TAMPA — By February's trade deadline — and likely sooner — the Lightning will have to make a decision on which goaltender it's keeping long term, Ben Bishop or Andrei Vasilevskiy.
One of them would have to be exposed — and no doubt would be selected — in June's expansion draft.
So by signing Vasilevskiy, 21, on Friday to a three-year contract extension worth $3.5 million annually, it looked like Tampa Bay picked him over the more experienced and expensive Bishop, 29, a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist who is entering the last year of his deal at $5.95 million.
General manager Steve Yzerman, however, would not go that far, saying the extension won't change or speed up the Lightning's decision-making process. Yzerman said it's possible both Bishop and Vasilevskiy start the season in Tampa Bay.
"I have an idea in mind of what I want to do, and I really don't want to get into that with you," Yzerman said. "So we'll just see how things play along. If something that makes sense happens a day from now, a month from now, at the trade deadline, we'll look at it, and we're prepared, if need be.
"It wouldn't be the worst situation in the world if we have two really good goaltenders to play the year out."
The Flames talked to the Lightning about Bishop at last weekend's draft before acquiring Brian Elliott from the Blues. Bishop, who has a partial no-trade clause, had not been told he is getting traded, agent Allain Roy said Friday.
"We're still with the Tampa Bay Lightning," Roy said. "That's all we know."
Vasilevskiy had one year remaining at $925,000 on his entry-level deal before he could become a restricted free agent next summer. But Vasilevskiy, a touted prospect who has appeared in 40 NHL games, "wanted to show Tampa that he's prepared to commit," agent Rolly Hedges said.
"He just wanted to show what he can do, wanted to be part of the organization," Hedges said. "He could have waited a year, but he wanted to show he's a team player."
Hedges said the Lightning didn't give any guarantees about the expansion draft, in which the Las Vegas team will select players, and Vasilevskiy doesn't have a no-move or a no-trade clause. But if the past two years are any indication — including how well Vasilevskiy performed in relief of the injured Bishop during this year's Eastern Conference final against the Penguins — the Lightning would be in good hands with him.
Said defenseman Victor Hedman, who signed an eight-year extension Friday: "I don't know if there's a bigger goalie talent that I've seen."
NUTS AND BOLTS: Right wing Jonathan Marchessault, a Lightning unrestricted free agent, signed a two-year deal with the Panthers for $750,000 per season. … The Lightning added to its depth at AHL Syracuse by signing forwards Michael Bournival, Jeremy Morin, Gabriel Dumont and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond to one-year, two-way contracts. With the Crunch losing veterans Mike Angelidis (free agent) and Mike Blunden (two-year deal with the Senators), these signings help filled some voids, Yzerman said. … Forward Dennis Yan, a third-round draft pick in 2015, signed a three-year entry-level contract.