"The future has become now," Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper explained to a throng of reporters after the trade of Ben Bishop, arguably the greatest goaltender in franchise history, to the Los Angeles Kings thrust third-year pro Andrei Vasilevskiy into the unquestioned No. 1 starter role.
But while the reigns have been handed over to Vasilevskiy for the final 22 games of the 2016-17 regular season and beyond, the Lightning got a pretty good plan B in the Bishop deal with Peter Budaj coming over from the Kings.
Budaj has filled in this season as Los Angeles' starter after the Kings lost Jonathan Quick in the first game of the season to a groin injury. All Budaj's done is post 27 wins, eighth most in the NHL, and seven shutouts, tied with Washington's Braden Holtby for most in the league, in 51 starts.
While Budaj might be the backup, he gives Cooper a valuable option for when he wants to give Vasilevskiy a night off.
"We're still trying to make the playoffs," Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said during a press conference Monday morning. "That's why we brought in Peter Budaj to back up Andrei. We think that tandem gives us a chance to win every night. Peter did that in L.A. when Jonathan went down…His numbers are very good. He won games for them and kept them it. So we were able to bring in a goaltender that will give us quality starts, and he along with Andrei will give us a chance to win."
Video: Yzerman on Ben Bishop trade
Make no mistake: Budaj will challenge Vasilevskiy for the No. 1 spot in net for the remainder of the season.
"Ultimately, we want Andrei to play, but it's a performance-based business and we're trying to win hockey games," Yzerman said. "I can't predict how many starts each player will get, but Andrei knows full well he's got to go in there and he's got to play well."
Budaj arrived in Tampa Monday afternoon and addressed the media prior to the Bolts' Atlantic Division showdown against the Ottawa Senators. Budaj says he hasn't had a chance to discuss his role in the organization with management but plans to have that conversation soon.
"We spoke very briefly because everything happened so quick and we have a game tonight," the 34-year-old veteran goalie said. "I think they don't want to talk too much about that. I think the next couple of days we're going to touch on those things. I'm just looking forward to the game tonight, and we'll see what's going to happen tomorrow."
Budaj understands, though, he'll be expected to mentor Vasilevskiy and help the young goalie make the transition from backup to the main man.
"I think he's a great young goalie with a lot of potential," Budaj said. "I'm just going to be myself and try to help him when I can. I think I have a few more years than he does, and hopefully I can do whatever I can to make him into the goalie or help to make him into the goalie that I know he can be."
Video: Cooper on Ben Bishop trade
Budaj, a former second round pick (63rd overall) of the Colorado Avalanche in the 2001 NHL Draft, has gone on two separate five-game win streaks for the Kings this season (the Lightning have had just one win streak of five games from a goaltender this season, Bishop racking up five in a row from Feb. 4-21). Budaj's 2.12 goals-against average ranks third in the NHL.
The Bolts are clearly getting a proven starter to both backup and challenge Vasilevskiy.
"In this league, you just can't role with one guy. You need two," Cooper said. "And Steve did a good job in getting Budaj as a return for Bish because it gives you a stable, veteran backup who has played a starter's role, and that's what he's done this year. And to have two guys that we're comfortable putting in the net and free up stuff on the business side as Steve (Yzerman) explained, it's kind of a win for us. We're excited to have (Budaj). He's played with some great partners. He played with Carey Price. He's played with Jonathan Quick. He's a proven goaltender in this league, and we're glad to have him."
Budaj, too, is glad to be in Tampa Bay with a team fighting to makes its way into the playoffs for the fourth-consecutive season.
"I'm excited," he said. "This is a great organization. I've heard only great things. The last two years they've been all the way on top almost. It's great to be here. It's an organization that likes to win and it's great to be a part of."