The Dallas Stars didn’t trade for the rights to soon-to-be-free agent goaltender Ben Bishop not to sign him, so I think we can reasonably say they have a new goaltender. Arguably the biggest offseason need for the Stars was to clear the goaltending situation up. When Bishop inks his new, probably very large deal, there won’t be any question who the No. 1 goalie in town is.
So, it seems prudent to ask what the Stars are getting for their money. Bishop is big. He’s a 6-foot-7, 210-pound goalie with a history in the Metroplex. Bishop played in 45 games for the Texas Tornado of the NAHL during the 2005 season before heading to the University of Maine. He was drafted by the Blues in 2005 and made his NHL debut during the 2009 season.
Bishop spent much of the last four-plus years with the Tampa Bay Lightning after a stop with the Ottawa Senators. With Tampa, Bishop had a .921 save percentage and a 2.28 goals against average. He has a career .927 save percentage in the playoffs over two years with a 2.09 goals against average.
Bishop got into 60+ games each year from 2013-2016, but the 2017 season wasn’t his highest point. He ended up getting into 39 games and being traded to the Los Angeles Kings to be their backup down the playoff stretch for some still-unknown reason. Bishop dealt with a groin injury, and has had to deal with nagging injuries the past four seasons. He’s 30 years old. The upcoming contract has to give you a little pause.
Bishop is an upgrade though. How much of an upgrade depends upon how confident you are that last season isn’t indicative of what Bishop will be going forward. I’ve struggled with this since the news of the trade for, I think, good reasons. At even strength last year, Kari Lehtonen was actually better than Bishop. Lehtonen stunk on the penalty kill, but the Stars penalty killing was awful, so shrug emoji?
The problems with this line of thinking are numerous.
Comparing what Bishop will be going forward to anything the Stars got from their goaltenders last year is irrelevant. 2017 was the best season Lehtonen has had at even strength in three years. Turning 34 next season, are you confident Lehtonen can repeat that at even strength? Bishop has been at or above .920 every season he’s been a starter while kissing .930 a few times. He’s clearly better, younger, and more likely to produce.
Seeing how poorly the Stars’ goalies performed on the penalty kill is the part of this that really has gnawed at me. We all saw them get hung out to dry often so it’s easy to alibi for them. Niemi has always been bad shorthanded though, with -20 goals below average at 4v5 per Corsica.hockey. Lehtonen is at -15 over the same period of time, but 14 of that came just from last year. Niemi played behind the same penalty killing and wasn’t nearly that bad. Why, at 34, should we expect a huge rebound from Lehtonen here?
Updated reports suggest Bishop is looking at about $6 million per year for five to six years. If that contract stays short enough to keep it from becoming a 35-plus deal while paying him roughly what Lehtonen is making now, then what exactly is the problem with Bishop or the contract specifically? The circumstances around it (what to do with Niemi and/or Lehtonen) muddy the waters, but the player is fine.
We haven’t even gotten to the best part of all of this. Acquiring Bishop didn’t cost the Stars anything. Any trade capital they had is still available to them. If they want to make a play for a big defenseman they can do it. Need a scoring winger? Still doable.
Signing Bishop opens up another interesting door for the Stars. He won’t need to be protected in the expansion draft, so conceivably the Stars could still acquire another goaltender to be the backup next year and protect them. The same names we’ve seen still fit, but your Marc-Andre Fleury’s making money can be scratched off. If the Washington Capitals are still going to lose Philipp Grubauer, the Stars can still easily be a player for him.
It took me about four hours to come around to realize the error of my ways. If that contract stays reasonable, this is a good move for the Stars. When they solidify the backup position, goaltending will no longer be an excuse, and they can move on to the rest of the roster. We haven’t even reached the Conference Finals yet and the Stars have a new face in net. The offseason of tumult appears to be off to a good start.