Where is Andrei Vasilevskiy? Why Lightning star goaltender is missing the start of the NHL season

There will be no “Big Cat” sightings in Tampa Bay to start the season. 

The Lightning are beginning the 2023-24 NHL regular season without star goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. The two-time Stanley Cup champion is currently sidelined after undergoing back surgery at the beginning of training camp. 

“Obviously no one’s going to replace Andrei Vasilevskiy, he’s the best goalie in the world,” Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois said in late September.

Vasilevskiy has been the backbone for Tampa Bay since emerging as the team’s starter in 2016-17. Over the course of nine seasons, the Russian goaltender has won two Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy, a Vezina, and has been named to five All-Star teams, building one of the most impressive goaltending resumes in history. 

Since 2015-16, the 29-year-old leads the league in wins (256) and is third in shutouts (31). He is coming off somewhat of a down year by his standards, recording a 2.65 GAA and .915 SV% to go with a record of 34-22-4 across 60 games in the 2022-23 campaign. 

MORE: NHL predictions for the 2023-24 season, including playoff projections, Stanley Cup pick

The Sporting News has the latest news and updates on Vasilevskiy. 

Where is Andrei Vasilevskiy?

Vasilevskiy is currently recovering from back surgery he received in late September. The goaltender had a microdiscectomy to address a lumbar disk herniation. 

According to BriseBois, Vasilevskiy initially chose an injection to address the injury. It was believed that the injection healed the issue in his back before the beginning of training camp. 

However, on the first day of camp, the Russian goaltender re-aggravated the injury. He got a second injection, but despite several days of recovery, it did not solve the problem at hand, and surgery became the only option. 

“It helped, but it didn’t completely resolve the issue,” BriseBois said. “The medical opinion was that he should go ahead and have surgery. That was the only way to fully recover from the herniated disk.”

How long is Andrei Vasilevskiy out?

Vasilevskiy is expected to miss the first two months of the season as he recovers from back surgery. That will be over a quarter of the regular season that he could be sidelined. 

Lightning head coach Jon Cooper was adamant that Vasilevskiy would return at some point this season, and that given his goaltender’s work ethic, he could return sooner than the estimated 10 weeks. 

“I want everyone just to be clear on this — this isn’t the end of (Vasilevskiy’s) season,” Cooper said. “He will be back. And hopefully, knowing him, it’ll be sooner than later but for a short time here, we’re going to have to fill the gap.”

BriseBois said that Vasilevskiy should fully recover with this surgery, and that no long-term effects are expected. 

“My understanding is that there’s no concern long term,” BriseBois said. “Once the surgery was a success, we [expected] him to make a full recovery and be back to his old self. The doctor’s opinion was based on how powerful an athlete Andrei is and how flexible he is … If anything, those attributes will help him make a full recovery.”

Lightning goaltender depth chart

With Vasilevskiy sidelined to start the season, the Lightning are turning to two unproven goaltenders for the time being. 

Jonas Johansson and Matt Tomkins are the other goalies on Tampa Bay’s active roster. Johansson has just 35 games in the NHL under his belt, while Tomkins has not recorded a single minute in an NHL game. 

BriseBois previously hinted that the team would consider bringing in someone else to man the crease in Vasilevskiy’s absence. Flames backup Dan Vladar and Leafs journeyman Martin Jones were two names thrown out as potential short-term replacements. 

However, due to the Lightning’s cap situation, no such move was made, and the club is rolling into this season with two goalies who have spent the entire training camp and preseason with the team. 

Johansson is a 28-year-old who has spent a majority of his professional career in the AHL. He made his NHL debut in 2019-20 with the Sabres, but the most NHL starts he’s made in a single season is 13, which came during the 2020-21 season with Buffalo and Colorado. 

Last year, Johansson made just three starts for the Avalanche, while he received 26 starts for their AHL affiliate, the Colorado Eagles. In total, the Swedish goaltender owns an NHL record of 11-13-4 with a 3.32 GAA and a .887 save percentage. 

Tomkins is a 29-year-old journeyman goaltender who never got a crack in the NHL coming out of college at Ohio State. He was a seventh-round selection by the Lightning in the 2012 draft. 

He spent four seasons between the AHL and ECHL from 2017 to 2021 before heading over to Europe. Tomkins spent the last two seasons in Sweden, playing for Farjestad BK in 2022-23 where he made 32 starts for the club. 

Rank Goaltender
No. 1 Jonas Johansson
No. 2 Matt Tomkins
No. 3 Andrei Vasilevskiy (injured)

Share with your friends!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get The Latest Sports News
Straight to your inbox

Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.

Thank you for subscribing.

Something went wrong.