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It might have made sense to keep pending free agent Ben Bishop all year – if the Lightning were healthy and not in a dogfight for a playoff berth.
The Tampa Bay Lightning endured 2015-16 holding onto the year's most coveted unrestricted free agent to be. General manager Steve Yzerman weathered a storm of rumors and clutched Steven Stamkos tightly. The Bolts had a real shot to win the Stanley Cup after reaching the final the previous year, so treating Steven Stamkos like a UFA trade deadline rental made sense. Tampa Bay ended up re-signing its captain, of course, but even if that hadn't happened this past summer, retaining Stammer was the right move.
A year later, the Lightning once again hold an elite UFA to be. This time it's goaltender Ben Bishop and, once again, they're faced with the decision of whether to trade or retain their star. Only this time, dealing that star may be the smarter move.
It goes without saying that to keep Bishop all year is to risk losing him for nothing. Unlike with Stamkos last year, it's more of a guarantee than a risk with Bishop. The Lightning signed "backup" goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy to a three-year, $10.5-million extension in July. Bishop should command something like Tuukka Rask or Pekka Rinne money, a seven-year deal at $7 million per. That's out of the cash-strapped Bolts' price range with restricted free agents such as Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin needing new contracts next summer. On top of that, Tampa can only protect one goaltender in the expansion draft. Bishop is as good as gone.
The fact there's pretty much no chance of bringing Bishop back is one obvious reason to consider dealing him now, but we knew that as recently as the summer. Yzerman even admitted at the draft he would have to deal a goalie. It might've still been worth retaining Bishop all season for the sake of a Stanley Cup push, but things are so much more complicated than expected for this Bolts team through early December. Additional reasons to push for a Bishop trade have piled up.
1. Injuries, obviously
The Lightning have lost center Stamkos for four to six months after he tore his meniscus in mid-November. Right winger Ryan Callahan is on injured reserve with a lower-body injury. Right winger Jonathan Drouin and defenseman Jason Garrison have been nicked up of late, too. This team isn't quite a walking infirmary, but the Stamkos injury is monumental, and the Bolts need all the healthy bodies they can get. That's because…
2. The Lightning are mired in an (unexpected) playoff dogfight
We at THN picked the Lightning to win the Stanley Cup. Through Monday's games they sit ninth in the Eastern Conference, one point behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the last wild-card spot. Every team behind Tampa has games in hand. The Bolts have played as many games as any team in the East. We can blame the Stamkos injury, but that doesn't make it any less true that this team is suddenly no lock to reach the Big Dance, and scoring goals, Stamkos' specialty, isn't this team's weakness. The Lightning rank 16th in the NHL in goals against per game at 2.63. That's down from 2.41 (fifth) last season. They sit 13th in 5-on-5 Corsi Against per 60 at 54.44, down from 51.92 (sixth) last year. Tampa has regressed defensively, allowing more shot attempts. This team has needs to address on defense. And guess where the Bolts' surplus of talent lies?
3. Andrei Vasilevskiy is ready for No. 1 duty
Tampa has two high-end, starting-caliber goaltenders. And we know Vasilevskiy, 22, is the future. He's been one of the game's top netminding prospects since even before Yzerman and Co. drafted him in 2012. Vasilevskiy has a sparking 6-2-1 record with a 2.24 goals-against average, a .930 save percentage and two shutouts, and that stat line is no fluke. He's merely doing what he was always projected to do. So why not hand him the reins and use Bishop on the trade market to plug another hole?
4. The Lightning can still win this thing
I never would've supported the idea of dealing Bishop mid-season even a month ago, but so much has changed. This team needs help. It's also very much worth saving. The Lightning remain as talent-rich as any team in hockey, so they should continue to treat themselves as contenders, especially if Stamkos can return in time for the post-season. We've learned in this peak-parity era any team can win the Cup as long as that team gets in. That's where Yzerman has a bit of work to do. Having an elite goaltending tandem is great, but it's a luxury for a team in need of a top-four defenseman and perhaps another power forward who can play in the top six. This season isn't worth giving up on. The Bolts should chase a championship. At first, keeping Bishop looked like the best way to do so. Now the opposite is true.
