The Atlantic Division is expected to be the deepest and most competitive in the NHL this season, with the Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators, and Buffalo Sabres pushing to unseat the four clubs (Boston, Toronto, Tampa Bay, and Florida) that made the postseason in 2022-23. The door to the trio of upstarts appeared to open slightly because of the retirements of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci with the Bruins, and with the Panthers potentially being without blueliners Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour for a sizable chunk of the season recovering from offseason surgeries. The door now may have swung open, as ESPN’s Kevin Weekes reported that Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy has undergone back surgery and will be out for 8-10 weeks.
**Breaking News** 🚨 📰 🚑
I’m told @TBLightning G Vasilevskiy 88 underwent successful back surgery, he’s expected to make a complete recovery in 8-10 week timeframe. #HockeyTwitter pic.twitter.com/QBrJiFrD38
— Kevin Weekes (@KevinWeekes) September 28, 2023
The 29-year-old two-time Cup winner had a 34-22-4 record, 2.65 GAA, and .915 save percentage in 60 games with the Lightning, and has been a workhorse since taking over as the primary starter for Tampa Bay in 2016. The issue for Lightning GM Julien Brisebois is difficult since the internal options to replace Vasilevskiy in the short term are not good.
Veteran Brian Elliott was not brought back after putting up a 3.40 GAA in 22 games and was replaced by Jonas Johansson, who played mostly for the AHL Colorado Eagles last season. Their other option is 22-year-old Hugo Alnefelt, who played 33 games for the Syracuse Crunch last season and has 20 minutes of NHL experience. Tampa will not be able to trade for a replacement for Vasilevskiy, as they will have to become cap-compliant when he returns in December. That limits their options to goalies who might become available when clubs cut their rosters down before the start of the regular season next month, either by trade or on waivers.
A number of teams have experienced third goaltenders, (such as Toronto with Martin Jones and Buffalo with Eric Comrie) which could be possibilities, but after the Lightning’s significant roster changeover with the departure of veterans Ross Colton, Patrick Maroon, Corey Perry, Alex Killorn, and Ian Cole, the loss of Vasilevskiy even for part of the season could be devastating.
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) December 14, 2018