The Tampa Bay Lightning traded away the best goaltender in their history Sunday night.
Now, the question is whether the team can make the playoffs without him.
The Bolts swapped Ben Bishop, who has won 128 regular season games over past three-plus seasons, to the Los Angeles Kings for goaltender Peter Budaj, defensive prospect Erik Cernak and two draft picks. It is a trade that will free up salary cap space for the Bolts, but it hurts them in this year’s playoff race. Bishop had won five straight games.
The trade had been talked about since the Lightning re-signed young goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to a new contract. Bishop was to be an unrestricted free agent.
Budaj actually had won as many games this season (27) as Bishop and Vasilevskiy combined. However, he is 34, and no one knows how long he’ll be able to help.
Cernak, a former No. 2 draft pick, has not left the minors for the Kings.
Budaj, 6 feet 1 and 196 pounds, played in 53 games with the Kings this season, taking over the No. 1 job after Jonathan Quick suffered a groin injury in the season opener. Quick returned Saturday night for his first game since the opener. Budaj was 27-20-3 with a 2.12 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage with seven shutouts. Budaj, 34, has appeared in 350 NHL games with Los Angeles, the Canadiens and the Avalanche, with a 152-127-39 record with 18 shutouts.
Cernak, 6-3 and 221 pounds, has played in 41 games with the junior Ontario League’s Erie Otters this season, with three goals and 17 points, and is plus-27. Cernak, 19, has played in 82 career OHL games with Erie, recording seven goals and 32 points, and is plus-34 rating.
Bishop had not played well much of this season, perhaps because of his contract status, because the upcoming salary cap and because Vasilevskiy had taken on more of a share of the net. However, his recent success brought his record to 16-12-3.