TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) Day one of NHL free agency provided a splash for several big-name players and clubs. The Tampa Bay Lightning took a conservative approach, stocking the minor league system with free agents. There was one transaction however that raised interest as well as questions.
The Lightning signed free agent goaltender Curtis McElhinney to a two-year deal, temporarily loading the main roster with three goalies. Andrei Vasilevskiy, the starter and 2019 Vezina Trophy winner and Louis Domingue, the solid backup who resurrected his career with a 21-5 record, mostly in starts during Vasilevskiy’s absence with a fractured foot.
Now add McElhinney, the backup for the Carolina Hurricanes that helped lead a furious playoff push and upsets in the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
It is a peculiar situation, one that Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois explained during a conference call on Monday.
“We’re trying to address any we can improve our team for the coming season but we also have our eyes set on to the future,” BriseBois said.
The eyes of the Lightning GM are on 2021, when Domnigue’s current two-year deal expires. He is likely to seek work elsewhere, earning more starts away from the shadow of Vasilevskiy. He may get his wish earlier than expected. As soon as the McElhinney deal was announced, speculation of a possible trade commenced. BriseBois did not put down the talk of making a move with Domingue before training camp in September.
“He wants an opportunity, a year from now, to be able to play more games and play a bigger role on a different team probably.” BriseBois said. “We don’t have any young goaltenders that are knocking at the door that are going to be ready to step into that role a year from now.”
It is unlikely that BriseBois could negotiate a team-friendly deal with Domingue, admitting that the Lightning’s salary cap dilemma is worse next summer.
“I looked at the contracts that get handed out on days like today, when you are looking for a backup goaltender,” BriseBois said. “Considering our cap situation and what I anticipate our cap situation to be next year. We’re going to be even more crunched than we are now. I was given the opportunity to address that backup need for the ’20-’21 season today.”
In addition to the McElhinney deal, BriseBois signed two defensemen to the NHL roster. 11-year veteran Luke Schenn signed a one-year deal while a former Lightning prospect, Luke Witkowski, returns to the club after two seasons with the Detroit Red Wings.