Tampa Bay Lightning Report: Since When Is There A No. 1 Goaltender?

All season long the Tampa Bay Lightning has been referring to their goaltending tandem as ‘1A’ and ‘1B’, but now that Ben Bishop is gone, suddenly there is a Number One spot.

If there is any aspect of the game the Tampa Bay Lightning has struggled with over the course of the last decade, it has most definitely been between the pipes. The Lightning has been through quite a few goaltenders over the course of the last 10 years, but very few of them have been what the Lightning has needed.

Names like Nikolai Khabibulin, Mike Smith, and Dwayne Roloson are some of the names who come to mind when you think of the better goaltenders the Lightning have acquired over the years; however, one name who rings out a little louder than the others is that of former Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop.

Season after season, Bishop helped backstop the Lightning to the postseason. In fact, Ben Bishop was able to backstop the Tampa Bay Lightning to three straight runs in the postseason, including an exciting journey through the Stanley Cup Final where they battled the Chicago Blackhawks.

Despite having their dream cut short by the Blackhawks, this is the closest the Tampa Bay Lightning have come to the Stanley Cup since they capture hockey’s ultimate prize in the 2003-04 season. No matter which way you look at it, this is quite the accomplishment.

Unfortunately, some people tend to forget others’ accomplishments as soon as it no longer suits their long-term goals. This seems to be the case when it comes to the Tampa Bay Lightning goaltending situation as of late.

As most of you will remember, Tampa Bay Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper has refused to name a “starting goaltender” all season long. He has continually referred to goaltenders Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy as goaltenders ‘1A’ and ‘1B’. Cooper even went as far to split time between the two goaltenders for no other reason than “splitting time.”

Many fans here in the Bolts Nation were never a fan of this theory; however, their trust in Coach Cooper and their faith in the team had allowed them to push their doubts to the wayside. One of the many reservations of the fans would be two-fold. Up until around the NHL Trade Deadline, the theory hadn’t exactly been working for the Bolts. Secondly, you’d be hard-pressed to find another team in the NHL who would consider the theory.

Then, here comes the NHL Trade Deadline. Despite the wishes of many fans here in the Bolts Nation, the landscape of the team was about to drastically change. One of the first big changes to the team…Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop would be traded to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for goaltender Peter Budaj, defenseman Erik Cernak, a 7th Round Pick and a Conditional Pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.

Obviously, this meant Andrei Vasilevskiy would be stepping into Ben Bishop’s spot and Peter Budaj would be sliding into Vasilevskiy’s spot. The thing is…why would this even matter when it comes to Tampa Bay Lightning goaltenders when Cooper has always asserted they were ‘1A’ and ‘1B’?

Unfortunately, now that Bishop has made his way to a new home, all of a sudden everyone is referring to Vasilevskiy as the “Number 1 goaltender” and the “starting goaltender.” This isn’t just from people like Lightning Vice President and General Manager Steve Yzerman or Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper. This is coming from commentators, analysts, and just about everyone else who loves to talk hockey.

More From Bolts By The Bay: Top 5 Ben Bishop Moments With The Lightning

It almost feels as if the Lightning spent the better part of the season pandering to Ben Bishop, all the while knowing his future with the Tampa Bay Lightning was all but written in stone. If you ask us, this is not how you treat a two-time Vezina Trophy Finalist and the person who has led your team to three straight postseasons.

Now, this is under no circumstances a knock of Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy has worked his tail off since making his way to the Lightning’s main roster, ensuring he was the best goalie he could be night in and night out. There have been some bumps along the way, but the same can be said about any solid netminder.

Where this is concerning to us is the way Bishop was treated in his final season as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Consistently, Bishop was forced to sit back and watch as Vasilevskiy took the ice with the team, despite him being the one with the hot hand.

Deciding who should take the ice on any given night should be based on which players will give the team the best chance to bring home the two points, not who a Coach wants to get ice time for nothing more than the sake of getting him some ice time. This is simply not how things are done in the National Hockey League.

Despite one’s personal opinion, there is no “I” in team. In other words, no matter how easy it may be to pin a loss on a goaltender and walk away feeling assured of yourself, it’s not always the goalie who let the team down. There has to be some sort of personal responsibility on the players in front of the net.

NHL Trade Deadline: Ben Bishop Traded To The Los Angeles Kings

Unfortunately, it was undeniable for a majority of the season the team played differently in front of Ben Bishop than they did in front of Andrei Vasilevskiy. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why this was happening, but there was no denying it was, indeed, happening.

No matter which way you look at this situation, the simple fact of the matter is there is no room in hockey for egos and personal agendas. While it isn’t always in a team’s best interest to show their hand all at once, we are also strong believers one should “say what they mean and mean what they say.”

It’s clear the ‘1A’ and ‘1B’ goaltending theory was nothing more than this…a basis for putting off the inevitable and pandering to not only Ben Bishop, but the fans as well. This is not something the fans look for when it comes to the staff behind the bench and in the office.

The Tampa Bay Lightning has a hard road in front of them. If the Bolts want to make the postseason, they are going to need to be consistent night in and night out and lay it all out of the line in order to get the job done. The time for pulling punches has come and gone. It’s time to say it as it is.

From here on out, Andrei Vasilevskiy is the Tampa Bay Lightning’s number one goaltender. Peter Budaj will serve as Vasilevskiy’s backup for the remainder of the season. Unfortunately, there are many questions when it comes to the 2017-18 season. There’s a pretty good chance the landscape will be changing once again.

Here’s hoping down the road Andrei Vasilevskiy doesn’t end up in the same position as Ben Bishop did in his final season with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Much like Bishop, he has worked hard to get where he is today and it would be a crying shame to see this situation play out more than once.

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