Ben Bishop. Image by: Getty Images
First, the Stars need to get Ben Bishop to sign a deal, then they need to shed one of Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi. Adding a veteran defenseman would also help in them becoming contenders again.
Update: On Friday, the Stars inked Bishop to a six year, $29.5 million deal.
The race is on. With several franchises in desperate need of a starting goaltender, the Dallas Stars moved in on free agent Ben Bishop, acquiring his rights from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for a fourth round pick in 2017 that originally belonged to Montreal.
While I ponder the future collector’s value of a Bishop Kings jersey, let’s all agree that this was a huge win for the Stars, assuming that Bishop signs with the team (and I see no reason why he would not). While the 6-foot-7 stopper had an off year (mainly with Tampa Bay), he is still a high-class NHL goaltender and a big improvement on the current platoon of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi.
And fun fact – Bishop has already lived in the suburbs of Dallas before. Before the St. Louis native went to the University of Maine, he played in the NAHL for the Texas Tornado.
“Probably one of the favorite years of my life,” Bishop told me earlier this season. “I did my senior year of high school there, we won the championship, it was a great group of guys – lived on a golf course, had a pool – it was great.”
Now, Bishop can live anywhere he wants, but Dallas would be a great choice.
Clearly, the Stars were one of the biggest disappointments in the NHL this season, putting them, coincidentally, alongside Bishop’s old squad from Tampa Bay. Dallas had an enviable cast of offensive firepower and some real nice young defensemen, led by the mobile John Klingberg. Conventional wisdom suggested that one of Lehtonen or Niemi would be traded for an upgrade during the season if goaltending was letting the team down again, but the defense sagged and the Stars were just too far behind for a trade to make any difference. Klingberg took a step back and the loss of veteran Alex Goligoski to Arizona via free agency had a more dramatic impact than first anticipated (Jason Demers leaving for Florida didn’t help, either).
The Stars’ blueline still looks perilously young right now, especially if you add in Julius Honka, their top prospect in the minors. Honka is also a skilled puckmover and that’s great for where the game has been going lately, but he will likely be replacing Jamie Oleksiak on the depth chart. I wouldn’t mind seeing GM Jim Nill bring in another veteran to help the group.
So there is work to do. The Stars won a lottery spot and now hold the third pick overall at the draft this summer, but unless they trade it, I don’t predict an immediate impact for 2017-18 (it’s not that kind of draft class). I’m sure the Stars are hoping that Vegas snags either Lehtonen or Niemi in the expansion draft, since both carry heavy salaries for next season. But there are options to rid the team of one or both of those contracts if Dallas is willing to take a hit on the return (perhaps giving up a pick or a prospect in the process).
New coach Ken Hitchcock will help the team’s defensive structure and the offense, led by Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, will take care of itself.
If Bishop does in fact sign, the Stars can expect No. 1 numbers from a player with something to prove. Bishop’s save percentage was .910 this season, but he could return to his previous range of .920 and it wouldn’t be a shock. For a reference point, Lehtonen was at .902 this year, while Niemi came in at .892. That put them 50th and 53rd, respectively, out of 54 NHL goalies that played at least 20 games.
The West will once again be a dogfight next season, but if the Stars can upgrade to Bishop, they’ll at least have a fighting chance to do some damage. And better yet, he has proven himself to be a playoff goalie.
The next move to watch? Calgary. The Flames seriously need a new starter and with Vegas poised to hoover up a few choice netminders before free agency even begins, the challenge is very real for GM Brad Treliving.
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