During Wednesday’s game, I was asked a simple, but kind of important question as we come down to the last handful of games for the Tampa Bay Lightning. “With Mathieu Joseph, Taylor Raddysh, and Boris Katchouk gone, who would we call up for injuries?” This came right after it appeared Ondrej Palat had injured himself when he toe-picked and fell to the ice awkwardly. I gave a pretty quick answer, but I felt like it deserved a little more exploration here.
The Lightning are right up against the cap. So the reality of the situation for the rest of the regular season is that if the Lightning have two injuries at one time, the team would have to play down a player for one game before they would be given an emergency exemption to exceed the salary cap for a replacement player. Ryan McDonagh is currently injured, though he has begun skating and should be returning soon which alleviates this question a little bit.
As it stands, the Lightning are carrying one extra skater. That’s technically Ryan McDonagh right now because of his injury, but once he returns it would be Cal Foote. If we start from the whole roster being healthy and one player is injured, Foote would come back in. If that injury was to a forward, then that would mean the Lightning would roll out an 11 forward and 7 defenseman split. If two players were injured and that necessitated a recall, who could the Lightning tap on the shoulder for that recall?
Once we get into the playoffs though, the salary cap doesn’t matter anymore [as many, many, many people have pointed out over the last year - Justin]. If there are injuries, the Lightning will be able to call-up players as needed. They won’t need to play down a player before getting back to a full roster.
If the team wanted to go with the player that has the most offensive upside, then that would be Barre-Boulet. The problem is that he has so far shown none of that offensive upside in the NHL even when given a golden opportunity playing next to Brayden Point. In 31 NHL games, Barre-Boulet has posted six goals and nine points. In the AHL though, he has 85 goals and 188 points in 192 games. The offensive skill is there, he just hasn’t shown that he can translate it to the NHL level and elevate his game enough to stick. It’s why he’s down in Syracuse right now. Still, as it stands, he’s the player in the AHL that has the most offensive skill in his game.
A bit of a Swiss army knife player, Fortier can do a little bit of everything. The former second round pick was up earlier this season when the Lightning had a spat of forward injuries and played pretty good defensive hockey. He recorded one goal in 10 games. In the AHL this season he has 13 goals and 32 points in 61 games. There isn’t as much offense in his game and he projects as a bottom-sixer for the Lightning in the near future. One upside to his game is that he is a good penalty killer and forechecker. Like Barre-Boulet though, he doesn’t have much NHL experience, which makes it a little bit tougher seeing him be a choice during the playoffs.
With Gemel Smith injured, Dumont is the safe choice, and the choice if the team needs a center on the fourth line. He’s leading the Crunch in scoring this season and has been a consistent presence for the team despite the ups and downs of the season. Dumont has more NHL experience than any of the young players with 90 games plus three playoff games under his belt. His three playoff games came in 2012-13 with the Montreal Canadiens. Dumont last played in the NHL in 2019-20 for three games with the Minnesota Wild. His last NHL goal and point came in 2017-18 with the Ottawa Senators. Dumont doesn’t offer any offensive upside, but he is the safe, veteran pick, especially if needed in the playoffs.
Koepke has yet to make his NHL debut and it seems unlikely he would if a forward was needed during the playoffs, but you never know. Koepke has recorded 20 goals and 38 points in 59 games for the Crunch this season. He’s an older prospect since he went through three seasons of NCAA hockey before turning professional. He plays the game a lot like Ross Colton and is a player that I think will be in the NHL before long, but not sure it will be this season.
I’m not going to go quite as deep on the defense since it would require two injuries to the defensive corps for the Lightning to dip into their depth for a replacement. We’ve seen Sean Day, Darren Raddysh, and Fredrik Claesson all up with the team this season. Day and Claesson are left handed and Raddysh is right handed. Andrej Sustr would have also been on this list if he hadn’t been claimed by the Anaheim Ducks on waivers shortly before the trade deadline. Claesson has by far the most NHL experience with 170 games and 14 playoff games. He’s also played in nine games for the Lightning this season. Sean Day has seen two games of action for the Lightning while Raddysh has dressed for four games.
If Brian Elliott were to be injured, then Max Legace would be the pretty clear choice as a call-up assuming he’s healthy. He has the NHL experience to back-up for Vasilevskiy, but would be unlikely to see much ice time unless the Lightning had their playoff positioning locked in.
If Andrei Vasilevskiy were to be injured though... just pack it in. Doesn’t really matter much who the team calls up. I’ve really appreciated having Elliott here in Tampa this season. He’s been one of the best back-ups the Lightning have had since Vasilevskiy became the started. But he’s also a back-up for a reason at 36 years old. He has 48 games of playoff experience, but hasn’t had a deep playoff run since 2015-16 with the St. Louis Blues when he played in 18 games. The team in front of him would have to play lights out, extreme smothering defense for the team to have a chance in the playoffs with Elliott in net. That’s no slight to Elliott, he is what he is. But things are different in the playoffs and as Vasilevskiy goes, so goes the team.