Mike Halford

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 22:  Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning attends the 2016 NHL Awards at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on June 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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On Ben Bishop, and his uncertain future in Tampa Bay

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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.

Navigating his future is difficult. There were major rumblings this past summer about him being dealt, with Calgary (see here) and Dallas (see here) mentioned as interested suitors.

But nothing materialized, possibly because all parties involved realize letting Bishop’s contract play out could be the preferred move.

Consider:

— 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 LehtonenAntti 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.

Looking to make the leap: Slater Koekkoek

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 07:  Slater Koekkoek #29 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on March 7, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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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.”

Plekanec named Czech World Cup captain

Tampa Bay Lightning v Montreal Canadiens - Game One
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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.

One would assume that David Krejci — who’s been an alternate in Boston for the last three years — should be in the mix, along with Coyotes center Martin Hanzal (an alternate in Arizona since 2011).

Report: Rangers close to inking Pirri

ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 01:  Brandon Pirri #11 of the Anaheim Ducks jumps over Ben Hutton #27 of the Vancouver Canucks during the first period at Honda Center on April 1, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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One of the most intriguing UFAs left on the open market has reportedly found a new home.

Brandon Pirri, the 25-year-old forward that’s scored 36 goals over the last two seasons, is set to join the Rangers on a one-year, $1.1 million deal, per Sportnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

Taken 59th overall by Chicago in 2009, Pirri’s always been high on offensive ability and shown a consistent knack for finding the back of the net, even with limited opportunities.

In ’13-14, he scored 13 times despite only appearing in 49 games.

In ’14-15, he scored 22 times despite only appearing in 49 games.

(This is not a typo. For some reason he hit that 49 game mark with regularity.)

Last year, Pirri had 11 goals in 52 contests before the Panthers flipped him to Anaheim. He proceeded to score three goals and five points in nine games as a Duck — missing a good chunk of time with a serious ankle injury — but failed to crack the lineup during an opening-round playoff loss to Nashville.

In New York, Pirri will be part of a remodeled forward group that includes GM Jeff Gorton’s other pickups this summer: Jimmy Vesey, Michael Grabner, Josh Jooris and Nathan Gerbe.

The group also got a new look via trade, as Gorton flipped Derick Brassard to Ottawa for Mika Zibanejad.

Blues to name Pietrangelo 21st captain in franchise history

St. Louis Blues' Alex Pietrangelo (27) skates against the Chicago Blackhawks' in an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Bill Boyce)
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Shortly after the Blues’ PR department unveiled a “major announcement” scheduled for Thursday, the Post-Dispatch broke news that Alex Pietrangelo will become the team’s new captain.

It’s a big honor for the talented defenseman, who joins the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull, Al MacInnis, Chris Pronger, Scott Stevens, Brian Sutter, Bernie Federko and Al Arbour as those that have captained the Blues.

Pietrangelo, 26, was taken fourth overall by St. Louis  in 2008 and has spent his entire professional career within the organization.

A staple of the Team Canada blueline and a two-time NHL 2nd team All-Star, Pietrangelo inherits the captaincy from David Backes, who wore the “C” for five years before signing with Boston in free agency.

Pietrangelo had previously served as one of Backes’ alternates — first earning his “A” in 2013 — along with forward Alex Steen, who’s served as an alternate since 2011. It’s logical to assume Steen will retain his role in the leadership group, but it will be interesting to see who gets the other alternate captaincy.