Ben Bishop thought he was headed to Calgary.
Bishop — a two-time finalist for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the league's top goalie — was one of the league's most sought-after trade targets during the June draft in Buffalo. The Flames, in need of a No. 1 goalie, were hot on his trail and received permission from the Lightning to discuss contract with Bishop, who is entering the last year of his deal at a $5.95 million salary cap hit.
Bishop, 29, said his representatives were working out a potential contract with Calgary, but the Flames instead acquired Bishop's former Blues teammate Brian Elliott from St. Louis on June 24 for a second-round draft pick and a conditional third-round pick in 2018.
"It looked like for a little bit it was going to happen," Bishop said Friday. "At kind of the last minute (the Flames) went out and got Elliott. It was close, but there was never … it wasn't that close, obviously."
"Close" could be a matter of perspective. Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said after the draft that he hadn't been close to making a deal. Flames GM Brad Treliving declined to comment about Bishop. But that the situation got to the point where Bishop, who has a partial no-move clause, was talking contract with the Flames and considering a trade, things were at least advanced.
And it makes one wonder if Bishop might be in Calgary if negotiations had gone better. Elliott, though less heralded than Bishop, is cheaper, in the last year of a $2.5 million deal.
Bishop, arguably the best goalie in Lightning history, wants to stay in Tampa Bay. That made for a whirlwind draft week for him, traveling from the NHL awards ceremony in Las Vegas — he was a Vezina finalist — back to his hometown, St. Louis.
"It was a tough time," Bishop said. "I went to Vegas for the awards when I found out there was a possibility I might be traded. Going to the awards and in the back of (my) mind (I was) worried about it. It was definitely an emotional week.
"I have a job in Tampa Bay. It's still my job. That's all I'm focusing on. If something happens, it happens."
The good news for Bishop is that he's healthy, saying he has recovered from an ankle injury that ended his season in Game 1 of last season's Eastern Conference final against the Penguins. Bishop will be in Columbus, Ohio, this week for U.S. team training camp for the World Cup of Hockey being held Sept. 17-Oct. 1 in Toronto.
Bishop called his selection for the U.S. team a great honor. He's excited and anxious about wearing his country's jersey, but he doesn't know if he will put on a Lightning sweater for the Oct. 13 season opener.
Yzerman has said that with an expansion draft coming in June, he will eventually have to make a decision about which of his top two goalies to keep, Bishop or Andrei Vasilevskiy, 22, who signed a three-year extension in July for a $3.5 million annual average. Only one goalie can be protected in the expansion draft for the Las Vegas franchise that begins play in 2017-18.
Bishop, who has been traded twice in his career, said he will try hard not to think about the big picture during the season if he's with the Lightning, narrowing his focus to his usual game-to-game routine. Bishop's prime example is how captain Steven Stamkos, in the final year of his deal last season, handled the saga of his lack of a contract extension and the resulting media attention.
Still, it's hard not to think this could be Bishop's final season in Tampa Bay.
"That goes in your head, and then you think you might have a great year and be with Tampa Bay the rest of your life," Bishop said. "You can look at it both ways. You try not to think about it, because then it … starts to make you upset."
Bishop chuckled at the end of that last sentence. He's not mad. He would love to stay but knows as fun as the sport is, the league is also a business.
Contact Joe Smith at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.