The Tampa Bay Lightning season is over. With a long summer ahead of us, we’re going to hand out grades to each player on the roster. You did your part submitting your grades via the reader survey, and they are presented along with our writers’ grades. All told, about 360 of you submitted grades, which is less than last season, but that’s understandable considering how the season went. Follow along with the series through the month of May and share your thoughts in the comments.
Entering the season, there was a lot of talk about Andrei Vasilevskiy’s workload and how the Tampa Bay Lightning should handle it. Goaltender coach Frantz Jean stated that the Lightning would like Vasilevskiy to play between 50-65 games this season to reduce the wear and tear on his body. Tampa Bay accomplished this by having Vasilevskiy play 53 games this year, but not because they drew it up that way. Due to a foot injury early in the season, Vasilevskiy ended up missing an entire month before returning in stellar form against the Toronto Maple Leafs on December 13th.
Here, bask in his domination that night.
A critique of Vasilevskiy last season was how he started strong, but battled inconsistency during the second half of the season. Interestingly, he kind of had an up and down season this year. His lows weren’t horrendous (still not good, but there have been far worse slumps from NHL goaltenders), but his highs were something to behold.
Vasilevskiy Workload and Performance
I split his save percentage into overall and 5v5 so you can see where his absurd penalty kill performance bolstered the overall percentage and vise versa. What’s interesting is that his 5v5 numbers aren’t bad. His worst month at 5v5 was in December when the Lightning went on their torrid points streak. A streak that saw the team outscore their defensive issues with an offensive explosion that is rarely seen in the NHL. The rest of his season at 5v5 is quite good. The absurdity of his January and February is what really stands out and should terrify teams in the future if Vasilevskiy manages to find a bit more consistency in his game.
Overall, Vasilevskiy’s save percentage was 0.925, good for eighth among all starting goaltenders. At 5v5, his save percentage was 0.929, good for 13th among all starting goaltenders. Both of these are very good and shouldn’t be discounted. However, Vasilevskiy stands out among his peers in the penalty kill department. While down a man, Vasilevskiy’s save percentage was 0.911, the best among all starting goaltenders. The next starting goaltender was Devan Dubynk at 0.901. The only other goaltenders near him were Carter Hart (31 games 0.906 SV%) and Alexander Georgiev (33 games 0.913 SV%). Vasilevskiy was on another level when the Lightning were killing penalties.
Now, if there was one area that Vasilevskiy did struggle, it was in the high danger shots against. The best goaltender in high danger save percentage (HDSV%) was Ben Bishop with 0.885. Vasilevskiy ranked 18th among starting goaltenders with a 0.822. For comparison, Bishop’s high danger goals saved above average (HDGSAA) was 22.47 while Vasilevskiy’s was 1.20. This means that Vasilevskiy was slightly better than a league average goaltender against high danger chances.
Overall, the leaders in goals saved above average (GSAA) were Bishop (32.34) and Vasilevskiy (26.39). Unfortunately, it gets ugly for Vasilevskiy if his 5v5 HDSV% and GSAA is taken into an isolated view. At 5v5, Vasilevskiy’s HDSV% is 0.815 (16th) with a GSAA of -4.27 (16th). That’s not pretty no matter which way you cut it.
It’s unclear why Vasilevskiy struggles so much with high danger chances given his freakish athletic ability in net. It could possibly be linked to breakdowns by the defense that he’s unable to cover up or his propensity to overreact to certain in-close shots. There’s also the issue of his struggles with long range shots. I covered this in a previous article. But to summarize, Vasilevskiy allowed an inordinate amount of long range shots that shouldn’t go in normally. This is partly due to screens obscuring his vision and Vasilevskiy simply whiffing on the shot. The entire series against Columbus had goals like this, especially on the power-play.
Regardless, this was still a fantastic season from Vasilevskiy. He didn’t have the massive up and down year like 2017-2018, but there were some lulls for him this season.
As for grades, I gave the Big Cat an A- while the consensus from all of you was also an A-. We fully agreed for once! For me, his struggles in the high danger department hamper the enthusiasm of giving him a higher grade, but an A- and another Vezina nomination is nothing to scoff at. He deserves the nomination through his overall play, but I still don’t think he will win the award this season.
Tampa Bay’s cap issues won’t stop with Brayden Point this summer. Vasilevskiy and Mikhail Sergachev are both due new contracts after the 2019-2020 season, and Vasilevskiy is already coming off a bridge deal that pays him 3.5 million per year. If he manages another Vezina nomination or even wins one, his price is going to become a big issue for the Lightning. He might not get Carey Price money (any goaltender getting that much is a bit absurd), but he could definitely end up costing the Lightning 7+ million if he continues to be in the Vezina conversation year after year. It’s going to be crazy to navigate these upcoming contracts.
Nonetheless, the Big Cat is a joy to watch and if the Lightning can manage his workload more efficiently next season (they continued to play him in March when they could have played Louis Domingue a few more games to keep him fresher for the playoffs), then who knows what he can do in the post season?
Remember folks, lions are also cats.