The Tampa Bay Lightning were prepared to lose goaltender Ben Bishop in the offseason, whether by way of the expansion draft or unrestricted free agency.
With Andrei Vasilevskiy re-signed to a three-year deal last summer, solidifying his status as the Lightning's goalie of the future, time was running out on Bishop's tenure in Tampa Bay.
Rather than letting Bishop walk away for nothing, the Lightning decided they'd rather get something in return, trading him on Sunday along with a fifth-round selection in the 2017 draft to the Los Angeles Kings, three days before the March 1 trade deadline.
In exchange, Tampa Bay gets veteran goaltender Peter Budaj, who was 27-20-3 with a 2.12 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage this season with the Kings while L.A. starter Jonathan Quick was sidelined with an injury. Budaj is tied with Washington's Braden Holtby for the NHL lead for shutouts with seven.
"He's really done a heck of a job this year for LA," Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said Sunday evening about Budaj.
"In moving Ben, we needed a good backup -- somebody to help out Vasilevskiy. (Budaj's) done a great job filling in for Quick."
Budaj will be asked to help Vasilevskiy make the transition from backup to everyday starter in the NHL, but don't expect him to concede the Bolts' No. 1 job to Vasilevskiy without a fight. Yzerman said he fully expects Budaj to step in and challenge for the starter's job.
"We want somebody experienced playing with Vasilevskiy, but we also wanted to bring in somebody that can help us win games and get us into the playoffs," he said.
The Lightning also received talented defenseman prospect Erik Cernak from Los Angeles. Cernak was the Kings' second-round selection (43rd overall) in the 2015 draft and has spent the last two seasons with the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League. In 40 games this season with Erie, the 19-year-old Cernak has three goals and 17 assists and is plus-27, fourth-best among Otters defensemen.
"He's 6-foot-3 and a right-handed shot who skates well and defends well," Yzerman said.
Cernak fills a need in the Lightning prospect pool as a young right shot with size and potential.
Additionally, the Lightning get a seventh-round pick and a conditional pick -- both in the 2017 draft -- from the Kings in the deal.
Bishop ends his Tampa Bay career as arguably the best goaltender in Lightning history. After coming to the Lightning late in the 2012-13 season as part of a trade with Ottawa that sent F Cory Conacher and a fourth-round pick to the Senators, Bishop quickly settled into his role as the Bolts' unquestioned No. 1 and became a face of the franchise in a short amount of time.
Bishop is the Lightning all-time leader for goalie games played (227), wins (131), saves (6,222) and shutouts (17). He finishes his Tampa Bay career with a 2.28 GAA and a .921 save percentage.
"In the business now in hockey, you have to make some decisions based on the salary cap," Yzerman said about dealing Bishop before the trade deadline.
Bishop has backstopped the Lightning to the playoffs each of the last three seasons, including a run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 and a return to the Eastern Conference Final in 2016 before getting hurt in Game 1 of the ECF in Pittsburgh and being forced to sit out the remainder of the series. Bishop was 21-13 in the playoffs with the Lightning, including five shutouts, four of which came in series-clinching games.
"He's been a major part of the success we've had in the last three years and helping us go on long playoff runs, as important to our team as any other player," Yzerman said.