When goalie Ben Bishop missed Sunday's Lightning practice due to the flu, it fueled trade speculation around the hockey world.
"That set off a firestorm," agent Allain Roy said.
Bishop was indeed sick, Roy said. But he was also soon on the move, traded to the Kings later in the day for backup goalie Peter Budaj, defensive prospect Erik Cernak and a seventh-round draft pick this year. Tampa Bay also gets a conditional pick this year, up to a second-rounder, depending on Bishop's performance and the Kings' playoff performance.
But the Lightning loses the best goalie in franchise history, the backbone of back-to-back long playoff runs.
"It was not an easy decision to make," general manager Steve Yzerman said.
But Yzerman, who also gave Los Angeles a fifth-round pick this year, believes it was a necessary one. He said the plan all along was to eventually hand over the net to Andrei Vasilevskiy, especially with Bishop set to leave as an unrestricted free agent this summer. By dealing Bishop now, the Lightning can free up key salary cap space for this season and beyond.
Plus, said NHL Network analyst Craig Button, a former GM, Cernak can grow into a top-four defenseman.
"(Yzerman) got something meaningful for a guy who was going out the door," Button said. "A huge, huge win (for the Lightning)."
And it might not be the final major move by Tampa Bay before Wednesday's 3 p.m. trade deadline, especially if the Lightning loses to Ottawa tonight at Amalie Arena. Tampa Bay is seven points out of an Eastern Conference playoff spot with 22 games to go.
Yzerman said the Bishop deal is not a sign the Lightning is giving up on this season, noting its confidence in Vasilevskiy and how well Budaj has played this season (2.12 goals-against average in 53 games, better than Bishop's 2.55 in 32). Yzerman said the Lightning retains 20 percent of Bishop's remaining salary but created needed cap room for expected bonuses for Jonathan Drouin, Vasilevskiy and more.
Bishop's $5.95 million salary comes off the books this summer, when the Lightning has to re-sign potential restricted free agents Drouin, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat.
"It's not just about this year, it's about next year," Yzerman said. "And we're going to continue to try to win games and try to get a playoff spot."
Yzerman said there were doubts about whether the Lightning would move Bishop at the deadline, noting the "unpredictable" goalie market. The Lightning and Kings hadn't been talking long, he said. Bishop had a partial no-trade list, but the Kings were not on it.
Roy said Bishop was surprised, as was most of the hockey world, that he was heading to Los Angeles, with starter Jonathan Quick returning Saturday for his first game since suffering a groin injury in the season opener.
"Like any player that gets traded, you're sad to leave your team," Roy said. "(Bishop) loved Tampa, he loved his teammates, his city. But you're always excited to get on the new team and see what that brings. If you look at the (Kings) goalie tandem, I'd say it's the best tandem in the NHL at this point."
Bishop, 31, had been playing his best hockey of the season, winning his past five starts. Vasilevskiy, 22, is expected to carry a larger load, with Budaj backing him up. Budaj, 34, has played well this season filling in for Quick, compiling a .917 save percentage. Budaj, in the last year of his contract at $600,000, can be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Yzerman said the Lightning will consider him for a backup role next season, too.
Cernak, 19, is a 6-foot-3, 221-pound right-shot defenseman playing in the junior Ontario League with Erie. He has three goals and 14 assists in 40 games this season. He's eligible to turn pro next season and join AHL Syracuse. Yzerman said he's a strong skater and defender, and the Lightning is "very optimistic" he'll develop into an NHL player.
"He's big, he's strong, he's territorial," Button said of Cernak. "He's hard to play against. He's not going to put up a lot of points, but he's a guy that can play against other team's top players.
"As far as I'm concerned, Yzerman should be applauded."