Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois announced Vasilevskiy, a five-time NHL All-Star and the 2019 Vezina Trophy winner, underwent a successful microdiscectomy Thursday morning to repair a lumbar disc herniation.
BriseBois said Vasilevskiy informed the team in August that he was having a back issue but was feeling better after having an injection. It wasn't until the Lightning's first practice when Vasilevskiy started feeling discomfort.
Vasilevskiy's absence is a significant blow to the Lightning, who are aiming for a seventh straight postseason appearance in an Eastern Conference landscape that could prove even more challenging considering teams like the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins just missed out on the playoffs while others such as the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators used the offseason to bolster their rosters.
The Lightning were eliminated in a six-game first-round series last year by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Prior to that, they had reached the past three Stanley Cup finals, winning consecutive titles in 2020 and 2021 before losing to the Colorado Avalanche in 2022.
Vasilevskiy was one of the largest reasons for that success. At a time when many teams are shifting toward goaltender tandems to navigate an 82-game season, Vasilevskiy was one of the few netminders who could be trusted to make more than 60 starts in addition to playing every minute of a playoff push.
Vasilevskiy, 29, was one of seven goalies who started more than 60 games last season and finished with a 34-22-4 record in addition to a 2.65 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage.
Johansson, who signed a two-year contract with the Lightning this offseason, has become a journeyman backup who has also been used as a third option over his stints with the Sabres, Florida Panthers and Avalanche. He spent most of the 2022-23 season playing with the Avs' AHL affiliate.
With Vasilevskiy sidelined, Johansson is the most experienced goaltender on Tampa Bay's active roster, with 35 career games.
Tomkins, 29, who represented Canada at the 2022 Winter Olympics, has spent the past two years playing in Sweden. He has never played in the NHL, signing a two-year deal with the Lightning this past offseason.
Before he left to play in Sweden, Tomkins played in the AHL and ECHL after spending four seasons at Ohio State, having previously been a seventh-round draft pick by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2012.