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Ben Bishop was an important part of the Lightning’s return to contention

The big man in net was a key part of the early success of the Yzerman/Cooper Era

San Jose Sharks v Tampa Bay Lightning

I can still remember where I was when the Tampa Bay Lightning traded for Ben Bishop. It was a lovely April afternoon and The Wife and I had decided to take a long lunch at Kuma’s Too, the sister restaurant to the mildly famous rock & roll themed burger bar in Chicago. I was well into my second beer when the text hit my phone. I was happy that the Lightning had picked up yet another large goaltender. Then I read the other half of the text and saw the price they had paid, Cory Conacher, and was no longer happy.

Now, more than eight years after the fact, I can admit that it was a steal for General Manager Steve Yzerman, in fact it might be one of the best trades of his regime, but at the time I was absolutely livid. It may have been the angriest I’ve ever been at a hockey trade, and the most upset I’ve been at any trade since the Orioles dealt away Eddie Murray (my favorite player as a kid) for a pu pu platter of prospects.

Before he embarked on his journeyman career with Ottawa, Buffalo, the Islanders, and then eventually returning to the Lightning, Conacher was a bona fide Calder Trophy candidate. After a successful run at the AHL level with Norfolk and Syracuse, Conacher had been called up in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season and posted 24 points (9 goals, 15 assists) in 35 games, a total that placed him fifth in scoring for the team that season despite ending it in Ottawa. He added another 2 goals and 3 assists for the Senators and finished 6th in Calder voting (Jonathan Huberdeau won that year).

In April of 2013 it seemed like Mr. Yzerman had wasted a talented young scorer on yet another tall goaltender. He had just paid a hefty sum (two second-round picks, a third-round pick, and the immortal Sebastien Caron) a few months prior to bring in lauded young netminder Anders Lindback (who was two years younger). Why was he trading one of the Lightning’s best prospects for a potentially decent goaltender who had already been with two organizations by the age of 26?

Now, in hindsight, it’s obvious that Lindback wasn’t the answer in net. One thing we learned about Mr. Yzerman during his tenure here in Tampa is that he wasn’t shy about correcting any mistakes he made. A lot of GMs might have clung to Lindback as a started because his acquisition was so pricey. Not so with Mr. Yzerman, he delved into his well-stocked cabinet of prospects to pry Bishop away from the Senators and despite the two tall netminders entering the next season as co-number ones, it quickly became apparent that Bishop would be the foundation for the next run of success for the Lightning, a run that continues to this day.

2013-14 - 63 games, 37-14-7, ,924 SV%, 2,23 GAA, third in Vezina voting

2014-15 - 62 games, 40-13-5, .916 SV%, 2.32 GAA

2015-16 - 61 games, 35-21-4, .926 SV%, 2.06 GAA, second in Vezina voting

During that span he was 10th in goals saved above average at 5v5 with 16.09 according to Natural Stat Trick. Not a bad place to be considering some of the best of this generation were stopping pucks at the same time. His .928 SV% at 5v5 was also good for a top 10 spot over that time frame.

It’s no surprise that during those three years the Lightning returned to the playoffs, making it to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014-15 and the Eastern Conference Final in 2015-16. In 2013-14 he was injured just prior to the playoffs and Tampa Bay was forced to go with Lindback and Kristers Gudlevskis in the opening round against the Montreal Canadiens. A round that was swept by the Habs.

Bishop put the Lightning on his back in the 2015 playoff run, starting a league-high 25 games, facing a league-high 669 shots while making 616 saves. Had he not torn his groin in Game Two against the Chicago hockey team, perhaps that series ends differently.

He battled injuries the next season and the Lightning floundered a bit, spending most of the season outside of the playoff race. With a big raise due to his relatively modest $5.9 million salary, and a youngster named Andrei Vasilevskiy waiting in the wings, Bishop was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings for a package that included a young, raw defensive prospect named Erik Cernak. It was another deal that at the time looked like it might not favor the Lightning, but in the end turned out more than okay.

All in all, Bishop’s Lightning career lasted 227 regular season games and he posted a 131-64-20 record with 17 shutouts, a .921 SV%, and a 2.28 GAA. When he departed the organization he was the franchise leader in games played, wins, saves, save percentage (a record that he holds every once in a while depending on how Vasy is playing), goals against (still his), shutouts, minutes, and goals saved above average. Not too shabby. If there is a Mount Rushmore of Lightning goaltenders it’s Vasilevskiy, Bishop, Nikolai Khabibulin, and they are still carving the fourth face.

The most important thing that Bishop gave the Lightning during his time here is consistency. For the first time since Khabibulin, the Lightning had a true franchise goaltender. With a young, agressive team in front of him, the Bolts needed a goaltender who could bail them out of their problems. Now it’s Vasy, but first it was Bishop. It wasn’t always pretty or technically sound, but the 6’7” fella usually found a way to keep the puck out of the net.

Does the Yzerplan work without a stable presence in net? Probably not. There are a lot teams that have exciting young offensive talent that never go anywhere other than the first round of the playoffs. It’s all well and good to be able to score pretty goals, but if you’re constantly digging the puck out of your own net because you’re goaltending is suboptimal, than you will always be chasing success.

For the three-plus years he was in net for the Lightning, they could count on him to keep them in the game on a nightly basis, and on those nights where nothing else was working, there was always a chance he could steal a game or two for them.

His ability to move the puck was also key to the Lightning’s success while he was in town. Being able to grab the puck behind the net or on a dump-in and move it cleanly to a teammate really helped out the transition game for the Bolts. It kept their defenders from having to retreat all the way back to the goal line or behind the net to lead the breakout and the quickness he played it often caught teams in line changes (he notched 7 career assists in the regular season). Sure, there were moments it lead to disaster:

but there was usually more good than bad when he came out to play the puck.

And while personality has no effect on on-ice play, it was a bonus that he seemed like a pretty nice guy. There are plenty of stories about him signing autographs or hanging out with fans. Plus, he was darn entertaining.

Best of luck in your future endeavors, Mr. Bishop. You will always be remembered fondly here in Tampa.