By Ryan Kennedy
Many teams out there would love to find the next Ben Bishop. Now, there literally is one: Benjamin Manning Bishop IV was born in May, and his dad, the Dallas Stars netminder, has spent a very joyous summer with wife Andrea and their first child. “It’s a lot of fun,” Bishop said. “I’m happy it happened in the off-season. You can enjoy it a bit more.”
When the Stars acquired Bishop from Los Angeles a year ago, the expectation was Dallas would still be playing hockey through May in 2017-18. The previous year, post-season dreams were scuttled by a leaky commitment to defense and a goalie platoon of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, whose best days were behind them. Bishop was seen as the solution.
He was solid in his first campaign with the Stars, posting five shutouts (one off his career best) and a .916 save percentage. The problem was a knee injury in early March cost Bishop all but two more starts the rest of the season, and the Stars fell short of a playoff spot for the second straight year. Lehtonen, who was supposed to be the backup, played decently in Bishop’s absence, but an eight-game losing streak in March doomed Dallas.
It was especially tough for Bishop to watch from the sidelines since he had been playing better than the year before, when he split time between the Kings and Tampa Bay. “I felt good,” he said. “It was unfortunate I got hurt. I try to get past 30 wins in a season, because that usually means playoffs – and I was on pace for that, I had 26 at the time – but to miss the last month was killer.”
His teammates missed him, too. “I’ll be honest,” said center Tyler Seguin. “He’s the hardest goalie to shoot on in practice. It probably took me 40 to 50 games just to score one or two goals on him. But we have a great relationship. Not only is he one of the best goalies in the league, but he’s a leader. He speaks up in the room, which is nice to see out of a goalie.”
Now, there’s no time like the present. Dallas’ best players – Seguin, left winger Jamie Benn and defenseman John Klingberg – are all in their mid-to-late 20s, while third-leading scorer Alexander Radulov is in his 30s. The pressure to do something with that foundation has led to three coaches in three years, with Lindy Ruff fired and Ken Hitchcock retiring after one year. The new man in charge is Jim Montgomery, who won an NCAA championship with Maine as a player (on the best college team ever, with Paul Kariya back in 1992-93) and Denver as coach in 2016-17. “He’s a good young coach who has won pretty much wherever he’s been, and he oozes confidence,” Bishop said. “It’s nice to have a new voice in the room.”
So far, the coach and the goalie haven’t spoken much about tactics, though how Bishop likes to handle the puck was an early topic of conversation.
While Montgomery’s new approach and structural adjustments will give the Stars an opportunity to improve, he’s not the only addition that will help. Rookie defenseman Miro Heiskanen will take pressure off Klingberg, and Heiskanen skated in Dallas with Bishop before camp, impressing the goalie with the size and puckhandling he brought to the ice.
With an improved defense corps, a fresh voice behind the bench and a healthy Bishop, the table is set in Dallas for a post-season return. Still, it won’t be easy in a division that has been a meat grinder of late. “No question, the Central has to be the best division in hockey,” Bishop said. “Nashville and Winnipeg were arguably the best teams in the NHL last year. You can’t pick one team and say they’re not going to have a good year.”
To that end, Bishop is focusing on the time-honored sports philosophy of one-day-at-a-time. It’s cliche, but, in a division where the recent three-time Stanley Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks may finish in the basement, it’s for the best. “You set the goal of making the playoffs, because once you make the playoffs, anything can happen,” he said. “You win one game, and then move on to the next. You can’t look too far ahead.”
Last season, the Stars missedout on the final wild card spot in the West by three points. And based on the parity in the conference, post-season berths will again turn on the results of just a handful of games. In his first season with the Stars, Bishop never lost more than two straight games in regulation, and that ability to bounce back is crucial to his overall contributions. “You want to ride the highs,” he said. “And when you fall, you can’t let it snowball downhill.”
Even in winter, you won’t find snowballs in Dallas. And if Bishop can play a full season as starter, the metaphorical ones will be scarce as well.
TOP 25 GOALTENDERS
1. Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets
Complete package with athleticism, quickness and tracking ability. Has been aces since mastering conditioning woes.
2. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
Size and talent never in doubt, but his run to the Western Conference final proved pressure was no issue for his icy resolve.
3. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
Faded a bit down the stretch, but this was a good test. The youngster now knows what it takes to be full-fledged starter in the NHL.
4. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights
Face of the franchise turned in one of his best campaigns, battling in the crease to help the Golden Knights to the Cup final.
5. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
Has a wretched team in front of him, but Montreal is home for Price. Still has the size and calmness to be a difference-maker.
6. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
Another intimidator. Quick’s athleticism has often left shooters crestfallen. His .921 save percentage was his best in years.
7. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
Rough regular season forgotten since he helped Caps win Cup. What does future hold? We know he’ll stay even-keeled.
8. John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks
Injury label fading, so Gibson’s talents come to the fore. The big guy also has the confidence of a new long-term deal.
9. Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs
For large stretches, he was Toronto’s best player, but the workhorse must avoid big slumps (especially in the playoffs).
10. Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild
Sprawling frame is perfect for snuffing out offensive chances. Attitude is top-notch. Only one playoff series victory, however.
11. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
Are we getting reigning Vezina winner or the guy pulled three times in one playoff series? An all-time great nearing the end.
12. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
Fiery and talented, he gives Bruins solid netminding when dialled in, but that focus can be shaken. Plays a sharp butterfly style.
13. Antti Raanta, Arizona Coyotes
Without him, Coyotes were lost. Once he was healthy, Raanta was a top-tier goalie who didn’t get the recognition he deserved.
14. Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks
One of the most unsung netminders around, Jones is consistent and no-fuss. His size and athleticism make the position look easy.
15. Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins
Hard to ignore the two Cups to start his career, but the lanky youngster faltered once safety blanket Fleury went to Vegas.
16. Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars
Tremendous size, puckhandling and ultra-competitive demeanor. Injuries have been his only weakness in the past.
17. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks
If he’s healthy, Crawford gives the Hawks much-needed security. But concussion-related ailments are nothing to mess with.
18. Mike Smith, Calgary Flames
When he wasn’t injured, Smith was Flames’ MVP. Great size and league-best puckhandling skill are calling cards.
19. Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers
One of game’s most beloved personalities. Can still stop rubbber, as .929 SP proved. How much longer will that last?
20. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
Dusk approaches for ‘King Henrik,’ one of New York’s best goalies ever. Can still come up with the occasional gem, however.
21. Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche
Writing seems to be on the wall for ‘Varly’ due to injuries, but the numbers are still hot. Can he fend off Grubauer’s challenge?
22. Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils
For years, did more than his share for Devils, but last season was a struggle. With team improving, Schneider needs groove back.
23. Cam Talbot, Edmonton Oilers
Needs to find his consistency again. When this tall drink of water is on his game, the Oilers are a playoff team.
24. Philipp Grubauer, Colorado Avalanche
Key to Washington’s regular season, and now the Cup-winning backup gets a shot at more starts in Colorado. The pressure is on.
25. Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators
Heir apparent to Rinne is also Finnish but opposite in terms of height. Saros’ reads and reflexes make up for compact stature.
This story appears in the Season Preview 2018-19 issue of The Hockey News magazine.