Over the past two weeks, we’ve taken time to break down the Eastern and Western Conference wild-card races on The Hockey News. These are team-by-team rundowns of those in the hunt for one of the final post-season spots in their respective conferences. And while the results of the past two weeks have seen a team or two move in and out or up and down in the wild-card hunt, one thing remained exactly the same: when the subject of the Dallas Stars was broached, we couldn’t help but ask when Ben Bishop would start getting some love.
The first time we asked about paying some heed to the Stars keeper, Bishop was in the midst of a run in which he had rattled off a 5-2-0 record across his past seven games and stopped 217 of 229 shots, good for a .948 save percentage and 1.72 goals-against average over that span. Included in that run was Bishop’s third shutout of the season, a 30-save blanking of the Buffalo Sabres. But in the time since we initially posed the question, since we first called for Dallas’ No. 1 netminder to start garnering more attention as one of the league’s best this season, Bishop has done everything possible to vault himself from mere Vezina Trophy contender to a place among the Vezina Trophy frontrunners. One need only consult his game log for the evidence.
On March 5, Bishop got the nod against the New York Rangers and proceeded to turn in a 28-save gem, stopping every puck that came his way for his fourth shutout of the season and helping Dallas to a 1-0 victory. The next time out, March 7, Bishop stared down the Colorado Avalanche and blocked all 31 pucks directed on goal as the Stars skated to a 4-0 victory. That marked Bishop’s fifth clean sheet of the season, his second in a row, and extended his personal shutout streak clear of 144 minutes. And last night in Buffalo, Bishop blanked the Sabres for the second time this season, this time steering clear all 35 shots he faced, to register his sixth shutout of the season, third in a row and push his streak past the 200-minute mark.
So, with that in mind, it’s about time we answer our own question. When will Ben Bishop start getting some love? Right now.
On the basis of everyday statistics alone, Bishop – who is inching closer to the undisputed best season of his career – has every right to not just be in the Vezina conversation but earn inclusion among the likes of Andrei Vasilevskiy, Frederik Andersen, Robin Lehner, Carey Price and Tuukka Rask, a handful of the favorites to win the award as the regular season draws to its conclusion. While no doubt thanks in large part to his recent play, Bishop’s .932 SP is tops in the league entering action Wednesday, his 2.08 GAA ranks second among qualified goaltenders behind St. Louis Blues netminder Jordan Binnington and the 32–year-old sits second in shutouts, his run of three in a row putting him into a tie with Vasilevskiy with six and two back of league leader Marc-Andre Fleury. On those numbers alone, Bishop can build his Vezina case.
But that is merely the foundation of Bishop’s candidacy. There’s much more meat on the bone when you dive into the underlying numbers, which truly support Bishop as one of the top two or three netminders in the NHL entering the homestretch.
There are 50 goaltenders who have played at least 1,000 minutes at 5-on-5 this season, and among that cohort, Bishop sits tied with Andersen for fourth with a .935 SP. Bishop’s puck-stopping ability rises to truly top tier when considering his goals saved above average, however. A measure of pucks stopped by a keeper that would have found twine behind a league-average netminder, Bishop’s 15.3 GSAA at 5-on-5 ranks third among the 1,000-minute netminders behind only Andersen (21.8) and Vasilevskiy (15.5). What’s especially impressive about Bishop’s performance, though, is how he’s fared against high-danger opportunities. Facing a similar level of high-quality chances against as Vasilevskiy and last season’s Vezina runner-up, Connor Hellebuyck – as well as more than Price, Rask and Andersen – only four netminders have managed a better high-danger SP. Bishop has an excellent .869 SP against high-danger chances at five-a-side. Only Brian Elliot (.870), Pekka Rinne (.872) and Jaroslav Halak (.893) have fared better.
Compile it all and the Coles Notes on Bishop’s season tell the story of a netminder who has been tested often – and often enough from in tight – yet stood tall time and again, stopping pucks that few keepers have with a consistency that ever fewer have shown. Really, even before the shutout streak, Bishop was deserving of Vezina consideration. Now that he’s got the streak in his back pocket and six to his name, his case has only grown stronger.
This isn’t to say there aren’t any knocks against Bishop. Remember, it’s not us wretched media types who vote on the Vezina. It’s NHL GMs who get the final say. And what GMs have been known to value more than almost anything, in the immortal words of Al Davis, is wins, baby. As Bishop’s luck would have it, too, wins happen to be the one category in which he has fallen short. Following Tuesday’s shutout victory, Bishop’s 23 wins put him into a tie for 15th with Darcy Kuemper, and the Stars starter is 10 victories outside the top three in the league, which is headlined by Andersen (33), Fleury (34) and Martin Jones (34). With time running out on the campaign, you can all but assure that, at best, Bishop is looking at a top-10 finish and not much more.
The reality is, though, that it shouldn’t matter. Wins or not, Bishop has done his job, and done it to a degree better than almost any other keeper in the NHL. If he can maintain this level of play as the campaign winds down – and if he can help the Stars secure their first post-season berth since 2015-16 – Bishop will be deserving of a finish as a Vezina finalist. And maybe then his campaign will really get the love it deserves.
(All advanced statistics via NaturalStatTrick)