5. Ben Bishop still has peak value
Bishop hasn't been his Vezina Trophy finalist self early in 2016-17, with a pedestrian .910 SP in 18 appearances, but that small sample size won't torpedo his trade value. Any suitors out there know who he is: an upper-echelon starting goalie. Bishop, however, seems to break down physically at some point almost every season. The big fella has become a yearly injury risk at 30. There's always a chance he gets hurt before Yzerman strikes a deal, so the time to act is now. Is there a market yet? It's tough to say. We won't see true contending teams looking for a big-splash rental just yet, but we may have a few also-rans needing immediate help to climb back into the race. The team repeatedly linked to Bishop is the Dallas Stars, and they still make sense, maybe now more than ever. The Stars have struggled so far and continue to get lackluster goaltending from Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. Bishop would rectify their problem in a hurry. It's risky to take on a pending UFA, of course, but what if Dallas sent one back in the form of, say, Johnny Oduya? Tampa get its veteran D-man, Dallas gets its star goalie. Tampa would need to take back one of Niemi or Lehtonen and may have to include a second body for the money to work, but such a deal could still make sense, especially for two teams in different conferences.
Keeping Bishop all year would've been a best-case scenario for Yzerman, but he no longer has that luxury. The Bolts' bad luck has created a need for reinforcements right now. Dealing Bishop is the best way to save this team.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to thn.com. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin
The Blue Jackets have been the most pleasant surprise in the NHL this season, but it's still going to take convincing for the hockey world to believe they're for real.
We’ll totally understand if you’re having just a little trouble getting on board with the 2016-17 version of the Columbus Blue Jackets. After all, you’ve probably been burned before.
Their fan base certainly seems to be wary. Despite the fact the Blue Jackets are the surprise of the NHL and have emerged as one of the most dynamic and exciting teams in the league, they drawn fewer than 12,000 in three of their past four home games. Even their coach thinks the team has work to do to earn their fans’ trust. “I want our team to have a chip on their shoulder,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella told Michael Arace of the Columbus Dispatch recently. “I think they should. We’re trying to get respect in the league. Quite honestly, we should be disrespected because of where we’ve been.”
That won’t last long if the Blue Jackets keep this up. The league’s best power play continues to fuel one of the league’s hottest teams and has landed them at the top of thn.com’s weekly Power Rankings for the second time this season. Last week’s rankings in parentheses:
CREAM OF THE CROP
1. Columbus Blue Jackets (8)
2. Philadelphia Flyers (15)
3. Pittsburgh Penguins (6)
4. St. Louis Blues (2)
5. Chicago Blackhawks (5)
6. Montreal Canadiens (7)
7. New York Rangers (4)
8. San Jose Sharks (11)
9. Boston Bruins (20)
10. Calgary Flames (27)
Is there a bigger bargain or a shrewder off-season signing than Sam Gagner?...Steve Mason went from one of the worst goalies in the NHL early in the season to one of the best of late. His save percentage in his first 16 games was .892, but has improved to .947 in his past five… If Marc-Andre Fleury wants to get traded, he’s not doing himself any favor with his play lately…The Blues completed a 4-0-1 home stand with the game going into overtime…With Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford already out, the Blackhawks lost defenseman Brent Seabrook in their 4-0 win over Arizona Tuesday night…How will the Canadiens and the surprising Alexander Radulov respond to the injury to Alex Galchenyuk?...The injury-ravaged Rangers saw Rick Nash go down with a groin injury and Matt Puempel to a concussion in their 4-2 loss to the Islanders Tuesday night…Joe Thornton passed Brendan Shanahan for 25th all-time on the NHL’s scoring list with an assist in a 2-1 win over Montreal last week…Anyone who predicted David Pastrnak would be in Rocket Richard Trophy contention a third of the way into the season is looking very bright at the moment…The Flames were already one of the hottest teams in the NHL without Johnny Gaudreau, then won their first two with him back in the lineup.
