Ben Bishop is the best goalie the Tampa Bay Lightning have ever had suit up for them. Bishop will likely not be wearing a Tampa Bay uniform when the 2017-18 season kicks off. There isn't much arguing those two statements. Every since Steven Stamkos decided to keep his talents in Tampa, speculation has run rampant on what the impact would be to the team.
The organization has been able to keep their players so far. Victor Hedman squashed any chance of him leaving by signing an extension immediately as the window for him to do so opened. Alex Killorn declined arbitration in exchange for many truck loads of money (a Harvard Man sound decision). Unfortunately, there are still many, many loose ends to be wrapped up. Most urgently, figuring out a contract for Nikita Kucherov before the season begins looms large over the summer. Next year Tyler Johnson, Jonathan Drouin and Ondrej Palat are up for raises as well.
Every time a new deal is signed and a little more the cap disappears another nail is put into the coffin of Ben Bishop's tenure with Tampa. He is an unrestricted free agent after this season and wants (deserves) a big raise. The Lightning aren't in a great position to offer what he's worth so the discussion begins.
Lightning fans are well aware of the fact that GM Steve Yzerman will not be rushed or pressured into making a decision. He didn't do it when Martin St. Louis demanded a trade, or Jonathan Drouin demanded a trade or when Steven Stamkos was staring free agency in the face. Yzerman won't do it with Ben Bishop. He is more than willing to keep Bishop and risk the chance of the big man walking away on July 1st 2017.
That isn't fun. Trades are fun. So fans will talk about trading Bishop now or during the season for assets. Why let him go for nothing when you can get something for him? Well, for starters, he's the starting goaltender for a team that has made two consecutive Eastern Conference Finals. Andrei Vasilevskiy is good and will probably be great, but at the moment, having Ben Bishop on the Lightning is better than not having him on the team.
However, Mr. Yzerman wouldn't be doing his job if he didn't at least explore the possibility of swapping Bish. It would seem obvious that trading a two-time Vezina-nominated goaltender would be easy. But when you dive into the reality not many teams actually need or can afford him. So who is most likely to be able to take Bishop off of the Lightning's hands? It's hard to say, but here are all the teams in the league broken down by category.
The "No thank you we're good" teams:
Montreal Canadiens – Carey Price is good. Really, really good. He is currently signed through 2017-18 and there is no way Montreal doesn't re-sign him unless his leg falls off.
New York Rangers – The team itself might be in transition, but Henrik Lundqvist is the one handsome constant in the line-up.
Boston Bruins – Tuukka Rask is signed through 2020-21.While his numbers have dipped a bit over the last 3 years, they are still too good for them to consider picking up another elite goalie.
Chicago Blackhawks – There was some rumblings earlier in the off-season that Corey Crawford might be on his way out of town as a salary cap casualty (which delighted the talk show callers to no end), but Stan Bowman values him more than the average fan. If he was to leave it wouldn't be to bring in Bishop and his expected contract demands.
Nashville Predators – Pekka Rinne is solid in net. Last year was a bit of a rougher year than normal, but they are going to roll with him and their revamped defense (PK Subban and Yannik "The Other Weber" Weber).
Washington Capitals – The reigning Vezina winner isn't going anywhere.
Colorado Avalanche – It seems like a sure bet that Colorado is sticking with Semyon Varlamov. Like a solid 91.4% sure.
The "You're trying to trade a goalie, WE'RE trying to trade a goalie" teams:
Pittsburgh Penguins – The Penguins are up against the cap and have, as Lightning fans found out last year, two pretty good goalies. Not only would they not be a good match for a trade, they are the Lightning's direct competition. If a team decides to make a trade for a number one – it's coming down to Bishop or Marc Andre Fleury.
Detroit Red Wings – Before this was posted, Detroit was probably a little lower on this list, but news is circulating that they have signed Peter Mrazek to a two-year deal that averages to about $4 million. That sounds like a bridge deal that gives them some flexibility to move Jimmy Howard and his $5.3 million deal that has 3 years left on it. A team that is looking for a number one but is scared off by Fleury's term and Bishops pending UFA status might settle for Howard.
