Ben Bishop didn’t expect to start the season back in the American Hockey League, and the six-foot-seven St. Louis native sounded even more surprised to be sent down to Peoria by the Blues Sunday after pretty much matching Brian Elliott, his competition for the backup job, save for save during the preseason.
Despite very similar exhibition statistics, however, the Blues cited experience as the biggest factor in choosing Elliott, a summer free agent addition on a two-way contract and coming off a miserable season in Ottawa and Colorado.
Bishop won both his games with a 2.00 goals-against average and .907 save percentage, while Elliott was 1-1 with a 2.03 goals-aaginst and .917 save percentage. But the more important statistic was Elliott’s 142 career NHL games compared to Bishop’s 13, General Manager Doug Armstrong told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
“I felt they were very equal in training camp,” Armstrong told the Post-Dispatch. “I don’t think either separated themselves. The decision was based basically on experience. We’re going with the experienced guy. On a positive note, Ben wasn’t happy. I think he has to take that fuel and put it in the right direction. He’s going to get an opportunity at some point this year. At the end of the day, there wasn’t enough to differentiate between the two in our mind and we decided to go with the experienced guy to start with.”
Though Armstrong said it wasn’t a factor, it probably didn’t help that the 24-year-old Bishop, who is on an identical two-contract worth $105,000 in the AHL and $600,000 in the NHL, did not have to clear waivers to be sent to the AHL. Elliott, 26, would have required waiver exposure, though it seems unlikely he would have been claimed.
Either way, Bishop seemed shocked by the move, which leaves him now competing with second-year standout Jake Allen, who may be the brightest light in the Blues system, for both AHL playing time and that first call up.
“I was definitely shocked,” Bishop told the Post-Dispatch. “I wasn’t very happy with the decision, but you’ve got to respect the decision. They’re obviously your bosses. They tell you what to do. You might not agree with it, but you’ve just got to take it and use it down in Peoria and play well and hopefully be up here soon. … I felt almost 100 percent positive that I was going to be up here. … Elliott’s obviously played more games. He has been around a little longer. I was hoping to get that experience to start the year, but hopefully that’ll come halfway through the year or a month or who knows. You’ve just got to be ready when you’re called upon.”
Experience could be Emery’s best chance too
Meanwhile in Chicago, Ray Emery’s tryout with the Blackhawks hasn’t gone as smoothly as he hoped, and after being outplayed for the most part by Alexander Salak his best hope of sticking with the team may be his history in the NHL.
(Editor’s Note: According to ESPN’s Pierre Lebrun, Emery signed a one-way, $600,000 contract with the Blackhawks Monday afternoon to be the backup, while Salak, who doesn’t have to clear waivers, is destined for Rockford in the AHL. Look for an update, with quotes and more analysis in Tuesday’s Daily InGoal Update)
While Salak has only played two NHL games, Emery has 173 under his belt, including 10 with Anaheim during last year’s inspiring late-season comeback from a career-threatening hip injury. But as good a story as Emery was last season, and as impressive as his 7-2-0 record and .926 save percentage were during that stint, he still appears to be struggling with both his lateral movement, especially on recoveries from the ice, and appears almost wooden at times in his movements, both areas that the Nashville Predators clearly targeted with down-low, sharp-angle attacks in the playoffs.
As for this preseason, Emery finished 0-2-0 with a 4.58 goals-against average and 81.3 save percentage in three appearances, while the athletic Salak, who was in the Florida system before spending (and improving) last season in Sweden, is 0-1-1 with a team-best 1.94 goals against and .929 save percentage during exhibition play.
While anecdotal evidence suggests the gap is not nearly as big as the statistics, clearly Emery’s best chance is experience, something the Blackhawks are reportedly keen to have behind Corey Crawford as he enters his first full season as a starter.
“They kind of know what to expect from me in there as far as my track record goes,” Emery, 28, told the Chicago Tribune. “I expect to get better and better as the year goes on. I feel good. It’s a weird situation for me.”
As bad as things have gone for Emery in Chicago – and there was a puck-handling gaffe and a couple defensive breakdowns that led to tap-ins and skewed his stats – at least he doesn’t have to endure the type of lasting Youtube humiliation former Kings goalie Erik Ersberg is being subjected to after this recent hiccup in the KHL:
Ersberg’s bouncing brain cramp is already over 80,000 hits on Youtube, but still pales in comparison – and will likely come as little relief – to Vesa Toskala’s infamous softie while with the Maple Leafs: