Goaltender Ben Bishop must be formidable: He grew an inch in stature from the time I left my house until I arrived at the arena.
According to a radio discussion about the Senators newest acquisition, he was “6-7,” but became 6-7 “and a half” while I was driving on the Queenway and as I parked my car, he was referred to as “6-8.”
Let’s just agree he’s large. Now, whether this latest potential saviour will be large and in charge in the Senators goal crease for years to come, remains to be seen.
After all, Robin Lehner – yesterday’s emergency callup starter/winner versus the New York Islanders — was supposed to be that guy, and Brian Elliott and Pascal Leclaire before him. Craig Anderson is The Guy this season, but when Andy was less than handy in the kitchen the other night, slicing a tendon on his baby finger, the Senators found themselves down a quart in the goalie department.
Anderson could be back in two to three weeks, but his injury expedited Ottawa’s recently declared bid to add to its goaltender depth, and Bishop comes here with terrific AHL credentials, including MVP honours in the recent AHL all-star game.
Senators general manager Bryan Murray, who acquired Bishop, 25, from the St. Louis Blues for a 2013 second-round draft choice, says NHL teams walk a fine line on player depth and he felt his heart skip a beat when Anderson’s backup, Alex Auld, had his hand stepped on during a recent practice.
“I thought, wow, if we have another injury we are really out of luck,” Murray said on Sunday afternoon. “That motivated me a little bit more, but we had been talking about another goaltender prior to that.”
Clearly, the organization has soured somewhat on the fiery Lehner, who has not had an easy time in Binghamton. Just to add to the goalie soap opera, though, Lehner was stellar in Ottawa’s 5-2 win over the Isles on Sunday. Selected in the second round by Ottawa in 2009, Lehner has one year remaining on a two-way deal while Bishop vaults past him on the depth chart with a new one-year extension, a one-way deal worth $650,000.
Senators goalie coach Rick Walmsley coached Bishop for two years in the the Blues organization and recommended him highly.
Five years older than Lehner, Bishop has three times the professional experience. Though he has played just 13 NHL games, Bishop is arguably the top AHL goalie at the moment, with a 24-14-0 record for the Peoria Rivermen, 2.26 goals-against average and .928 save percentage.
Drafted in the third round, 85th overall, in 2005, Bishop was rated a great chance of making the NHL club out of training camp but St. Louis kept former Senators starter Elliott to go with Jaroslav Halak. By dealing Bishop now, the Blues avoid losing him for nothing this summer when he was eligible to become a Group 6 unrestricted free agent.
Several NHL sources said Bishop, a native of Denver who grew up in St. Louis, is NHL ready and considered a person of character.
(Footnote: As a teen, Bishop was involved in a legendary NAHL line brawl — a Youtube favorite — while a member of the Texas Tornado).
Without reservation, Bishop is thrilled to be a member of the Senators, with a door opened to the NHL, finally.
“Words cannot describe how excited I am right now,” Bishop said on Sunday. “I was hoping to be in St. Louis at the start of the year, that didn’t work out so I just wanted to come down here (Peoria) and show 29 other teams I was ready to play in the NHL.”
Asked to describe his style of play, Bishop said he uses his size and technique to fill the net, but Blues broadcaster Darren Pang, a former NHL goalie, considers Bishop to be athletic for a big man.
Where Bishop fits in immediately isn’t clear. Murray was to meet with the coaching staff after Sunday’s game. The Senators are in Boston Tuesday and play host to the Chicago Blackhawks Friday.
“Do we play him a couple of games in Binghamton or do we give him a game here?” Murray asked rhetorically.
The expectation is for Anderson to return to the lineup and play the bulk of the games once again. It’s next season, with Bishop on a one-way, when the new big man can figure on being in Ottawa. Lehner will have to improve his credentials with better numbers, and greater maturity, at the AHL level. It wasn’t that long ago that the organization was raving about Lehner’s potential as the goalie of the future.
“Now we have competition,” Murray said. “Performance will dictate who will be that person. That’s the way I feel about it. I think we need that challenge within. As you know, Robin has had a tougher time than we thought he might have down there.”
If the trade hurt him, Lehner wasn’t showing it after his 28-save victory.
“Another guy, another player,” Lehner said about the Bishop acquisition. “It’s competition. I’m just trying my best to help the team win right now. I’m not really thinking about the future.”