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It’s time to accelerate the timetable on Andrei Vasilevskiy

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Ben Bishop’s year has been up and down. It’s time to speed up Vasilevskiy’s takeover.

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I’m going to preface this by admitting that the Lightning have played a bit up and down, and this has certainly affected the performances of both Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy. The losses of Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman have not helped the situation. Looking at this season’s body of work, though, Vasilevskiy has been more consistent and put up better performances.

With the expansion draft coming next summer, the Lightning eventually will have to make a final decision between Bishop and Vasilevskiy. The first option is to re-sign Bishop to an exorbitant deal and hope that he will continue to perform over the next three-to-five seasons at a high level. This means trading Vasilevskiy for an insane return. The second option is to either trade Bishop at the trade deadline or let him walk as a free agent while hanging on to Vasilevskiy for the long term.

Ignoring the immediate short term, it makes more sense to hang onto Vasilevskiy. Yes, you can look at Roberto Luongo, Henrik Lundqvist, and Martin Brodeur as examples of goaltenders that performed well beyond the age of 30. However, they are some of the exceptions to the rule. You can also throw Carey Price into that group as a goalie that is likely to play very well beyond his 30th birthday.

Those four goaltenders came into their own in their early 20s. Lundqvist was 23 when he debuted in the NHL, and was strong from the start with the New York Rangers. Luongo was 24 during his breakout season in 2003-04 for the Florida Panthers. Brodeur was 21 when he won a Calder, and then won a Stanley Cup a year later. Price just turned 23 when he had his first spectacular year for the Montreal Canadiens, after a couple of solid years at 21 and 22.

Bishop, by contrast, turned 27 early in his first big breakout season with the Lightning. Vasilevskiy compares a bit closer to Price’s start in that he’s had a solid first two seasons to his career, and at the age of 22 is starting his own breakout season. So the question becomes, would you rather bet on Bishop having a good 3 to 5 years of performance after turning 30 years old? Or would you rather bet on Vasilevskiy having another good 10+ years in him?

If you go with Bishop and trade Vasilevskiy, you could be back in the same position in a few years of looking for your goaltender of the future — not to mention the salary cap consequences of paying up for Bishop.

Personally, I’d take Vasilevskiy. In both the short and long term, it makes the most sense to go with a young gun that has a bright future. The expansion draft complicates things, but ultimately I don’t think it really plays that heavily into GM Steve Yzerman’s decision-making process. I suspect the decision has already been made, and the only real decisions left are when to transition to Vasilevskiy, and whether he should trade Bishop before the trade deadline comes to a close.

Through the first quarter of the season, Vasilevskiy has been the more consistent performer in net. Neither player has been pulled from a start, so that makes calculating everything simpler. Some stats come from Corsica Hockey. All stats are as of Monday 11/28/16.

Ben Bishop

Games Played: 15
Record: 7-9-0
GAA: 3.04
SV%: .902
GP of 4+ GA: 5 (33.3%)
GP of 3+ GA: 10 (66.6%)
GP of 2 or less GA: 5 (33.3%)
Shutouts: 0
Avg Shots Against: 30.6
Shots Against Range: 16-43

Bishop’s GAA is inflated, and his save percentage is below what he has been putting up in the past three seasons for the Lightning. He has yet to record a shutout this year. He is 4-6-0 when giving up three goals or more. He’s also had some bad luck in losing two games when giving up only two goals, both on the road.

I also note that Bishop has been in net for a wider range of shots when it comes to number of shots faced. He has had two games with fewer shots faced than Vasilevskiy’s lowest game (16 and 20) and he lost both games where he gave up four and three goals respectively. He also won his 43-shot game while allowing three goals.

Here is where Bishop ranks out of 43 goaltenders with at least 300 minutes of TOI.

5v5 Low Danger SV%: .987 (9th)
5v5 Medium Danger SV%: .907 (36th)
5v5 High Danger SV%: .800 (24th)

While Bishop does well on low-danger shots at even strength, he has not been very good on the medium- and high-danger shots. This has impacted his effectiveness in the net.

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Games Played: 8
Record: 6-1-1
GAA: 1.50
SV%: .951
GP of 4+ GA: 0 (0.0%)
GP of 3+ GA: 2 (25.0%)
GP of 2 or less GA: 6 (75.0%)
Shutouts: 2
Avg Shots Against: 30.6
Shots Against Range: 23-34

Vasilevskiy has been solid across the board in the traditional stats. As of this writing, he leads the NHL in GAA and Save Percentage. Both of the games where he allowed three or more goals, he has lost; one in regulation and one in a shootout. He’s already posted two shutouts as well for the Lightning.

The average shots against is the same for both Bishop and Vasilevskiy at 30.6. Vasilevskiy’s lowest shots-against total in a game was 23, and he allowed three goals against in that game.

Here is where Vasilevskiy ranks out of 42 goaltenders with at least 300 minutes of TOI.

5v5 Low Danger SV%: .976 (31st)
5v5 Medium Danger SV%: .930 (20th)
5v5 High Danger SV%: .865 (9th)

Vasilevskiy’s low danger save percentage is slightly lower than Bishop’s, but as you can see from how the ranking differs, that is a stat where goaltenders are pretty tightly packed. After all, these are the easy shots from the boards and the points that goaltenders are supposed to stop. However, there is more separation between goaltenders when looking at medium and high danger save percentages, and Vasilevskiy stands out as better in both of those categories.

Conclusions

So far, coach Jon Cooper has mostly gone on a 2-1 rotation basis. Bishop plays two games, then Vasilevskiy plays a game. Vasilevskiy has played a more consistent game and in most metrics has played better than Bishop. “What’s happened to Bishop?” is certainly a legitimate question to ask after he was a Vezina Finalist in two of the past three seasons.

At first, it seemed that perhaps the World Cup of Hockey interfered with Bishop’s start to the season. After an ugly six goal loss to the Rangers in his 6th start, it looked like he turned a corner by winning his next two decisions, while only giving up a single goal in both games. Since those two wins though, he has slipped back, going 2-5 since. He has now put up two bad starts in a row allowing five goals to Columbus at home and four to Boston on the road.

Perhaps the uncertainty about his future is impacting him mentally. Perhaps something else is going on that we don’t know. Perhaps a lot of different things.

But at this point, it seems like a decision needs to be made to accelerate Vasilevskiy’s timetable. It doesn’t mean it needs to be a complete flip of the 2-1 rotation in favor of Vasilevskiy. But it should mean coming closer to a 1-1 rotation. With Stamkos out and Stralman having been out for a while, Cooper needs to do everything possible to win and keep the team in the playoff race. To me, that looks like riding Vasilevskiy’s hot hand is going to be necessary sooner rather than later, unless Bishop can turn the corner.