One of the most talked about names over the off-season was Ben Bishop. The star goalie for the Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to be in a number of trade rumors. Instead he returned to Tampa, to finish off his contract. It’s unlikely he will remain with Tampa long term though, due to cap reasons, as well as the fact that the Lightning’s long-time goalie of the future, Andrei Vasilevskiy, appears ready to take over in the crease. Such a star goalie could easily gain attention from a lot of teams. Bishop would be a great investment for the Las Vegas Knights as a free agent signing, or could go to a number of other NHL teams who may look for a new starter next July. Needless to say, Bishop’s next off-season could prove to be very interesting.
With that being said, it’d be hard for Tampa to lose such a good goalie. This season marks the fifth that Bishop has been with the Lightning, and he’s been very successful in those years. Not including this season, Bishop has played in 195 games with a Lightning Bolt on his chest. In those, he has a record of 115-52-17, with a save percentage of .922. Bishop has established himself as one of the NHL’s best goalies today, and losing someone of that caliber can be hard to bounce back from, but Tampa should be perfectly capable of doing so.
Andrei Vasilevskiy has been Bishop’s backup since the 2014-15 season. He took Anders Lindback’s role, and ran with it. He showed a few signs of struggling, but ended the 2014-15 season with a record of 7-5 in 13 starts. He also played in four playoff games that season, where he struggled a bit more. He had a goals against average of 3.19 and a save percentage of .895 in those four games, but put up an even record of 1-1. The next season he was granted a lot more playing time, seeing eight more games than he did in the last regular season. In those, he had just about the same win percentage, going 11-10.
To sum it up, Vasilevskiy has shown success at the NHL level, although he hasn’t been tested with more than thirty games in a single season. With Bishop out of the way, the 22-year-old will finally be able to experience a starting role, and should be able to do well with it. He’s shown signs of deserving it, but his young age and the elite goalie he backs-up has limited him.
Kristers Gudlevskis is one of three goalie prospects in Tampa’s system. Gudlevskis stands out from the other two, though, because he is the AHL starter. He’s also been fairly dominant at that level. In the 2014-15 season, he went 25-14-4 in 46 games. He sported a save percentage of .900 and a goals against average of 2.81.
One thing he needs to improve on is his consistency. He is a big, extremely athletic goalie and those two traits have gave him the ability to play in a similar way as Bishop. Gudlevskis is also well conditioned, showing signs of strong play late into the season and the postseason. With the injuries that have faced Tampa in the late parts of the season, having a goalie who can hold his own is a big plus.
Gudlevskis is not able to take Vasilevskiy’s starting spot. Gudlevskis is older, but Vasilevskiy has played in far more NHL games and is far more skilled. Despite that, Gudlevskis is perfectly capable of being a strong backup goalie for the Lightning, if Vasilevskiy finally gets the starting role.
Tampa’s next best bet is Adam Wilcox. Wilcox has shared the AHL playing time with Gudlevskis, and could prove to be just as successful in the NHL. What’s holding Wilcox back right now, is his poor play in the AHL. Last season, he played in 227 games and sported a record of 9-12-6. He had a very poor goals against average of 3.34 and a low save percentage of .891.
Wilcox has the ability to see NHL time, though. He has potential, but isn’t anywhere as close as Gudlevskis is. Wilcox might be limited to the AHL his whole career, but he’s still only 23 and has time to improve. He’s an aggressive goalie, something that the other two aren’t as much of. He played very well during his time at the University of Minnesota, and can use that same style of play to propel him forward in his career; he just needs to work on it.
What Will Happen
If Bishop does leave Tampa next season, Vasilevskiy will almost certainly get the starting role. This season, he can expect to see a few more games than he has in previous years, and he’s going to have to do very well in order to gain that role; but he’ll likely be up for the task.
As for Gudlevskis, he’ll have to fight for the backup spot. It’d be easy for Tampa to sign an older goalie, late in their career, and stick Gudlevskis back into the AHL. His numbers this season won’t matter as much as his overall improvement will. If he can find the consistency he needs, he could easily get the backup role. If he finds it early into this season, the organization may rely on him in the event of injuries.
Wilcox will easily take the AHL starting role if Gudlevskis leaves for the NHL. This would be great for the young goalie, because he needs more games to finally see how he needs to improve, and for the team to see if he has. In the next few seasons, Wilcox will certainly be tested. He’s cousins with Iowa Wild goaltender Alex Stalock, and that bond could help Wilcox tremendously when it comes to improving his game; especially considering the two have very similar play styles.