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Tampa Bay Lightning are facing a back-up goalie waivers dilemma when Budaj returns from injury

When general manager Steve Yzerman acquired Louis Domingue from the Arizona Coyotes in November, it was a solid move for the Tampa Bay Lightning. With free agent signing Michael Leighton struggling with the Syracuse Crunch, Domingue gave the team a more solid option as the team’s third goaltender. With over 80 games of NHL experience, and being young at just 25 years old, Domingue re-found his game in Syracuse. After a month and a half of solid play in the AHL, Domingue was recalled after back-up goaltender Peter Budaj went down with a lower body injury.

When Budaj was injured, the original indication was that he’d be out of the line-up for just a couple weeks. Since then, more information has come out that he would be out for six to eight weeks. If Budaj takes the full eight weeks, then the team will have a decision to make. By that time, Domingue will have been on the roster for more than 30 days and thus require waivers to be re-assigned to the AHL.

While Domingue passed through waivers when Arizona did so, his resurgence since then makes it seem less likely he would go unclaimed again. Budaj, on the other hand, with his ups and downs to the season, may be able to pass through waivers and be assigned to the AHL. Notable about Budaj’s contract is that the cap hit for his two-year deal he signed this past summer means he will not count anything against the Lightning cap hit while in the AHL.

However, if the team has a feeling that Budaj might be claimed, they won’t want to risk losing either of Domingue or Budaj. Especially after acquiring Domingue to give the team better depth in net behind Vezina candidate Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Since Budaj’s injury, Domingue has only played in one game for the Lightning and put up a solid performance in a 5-2 win on the road against the Detroit Red Wings stopping 34 of 36 shots. With the Lightning going on two four-game road trips (with the All-Star break between the two trips), it’s likely that Domingue is going to get another start or two or three before Budaj is ready to return. If he performs well in those games, that will only heighten the likelihood he would be claimed if he’s put on waivers again.

Budaj, on the other hand, has had some ups and downs. I want to qualify this with the fact that back-up goaltender to a star #1 goalie is one of the hardest positions to play in the NHL. You’re only playing once every two or three weeks. When you do go in, it’s often on the back side of a back-to-back and more often on the road. Budaj had two starts in October, two in November, and three in December. He carries a 3-3-1 record, but only an .887 SV%. He has only given up less than four goals twice in his seven games played.

Let’s assume though that the front office wants to do their best to preserve their depth. They have a card to play. If a player has not been on the NHL roster for 30 cumulative days since the last time he passed through waivers and has not played in 10 NHL games, then he does not need to pass through waivers again. With Budaj’s injury estimate, at the earliest, he’d be expected to return on February 10th. At the latest, February 24th.

Over the bye week, we saw the Lightning assign Domingue to the AHL and “call up” Ingram to take his spot on the roster. This was under the guise of getting Domingue some more minutes. It also gave the Lightning a tiny bit of salary cap relief. But perhaps the bigger benefit is that it took him off the roster for three days.

As of today at 5pm, Monday, January 22nd, 2018, Domingue will have accumulated 21 days on the roster. If Domingue were to play tomorrow night against the Nashville Predators and then sent down to the AHL and replaced with Connor Ingram, he’ll have 22 days on the roster.

On the Lightning’s second four-game road trip out to Western Canada, the team doesn’t play any back to backs. Theoretically, Vasilevskiy could play in all four games with Connor Ingram backing him up. An injury to Vasilevskiy would not be good though, especially if it came too late to get Domingue flown out for a game. So there is some risk, but it would save days on Domingue’s waiver time.

The Lightning’s next back-to-back would be February 12th and 13th. Domingue could be called up for a day here or there to back-up Vasilevskiy on game days and then be sent back to Syracuse to continue to save days. If Budaj is ready to return on the early side of his recovery time table, then we’ve saved enough days with Domingue to hang on to him. Otherwise, he could be called up for that game on the 13th at the Buffalo Sabres to play on the back-to-back. The Lightning then don’t have another back-to-back for the rest of February.

It will take some finagling for the Lightning to hang on to Budaj and Domingue, but it is certainly doable. They may not feel comfortable enough with having Ingram as their back-up for the Western Canada road trip, but I would expect that Domingue will be with Syracuse over the All-Star break.

We’ll have to wait until after that to see if Ingram sticks around as the back-up, or if the team goes ahead and keeps Domingue long enough that he would require waivers again and would force themselves to make a decision between Domingue and Budaj.

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