The Tampa Bay Lightning gave us a Monday whopper with an early contract extension for Andrei Vasilevskiy. I had hoped that he might sign for a little bit less than this, but given the market for elite goaltenders, I’m not totally surprised by the number. Like when he signed his current contract a year before restricted free agency, he’s giving the team a locked in number to plan around. There’s also some interesting information I found about some of the comparables for his contract.
Vasilevskiy’s contract will start with the 2020-21 season and pay him $76 million. Fifty eight percent of the salary for the contract will be paid out in signing bonuses for a total of $44.5 million. Signing bonuses mean the contract will have less of an impact if it is ever bought out. The contract will take him through his age-33 season, which is a reasonable point in his career for the deal to end. He will likely have declined by then but the contract will likely end before the total collapse that typically comes in the mid to late 30s for goaltenders.
The contract includes a No Movement Clause in the second through fifth years of the contract. It then becomes a Modified-No Trade Clause where he can submit a 10 team list for the last three seasons of the contract. He is not eligible for any trade protection in the first season of the contract because he would not have been a UFA yet.
Vasilevskiy’s $9.5 million at the moment will make him the third highest paid goaltender in the NHL. At the time of signing, it represent 11.66% of the salary cap, though it will be a smaller percentage than that when next season starts as long as the salary cap goes up for 2020-21.
Carey Price - Eight years, $10.5 million, 14.0% of salary cap at signing
The biggest comparable out there from a talent and accomplishments stand point is Carey Price. There’s also a reason that Vasilevskiy as a prospect was often referred to as the “Russian Carey Price.” Price has the top salary cap hit on any goaltender with a $10.5 million AAV. Through his age-24 season, Vasilevskiy has a Vezina trophy and another Vezina finalist finish to his name.
At the same age, Carey Price had yet to win a Vezina Trophy, though he also won the Hart when he did so with perhaps one of the greatest single seasons for a goaltender ever. Actually, the crazy thing is that even at 31 years old now, Price still just has one Vezina and one other finalist finish. Price’s contract is set to take him through his age-38 season. There’s a lot of risk in Price’s contract because goaltenders, like most hockey players, usually decline pretty hard in their 30s.
Sergei Bobrovsky - Seven Years, $10 million, 12.27% of salary cap at signing and Four Years, $7.425 million, 10.17% of salary cap at signing
A fellow Russian, Bobrovsky will be just ahead of Vasilevskiy on the goaltender cap list. Bobrovsky’s contract also has a lot of signing bonuses, but a lower percentage than Vasilevskiy’s. There’s also less signing bonuses, plus a depressed salary in the final two seasons of the contract that will make the contract a better buy-out opportunity.
Bobrovsky had also won a Vezina trophy in his age-24 season before he signed his previous contract. He won another one in 2016-17 while also placing 3rd in the Hart Trophy voting. Those are his only two Vezina finalist placings in his career.
Henrik Lundqvist - Seven years, $8.5 million, 13.22% of salary cap at signing
The King. Lundqvist has long been one of the highest paid goaltenders in the NHL. Prior to his current contract, he was on a six year deal for $6.875 million that was 13.67% of the salary cap when he signed it. Lundqvist didn’t start in the NHL until his age-23 season, but had two Vezina finalist finishes in his first two seasons and was on his way to a third when he signed that $6.875 million contract.
Since then, Lundqvist has won one Vezina, had one Hart finalist, and been a Vezina finalist four times in addition to the year that he won. Lundqvist will go down as one of the greatest goaltenders to ever play and he’s been paid like that throughout his career. Lundqvist’s contract will expire following his age-38 season.
Tuukka Rask - Eight Years, $7 million, 10.89% of the salary cap at signing
Rask’s contract is one that is more similar to Vasilevskiy’s in terms of age and percentage of the cap at signing. When he signed the contract, Rask had yet to be a Vezina finalist. It also started in his age-26 season and will run through his age-33 seasons, like Vasilevskiy’s contract. Rask did win a Vezina in 2013-14 in the first season of his contract, but has never been a finalist other than that season.
While the cost for Vasilevskiy is quite high, it’s not quite up there with some of the other top contracts when you use percentage of the salary cap as a gauge. You also have to recognize how significant it is that he won a Vezina trophy at the age of 24. Only 15 players have won it in their age-24 season or younger with Patrick Roy and Terry Sawchuk doing it twice each for 17 times total.
Bobrovsky did so at age-24 in 2012-13. Before that, you have to go back to 1995-96 when Jim Carey won at 21 years old to find a player that won a Vezina are 24 or younger. Of the 17 winners, three were in the 30s, four in the 50s, one in the 60s, one in the 70s, five in the 80s, one in the 90s, none in the 2000s, and two in the 2010s. That Vezina win put Vasilevskiy into very rare company.
He is one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, he’s still young, and he already has accomplishments on his resume that few other players have at his age. It’s not a surprise that he was paid like he is. The best part of the contract for the Lightning is his young age and that it will expire in his early 30s instead of his late 30s like most of the other top goaltending contracts. The higher cap hit will create issues, just as paying any star will.
Salary Cap Implications
One big problem for the Lightning is that they have too many stars that need to be paid. We’ve yet to get a number set for Brayden Point and are still waiting for those negotiations to play out. Julien BriseBois has gotten himself a better look at 2020-21 though by getting Vasilevskiy’s contract nailed down, and perhaps even saving the team a couple million by not waiting and having Vasilevskiy potentially win another Vezina, or at least be a Vezina finalist once again. As a comparison, Lundqvist’s 13.22% would represent $10.75 million and Price’s 14% would represent $11.4 million if contracts were signed at those percentages of the cap today. With another Vezina under his belt, Vasilevskiy could have been paid more in line with those two contracts on a cap hit percentage basis.
Next summer is still going to be tight for the Lightning; nothing has really changed on that front. Projecting right now is still a little bit hard because we don’t have Point’s contract. But, many Lightning fans will likely get their wish next summer as Alex Killorn’s No Trade Clause will become a modified-NTC that will allow the Lightning to move the last three years of his contract and clear his $4.45 million cap hit from the books.
But the team will still have some heavy lifting to do with Anthony Cirelli, Mathieu Joseph, Mikhail Sergachev, and Erik Cernak. Between the four of them, they could easily end up commanding $10-$15 million in contracts. And then the team will still have to fill in around the edges with a mix of cheap players and prospects. Just roughing out some numbers, it could still easily end up being that the team could come up short by a couple of million dollars to fill out the roster, which is the couple of million that I was hoping that Vasilevskiy might take as a discount.
It also makes it seem more imperative that the Lightning sign Brayden Point to a three-year bridge deal at a lower cap hit to help make things work next year. That would help the Lightning get through the next two seasons. In 2021-22, the Lightning will lose a player (or two depending on deals made) to Seattle in the expansion draft. At that point, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson’s contracts will have also changed to modified-NTCs allowing them to be traded.
While it’s still possible one of them could waive their NTC before then to facilitate a trade next summer, that’s not something I would want to rely on if I was in the Lightning front office. There’s work to be done, but the front office have locked in one of their variables for their future planning.