THE MUSHY MIDDLE
11. Washington Capitals (11)
12. Edmonton Oilers (14)
13. Ottawa Senators (12)
14. Los Angeles Kings (1)
15. New Jersey Devils (23)
16. Detroit Red Wings (16)
17. Nashville Predators (3)
18. Minnesota Wild (19)
19. Anaheim Ducks (10)
20. Winnipeg Jets (17)
Capitals coach Barry Trotz had some pointed words to Alex Ovechkin about his penchant for taking minor penalties of late. No cracks in the foundation, though. Just a frank discussion…The Oilers game Tuesday night against Buffalo was touted as Connor McDavid vs. Jack Eichel, the kind of narrative the Oilers have learned to accept. “Every night it’s Connor vs. Somebody,” said Oilers coach Todd McLellan…Goalie Craig Anderson started in the Senators’ 8-5 loss to Pittsburgh Monday night, but did not travel with the team for a three-game California trip to be with his wife as she undergoes treatment for throat cancer…The usually stingy Kings have given up 11 goals in their past three games. “That’s too many goals,” said Kings coach Darryl Sutter…Devils winger Taylor Hall on the aftermath of his clean, but devastating, hit on Philip Larsen Tuesday night: “I feel terrible.” Not to be trite, but Hall should not be feeling terrible about the way he has played since returning from a knee injury. He has five points in his past two games…Goalie Jimmy Howard will be back in uniform for the Red Wings when they host Columbus Friday night, but will have a difficult time pushing Petr Mrazek out of the crease…After missing four games with an upper-body injury, James Neal scored a goal in a 4-3 Predators’ win over Colorado Tuesday night…Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, whose career was revived when he came to Minnesota, will make his 300th career start tonight in Toronto…Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle could not pull Jonathan Bernier during his team’s 8-3 loss to Calgary because backup John Gibson was battling a stomach virus…Over the past 30 years, only Teemu Selanne and Alex Ovechkin have scored goals at a better pace than Patrik Laine of the Jets is scoring them now.
VYING FOR THE PARTICIPATION BADGE
21. New York Islanders (26)
22. Tampa Bay Lightning (22)
23. Carolina Hurricanes (25)
24. Buffalo Sabres (29)
25. Florida Panthers (24)
26. Vancouver Canucks (18)
27. Toronto Maple Leafs (13)
28. Dallas Stars (28)
29. Arizona Coyotes (21)
30. Colorado Avalanche (30)
With points in each of their past five games, four of them wins, the Islanders are easily on their most successful string of the season…The Lightning could get Ryan Callahan, Jason Garrison and Jonathan Drouin back for their home game against Vancouver Thursday night…Jordan Staal, sidelined for the past four games with a concussion, likely won’t be available to the Hurricanes for a three-game road trip through California that begins tonight…After playing almost 500 games in the minors, defenseman Erik Burgdoerfer made his NHL debut in the Sabres’ 3-2 overtime win over Washington Tuesday night… Panthers have gone to overtime in four of their five games GM Tom Rowe has been behind the bench. They’ve won one in overtime, lost two in OT and one in a shootout…Philip Larsen, who was taken off the ice on a stretcher after a hit from Taylor Hall Tuesday night, was released from hospital in New Jersey Wednesday morning and was cleared to return to Vancouver while the Canucks continue on a five-game road trip…After waiving Jhonas Enroth, the Maple Leafs search for a backup goalie continues. They signed Karri Ramo to a professional tryout contract and assigned him to their farm team. That should cure everything…The Coyotes have been outscored 14-6 and have averaged 41 shots against per game in an 0-3-1 month of December…All nine of Matt Duchene’s goals this season have come on the road. The Avs could use that kind of production at the Pepsi Center, where they’re 4-8-1 this season and recently went 0-4-1 on a five-game homestand.
