The Tampa Bay Lightning have officially traded away the best goaltender in Lightning history. (Ok, you could certainly make an argument for Nikolai Khabibulin, and he did win a Stanley Cup for us after all.)
Ben Bishop leaves the Lightning as the goaltender who was the career leader in regular season games played, games started, wins, OT losses, shots against, saves, save percentage, goals against average, time on ice, and shutouts. In addition, he’s tied with Khabibulin for the lead in assists and points. The story is similar for the playoffs with him leading in games played, games started, wins (tied), losses, shots against, saves, goals against, save percentage, assists, points, and is tied for shutouts.
As far back as last June, speculation was already running rampant about what the Lightning would do with their goaltending situation. Andrei Vasilevskiy was the heir apparent. It was just a matter of time before Vasilevskiy took over as the starter. But would it be this season, or next season, or at the trade deadline? That was the million dollar question.
Word went around during the 2016 draft that Steve Yzerman was talking to the Calgary Flames about Bishop. The Flames reportedly balked at the amount of money and term that Bishop wanted in an extension, and backed away from the deal. If that deal had gone through, it’s possible that the Lightning would have acquired the Flames’ first-round pick.
With that pick, the Lightning would have had their choice of Matthew Tkachuk, Clayton Keller, Alexander Nylander, and Mikhail Sergachev. All four of those players are high-quality prospects with Tkachuk having put up 41 points in 58 games for the Flames this year. Clayton Keller has lit up NCAA hockey with 38 points in 26 games for Boston University. Nylander, younger brother of William Nylander of Toronto Maple Leafs fame, has 22 points in 49 games in the AHL, which is impressive for an 18 year old. And Sergachev is a Russian defenseman who has put up 38 points in 40 games in the OHL.
Other speculation revolved around the Dallas Stars acquiring Bishop at some point to fix their goaltending situation. When talking about the Stars, it often included the Lightning taking back Antti Niemi to help the Stars with the salary portion of the deal. Coming back, Julius Honka or Esa Lindell were often talked about as being the center pieces of a deal for Bishop.
The St. Louis Blues also were rumored to be a possible landing place for a goaltender, but have done nothing thus far to improve their situation in net. The Buffalo Sabres also could have used an upgrade to Robin Lehner if they wanted to push for the playoffs.
At the very least, we all expected that Bishop would bring back a first-round pick. Instead, the Lightning got a former second-rounder who doesn’t make too many top 100 prospect lists that are out there, if any at all. You’d think the Lightning could have at least gotten a top-100 prospect out of Bishop, but apparently it couldn’t be done.
The reality is, the market just never materialized the way we all thought it would. Yzerman took the best deal that he could make. With the conditional pick included in the deal depending on the Kings making the playoffs, Bolts fans should all become the biggest Kings fans and hope that they go far. If they get far enough, the Lightning would reportedly get as high as a 2nd round pick. Even a 3rd or 4th rounder would sweeten the trade up a little bit.
In the meantime, we’ll watch Erik Cernak as he plays with fellow Lightning prospects Taylor Raddysh and Anthony Cirelli with the Erie Otters. They have a stacked team and are expected to be a contender to win the OHL Championship and go to the Memorial Cup. And next year, we’ll see what he can do with the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL.