TAMPA, Fla. — Finally back home following his stint with Team USA at the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto, Lightning goalie Ben Bishop slept in his own bed for the first time in nearly a month on Monday night.
That his bed was still in Tampa came as a bit of a surprise to the two-time Vezina Trophy finalist. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that Bishop thought he might be spending most of his nights in Calgary.
Desperate for an upgrade in goal, the Flames obtained permission from the Lightning back in June to talk contract with Bishop, who is slated to become a free agent next spring and may still be on the trade block.
By the eve of the 2016 NHL Draft, those negotiations had progressed far enough that Bishop thought he might have to move. And he might have, had the Flames not opted to trade for Brian Elliott instead.
The Elliott deal means Bishop will at least start the NHL preseason with the Lightning. The likelihood is he will not only start but spend all of the regular season in Tampa, too.
Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman has made no secret of his desire to keep Bishop around this year, even if it means losing him in free agency next year, and Bishop is just fine with that.
After spending what he admitted was a stressful June and July wondering where he and several teammates would be come training camp, Bishop said he’s excited to see so many familiar names still on the roster.
“We have a good group of guys here and we’ve done really well the last couple of seasons, so it’s exciting to be back again and hopefully we can take it one more step this year,’’ Bishop said.
Two more steps would be preferable. The Lighting fell one victory shy of reaching the Stanley Cup Final last year, losing in seven games to the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final.
That came in the wake of a trip to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, where they lost to Chicago in six games, and there’s a strong belief inside the Lightning dressing room that they can get back there this year.
That’s why captain Steven Stamkos, defenseman Victor Hedman and forward Alex Killorn opted this past offseason to take a little less than market value in new contracts to stay in Tampa.
All expressed a desire to keep the core of their team together and while he admits it’s still too soon for him to be contemplating such an option, Bishop has not ruled out the possibility of following suit.
“That’s not really anything I can think about right now,’’ he said. “I’m more worried about Game 1. If that option comes maybe we can talk about it, but right now there’s no real discussion.’’
The discussion instead is about getting ready for the start of the regular season, and despite spending close to a month with Team USA, Bishop says he’s still not there yet.
“The practices were obviously really good,’’ he said of working the WCH. “I mean, the caliber of players that are there, it’s something you don’t get too often, so that part was definitely good. But the games, I only got [40 minutes of ice time playing behind Jonathan Quick], and that’s not enough to start a season right now, so I’ll need a couple games to get ready.’’
Bishop believes the Lightning as a whole need to ready themselves for a much tougher challenge than they faced a year ago. While Tampa Bay mostly stood pat, devoting most of their financial resources to keeping their team together, everyone else in the division made moves to get better.
“You look around our division and you see every team really added a lot in free agency,’’ Bishop said. “Detroit got (Frans) Neilsen; Buffalo got (Kyle) Okposo and Florida, they got a bunch of guys. Then you look at Toronto and they’ve got Auston Mattews now and Montreal got (Shea) Weber and Boston got (David) Backes, so I think our division in general is going to be a lot tougher than it was last year.
“I mean, it seems like every free agent that got picked up was coming into our division, so I think you can see that our division might be one of the best, one of the toughest in the league now. So it’s not going to be as easy a road as it has been for us and that target is still on our backs from last year … so it’s going to be a little different this year.
“I mean, I think the schedule is even a little more condensed this year. It seems like there’s more back to backs, so it’s going to even be a little tougher schedule this year.’’
Given all those challenges it’s probably a good thing Bishop will be sleeping in a familiar city most night. From the looks of things, he’s going to need his rest.