The "If you had called us earlier maybe we could have made a deal" team:
Toronto Maple Leafs – They won the draft and they completely revamped their goaltending over the last year by trading away James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier. They then pushed their chips to the table with Fredrick Anderson, plucking him away from Anaheim and then signing him to a 5-year extension. Anderson is good, but not Ben Bishop good. I wonder if they had made any inquires into Bishop's status before making the deal with the Ducks?
The "Our Goalie is signed for how long? I need a drink" teams:
Los Angeles Kings – When you win two cups backstopping a less-than-inspiring offense you are going to get paid. Jonathan Quick is getting paid. Just think, there will be one and a half more election cycles by the time his contract ends in 2022-23.
New Jersey Devils – Corey Schneider is good, but he's also under contract for another 6 seasons at $6 million per. That's probably going to be a template for whatever deal Bishop signs in the off-season. There is no room for them to bring Bishop to Brooklyn or Coney Island or Long Island or wherever they end up playing in the future.
Columbus Blue Jackets – Three years isn't that long, but having a no-movement and a cap hit of $7.4 million is why Sergei Bobrovsky will be hearing canons fired obnoxiously loud for the immediate future.
St. Louis Blues – Actually doing research turns up some interesting things. Like the fact that Jake Allen (who was playing in the All-State Arena in Rosemont two seasons ago) is signed with the Blues for five more years. They are gambling that he is a number one goalie after two seasons as a backup. Or if he flames out, that Las Vegas might consider him an option. Whatever they decide won't be in time to help the Lightning move Bishop.
The "Sorry, we're not quite sure what we're doing" teams:
Florida Panthers – They traded for, and were rewarded with a surprising run to the playoffs, Roberto Luongo's contract. For his production, a $5.3 million hit isn't that bad. The fact that it runs for another six years kind of "sucks". So it was kind of weird that they then went out and signed James Reimer to a 5-year $3.4 million deal this summer. The thought is that it is good protection in case Luongo turns to dust on the ice at some point during the season. If he doesn't, then Reimer would be an attractive option for the Las Vegas Whatevers in the upcoming expansion draft.
Carolina Hurricanes – They did just re-sign Cam Ward for two more seasons, which if they had a top goaltending prospect in the system would make sense, but they don't. Eddie Lack might take over, but he also might be a perennial backup. The off-ice issue might keep the team from making any moves. Until they are sold (or possibly) relocated ownership might not be willing to make another major financial investment to a player.
Ottawa Senators – Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond are not horrible goaltenders. They're not great either. They've been shelling out some money lately as well, but it just doesn't seem to be a fun place to place. Owner Eugene Melnyk seems to be a little too hands on. He looks to be the type of owner that would demand to trade for Bishop one day and then demand to release him the next day. Although it would be entertaining if the Lightning did send him back to Ottawa which would, in effect, completely nullify the Cory Conacher for Ben Bishop deal of 2013.
The "If someone gets hurt maybe we'll give you a call, but don't call us" teams:
Philadelphia Flyers – They have Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth under contract for one more season. While they probably won't win the Jennings trophy they are serviceable. With the team up against the cap, making a move for Bishop this season doesn't make sense, especially as they build for the future.
Minnesota Wild – They were a bit higher in the rankings since Devan Dubnyk is signed for 6 more years, but this is a team on the brink. If they are fighting for a playoff spot and Dubnyk gets hurt, they might be willing to go all in and bring Bishop in as a rental for the final stretch
Calgary Flames – At the draft, this was the team Bishop was linked to the most. Rumor has it that his 7-year, $7 million contract extension demand might have cooled them off. They chose to go with Brian Elliot instead. However, if Elliot doesn't work out, they aren't committed long term to him and might revisit a trade with Tampa. Getting Bishop to waive his no-movement clause to go to a team that is still kind of rebuilding could be a challenge.
The "If we can make the money work maybe we can work something out" teams:
Dallas Stars – Probably the number one team on most people's minds after the two-headed monster of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi disappointed in the playoffs, figuring out how to bring in Bishop when they already have almost $10.5 million committed to goalies will be a challenge. The Lightning might not have room under the cap to take back either Lehtonen or Niemi, especially after re-signing Vlad Namestnikov on Tuesday.
If the Stars are willing to retain some salary and the Lightning buy out whatever goalie they get back after the season, it could work. Would the Stars be willing to do that and give up a significant asset in order to get the deal done?
