Vasilevski in a class of one
by Andrew Podnieks|10 JUL 2021
Before winning back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Andrei Vasilevski medalled with Russia multiple times in IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship play.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
The Soviet Union and Russia have had many great goalies since Tretiak retired in 1984, but they have never had the kind of goalie who everyone could say was the best in the world. Those days are over. With his second straight Stanley Cup victory, with his being awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy, and with his international resume, Andrei Vasilevski is, right now, the best goalie in the world.

Vasilevski, who will turn 27 on 25 July, is smack dab in the middle of his prime years for a puckstopper, but already he has made NHL history for European goalies and is getting his name in the record book in more than one place.

Consider this. There have been only eleven European goalies to have their name on the Stanley Cup, but seven of those were backup goalies to a North American number-one man. The only European goalies to truly lead their teams to a Cup were Dominik Hasek with Detroit (in 2001/02 – he was backup to Chris Osgood in 2007/08), Nikolai Khabibulin with Tampa Bay in 2003/04, and Antti Niemi with Chicago in 2009/10 (while Cristobal Huet of France was his backup). 

And now Vasilevski. But Vasilevski has done it twice, last year and this, the only European goalie to have his name on the Cup twice as the starting goalie. As well, only six Europeans have ever won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, and Vasilevski is the first goalie to do so.

But perhaps what is truly amazing about his last two years with the Lightning is that Vasilevski played every minute of every game both years. That’s every minute of 48 consecutive playoff games. No other goalie can say that. Even more astounding is that all four series that Tampa won this year were clinched with a Vasilevski shutout. That, to go with his shutout to clinch the Cup in 2020, makes him the first goalie from any country to win five straight series by shutout. And his two shutouts in Stanley Cup-winning games is something only Clint Benedict in the 1920s and Bernie Parent in the 1970s had previously done.

Vasilevski was drafted by the Lightning 19th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. He played two more years in the KHL with Salavat Yulayev Ufa before making his way to North America, and after half a season with Syracuse in the AHL he was called up to the big team in Tampa Bay. He never looked back. Vasilevski has won 190 of 302 games in the regular season and has led the league in wins in each of the last four seasons. The Lightning have made the playoffs every year he has been with the team except one, 2016/17.

Internationally, Vasilevski has played at the U18, U20, and World Championship three times each, winning seven medals in those nine events. His only U18 medal was a bronze in 2011, after which he won three medals at the World Junior Championship, something only two other goalies have done (Yevgeni Belosheikin and Kari Lehtonen). He also won gold at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship and bronze at the Worlds in 2017 and 2019, being named Best Goalie by the IIHF Directorate both years. 

Vasilevski has yet to play at the Olympics, but he will no doubt check that box as soon as NHL players are able to go. And that is doubly significant for him because having won the Stanley Cup and World Championship gold, he is an Olympic title away from becoming the first goalie to join the Triple Gold Club. 

For now, Vasilevski can bask in the glow of his Cup victory, and the Lightning can relax knowing that in 2019 they signed him to an 8-year, $76 million deal that will keep him with the team until 2028. As he approaches 27, he has done so much, but there is still time for him to do so much more. As his coach Jon Cooper said after his team beat Montreal last Wednesday night: 

"You look at the guy he was going against [Carey Price]. Let's be honest, the best goalie in my era we just played against, and the best goalie now, in this next era, is the goalie that just won a Stanley Cup," Cooper said. "I think hockey fans were privileged to watch two generational goalies play tonight. The torch has been passed."

NOTE: The other European goalies to win the Stanley Cup in a backup role are: Roman Turek (CZE/Dallas, 1998/99), David Aebischer (SUI/Colorado, 2000/01), Martin Gerber (SUI/Carolina, 2005/06), Ilya Bryzgalov (RUS/Anaheim, 2006/07), Huet (FRA/Chicago, 2009/10), Tuukka Rask (FIN/Boston, 2010/11), and Philip Grubauer (GER/Washington, 2017/18).