Friday, November 24, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Uncertain time for Lightning's Bishop

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CALGARY — With Ben Bishop nearly getting traded to the Flames last summer, you'd think there might be some reflection by the Lightning goaltender heading into tonight's game at the Saddledome.

You'd also be wrong.

"Zero thoughts," Bishop said. "It's over and done with."

But Bishop, 30, felt it was close to a done deal June 24 at the NHL draft. Trade talks between Tampa Bay and Calgary got advanced enough to where Bishop was working out a contract extension with the Flames. That was important as Calgary was on the list of teams that needed Bishop's approval for a deal.

"We kind of worked out something," Bishop said.

The trade never happened. The Flames instead acquired the cheaper Brian Elliott ($2.5 million cap hit compared to Bishop's $5.95 million) that day from St. Louis. But it set the stage for a season of uncertainty for Bishop, an unrestricted free agent next summer. With June's expansion draft, the Lightning can't keep both Bishop and backup Andrei Vasilevskiy, who signed a three-year extension July 1. Bishop doesn't know where he'll be playing after March's trade deadline, much less next season.

"It's definitely in the back of your mind," Bishop said. "You'd be lying if you said it wasn't."

But Bishop, who has been traded twice, insists it hasn't been a distraction. Nor, he says, has it been a factor in his play on the ice. But the two-time Vezina Trophy finalist's numbers aren't up to his typical standards, an 8-10 record with a 2.86 goals-against average, .80 higher than last year. Bishop said he feels the same as he has the past two seasons, and hasn't changed anything technically.

While Bishop isn't the only Lightning player in a contract year — forwards Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Jonathan Drouin are all restricted free agents next summer — he's the most likely to be playing elsewhere next year. And trade speculation involving Bishop will only intensify with the Lightning (14-13-2) in a free fall, having lost seven of eight. Bishop might be the team's biggest trade chip.

"Everyone sees the possibility Ben Bishop could be gone soon," said Brian Engblom, the Lightning's color analyst for Fox Sports Sun. "He thought he was gone last summer. I think we underestimate the mental effect on Ben a little bit and that's unfair. The Steven Stamkos situation last year was talked about ad nauseam, it was terrible for the team and for Steven. Ben has been asked about it. Do you think he's not thinking about it? I'm not trying to make an issue out of it, but you wonder where his head is sometimes."

Stamkos said after signing an eight-year deal in June his contract saga weighed on him. He's spoken with Bishop about going through it. Engblom points out one of Bishop's strengths is mentally compartmentalizing.

"I've got other things to think about," Bishop said. "You know (the contract uncertainty) is there. But it's not like I'm sitting at home thinking about it. You just think about the next game, want to play well to get out of this funk. That's way more on my mind than anything else."

GM Steve Yzerman reiterated it's very possible the Bishop-Vasilevskiy tandem remains intact the rest of the season. It's not a great market for goaltenders. Just ask Pittsburgh, which still likely has to unload Marc-Andre Fleury. Calgary might even have an answer in net with Chad Johnson's stellar play, the backup fueling a six-game win streak.

"I don't think anyone in Calgary is thinking, 'Bishop is coming, that's the guy we should have got,' " said Eric Francis, long-time columnist for the Calgary Sun. "On top of that, the way Chad Johnson has played as of late, he made everyone forget about the entire summer. Nobody is talking about Elliot anymore, much less Bishop."

NUTS AND BOLTS: Lightning leading scorer Nikita Kucherov left during Tuesday's practice and did not return, with the team not providing an update on his status. … Wing Ryan Callahan, who missed the last six games with a lower body injury, accompanied the team on its three-game trip.

Times staff writer Roger Mooney contributed to this report. Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]om. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

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