With Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy under contract for the 2016-17 season the Tampa Bay Lightning have two goalies on their roster that are both capable of starting in the NHL and playing at an extremely high level.
The problem that comes with having two No. 1 goalies — if you want to call it a “problem” — is that only one of them can play at a time, and with an expansion draft looming in the coming year the situation created a summer of full of trade speculation regarding one of the players (Bishop, specifically).
With the start of the season just around the corner, it seems likely that both goalies are going to start the season with the team and perhaps remain with it all year. On Thursday General manager Steve Yzerman said (via the Tampa Bay Times) that it is “certainly an option” and “not a bad one” to keep both goalies all season.
For the time being, it might be their only option.
Even if the Lightning wanted to deal one of their two goalies right now (and for salary cap purposes it would almost certainly be Bishop) the problem they would run into is that there is almost no trade market for starting goalies at this point.
The level of goaltending across the NHL right now is so good that just about every team in the league has a starter (and in some cases, more than one capable of doing it) that it is happy with. Nobody is really in the market to give up assets for a goalie no matter how good he might be. The few teams that did enter the offseason with needs in net (Calgary, for example) have already filled them. The Flames were reportedly one of the teams that at one time had interest in dealing for Bishop but filled that vacancy by trading for Brian Elliott from the St. Louis Blues.
The one team that could be a wild card and a potential trade partner during the season is the Dallas Stars. They have one of the best teams in the league and an offense that can outscore any other team on any given night. But they also have a massive question mark in net with the duo of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi that might prove to be their Achilles heel. Adding a goaltender like Bishop, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy this past season, would be a potentially massive upgrade in net and make a team that is already Stanley Cup contender a potential force in the West. The problem would be finances. Both Lehtonen and Niemi are signed through the end of next season and both count more than $4.5 million against the cap.
That would seem to significantly limit the Lightning’s options when it comes to a potential trade.
In the short term, there are worse problems than having to keep both. They not only get a safety net in case an injury happens (as one did to Bishop in the Eastern Conference Final), but it also gives them an opportunity to distribute the playing time in a manner that keeps both goalies fresh for what has the potential to be another deep postseason run.
But the Lightning are eventually going to have their own financial issues to worry about. They still have a little more than $6.5 million remaining under the salary cap for this season but still need to come to terms with restricted free agents Nikita Kucherov and Nikita Nesterov at some point before the start of the season. Next year Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Jonathan Drouin will all be due for new contracts as well.
It seems likely that one way or the other Bishop will be out of the picture next season given what his next contract will look like and Tampa Bay’s roster and salary cap structure. Vasilevskiy is younger, under contract for four more seasons at a pretty favorable rate against the cap, and has the potential to be an outstanding goalie. They not likely to move him.
It will just be a matter of whether or not they will be able to get something for Bishop before they have to lose him for nothing.