This post is part of Tampa Bay Lightning day at PHT…
On the surface, the whole thing just doesn’t seem fair.
In this corner we have Ben Bishop — at 6-foot-7, the tallest netminder in NHL history — coming off a banner campaign in which he cemented himself as one of the game’s elite.
Those covering Bolts almost unanimously agreed Bishop was the team’s MVP during the regular season, especially over a lethargic first three months in which Tampa Bay hovered around the playoff line.
Bishop’s campaign concluded with the appropriate accolades: A second-place finish in Vezina voting, second team All-NHL, and a spot on Team USA for the World Cup of Hockey.
At 29, Bishop is smack in the prime of his career as a clear-cut, No. 1, workhorse netminder.
Yet his time in Tampa Bay is ticking away.
Bishop’s heading into the last year of his contract — one that pays $5.9 million annually — and the writing on the wall suggests it’ll be his last pact with the Lightning.
The club’s goalie of the future, Andrei Vasilevskiy, is ready to be the goalie of the present, something GM Steve Yzerman confirmed this summer by inking Vasilevskiy to a three-year, $10.5 million extension.
The deal doesn’t start until 2017-18, meaning Vasilevskiy 1) will only cost $925,000 this season, 2) will start making $3.5M annually the year after Bishop’s off the books, and 2) will be Tampa Bay property through 2019-20.
Vasilevskiy went 11-10-0 with a .910 save percentage last season. Not the greatest numbers, but he’s been touted as the Lightning’s goalie of the future since they drafted him 19th overall in 2012. And for the record, he was solid in this year’s playoffs (.925 SV% in eight appearances) when Bishop got hurt.
Which brings us back to Bishop.
But nothing materialized, possibly because all parties involved realize letting Bishop’s contract play out could be the preferred move.
— Tampa Bay’s a legit Stanley Cup contender, and Yzerman has shown he’s unafraid to hold onto pending UFAs past the trade deadline in order to make a playoff run (see: Stamkos, Steve). If Yzerman thinks Bishop gives the Bolts a better chance of winning, he’ll keep him.
— The idea of signing Bishop in free agency, rather than trading an asset to acquire him, would have to be tantalizing for interested teams. Do remember that while Calgary solved its goaltending issue by acquiring Brian Elliott, it’s only a stopgap solution. Elliott is also heading into the last year of his contract, and there hasn’t been much from GM Brad Treliving about an extension.
— Dallas, meanwhile, could play the waiting game and give the maligned Kari Lehtonen–Antti Niemi duo another kick at the can. If Lehtonen and Niemi disappoint again, it would make sense for GM Jim Nill to re-address the position, and he could afford Bishop with a buyout and some freed up money (remember, Patrick Sharp‘s $5.9 million hit comes off the books at the end of this year).
In the end, only one thing is clear. Bishop’s been terrific for the Lightning, and simply got caught up in a numbers game.
Where he ends up is decidedly less clear.
This post is part of Tampa Bay Lightning day at PHT…
The leap has been a long time coming for Slater Koekkoek.
Taken 10th overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft — the eighth blueliner off the board — Koekkoek was viewed as a prospect high on talent, one destined to make an impact at the next level.
Just not right away, it seemed.
A shoulder problem slowed his progression early on, and he didn’t make his big league debut until the ’14-15 campaign. He’s still yet to have registered more than nine games in a regular season.
But if last year’s playoffs were any indication, the leap is ready to happen now.
Though he started the postseason as a healthy scratch, Koekkoek eventually became part of Tampa Bay’s regular defensive rotation, finishing with one point in 10 games while averaging just over 10 minutes per night.
That’s a small sample size and yeah, the numbers are hardly overwhelming. But the Bolts seemingly solidified Koekkoek’s spot in the lineup for next season this summer, when they bought out the remainder of veteran d-man Matt Carle‘s contract.
“I’m definitely looking forward to camp and having the opportunity to put myself in a position to be with the team,” Koekkoek said earlier this month, per the Lightning website. “It’s nothing you want to take for granted, because nothing is guaranteed, so I just want to work hard in the offseason and be ready to go when camp starts.”
At first glance, Koekkoek should be in line for a spot. He projects to be in that “top seven” group with Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Jason Garrison, Andrej Sustr, Braydon Coburn and Nikita Nesterov.
That spot isn’t set in stone, however.
Tampa Bay made some minor waves earlier this month when it announced veteran blueliner James Wisniewski would attend training camp on a PTO. Wisniewski has a few things going for him — one, he’s a right-handed shot (something the Bolts’ defense doesn’t have many of) and two, he’s a power play specialist (Tampa Bay finished 28th with the man advantage last season).
That said, it’s tough not to see Koekkoek on the roster for opening night. He’s young, a gifted skater and rose to the occasion this past spring, playing effective postseason minutes despite a relative lack of NHL experience.
“He always had that ability, but now he’s got the confidence with that,” Bolts head coach Jon Cooper said in May, per the Tampa Bay Times. “When you know you belong, it really helps you in this league, and I think with every minute he plays, he gets better and better and more confident.
“He’s done a heck of a job for us.”
The Czechs are going with a familiar face to spearhead their leadership group at the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.
Tomas Plekanec, who captained the team at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the most recent world championship, will wear the “C” this fall, the Czech Ice Hockey Association announced on Monday.
Plekanec, 33, has a wealth of leadership experience to draw on, having also served as an alternate captain in Montreal for the last two seasons. He’s expected to be a key catalyst for an underdog Czech team at this tournament, especially in the playmaking department — last year, Plekanec’s 40 assists came within five of a career-best for helpers in a single season.
It’ll be interesting to see who the Czechs eventually add to their leadership group next to Plekanec.
On paper, the 2015-16 season was a less impressive version of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s impressive 2014-15 run.
They made a deep run, but they couldn’t quite get to the Stanley Cup Final another time. The Bolts finished second in the Atlantic Division once again, but only with 97 standings points instead of the outstanding total of 108 from 2014-15.
In reality, the Lightning finished the year with a lot to be proud of, though.
All things considered, there were a lot of positives to take from pushing the eventual champs to a Game 7.
If you weren’t impressed by the Lightning’s work during the season, maybe an impressive off-season did the trick?
GM Steve Yzerman answered to huge questions in the affirmative by re-signing Stamkos (eight years, $68 million) and Victor Hedman (eight years, $63 million) to long-term contracts at very reasonable rates.
Along with those massively important contracts, Yzerman locked down other important players in Andrei Vasilveskiy and Alex Killorn. He still has a tough nut to crack in re-signing Nikita Kucherov, but he’s laid the groundwork for that to happen.
If hitting all the right buttons with Stamkos and Hedman wasn’t enough, the Lightning made some very nice value moves.
There’s a chance Cory Conacher could re-discover some of the brief magic he enjoyed before Tampa Bay traded him for Bishop. Handing James Wisniewski a PTO could leave the Bolts with one of the deepest defenses in the NHL (or at least provide a nice Matt Carle replacement).
There’s still work to do, but overall, the Lightning’s outlook is very sunny. PHT explores the team’s biggest questions on Monday.