The 1998 expansion draft results.
Let's take a look back at five fairly big names that have been called at expansion drafts and how they managed to avoid ever actually playing for those teams.
Now that the Vegas Golden Knights have a name, a logo, and a future head coach, everyone is turning their attention to June's expansion draft. Who will the Knights end up with? Matt Murray? Jakob Silfverberg? Trevor van Riemsdyk? Maybe even an established veteran who waives a no-movement clause, like Dion Phaneuf or Rick Nash?
Those are all reasonably big names, and if the Golden Knights wound up picking any of them, you'd think it would make for a memorable moment.
Then again, maybe not. You see, sometimes NHL expansion teams end up taking big name players, and everyone just kind of forgets about it. That's because there's no guarantee that any player taken by an expansion team will ever actually play for that expansion team.
So today, let's take a look back at five fairly big names that have been called at expansion drafts of the past, and how they managed to avoid ever actually suiting up for the fledgling franchises that chose them.
Tim Kerr, 1991
Early NHL expansion drafts of the 60s and 70s were fairly standard. A handful of good players were picked, including names like Terry Sawchuk, Glenn Hall and Bernie Parent. But for the most part, the established teams didn't offer much in the way of talent, and the expansion franchises patched together a team with whatever they could find. That's why most of the early expansion teams were awful.
But by the time the second wave of expansion had hit in the 1990s, the new teams were willing to get a little more creative. Oh, they'd still be awful. But they realized that just because they drafted a player didn't mean they had to keep him, and it became common to see trades worked out as soon as the expansion draft was over (and sometimes even sooner).
Take the 1991 draft, for example. That was the weird expansion/dispersal hybrid that featured the San Jose Sharks and the Minnesota North Stars, which we covered in some depth over the summer. The most famous weird pick from that draft was the very last one, in which the North Stars picked quasi-retired Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur because they didn't want any Quebec Nordiques and the rules wouldn't allow them to pass. But another well-known sniper was also taken that day.
That would be Tim Kerr, a four-time 50-goal scorer for the Flyers who'd been slowed down by injuries. By 1991, he hadn't put together a full season in four years. But he was still scoring at well over a point-per-game pace when he did play, and seemed like the sort of guy who could be a good gamble for a contender.
The Sharks weren't a contender, but the Rangers were. And so the Sharks grabbed Kerr off of the Flyer's unprotected list, and then immediately flipped him to the Rangers in exchange for Brian Mullen. It was a smart deal for San Jose; Mullen ended up being their second-leading scorer in their debut season. It worked out worse for the Rangers, as Kerr struggled through another injury-shortened year before being dealt to Hartford.
Daren Puppa, 1993
Here's a fun way to confuse hockey fans of a certain age: Ask them how Daren Puppa ended up with the Lightning back in 1993.
Chances are, they'll tell you some version of the same story: Puppa was splitting time in Buffalo with newcomer Dominik Hasek, then was traded to the Maple Leafs in the big Grant Fuhr/Dave Andreychuk blockbuster. He backed up Felix Potvin in Toronto for their epic playoff run, then went to the Tampa Bay Lightning in that summer's expansion draft.
Just about everyone remembers it that way. But there's a slight problem: The Lightning were already in the league in 1992-93. Their expansion draft had been the year before, when Puppa was still with the Sabres.
That glitch in the matrix can be explained by an oddity of the 1993 expansion draft: There were actually two of them. The first stocked the two new teams, the Florida Panthers and Anaheim Mighty Ducks. The second allowed the three most recent teams, the Sharks, Senators and Lightning, to pick players from those two newcomers.
That's what happened with Puppa. It was actually the Panthers who snagged him from Toronto. Then the Lightning took him off of the Panthers' hands.
