The Tampa Bay Lightning entered Monday’s free agency period with a glaring need. Other than Andrei Vasilevskiy and Louis Domingue, there are no goaltenders in the organization. According to The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun they may be close to taking the first step to solving that issue:
Hearing Tampa Bay is the front-runner to land UFA goalie Curtis McElhinney. Not a done deal yet but the Lightning right now are most likely destination.— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) July 1, 2019
[1:00pm Update:] LeBrun has followed up with another update on Curtis McElhinney. He is now reporting that the Lightning are signing him to a two-year contract with a $1.3 million salary cap hit. It would seem that this makes it even more likely that Domingue is on his way out in a trade. With this report, McElhinney will be under contract for one more year and $150,000 more than Domingue. This also gives the Lightning a little more back-up insurance in net after the drama that lead to Connor Ingram’s departure from the organization.
Curtis McElhinney two year deal with Tampa Bay, $1.3 M AAV per season— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) July 1, 2019
The 11-year veteran spent the majority of last season with the Carolina Hurricanes and was a key to their surprising run to the Eastern Conference Finals. During the regular season he posted 20 wins in 33 games with a .912 SV% and 2.58 GAA. He appeared in another 5 games in the playoffs and recorded a .930 SV% and 2.01 GAA.
McElhinney, 36 years-old, is a well-traveled goalie who has played in games with seven different organizations. The Calgary Flames sixth round draft pick in 2002 has 219 games of NHL experience, mostly with Columbus (85 games) but has also played for the Flames, Anaheim, Toronto, Phoenix and Ottawa.
This would also technically be McElhinney’s second tour of duty with the Lightning organization. Back in February of 2011 Tampa Bay traded Dan Ellis to Anaheim. McElhinney was the asset that came back. The Lightning waived him following the trade and Ottawa claimed him a few days later.
He is pretty much the definition of a good back up goalie. He won’t overwhelm you with outstanding stats, but if you need him to fill in for a few games he won’t hurt a team. It’s expected that he will most likely end up in Syracuse as the Crunch’s number one goaltender, but he might challenge Domingue as the back-up.
It is also possible that Domingue may be on the move. If the Lightning are looking to clear out some more cap space, he has a $1.15 cap hit through this season and is an unrestricted free agent next summer. While it would give the Lightning a little more flexibility to fit in Brayden Point’s extension and sign some more depth it doesn’t solve the main issue - no goaltender for Syracuse.
If the Lightning are signing McElhinney to a NHL contract (which all indications point to) he will still have to clear waivers to be assigned to the Crunch. The Maple Leafs originally signed him last year and tried to slip him through to the Marlies, but it blew up in their face when Carolina claimed him (Toronto also had Calvin Pickard claimed the same day, leaving them scrambling for a netminder for the Marlies).
That same scenario could unfold this season, especially based on the season McElhinney just had, so the Lightning may not be done looking for goaltending solutions this summer. Expect Julien BriseBois and company to have more than one way to solve the issue.
According to a report from Renaud Lavoie, the Lightning are looking to move Louis Domingue meaning that the likely play is for McElhinney to be the backup for Vasilevskiy. If the Lightning can’t move Domingue, they might try to sneak him through waivers before the season. But more than likely, the organization still needs to find two more goalies this summer. One for Syracuse and one for Orlando.