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Tampa Bay Lightning sign Andrei Vasilevskiy to eight year extension worth $76 million

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Next summer will be another cap challenge, but this particular RFA situation is solved.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Tampa Bay Lightning at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Lightning organization surprised the hockey world this morning by announcing that they signed Vezina Trophy winning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy to an eight-year extension worth $9.5 million per season, for a total of $76 million. The deal comes a year before the young star would have been a restricted free agent next summer and ties him for the highest paid player on the team with Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov.

According to Joe Smith of The Athletic, Vasilevskiy will receive a no-move clause for the first four years of his contract and a ten-team no trade for the final four years. That’s notable in that he received less trade protection than the other big stars the Lightning have signed and could be an indication that General Manager Julien BriseBois would like to reel in the degree of trade protection that was handed out under previous GM Steve Yzerman.

The Lightning originally drafted Vasilevskiy 19th overall in the 2012 NHL draft. He spent two more years in Russia following that draft before coming to North America in 2014-2015. He split time between Syracuse and Tampa over the next two seasons before sticking permanently in the NHL in 2016-17. He became the unquestioned starter after Ben Ben Bishop was traded at the deadline that season and hasn’t looked back.

In 2017-2018, he earned his first Vezina nomination, posting a .920 save percentage in 65 games. He followed that breakout season by winning the trophy this past season with a .925 save percentage in 53 games.

Looking at more advanced metrics, Vasilevskiy’s results appear a bit different. Using goals saved above expected from Evolving Hockey, he was a top ten goalie this season but not quite as dominant as his raw save percentage might suggest.

The Lightning obviously feel that they’ve seen enough in the past two seasons to think that he needs to be a part of the core of this team in order to achieve long term success. And so they’ve made a big bet on one of the riskiest positions. Goalies have the most direct impact on the outcomes of games so if it pays off, it could mean at least another half decade of playoff contention. And if not, well, it could be a problem.

Vasilevskiy joins Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, and Ryan McDonagh as the core group of players who are expected to remain with the Lightning through the first half of the 2020s. Brayden Point could join them later this summer if he arrives at a long term extension with the club during his restricted free agent negotiations.

In terms of salary cap implications, this resolves one of the biggest concerns for next summer a year early, much like the team did with Kucherov who was originally scheduled to be a restricted free agent again this summer. But committing to this high of a dollar value also makes next summer challenging. Mikhail Sergachev, Anthony Cirelli, and Erik Cernak should all be due for sizable raises. And Mathieu Joseph could be as well depending on how his season goes.

So far, the Lightning front office under Yzerman and now BriseBois have made a habit of finding ways to navigate challenging cap summers without losing core players. They’ll have to do that again next summer.

But regardless of the cap implications, the Lightning have locked up a fan favorite and key contributor to their recent success. Vasilevskiy is already widely considered one of the best goalies in the game as evidenced by his Vezina nominations. If he can continue on this trajectory, Lightning fans could be looking at an opportunity to watch one of the most exciting netminders in the league for the foreseeable future.