Sunday, December 10, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Ben Bishop competes against Andrei Vasilevskiy, but teaches him too

TAMPA

Andrei Vasilevskiy started every workout this summer in Ottawa with 10-15 minutes of puck-handling practice.

"I'm trying to be like 'Bish,' " he said, smiling.

And "Bish," Lightning starter Ben Bishop, is happy to help by sharing his expertise as one of the league's best puck-moving goaltenders.

"We're like one little goalie team," Vasilevskiy said. "He's my teacher, like my coach."

It could be awkward for Bishop, 29, and Vasilevskiy, 22, the future No. 1 whose time might be coming sooner than later. Bishop, the best goalie in franchise history, is in the final year of his deal (at $5.95 million). Vasilevskiy signed a three-year extension in July at $3.5 million.

The salary cap-strapped Lightning can't protect both in June's expansion draft with the new Las Vegas team entering the league, sparking speculation that Bishop could get moved by March's trade deadline. Vasilevskiy is already expected to get a bigger share of the starts than last season, ideally 30 or more, though Bishop will likely be in net tonight against the Panthers at Amalie Arena.

But the two also share a strong relationship, a mentor-pupil partnership. And Bishop doesn't seem to mind grooming his potential successor, especially if it means the good friends can hoist the Stanley Cup in June.

"It's fun to watch each other and encourage each other," Bishop said. "You want each guy to do well because it makes it easier on you."

• • •

Bishop remembers being in Vasilevskiy's shoes.

Both in St. Louis, which drafted him in the third round in 2005, and Ottawa, Bishop was battling for playing time, hoping to land a starting gig. Along the way, veterans like Manny Legace, Chris Mason and Ty Conklin gave him some tricks to the trade.

"Those guys really helped me out, showed me the way," Bishop said. "They were really good to me. You don't forget that."

In a sense, Bishop is paying it forward. Vasilevskiy, a first-round pick in 2012, has learned mostly from watching Bishop. He gleans how Bishop prepares for starts, how he handles the mental grind, especially in the playoff pressure cooker.

Bishop will give Vasilevskiy tips on certain shooters. In turn, Bishop picked up aspects from Vasilevskiy, like his post play.

" 'Vasy' looks up to Bish," Lightning goalie coach Frantz Jean said. "Bish helps Vasy. It's really a good relationship between, both mentor and mentoree type relationship. It helps the team."

The Lightning has needed both goalies the past two seasons. That includes a coming-of-age moment for Vasilevskiy in last season's Eastern Conference final, starting six of the seven games after Bishop suffered an ankle injury early in Game 1. Vasilevskiy racked up 30-plus saves in each of his starts, 48 in Game 3.

"I remember I turned to him just before a team meal (in Pittsburgh), I asked him, 'How are you with all of this?' " Jean said. "He says, 'I'm having the time of my life.' "

• • •

It's not like Bishop is ready to just hand Vasilevskiy the net.

Bishop hasn't ruled out the possibility, however remote, of signing an extension next summer as an unrestricted free agent. A fierce and confident competitor, Bishop has proven himself, a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist that holds many Lightning franchise records.

"He's one of the best goalies in the NHL," Vasilevskiy said.

Vasilevskiy showed faith by signing a three-year extension in July, one year removed from restricted free agency.

"The best thing to happen to me in my hockey life," he said.

What could top that? When Vasilevskiy becomes a No. 1.

"I think I'm ready, but I can't say 100 percent," Vasilevskiy said. "This season will show us."

Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

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