A large goaltender is headed to Big D to try and resolve a massive goaltending problem for the Dallas Stars.
The Stars announced Friday that they've inked 6'7" goaltender Ben Bishop to a six-year, $29.5 million contract, a signing that comes just days after the club sent a fourth-round pick to Los Angeles for the negotiating rights to the netminder.
Bishop was an All-Star and Vezina Trophy finalist in 2015-16, posting a 35-21-4 record with Tampa Bay to go along with six shutouts, a 2.06 goals against average, and .926 save percentage, both tops among NHL starting goalies and career bests for Bishop. In the playoffs that season, Bishop went 8-2 with a 1.85 GAA and .939 save percentage with a pair of shutouts before sustaining an ankle injury in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against Pittsburgh.
Though this past season wasn't Bishop's best—posting a 2.54/.910 in an injury-plagued campaign with the Lightning and Kings—he's just one year removed from a career year and is a huge upgrade, both figuratively and literally, in net for a Stars franchise that has been trying to put out a roaring dumpster fire in its crease for a few years now.
Despite their weak goaltending, the Stars managed to compile 109 points and finish first in the Central Division in 2015-16, during a season in which Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen delivered bottom five .905/2.67 and .906/2.76 splits, respectively. The flaming futility between the pipes caught up with Dallas this year, though, as the team missed the playoffs and fired head coach Lindy Ruff after finishing sixth in the Central. The tandem of Niemi and Lehtonen was at the forefront of the club's terrible year, teaming up to finish No. 29 in the NHL in goals-against average (3.17) and dead last in save percentage (.893).
The tandem is an absolute disaster on the ledger as well, with the two netminders combining for a $10.4 million cap hit—the highest among any goaltending duo in the league. The addition of Bishop allows the team to expose Niemi and Lehtonen to the expansion draft, with a buyout of either netminder all but a guarantee if neither gets claimed by Vegas.
Better days are ahead in the Stars' crease, though, and Bishop won't be the only reason. In another move to shake up the team's defensive identity, the Stars re-hired former head coach Ken Hitchcock last month, who is expected to implement his token defence-heavy system in Dallas.
With Hitchcock's defensive philosophy and structure combined with Bishop's size, strong rebound control, and penchant for making the first save (especially on shots from low-danger areas, where he's posted a career 98.3 save percentage in those situations), it's clear the Stars may have turned their Achilles' heal into a strength.