Lightning goalie Ben Bishop thought he was headed to Calgary.
Bishop, 29, the two-time Vezina Trophy finalist, was one of the league's most sought-after trade targets during the June NHL Draft in Buffalo. The Flames, in need of a No. 1 goalie, were hot on his trail and received permission from Tampa Bay to discuss contract with Bishop, who is entering the last year of his deal at a $5.95 million cap hit.
Bishop said his camp was "in the process" of 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 pick and conditional third round pick in 2018.
"It looked like for a little bit it was going to happen," Bishop told the Tampa Bay Times by phone 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 GM Steve Yzerman said after the draft he wasn't close to making a deal. Flames GM Brad Treliving declined to comment on Bishop. But the fact it got to the point where Bishop, who has a partial no-move clause, was talking contract with Flames, and was considering it, means things were at least advanced. And it makes one wonder if Bishop might already 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 franchise history, wants to stay in Tampa Bay. So it was a whirlwind week, traveling from the NHL Awards in Las Vegas back to his hometown of 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 your mind worried about it. It was definitely an emotional week. In the end it didn't end up happening.
"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 is Bishop is healthy, saying he's fully recovered from an ankle injury that ended his season in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Penguins. Bishop will be in Columbus next week for Team USA training camp for the World Cup of Hockey, a role he calls a "great honor." While he's excited/anxious to wear his country's jersey in the Toronto tournament held Sept 17-Oct. 1, Bishop doesn't know if he'll put on a Lightning sweater for the Oct. 13 season opener.
Yzerman has said that with a June expansion draft, he will eventually have to make a decision on which goalie to keep, Bishop or touted prospect Andrei Vasilevskiy, 22, who signed a three-year extension in July for $3.5 million annual average. Only one goalie can be protected from getting picked by the new Las Vegas franchise.
So Bishop, who has already been traded twice in his career, knows it won't be the last of trade rumors surrounding him heading into the February trade deadline. He'll said he'll try really hard not to think about the big picture during the season, narrowing his focus on his usual game-to-game routine. Bishop said he learned from how captain Steven Stamkos handled his ongoing contract saga last season.
Still, it's hard not to think this could be Bishop's final year 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 the last line. He's not mad. He'd love to stay but knows as fun as the sport is, the league is also a business.