Vancouver Canucks – Ryan Miller has been in the NHL for a very long time. He is still a good man to be guarding the crease, but his days of being elite are over. They have all but bid him adieu by signing his backup, Jacob Markstrom, to a 3-year extension. However, lets say they are hovering around the wildcard spot in February or March, would they be willing to take a gamble on Bishop getting the over the hump?
Tampa Bay Lightning – Lets not forget that the option exists that he stays with the team. If there is anyone in the league that can figure out how to bring Bishop back and keep the core together it is Steve Yzerman. It will definitely hinge on what kind of contract Nikita Kucherov finally signs, but there are non-essential pieces of the team that Mr. Yzerman may be able to move instead of his number one goalie.
New York Islanders – The Islanders have popped up a few times in Lightning fans' Twitter feed this summer in regards to them being a potential destination for Nikita Kucherov if Mr. Yzerman can't work out a deal with the Russian forward. Which is kind of odd considering they only have about $3 million in projected space and a long-term deal with Kucherov could affect re-signing Jonathan Tavares in a couple of seasons. They might be a better fit for Bishop if they consider buying out Jaroslav Halak after the season. A solid number one goalie with the talent the Islanders have on the front lines would make them a solid contender in the Eastern Conference.
The "I wouldn't say we love our goaltending situation, could you put in a good word for us" teams:
Arizona Coyotes – Their GM is barely old enough to rent a car without a co-signer, but he has made some pretty savvy moves since the season ended (including the Anthony DeAngelo pickup). Mike Smith continues to get older and more injury-prone. The Coyotes have cap space and a lot of young talent (Max Domi and Anthony DuClair are so much fun to watch). If they were able to talk Bishop into spending the winter in Arizona, their rebuild time table would be seriously escalated.
Buffalo Sabres – They are kind of the Eastern Conference version of the Coyotes. Lots of young talent that they've hoarded over the last few years, cap space and run-of-the-mill goaltending. They also have an extra second round pick in next year's draft. Mr. Yzerman LOVES second round picks. Trading within the divisions is never ideal, but if they put together a nice enough package Mr. Yzerman would be listening.
Edmonton Oilers – Sticking with the theme of young teams with offense talent and ordinary goaltending, everyone's favorite whipping post could jump up in the standings with a top-tier netminder like Bishop. They have young assets that might intrigue Mr. Yzerman. Getting Bishop to waive his no-move clause would probably be a problem.
Anaheim Ducks – They were the darkhorse team since it became apparent that Ben Bishop might be on the trading block. The trade for Bernier did knock them out of the number one spot as he goes into their season as the presumptive number one. However, if he isn't the answer the Ducks could try to put something together in December to peel Bishop away from the Lightning. There is a lot of pressure for them to not only make the playoffs, but battle Chicago and Los Angeles for the top of the standings in the Western Conference. Bishop could be that difference. At this point John Gibson is probably not the difference.
Winnipeg Jets – Another team that might be feeling the pressure. The bloom is starting to come off the rose a bit in Winnipeg. The fans aren't happy just to have a team now, they want to be competitive. While they have some good young players in Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba and now Patrick Laine, Ondrej Pavelec just isn't a reliable goalie. He is in the final year of his contract and the Jets could be compelled to make a deal for Bishop in a "playoffs or bust" move at the deadline.
San Jose Sharks – The Sharks are probably a bit of a surprise. After all they made it to the Stanley Cup Finals and Martin Jones was outstanding. But what if it was a one-year thing? What if he is decidedly average coming out of the gate this season? The window for San Jose has almost slammed shut. Patrick Marleau is 36 years-old and Joe Thornton is 37. They are both in their final year of their contracts and might not come back.
They have some depth at the blue line that they might be willing to sacrifice one of their younger defenders for one more shot at the Cup. Bishop might be willing to waive his no-move to go to a contender. The salary cap situation isn't ideal, but there are ways around that. They could find a way to minimize Bishop's hit this year and then work on maybe an extension after that (lots of money coming off the books if they don't re-sign Thornton and Marleau).
In the end no one knows where Ben Bishop is going to end up this year or next. It's all speculation, but that's part of the fun of sports. People are forever looking forward and trying to figure out the future.