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A big deal for the Big Cat

Bolts ink 2019 Vezina Trophy winner to 8 year extension

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

The offseason has been busy for Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.

In June, he traveled to Las Vegas and left with the NHL's Vezina Trophy as the best goaltender in the League for the 2018-19 season, becoming the first Lightning player to capture the prestigious award.

After that, he took some time off to relax in his home country of Russia before beginning his offseason training regimen two weeks earlier than normal, spending every day in the gym since.

"I don't know why, I just wanted to be better and to show my best game," Vasilevskiy reasoned. "That's why I started earlier."

And on Monday, Vasilevskiy's whirlwind offseason continued, the 25-year-old Russian inking an eight-year contract extension worth 9.5 million AAV, making him the third-highest paid goalie in the NHL according to CapFriendly.com behind only Carey Price (10.5 million AAV) and Sergei Bobrovsky ($10 million AAV) when his deal kicks in next season.

"The hard work pays off," said Vasilevskiy while wiping perspiration off his face from a sauna session moments earlier at the Lightning practice facility. "But, the main goal is still ahead of us. Money's good, but we've got to win the Cup."

Vasilevskiy matches countryman Nikita Kucherov as the highest-paid players on the Lightning. The extension ensures Vasilevskiy will remain with the Lightning through the 2027-28 season, or until age 33.

"Andrei is a key, key member of our NHL team," Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois said via conference call. "He's arguably the best goaltender in the world, and he's just entering his prime now. We had an opportunity to lock him up to a contract that made sense for our organization, and knowing that we'll be able to count on him between the pipes for the foreseeable future gives me a lot of peace of mind because when you don't have elite goaltending, you're chasing it. And you can chase it for a long, long time because it's pretty rare. Goaltenders that are as consistent as Andrei is and you can rely on year after year -- he's just entering his prime now, I think his best years are still ahead of him -- there's tremendous value in knowing that we'll be able to count on him for the next nine seasons."

Vasilevskiy became the first goaltender in Lightning history to win the Vezina Trophy, beating out former Bolt Ben Bishop and the New York Islanders' Robin Lehner for the award following a stellar 2018-19 campaign in which he led the League for wins (39) for the second-consecutive season - he tied with Winnipeg's Connor Hellebuyck in 2017-18 - and backstopped Tampa Bay to a NHL record-tying 62 wins during the regular season.

Vasilevskiy was a finalist for the Vezina the previous season too - he finished third - and is one of only two Tampa Bay goaltenders to earn multiple Vezina nominations (Bishop was a finalist while with the Lightning in 2013-14 and 2015-16).

Just five seasons into his NHL career, Vasilevskiy already owns Tampa Bay franchise records for saves (5,819) and shutouts (18) and will likely pass Bishop atop the Lightning leaderboard for wins, games, minutes and shootout victories this season.

Vasilevskiy would have been a restricted free agent following the 2019-20 season.

"For us, it just made sense looking into the future to lock up Vasy knowing full well that a year from now that his contract was going to be up and a year from now, we're going to be in a pretty tight cap situation," BriseBois said. "Hopefully the cap goes up more next offseason than it did this year. But there's certainly no guarantees that will be the case."

Vasilevskiy said life hasn't changed much since winning the Vezina. He's still the same humble, hard-working player who maintains peak physical condition and labors tirelessly, in season and offseason, to perfect his craft. BriseBois said Vasilevskiy's work ethic is "second to none" and the Russian is driven to be the "absolute best goaltender in the world," one of the reasons why it was so easy to extend Vasilevskiy's contract for another eight seasons.

As part of his offseason training, Vasilevskiy maintains the same routine: a circuit of weight room, sauna, ice, underwater treadmill and yoga, every day until it's time to step on the ice, which he will for the first time Tuesday at the Ice Sports Forum.

"Nothing changes," he deadpanned.

Now, as one of the highest-paid goalies in the world, he feels even more motivation to prove he's worthy of such high acclaim.

"I'm the same guy and I'll work even more, even harder to, as I said, the main goal to win the Cup," he said. "We'll work hard to win."

Vasilevskiy said the contract extension kind of "came out of nowhere" but he's thrilled to get a deal completed now so it won't be hanging over his head during the season.

"Pretty excited to stay in Tampa, excited and very happy for another nine years," he said. "I want to thank the entire organization for that and thanks to our fans, you're great and see you soon on the ice."

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