When the 2011-12 season concluded for the Tampa Bay Lightning, it was incredibly apparent that the team lacked a true No. 1 goaltender. Dwayne Roloson looked over-the-hill, Mathieu Garon served as a good backup and Dustin Tokarski simply seemed too raw to make an impact at the NHL level. Last season's failures are well-documented, and they all come down to the same thing: goaltending. Without solid goaltending, it is impossible to be successful in today's NHL. Look at the final three teams in the playoffs and that fact becomes incredibly apparent.
So, where is Steve Yzerman going to find a solution for this conundrum?
For a long time, it was thought that Yzerman would make a play for Vancouver's young star, Cory Schneider. With the Vancouver Sun reporting today that Luongo has indeed asked for a trade (h/t Le Match), that all but ensures that Schneider will be off the market.
Many Lightning fans then jumped to the logical conclusion that Roberto Luongo would be the guy to come to Tampa; it would only make sense. Roberto is an All-Star goaltender who has had a lot of success in the state of Florida. Unfortunately, Steve Yzerman went on 620 WDAE The Sports Animal today and mentioned that his desire is to acquire a young goaltender through either free agency or the draft; he insinuated that the young, All-Star goalie he is looking for just is not available through trade.
With those strong words from Yzerman, it has become ridiculously clear that the Lightning were hedging their bets on Cory Schneider. While losing out on the Schneider sweepstakes may be a tough pill to swallow, not all hope should be lost. In taking a look at some of the key words from Yzerman, it becomes clear that neither Jonathan Bernier nor Anders Lindback are going to be playing for the Lightning come next season. Yzerman's words indicate that he believes there is a young goaltender available through either free agency or the draft.
When looking at the crop of free-agent goaltenders available, it quickly becomes apparent that there is not a whole lot of young talent available. At 27 years of age, Josh Harding is the closest thing to a young No. 1 goalie available. Is he really the safest option for the Lightning, though? He has a history of injuries and has played behind one of the most defensive systems in the NHL. It would be tough to lay down a big contract on a guy like Harding when he is so unproven. On the free market, do not be surprised if he signs a contract worth much more than three million dollars per year; things are dire for a lot of teams right now and they are looking for solutions.
Another name that catches the eye on the free-agent list is ex-Maple Leaf Jonas Gustavsson. When Brian Burke brought "The Monster" over from Sweden, it was thought that he was going to be their goaltender of the future. His statistics were solid, he had the size and he wanted to play in the Toronto market. From any outsider's perspective, it looked like the perfect move.
Of course, things did not work out in Toronto for Gustavsson, as he never managed to develop any sort of consistency in his play. That said, playing behind a Ron Wilson-run team does not usually work wonders for goaltenders. Still, he is another tender without a lot of good experience in the league. Is Yzerman willing to take a risk and sign Gustavsson to a short-term contract? Many fans would argue that is not a risk worth taking.
With the free-agency pile being so thin, Yzerman is left with nothing but the draft. The Lightning currently hold their own pick, 10th overall, and Detroit's pick. With the 10th overall selection, Yzerman would love to grab one of the very talented defensemen available in this year's draft. The ISS May Rankings have Griffin Reinhart listed as the 10th-ranked player going into the draft. If Yzerman could grab Reinhart at 10, bet on the fact that he would be very content. Reinhart is a smooth-skating, big body with a lot to offer the rather thin Lightning defense.
Things get a little more interesting for the Lightning when it comes to their second selection of the first round. With Yzerman saying that he is not opposed to selecting a goaltender to build the future with, don't be surprised to see the Bolts target Andrei Vasilevski. The 6'3" Russian, who made a name for himself at the last World Junior Championship, could be everything the Lightning need in net. He has the size, strength and conditioning necessary to be a stellar NHL play. Scouts praise his athletic ability and mental composure and say that he has the tools necessary to make a great career over here in North America.
If Yzerman is to draft Vasilevski, he immediately becomes the goaltender of the future for this club. The question becomes, how long before he can step in and really take hold of this team? It's not very often that a goaltender steps right in after his draft year and takes the reins of an NHL club, so that should not be the expectation. However, are Lightning fans willing to sit around and wait for Vasilevski while a very young Steven Stamkos tears up the league? These are all questions Yzerman is going to have to answer before he makes his move.
This draft will be a franchise-defining moment for the former captain of the Detroit Red Wings; a lot is riding on him.