The team announced that the procedure was a microdiscectomy to address a lumbar disc herniation. The announcement comes as a surprise after the star goaltender returned to practice with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday.
While that initially appeared to be a step in the right direction, it created a setback for the 29-year-old.
Julien BriseBois said that back issue in August, had an injection and felt better. Felt is again during first practice. #GoBolts
— Eduardo A. Encina (@EddieInTheYard) September 28, 2023
Vasilevskiy's absence will be a major blow to the Lightning, who have made sparse investments in goaltending depth. The spotlight will fall on backup Jonas Johansson, a journeyman who signed a two-year $1.55 million contract with Tampa Bay in the offseason.
The 28-year-old spent most of 2022-23 with the Colorado Avalanche's AHL affiliate, and hasn't played more than 15 games in any of his four NHL seasons. While he's only played 35 games in the NHL, the early returns aren't particularly promising for the Swede.
Other netminders in the Lightning organization include Hugo Alnefelt — a third-round pick in 2019 who posted a .904 save percentage in 33 AHL games last season — and Matt Tompkins, a 29-year-old journeyman coming off two seasons in Sweden after bouncing between the AHL and ECHL for four years.
The Lightning may consider looking outside the organization for some temporary goaltending help. There are a few notable free agents on the market like Brian Elliott — the team's backup in 2022-23 — Jaroslav Halák, Michael Hutchinson, and Aaron Dell.
While Tampa Bay's lack of depth looks like it could create an issue early in 2023-24, it's also understandable that the team lacks a solid Plan B in net. Vasilevskiy has been extremely durable in recent years coming off two straight campaigns with at least 60 games played. Only Connor Hellebuyck (293) has started more games than Vasilevskiy (270) over the past five seasons.
Considering the Russian's hefty salary ($9.5 million) it would also be difficult for Tampa Bay to justify paying for a high-end veteran backup — and the team hasn't developed a reliable young netminder ready to step in as Vasilevskiy's understudy.
Vasilevskiy will be sorely missed by the Lightning for as long as he's absent. The veteran is coming off a solid 2022-23 campaign that saw him post a 2.65 goals-against average and .915 save percentage — resulting in a GSAA total of +20.5.
Thanks to the 2018-19 Vezina Trophy winner's presence. the Lightning had a goaltending edge over most of their opponents last season, helping them produce a +29 goal differential despite outshooting opponents by just 57.
Early in the 2023-24 campaign, Tampa Bay will have to make do without a clear advantage between the pipes.