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New option at goaltender emerges for Tampa Bay Lightning

How much would you give up for Ben Bishop, and when would you do it? Or is it better to wait for the goaltender to hit the free-agent market before trying to snag him?

Those are the questions NHL general managers who need net help are asking, and it is safe to assume the Lightning's Steve Yzerman is among them.

Bishop, 25, who plays for AHL Peoria in the Blues organization, became the hottest young goalie on the market last week after St. Louis signed Brian Elliott to a two-year contract extension that solidified its tandem with Jaroslav Halak through 2013-14.

Bishop, 6 feet 7, 215 pounds, is 17-12-0 for the Rivermen with six shutouts, a 2.38 goals-against average and .926 save percentage. He is considered NHL ready and told AHL.com, "I expect to be in the NHL somewhere next year."

"He actually plays the puck really well for a big goaltender," said Lightning right wing Teddy Purcell, who played with Bishop at the University of Maine. "He takes up a lot of the net, and he's athletic.

"He makes those acrobatic big saves."

But here's where it really gets interesting.

As Bob McKenzie of Canada's TSN first pointed out, because Bishop is 25 and has been in fewer than 28 NHL games in which he played at least 30 minutes, he is a potential Group 6 unrestricted free agent. That means he can hit the open market on July 1 with the ability to sign with any team.

That is, unless a team trades for Bishop and plays him immediately so as to change his free-agent status, which would give the team more leverage in contract negotiations.

Bishop has been in 11 NHL games in which he has played more than 30 minutes. With 17 more, he would reach 28, which would shift his status to a potential Group 2 restricted free agent.

If that happens, Bishop's team would hold his rights — as long as he received a qualifying contract offer — and have the right to match outside offers.

Trading for Bishop would be a dramatic move. He would not come cheap, either, perhaps at the expense of a prospect or high daft choice Yzerman would rather keep as he tries to build organizational depth.

But for a team desperate for goaltending, maybe it is something to consider.

New option at goaltender emerges for Tampa Bay Lightning 01/21/12 [Last modified: Saturday, January 21, 2012 11:34pm]
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