OTTAWA – Senators general manager Bryan Murray made just one trade at Wednesday’s trade deadline, but it was significant.
Ottawa traded goaltender Ben Bishop to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for rookie forward Cory Conacher and a fourth-round draft pick.
The 23-year-old Conacher has nine goals and 15 assists in 35 games this season for the Lightning.
Ottawa has struggled to score goals due to injuries to Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson and are 24th in the league averaging 2.42 goals-a-game.
Conacher’s 24 points make him the Senators leading scorer as well as leading goal-scorer.
“If we need anything we need a point-getter,”said Murray.“I think he addresses one of those needs at least.”
With three goaltenders on the roster Murray felt a move was necessary. In addition to Bishop the Senators have Craig Anderson, who is ready to return from a high ankle sprain, and Robin Lehner at their disposal.
Murray wasn’t interested in carrying three goaltenders and didn’t feel it would be fair to assign Lehner, who is on a two-way contract, to the AHL considering how well he has played.
“(Lehner) has earned his right to play in the NHL and to earn NHL money,”said Murray.“He’s more than ready and put his time in and I felt it wouldn’t serve him any purpose in doing that.”
Murray also felt Bishop had been a“great foot soldier”and deserved a chance to play.
Bishop posted an 8-5 record, a 2.45 goals-against-average and a .922 save percentage in 13 games.
Bishop was acquired by the Senators last season just prior to the trade deadline after Anderson cut his hand.
“Ben came in here and saved us last year,”said Murray.“We think he’s an NHL goaltender that will have a good record going forward, but to be fair to him with Robin Lehner on the way up here and Anderson ready to go again we just felt it was unfair to one of them. This helps him I hope and it helps us.”
Bishop is slated to become a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
“It’s a little bit bittersweet,”said Bishop, who at 6-foot-7, is the tallest goalie in the NHL.“I’ve developed some great friendships with the guys on this team and obviously it’s a playoff team, but on the other side I’m very excited to go to Tampa.”
Bishop could face his old teammates next week as the Senators take on the Lightning April 9.
The 26-year-old admits feeling relieved to have some closure on all the trade rumours, but says leaving friends behind is difficult.
“That’s the hardest part is all the friendships you develop with the guys over the year and I have some really good friends that I’m sure I’ll stay in contact with for a really long time,”said Bishop.“That’s the sad part, but that’s the nature of the business.”
Last season Conacher scored 39 goals and had 80 points while playing with the Norfolk Admirals of the AHL. He was also named the league MVP.
He started the season with a bang, scoring five goals in his first seven games, but has just two goals and two assists in his last 12.
At just five-foot-eight Conacher has always had to prove he can play and has now developed a reputation as a hard-working, gritty player.
“I’m a guy who likes to be first on the puck and likes to be in the corners and dig for loose pucks, create turnovers and finish checks when I can,”said Conacher.“I think Ottawa is a team that does a lot of those things and have a lot of players that do those things so I think it will be a pretty good fit for me.
“It should be fun to be there.”
Conacher, a native of Burlington, Ont., is expected to join the team in Boston Wednesday night and make his Senators debut Friday against the Buffalo Sabres.
Conacher is hoping Chris Neil, who has the same agent, will help make the transition a little easier as Conacher doesn’t know anyone else on the team.