Fellow goaltender Glenn Healy followed a similar path, but with an additional stop. He went from the Islanders to the Mighty Ducks to the Lightning over the course of the double draft. But he didn't stop there. The Lightning turned around and flipped him to the Rangers in exchange for a third round pick.
Not too many players get to be the property of four teams within a few hours, but it all worked out well for Healy. He won a Stanley Cup in New York the next year, backing up superstar Mike Richter.
Speaking of whom…
Mike Richter, 1998
As every Rangers fan knows, Richter played his entire 14-year career in New York, debuting in 1989-1990 and sticking with the franchise until 2003. Once a Ranger, always a Ranger.
That's why it may come as a surprise to see Richter's name show up as one of the picks in the 1998 expansion draft. But indeed he was, taken by the Predators and becoming an inaugural member of the first NHL team ever put together in Nashville.
For six days. Then he became an unrestricted free agent. Then he re-signed with the Rangers.
That sounds ridiculous, but what the Predators were doing actually made perfect sense. This was back when the NHL had a weird draft pick compensation rule for teams that lost free agents. The Predators knew that Richter would never play for them, but when they technically "lost" him to the Rangers, they got a free draft pick from the league for their troubles. They did the same with another one of their expansion picks, Uwe Krupp.
(By the way, that same rule led to Richter departing New York a second time, this time in a trade to the Oilers in 2002. Once again, he simply re-signed with the Rangers a few days later.)
Mathieu Schneider, 2000
In addition to being a very good defenseman for most of his career, Mathieu Schneider is one of the great "played for everyone" guys of his generation. He had a 20-year career, during which he played for a staggering 10 different teams. He was traded seven times, in deals involving everyone from Kirk Muller to Wendel Clark to Sean Avery. He got around.
So you'd assume that he must have suited up for an expansion team at least once. Nope. But he was drafted by one in 2000, when the Blue Jackets joined the league.
Schneider had finished up the 1999-2000 season with the Rangers, because apparently they need to be involved in every one of these things. He was scheduled to hit UFA status, so you can probably see where this is going. Yes, it's another one of those shady compensation pick deals, in which the Blue Jackets wound up claiming a fourth-rounder in the 2001 draft after Schneider signed with the Kings later that summer.
The Blue Jackets probably didn't mind too much, since Schneider was already 31 at the time and only had a few years left in him. "A few" ended up being a full decade's worth; he played until 2010.
As a side note, the Blue Jackets ended up flipping that fourth-round pick to the Panthers in a deal that brought Ray Whitney to Columbus. So in a sense, Whitney and Schneider were sort of traded for each other. I'm not sure how many trades in NHL history involve two players who could account for 42 seasons and 18 teams, but I'm guessing it's not many.
Mike Vernon, 2000
We'll close with yet another goaltender, since there's something about the position that just seems to attract expansion draft shenanigans. Marc-Andre Fleury, keep your head up.
By the time the 2000 offseason rolled around, Vernon had just about done it all over the course of a long career. He'd won a Cup with two different teams, been a Vezina finalist, won the Jennings and the Conn Smythe, and pummeled Patrick Roy. He had a good run.
The one thing he hadn't done was get picked in an expansion draft. The Minnesota Wild took care of that, plucking him from the Florida Panthers in a move that made everyone go "Wait, Mike Vernon once played for the Florida Panthers?"
He did, for a few games at the end of the 1999-2000 season. But he never played for the Wild. They turned around and traded him that same day, sending him home to Calgary to finish his career. Other familiar names that were picked by the Wild and then immediately traded include Joe Juneau and Chris Terreri.
As for Vernon, he played parts of two more seasons in Calgary before retiring as a Flame in 2002.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.
Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland has thrown his support behind a play-in wildcard game for the playoffs. Holland has never had a bad idea...until now.
It’s not often, if ever, that your trusty correspondent disagrees with one of the brightest, most progressive voices in hockey. But when it comes to the notion of holding a wildcard play-in game to give one more team per conference a chance to make the playoffs, that’s where I have to draw the line with one Ken Holland.
