Tampa Bay Lightning: Goaltending Is a Major Issue but Should Come as No Surprise

Andrew VayoContributor IDecember 14, 2011

TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 22: Goalie Dwayne Roloson #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning leaves the ice in the third period after giving up six goals against the Toronto Maple Leafs November 22, 2011 at St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Florida.Toronto won 7 - 1. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Last year the Tampa Bay Lightning acquired Dwayne Roloson from the New York Islanders for defensive prospect Ty Wishart on New Year's Day. The team needed goaltending help as Dan Ellis, whom they signed the previous offseason, and Mike Smith were struggling behind what was such a strong team in front of him under rookie coach Guy Boucher.

Roloson immediately became the team's starter, going on to play in 34 games for the Bolts, posting a 2.56 GAA and .912 save percentage. Meanwhile general manager Steve Yzerman shipped Dan Ellis out west to Anaheim, leaving Mike Smith as Roloson's backup. The 41-year-old Roloson took the Lightning to the Eastern Conference finals where they lost in Game 7 to the Boston Bruins in a game that featured stellar performances from both Tim Thomas and Roloson. At 41 years old, Roloson looked more like 31, and that unreal play earned him a contract extension with Tampa Bay just prior to free agency.

Now we stand nearly a year after the Roloson trade and the Lightning find themselves having goaltending issues yet again. The now-42-year-old is looking 42 and the team is relying more on backup Mathieu Garon, who has been marginal at best himself.

Roloson got yanked in the second period of a 5-4 loss to the New Jersey Devils Monday during a game in which the Lightning blew a 2-0 first-period lead. He has a 3.67 GAA and a sub-.900 save percentage. Both poor numbers and hardly acceptable, especially for a team like the Lightning that typically strangles the opposition's offense.

But couldn't you see this coming this past summer? Did you really think that Roloson was going to deliver anything close to last season's display?

Playing into late May last season after seasons of hitting the golf course in mid-April as the goalie for terrible Islanders and Oilers teams could certainly add to the wearing down of an aged Roloson. This could be seen in his first four games of the season, during which he allowed 18 goals, five of which came in 27 minutes of a 5-1 loss to the Islanders where he was pulled in favor of Garon.

Re-signing Roloson as a short-term starter only prolonged the issue of the team's future in goal. Sure, they have young prospects like Dustin Tokarski and Jaroslav Janus, both whom are playing in their third seasons with the American Hockey League's Norfolk Admirals, the Lightning's top affiliate. Maybe it's time to call upon either of them to get some NHL seasoning and see if they can work out.

Or maybe it's time to look elsewhere for a starter. The Bolts could make a run at Vancouver's Roberto Luongo, Boston's Tuukka Rask or maybe Columbus' Steve Mason. Mason has fallen off since winning the Calder Trophy in 2008-09 and a change of scenery might do him some good. Yzerman could always call upon San Jose for old friend Antero Niittymaki, who played well for the Lightning during the 2009-10 roller coaster season.

The Sharks also have young prospective starter Thomas Greiss who has been in their system for several years now but is still just 25 years old. Perhaps he is ready to become a team's starting goalie.

Who knows what the answer is to the Lightning's future in goal? But for a team with as bright a present and future as any, this is an issue that needs to be addressed soon if they want to build off last season's success.