A lot of speculation has been tossed around about the goaltending situation in Tampa Bay the past couple of months. Things finally came to a head on New Year's Day when GM Steve Yzerman traded defenseman prospect Ty Wishart to the New York Islanders for 41-year-old goalie Dwayne Roloson. Cedrick Desjardins was immediately sent down to Norfolk following the New York Rangers game, and at this point, Mike Smith is still out due to injury.
Sooo...what happens when Smith comes back from injury?
Roloson is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, as is Smith. Desjardins is a restricted free agent this summer. And Ellis has another year on his contract after this season.
First off, buyouts are not possible at this time. There are two periods in the offseason where buyouts can happen, and that's it. And unlike the NFL, the NHL guarantees their contracts, so the team can't simply terminate anyone's contract. So they can't just dump either Smith or Dan Ellis in that fashion.
An attractive option for many to speculate about is to bury either Smith or Ellis in the minors at Norfolk. But to do that would hurt the development of Desjardins and Dustin Tokarski. Both Desjardins and Tokarski need playing time in order to further hone their skills. Putting either Smith or Ellis - or even both - on the same team with either of them would cut into that very necessary playing time.
A remaining option is loaning one of the goalies to another team - either in the AHL or perhaps Europe. I'm not entirely certain of the proprieties involved with that at this time, however. But it's a possible solution to the goalie backlog.
Of course, Smith or Ellis would have to go through waivers (I think) in order to make it to Norfolk, which could potentially solve a lot of problems right there.
Assuming another team would have either of them right now, of course. I still feel that they're both decent goaltenders, but I think Smith is more in need of a scenery change. That probably wouldn't sit right with the locker room, since Smith is a popular and very well-liked teammate, but it would do him some good in the long run.
There are a few teams that have struggling goaltending this season that might be willing to take a chance on either Smith or Ellis. But do they have the defensemen prospects that would make a trade like that attractive? Because what the Lightning are in need of now is defense.
The final option, and the likely short-term solution, is to carry all three goalies on the NHL roster. The team is allowed to carry 23 players, and they must suit up 20 players for games. So until there's a taker for either Smith or Ellis, then that's the most probable solution for when Smith does come back from injury.
The bottom line, however, is that we'll all just have to wait and see what Jedi Master (JM - not GM) Yzerman has next up his sleeve.