Speaking to Gary Lawless of tsn.ca, the Detroit Red Wings GM and the man who brought us 3-on-3 overtime opined that he would like to see the playoff pool expanded to essentially have three wildcard teams instead of two. The wildcard team with the best regular-season record of the three would be guaranteed a playoff berth, while the next two would hold a one-game, winner-take-all event to decide the second wildcard team.
There hasn’t been much of an appetite for this sort of thing among the game's power brokers, thank goodness, but there wasn’t much of an appetite for 3-on-3 overtime at one time, either. Holland can be very persuasive. Not sure if he hypnotizes his fellow GMs by swinging one of his four Stanley Cup rings on a string in front of their eyes, but he has a way of getting them to come around his way of thinking. Here’s hoping they resist the temptation this time.
Here’s why. Because any excitement the wildcard race would create in the markets that are involved would be mitigated by the notion that the league is once again rewarding mediocrity. These teams have 82 games to prove they’re in the top half of the league. That doesn’t seem, at least to these eyes, to be too much to ask. A better idea would be to just give each of the No. 9 seeds a nice, shiny Participation Trophy and send them home for the summer.
Geez, Louise, don’t we have enough parity shoved down our throats by the NHL already? Let’s see, when a team is killing a penalty it is allowed, for reasons nobody seems to be able to explain, to ice the puck with impunity. And if it gets scored on, the penalized player is allowed back on the ice. Players can glove the puck ahead in the defensive zone, but not the offensive zone. The NHL has a draft to ensure that all the best players are distributed fairly. The NHL has a salary cap to prevent rich, large market teams from having a competitive advantage. Teams that lose in overtime or the skills competition get a single loser point for just showing up, which already creates trumped-up playoff races and bogus .500 teams. Someday when the league and the players can agree on it, they'll get around to streamlining goaltending equipment. The NHL awarded a trophy to the best defensive forward for more than 20 years before it decided to get around to establishing one for the league’s top goal scorer. Rather than reward excellence, the NHL has time after time tailored its rules and philosophy to bringing great teams down to the others’ level.
And this would just be another example of that. Last season, the Minnesota Wild limped into eighth in the Western Conference and lost their last five games of the season. The Colorado Avalanche finished five points behind the Wild, losing each of their last six games of the season. Wow, that would have been some game, eh? The only problem is that the way those teams were playing down the stretch, the league might have had to postpone the start of the playoffs to let them finish the game. When you take into account the 11 bogus points the Wild gained for losing in overtime and shootouts, they lost six more games than they won last season. And they still made the playoffs. That’s quite enough, thank you.
Had there been a play-in game in 2011-12, the Los Angeles Kings would have had to play the Calgary Flames in Game No. 83 of the season. If the Flames had won, the Kings would not have gone on to win their first Stanley Cup. If there had been one in 2014-15, the Winnipeg Jets would have faced the Kings and had they lost, we would have been deprived of their first-round series against the Anaheim Ducks, one that went four straight, but might have been the closest, most intense and competitive sweeps in the history of the game.
Look, most teams are already in the playoff race until the last quarter of the season. Unless they’re really bad, like say, Colorado is this season. The league constantly trumpets how close its games are, conveniently failing to point out the fact that it’s only that way because nobody scores goals anymore. The NHL loves its parity, but enough is enough. It reminds me of house league hockey where scorekeepers stop adding goals to the winning team if the margin between the teams is more than five goals, as if the kids are too dumb to figure out that they’re actually losing 14-0 if the scoreboard only says 5-0. It’s all a part of the everybody-gets-a-trophy mentality that many observers think is adding to a sense of entitlement in kids that they are now taking into adulthood.
I’m not about to wade into that debate at the moment, but one thing I do know is that there’s no place for it in the best league in the world where the players are also smart enough to know when they don’t belong in the playoffs. And it’s the NHL, which stands for National Hockey League, not National House League.