Evgeni Nabokov played in 11 games this season as the backup to Tampa Bay starting goaltender Ben Bishop.
Nabokov won three times in Tampa Bay, his last coming December 11 in a 2-1 home victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.
But, the 39-year-old netminder was 0-3-1 in his last four and had seen his time on the ice diminish lately, making just two starts since the Christmas break.
On Sunday, the Lightning put the 14-year NHL veteran on waivers and recalled rookie standout Andrei Vasilevskiy from the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch, signaling a youth movement in net for Tampa Bay.
“We feel like Ben has played very well, and we want to give Andrei more starts,” Lightning GM Steve Yzerman said. “He’s shown enough in the brief time that he was here that he’ll do well when called upon.”
Vasilevskiy played in four games with the Lightning earlier this season when Bishop was sidelined with a lower-body injury. He won his NHL debut December 16 at Philadelphia, stopping 23-of-24 shots in a confident opener. Perhaps his best performance came in a loss to the New York Islanders when he made a Lightning rookie record 45 saves and had a shutout going late into the third period before giving up a pair of goals.
Yzerman said he and Lightning coach Jon Cooper had discussed bring up Vasilevskiy permanently for a while and with the upcoming schedule – eight of 12 on the road, multiple back-to-backs, the West Coast trip – the timing was right.
“(Vasilevskiy) performed well,” Yzerman said. “His record was good. His stats were good. He looked comfortable. He didn’t look overwhelmed at all. We felt that he was ready for the NHL.”
Nabokov has compiled an impressive resume during a long NHL career. He won the Calder Trophy in 2000-01 and was selected to the All-Star team after going 32-21 with seven ties in his first full season in the league with the San Jose Sharks.
Nabokov won 293 games over 10 seasons with San Jose. He posted his highest win total (46) during the 2007-08 season and was the Vezina runner-up and a NHL First All-Star Team selection.
Nabokov went to the New York Islanders for three seasons and won 57 games before signing with Tampa Bay in the offseason.
He finished 3-6-2 with the Lightning. His last start came on January 12 at Philadelphia when he gave up four goals on 13 shots.
“He’s a real professional,” Yzerman said. “He’s a really good guy, really liked by the players and the coaches. It’s not an easy decision to make…But, ultimately, we feel this is the right move.”
Recalling Vasilevskiy will also allow Bolts’ goalie prospect Kristers Gudlevskis to get more playing time in Syracuse now that he’ll now longer have to split time, Yzerman said.