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Lightning's Bishop wants to stay but wants to play

Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop (30), center, sits on the bench during the first period of Thursday???‚??„?s (2/2/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Ottawa Senators at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop (30), center, sits on the bench during the first period of Thursday???‚??„?s (2/2/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Ottawa Senators at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
Published Feb. 3, 2017

TAMPA — Goalie Ben Bishop admits he doesn't know where he'll be when the March 1 trade deadline passes.

Bishop, 30, has been part of trade speculation all season, and he could be in his last month in a Lightning uniform. The writing has been on the wall for a while, with Bishop, a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist, in the final year of his deal in Tampa Bay. Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Lightning's future No. 1, made his third start in four games in Thursday's 5-2 loss to the Senators.

Bishop loves this team and the city, and hopes to stay the rest of the season. But Bishop, who has been traded twice in his career, also appears open to a trade if it means he can play more. Bishop has started twice in 16 days since going in back-to-back games Jan. 16-17.

"Obviously we have a great team, a great organization and great place to play," Bishop said Thursday. "Obviously the grass isn't always greener on the other side. You want to win where you are. You don't really think about next year, or anything but next game.

"But we'll see where it takes us. That's my feeling. But at the same time, I want to play, too."

LIGHTNING LOSES THIRD STRAIGHT: It falls 5-2 to the Senators.

Bishop, who has a limited no-move clause in his contract, has shown he is willing to leave Tampa Bay. At the June draft, he began contract negotiations with the Flames in preparation for a potential deal, thinking one was close, only to have it fall through. Calgary was on his list of teams for which Tampa Bay needed his approval for a trade.

It doesn't sound like there's a big market for goalies at this point, whether it is Bishop or the Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury, also considered a trade candidate. Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman maintains the trade market overall is relatively quiet, given salary cap crunches and many teams believing they're still in the playoff hunt. That includes Tampa Bay, with Yzerman believing his team can still make a run.

Yzerman isn't going to give up Bishop unless he gets what he believes is the right price. But if he finds a fit, it doesn't sound like Bishop would stand in the way.

"If I could do something that helped our team make a trade that identified a need for us — not just for this year, but going forward — I would do that and haven't been able to do that to this point," Yzerman said Thursday on the team's website show. "And that's been going on, really, since the draft last year."

You wonder how much the uncertainty has affected Bishop's play. Bishop said he tries to ignore the distractions. But it has to be stressful.

Bishop entered Thursday 34th in the league in save percentage at .904 and 36th in goals-against average at 2.83. Not all of it is on him. The Lightning hasn't always played well in front of Bishop. Bishop has also been limited to 28 games, partly due to missing three weeks with a lower-body injury as well as splitting time with Vasilevskiy. For a veteran like Bishop, who has started 60-plus games each of the past three seasons, that could be tough.

It might be better to give Vasilevskiy the net and get something in return for Bishop, who'd have a chance to help a team down the stretch as he approaches unrestricted free agency this summer. But it'd also be hard for Tampa Bay, fighting for its playoff life, to watch Bishop go on a roll with another team.

Bishop is the best goalie in franchise history. And the Lightning still has a chance to make the playoffs if it can finally put a winning streak together.

For now, Bishop waits.

"You can't really do anything about it," he said. "When you get a chance to play, you try to play well and go from there. You can't really control things that are out of your hands. … We'll see."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.