Saturday, April 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Amid trade rumors, Ben Bishop awaits Vezina Trophy vote

Lightning goalie Ben Bishop doesn't have to be a betting man to realize the odds are against him to win the Vezina Trophy tonight in Las Vegas at the NHL Awards Show.

The Capitals' Braden Holtby is a 1-to-30 favorite, per Bovada, to take the honor as the league's top goaltender, voted on by general managers. The Kings' Jonathan Quick is the other finalist.

"I would be pleasantly surprised if I won," Bishop, 29, said. "You hear that Holtby has kind of got it wrapped up. I'm not going to expect to win, even though I think I could. The numbers talk for themselves. We'll see."

Bishop does have a strong case, leading the league in goals-against average (2.06) and save percentage (.926), the only goalie to be in the top five in both those categories and shutouts (six). Holtby's claim to fame is tying Marty Brodeur's record for wins (48), but Bishop's 35 would be much higher had it not been for 11 losses when allowing two goals or fewer, second to the Devils' Cory Schneider (13).

"Before, I was pretty confident of Holtby winning," NHL Network analyst and former goalie Kevin Weekes said. "But now I'm kind of 50-50."

The more pressing, and telling, odds may be whether Bishop returns from Las Vegas as a member of the Lightning. Trade speculation is high entering the NHL draft Friday and Saturday in Buffalo, a report from a fake Twitter account Tuesday inaccurately proclaiming a deal with Calgary was already done.

With Bishop entering the final year of his contract ($5.95 million cap hit), an expansion draft looming next season, and several teams (like Calgary, with the sixth overall pick) looking for a No. 1 goalie, general manager Steve Yzerman will likely field some calls on Bishop, a two-time Vezina finalist. Bishop has a partial no-move clause, meaning he has a list of teams he can be dealt to without permission, and agent Allain Roy said Tuesday all was "quiet."

Yzerman, acknowledging he'll eventually have to make a decision on Bishop or future No. 1 Andrei Vasilevskiy, has said there's "absolutely" a possibility he starts the season with both.

"I expect to be back," Bishop said. "It's never really crossed my mind going somewhere else. As far as I'm concerned, I have another year here and I fully expect to be back. If I'm not, we'll cross that bridge when we get there.

"But I'm not going to sit here and worry about the 'what ifs.' It's a waste of time."

•••

There's a reason Bishop would be so highly coveted, either via trade, or next summer as an unrestricted free agent.

Since being acquired from Ottawa at the deadline in 2013 for Cory Conacher, Bishop has become the franchise goaltender the Lightning had desperately sought for a decade, ever since Nikolai Khabibulin led Tampa Bay to its only Stanley Cup in 2004.

Weekes said that around the league, Bishop is considered a top-five goalie in the world, the two Vezina nominations further proof. Only five goalies have started 180-plus games in the past three seasons, and Bishop ranks first with a .922 save percentage, per TSN.

"I wanted to be one of the top goalies in the league and I went out and felt like I was able to do that," Bishop said. "The first time (as a Vezina finalist), it's all new and exciting, now it's … you want to be here, not going to say expect, but you expect to play well and hope to be in the talks at least."

In many ways, this might have been Bishop's best season. He had career bests in GAA and save percentage, and was a picture of consistency that was sorely needed by an injury-plagued and scoring-deprived team, especially early in the season. Bishop had a five-start losing streak from Oct. 27-Nov. 7 in which he gave up a combined eight goals, Tampa Bay tallying just three. Teammates called Bishop their rock, their MVP.

"You'd be pretty hard-pressed to say he wasn't their best player," Weekes said. "And that's a team with a lot of excellent players."

Bishop said his journey, having played 175 AHL games — "a lot of bus rides" — helped him not take anything for granted. And his ability to take care of his body this season led to more consistency.

That's what made it so difficult for Bishop, who has started 60 or more regular-season games the past three years, to get hurt late in the playoffs again. This time he had a left ankle/shin injury in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final.

Vasilevskiy, 21, won three games, giving the Lightning a chance before losing Game 7 to eventual Cup champion Pittsburgh. Bishop, who has been happy to help show Vasilevskiy the ropes, was proud of his play.

"He looks like he knows what he's doing out there," Bishop said. "I don't think we really miss too much of a beat."

Vasilevskiy's ability — and cheaper contract at $925,000 — may make it more palatable for Yzerman to move Bishop, either this summer or next season.

Bishop is open to signing a long-term deal in Tampa Bay.

"I definitely like playing in Tampa, like playing for (coach Jon Cooper), like the organization," Bishop said. "It's gone pretty well the last three years, I don't see much of a change. But I guess we'll see."

Contact Joe Smith at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

 
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