Dallas Stars Acquire Pending UFA Ben Bishop
The Dallas Stars acquired 6-foot-7 goaltender Ben Bishop from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for a fourth round draft pick on Tuesday. Bishop had been with Los Angeles since a February 27 trade from the Tampa Bay Lightning and can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
Bishop is a pending UFA and the Stars have exclusive negotiating rights to sign him before July 1. https://t.co/Sk8E1X6WC1
— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) May 9, 2017
No contract is yet in place, but Stars general manager Jim Nill seems confident it will happen.
“We still have to get the contract done, but I’m pretty confident we’re going to get that done,” Nill told NHL.com. “I’m hope that this can move along pretty quick. We’ll see where it all goes. But I’m hoping this isn’t an extended negotiation.”
It would make sense from Bishop’s point of view. This summer will see a number of big-name goalies available either through trade or free agency. Like Scott Darling, Bishop may very well decide to sign now and protect himself from the frenzy to come. If Bishop is under contract for the 2017-18 season by July 1, he will be eligible for the Las Vegas expansion draft unless protected by Dallas.
If that happens, it will make it all but certain that either Antti Niemi or Kari Lehtonen, if not both, will be bought out after combining for the a .893 save percentage last season, 30th in the NHL. Most speculation has had Niemi as the target of a buyout given his numbers over the past two years. In addition, while there may be reason to think that Lehtonen could bounce back in the future, that could very well be a risk the Stars don’t want to take.
In Bishop, the Stars would get a goaltender with two Vezina nominations and a .924 save percentage at even strength since 2014-15, which is roughly league average but better than Lehtonen (.917) and Niemi (.920). There is no way to predict what kind of numbers the 30-year-old will post over the length of his next contract but it seems likely he’ll command a price tag out of line with average numbers.
The final question is how new coach Ken Hitchcock will manage the Stars’ defense.
Coaching has played a role in the ups and downs of the Dallas crease since the Lehtonen-Niemi tandem was instituted, and it’s unclear what Hitchcock has planned for next season, or how they will fit with Bishop’s strengths and weaknesses. Goalies have traditionally been sheltered behind stingy defending on Hitchcock-coached teams but the man-on-man defensive zone system he instituted with the Blues early in 2016-17 contributed to the struggles of St. Louis tandem Jake Allen and Carter Hutton, with both posting significantly better statistics after Hitchcock was replaced by Mike Yeo.
Bishop’s strengths include excellent puck handling, incredible reach and an ability to make instinctive, explosive saves that often defy his size. His long limbs and flexibility mean his is rarely out of any play, though a tendency to get caught out near or past the edge of his crease at times can negate those advantages, and all those spectacular-looking, fully extended saves take a toll on a body that has already sustained several lower body injuries in recent years. Bishop also admittedly relies more on reading shots off sticks than tracking them through the release, making him a better fit behind a defense that doesn’t collapse to the front of his net and make it harder to establish good sight lines.