Taking stock of Ben Bishop injury
Lightning starter Ben Bishop is hurt.
That we know. He left Tuesday's game in the first period and didn't return. It's unclear what the exact lower body injury is, though some have speculated it was a groin issue. The Lightning doesn't know how long Bishop will be sidelined. It could be two days or two months. We could know more today when Bishop is re-evaluated.
A hunch is that, at the very least, if it's a short-term injury, Bishop will get rested through this weekend's holiday break, which ends on Dec. 28, giving him a week to heal. The Lightning plays back-to-back Thursday and Friday, and Vasilevskiy could start one, if not both. It sounds like Kristers Gudlevskis is on his way up from AHL Syracuse to serve as backup, temporary or not.
A few things to consider.
*No matter how long Bishop is out, the Lightning is more than confident in Vasilevskiy, the future No. 1. This will likely be Vasilevskiy's net anyways, whether it's after March's trade deadline or next season. Tampa Bay showed its hand when signing Vasilevskiy to a three-year extension July 1, and nearly trading Bishop to Calgary at the June NHL Draft. Bishop, in the final year of his contract at a $5.95 million cap hit, is probably in his final few months in a Lightning uniform.
As Vasilevskiy said last night, this could be a good opportunity for him to play more games. He's at his best when he plays regularly. And as we've written before here, Vasilevskiy's strong play this season has to make the Lightning even more confident in Vasilevskiy as the next No. 1. His work ethic is second to none in the dressing room. There's a reason coach Jon Cooper calls Bishop and Vasilevskiy a 1 and 1A tandem.
"The kid is ready," veteran center Brian Boyle said of Vasilevskiy. "He's a pro."
Said Bishop: "He's going to be a star in this league."
*Bishop's injury history. Much has been made about Bishop often getting hurt. There's no question he's one of the world's best goalies, a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist. He's arguably the best goalie in franchise history, giving Tampa Bay a No. 1 it had sought for a decade.
But it would be the fourth straight season Bishop is dealing with an injury. He missed the 2014 playoff series with Montreal due to a wrist injury. He missed a start in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final due to a groin injury. He got carted off on a stretcher in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final last spring, Vasilevskiy playing almost all of the seven-game series.
Bishop has dubbed these injuries unlucky. He has been, for the most part, durable, starting 60-plus games in three straight seasons. But he's got some bad timing.
*Bishop's trade value. Bishop is expected to be one of the Lightning's top trade chips heading into the March trade deadline. The fact there's an expansion draft in June, where only one goalie can be protected, solidified that. GM Steve Yzerman has said it's very possible both Bishop and Vasilevskiy remain in net the whole season. Even if Bishop walks in free agency, that clears $6 million in cap space for next summer, with Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat restricted free agents.
The question is, does Bishop's injury history impact his trade value?
"I don't think it's a factor so long as teams are satisfied that it's not long term," said TSN's Craig Button, the former Flames general manager.
Button thinks the bigger obstacle is the Penguins Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury, 32, a Cup-winning goaltender, appears on the trade block, with Matt Murray expected to be the No. 1 of the future. Fleury, who has a modified no-trade clause, has two years left on a deal with a $5.75 million cap hit, not a bad number for a starter.
If a team is acquiring Bishop, who has a partial no-move clause, they'd likely negotatiate a long-term deal as part of it, like Calgary tried at the June draft.
"(Fleury) will be traded and has a good contract and cap hit that's very attractive," Button said.
*Which backup comes up? Even with a short-term injury, a callup from AHL Syracuse is likely to provide a backup goalie for Vasilevskiy. It sounds like Kristers Gudlevskis is getting recalled and will be available Thursday against the Flames. It makes sense. Gudlevskis has NHL experience, two regular season games and a backup stint in '14 playoffs. Adam Wilcox has outplayed him for the Crunch, his goals against average eighth in the AHL. But if the Lightning wants a short term backup, Gudlevskis is the right fit. That way Wilcox can continue his development and start in Syracuse. But Wilcox has certainly earned a callup at some point. And if the Lightning wants to see what it has in the prospect, it's worth a shot giving him a look, even if it's temporary.