During an intermission interview with Syracuse Crunch broadcaster Dan D'Uva on January 10, Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, who was in the building checking out the status of his prospects, was asked about Kristers Gudlevskis getting pulled after allowing 2 goals on 9 shots in the first period.
His answer has worried some:
There is an noticeable pause as he, ever the diplomat, constructs a response to a rather pointed question. He laughs, then deflects to Syracuse head coach Rob Zettler, and recites what has been the company line with the current stable of young netminding talent: "We like both of these guys."
It's understandable to wonder what Vasilevskiy has to do to carve out a role as a true #1 at the American League level. That's a scenario that has been proposed by some.
Looking at the results through a half-season, Vasilevskiy looks head and shoulders above Gudlevskis -- the save percentage gap in particular (.923 to .900 in games played with Syracuse) as well as a stellar turn in net with the Lightning when Ben Bishop was injured seem to indicate clearly who is establishing himself as the next guy in line behind Bishop and veteran backup Evgeni Nabokov.
But, as with all matters of player development, the Lightning are patient and measured with their plans and their decision making. Vasilevskiy has played better, and there's no denying it. Yzerman knows this. Zettler knows this. The temptation to hand the reins to him and see what he can do must certainly be there. But Kristers Gudlevskis -- a talented young goaltender in his own right -- has always been described as a raw prospect. From staffer Clare Austin, recounting her first impressions of the young Latvian:
Raw, explosive. Certainly intriguing, definitely undisciplined. A project? Maybe so. [...] But that potential was always there and the determination. It didn't take long to understand what the Lightning were getting with this guy: a young goalie settling into a new country and a new system, who had talent but not experience. He was almost pure raw material.
We won't know until we see how the back-half of Syracuse's season is handled in terms of starts and overall playing time. But a bad stretch for Gudlevskis coupled with the emergence of Vasilevskiy doesn't spell the end of what had been a long-term plan for these two goaltenders. Neither does an admittedly quizzical pause from the organization's general manager. Both goalies need work. Both need to see shots in North American rinks from the best shooters possible. Both need to work with David Alexander, Syracuse's goaltending coach.
From an asset management standpoint, at the very least, if Vasilevskis is your blue chip and goaltender of the future, then Kristers Gudlevskis' trade value needs to be protected as best as possible. He made a name for himself at the Olympics; honing his game in the AHL can turn him into a valuable piece for an NHL team, whether that's the Lightning or somebody else. In either case, not much has changed from what was expected heading into the 2014-15 season.