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.