Ben Bishop is set to become an unrestricted free agent this off-season.
Frederik Andersen netted a first- and second-round pick for the Ducks and Brian Elliott was worth a second and third to pry away from the Blues. So why was the Lightning’s return for Ben Bishop so much less?
The Ben Bishop trade was months in the making. From the time the Stanley Cup was handed to the Pittsburgh Penguins, speculation was running rampant about what the Tampa Bay Lightning were going to do with a logjam in the crease and a cap situation that needed to be alleviated in one way or another. The easy answer was trading Bishop, and it seemed Tampa Bay would be in line to land quite the package in return for a goaltender who is a two-time Vezina finalist and had led the Lightning to consecutive Eastern Conference finals.
So, as shocking as it was that Bishop landed with the Kings of all teams, it’s as puzzling that the package that came back the other way was nowhere near what one would have expected the Lightning would haul in for the netminder. In all, Tampa Bay landed a backup goaltender, Peter Budaj, 19-year-old defenseman Erik Cernak, who was selected 43rd overall at the 2015 draft, and a seventh-round pick. There’s no top pick, no top prospect and, truthfully, the package is somewhat underwhelming. That’s especially true when you consider the recent price teams have paid for help in goal.
Frederik Andersen, for instance, cost the Toronto Maple Leafs first- and second-round picks and Brian Elliott cost the Calgary Flames second- and third-round selections. Heck, even the Jonathan Bernier acquisition cost the Anaheim Ducks a conditional pick. All three make the return the Lightning received for Bishop look worse. But maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised that Bishop didn’t fetch a similar package.
If Bishop was traded before the start of the campaign, it’s likely Tampa Bay would have received something that mirrored the price the Maple Leafs paid for Andersen. That’s all the more likely given Bishop was coming off of a season in which he finished second in Vezina voting and posted career-bests in goals-against average and save percentage. But as this season has worn on, Bishop has shown some holes. In fact, with how he’s playing right now, he’s on pace to have one of the worst statistical seasons of his career as a full-time NHLer.
Through 32 games this season, Bishop has turned in a .911 SP and 2.55 GAA. No full season has seen him post a worse SP and he’s only had a worse GAA in one campaign, all the way back in 2012-13 when he was dealt from the Ottawa Senators to the Lightning. Bishop had played his way out of the starting job with the Lightning, giving way to youngster Andrei Vasilveskiy more frequently as the campaign has worn on. Bishop's numbers and struggles alone were destined to lessen the return Tampa Bay was going to get. When they were talking trade before the start of the year, teams would have been paying for the promise of a first-rate starting netminder. That was no longer the case.
There also happens to be the matter of the market for goaltenders. A number of teams looking for upgrades in goal were looking to do so before the season began, but as the year has gone on, some of those clubs have fallen out of contention to the point where dealing away assets for a solution in goal doesn’t make all that much sense. Take the Dallas Stars, who are in a position to be a seller at the deadline. Spending to improve their goaltending wouldn’t be all that smart. They need the young assets to build for the future. Likewise, teams who have had stumbles in goal have seen their issues right themselves, which has lessened their need for a fix. The Flames have gotten better goaltending out of Elliott of late, and the St. Louis Blues, once in dire need of anyone who could make a stop, are finally starting to get favorable results from Jake Allen and Carter Hutton. As that happened, the market for Bishop almost certainly weakened.
The Lightning’s position also took a hit because those same teams who could be interested in an upgrade in goal — the Stars, Flames and Carolina Hurricanes could all potentially benefit from having Bishop — are now in a position where waiting for the off-season makes the most sense. Right now, acquiring Bishop would have cost a team a few assets, as we saw with what will end up being a three player package from the Kings. And while the ask obviously wasn’t as high as it was previously given the return the Lightning got, teams who are interested in Bishop’s services were able to hold onto a prospect, pick and roster player now with an eye on the summer signing season. At that time, Bishop can be had for the cost of his contract and nothing more.
Sure, trading for him now would have opened up an avenue for an earlier negotiation, but Bishop is going to go where he’s going to go. There’s nothing saying Bishop has to re-up with whichever team went after him at the deadline. It’s just an example, but say Dallas made a move to land Bishop, he could have gone and signed with Calgary come July 1. Then the Stars would be out the assets and the player they acquired. In that sense, there’s more value in taking a shot at Bishop come July 1 rather than spending at the deadline for a player who isn’t guaranteed to stick around.
And, even still, if there is interest in landing Bishop before the signing season kicks off, that’s not out of the question. The price for him could go down come the days leading up to July 1, a time when he might be able to be had from the Kings for as little as a late-round pick. With teams already willing to shop first-round picks due to the lack of top prospects in the upcoming draft, it’s hard to fathom some team wouldn’t be willing to ship out a mid-round selection just for the rights to Bishop if they really want the inside track.
All those factors combined resulted in a return for the Lightning that was much weaker than one would have expected. We’ll never know what Bishop would have been worth if he would have been traded before the season began. That was nearly a reality, too. Bishop himself said he was a contract extension away from ending up a Flame. The one thing that’s almost for certain, though, is Calgary was going to pay a higher price than the one the Kings did on Sunday. But that’s the risk the Lightning took by holding on to Bishop. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, it didn’t pay big.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.