of NHL experience and was a high-level starter earlier in his career. As an unrestricted free agent, the Lightning don't have to give up assets to get him, and he'd likely come in for the league minimum if he's willing to play another year.
On the downside, there's a reason Elliott remains unsigned. He's 38 years old and coming off a down season in which he posted an .891 save percentage in 22 games. It's also unclear what kind of game shape he's in after failing to latch on to an NHL training camp. But it's worth a phone call at the very least.
Jaroslav Halak, free agent
Halak is in a similar situation as Elliott. As a free agent, he'd likely be happy to sign for the league minimum - especially to join a Cup contender. But he's also 38 years old.
While he doesn't share the same familiarity with the organization, he's been a better goalie in recent years. The two-time Jennings winner recorded a .903 save percentage and stopped 4.04 goals above expected in 25 games as Igor Shesterkin's backup with the Rangers a year ago.
Sam Montembeault/Cayden Primeau, Canadiens
Montreal has three intriguing goalies on their roster. Jake Allen is the best of the bunch, but his $3.85-million cap hit is too rich for the Lightning to take on.
However, Montembeault, 26, could be available via trade. He only carries a $1-million cap hit and was stellar for the Habs last season in 40 games. His .901 save percentage wasn't overly pretty, but he stopped 16.78 goals above expected - the 13th-best among NHL goalies.
And then there's Primeau, who has not performed as well in limited NHL opportunities (.871 save percentage in 21 games), but he's only 24 and has been decent in the AHL. And he only carries an $890,000 cap hit for the next two years. If the Habs don't want to carry three goalies, they could risk losing him for nothing on waivers.
Flipping Montembeault or Primeau for a minor asset may be the best option for the rebuilding Canadiens.
Anthony Stolarz, Panthers
Spencer Knight appears ready to return to the NHL after entering the player assistance program last season. With Sergei Bobrovsky still under contract in Florida, Stolarz would be the odd man out. At $1.1 million, the 29-year-old is the highest-paid goalie on this list.
The Panthers likely wouldn't trade him to a division rival, but they'll have to subject him to waivers unless they plan to keep three goalies in the fold. Brandon Montour and Aaron Ekblad are both likely headed for LTIR to begin the year, so cap room wouldn't be an issue in that decision.
The Lightning are 20th in the NHL's waiver priority order, so there'd be no guarantee Stolarz would make it to them in that circumstance. But the Bolts would likely be thrilled if he did.
Stolarz, who's massive at 6-foot-6 and 243 pounds, has been one of the league's best backups over the last two seasons. With the basement-dwelling Ducks, he posted a .909 save percentage and 6.78 goals saved above expected across 47 games.
Martin Jones, Maple Leafs
Jones' only path to the Leafs' opening night lineup is an injury to either Ilya Samonsov or Joseph Woll. If that duo stays healthy, Jones is likely bound for waivers. As it stands, he's on a one-year deal with a $875,000 cap hit.
The 33-year-old has been one of the NHL's worst goalies in recent years: Jones posted an .886 save percentage in 48 games with the Kraken last year. But, he was once a quality starter with the San Jose Sharks, which could be attractive for the Bolts.
Like Florida, Toronto probably wouldn't trade their No. 3 goalie to the Lightning to help out a rival, but the Bolts could possibly pluck the veteran netminder off of waivers.
Alex Lyon, Red Wings
The Panthers wouldn't have gone on their improbable Stanley Cup Final run without Lyon. He was lights out down the stretch to get them into the playoffs, starting in the club's final eight games of the regular season to collect a 6-1-1 record and a .943 save percentage.
That's obviously a small sample size, and Lyon came down to earth in the playoffs, allowing Bobrovsky to retain the No. 1 job. The 30-year-old signed a two-year deal with a $900,000 cap hit with Detroit in the offseason, but the Red Wings could expose him to waivers if he loses the backup goalie battle to James Reimer.
Alex Stalock, Ducks
Stalock was one of the NHL's best stories last season. He was limited to just one game across the 2020-21 and 2021-22 campaigns due to a myocarditis diagnosis, but he bounced back with a .908 save percentage in 27 games with the lowly Blackhawks a year ago, earning a Bill Masterton Trophy nomination.
The 35-year-old signed a one-year, $800,000 deal with Anaheim over the summer. But if the club wants to keep 23-year-old Lukas Dostal as John Gibson's backup to begin the year, it's possible Stalock could end up on waivers.
Louis Domingue, Rangers
Domingue is best remembered for his spicy pork and broccoli-fueled heroics in Game 1 of Round 1 of the 2022 playoffs. In a relief appearance, he helped the Penguins beat the Rangers by stopping all 17 shots he faced to secure the win in triple OT. But he's a legitimate and familiar option.
The Rangers signed Jonathan Quick to be Shesterkin's backup, so Domingue and his $775,000 cap hit will likely be exposed to waivers.
The 31-year-old spent parts of three seasons in the Lightning organization, serving as Vasilevskiy's primary backup from 2017-19. He owns a respectable .905 save percentage in 142 career NHL games.
Spencer Martin, Canucks
Martin could've been a member of the Lightning as early as 2 p.m. ET on Friday, as he was placed on waivers by Vancouver on Thursday. He struggled with the Canucks last season, sporting an .871 save percentage in 29 games. But, on the bright side, he's only 28 years old and carries a cap hit below the league minimum at $762,500.