Bishop comes up big in Ottawa
Ben Bishop, the NHL's tallest goalie, has so far been a top deadline acquisition
With Craig Anderson hurt, Bishop has given the young Senators confidence
Buried in St. Louis, Bishop was reunited with his former goalie coach in Ottawa
This is a short story about the world's longest Band-Aid.
Ben Bishop, the Band-Aid of the Ottawa Senators, is 6 feet 7 inches tall -- big for a Gotham straphanger or a guy working on a road crew in New Mexico -- but especially so because he's an NHL goaltender, the tallest of his breed. Not to make too much of this height business, but he could eat an apple off the head of Pekka Rinne, the superb Nashville goalie who is a mere 6'-5".
If you had to name the NHL trade deadline acquisition that has paid the most impressive dividends, you might choose Jamie McGinn in Colorado (seven goals in eight games) or maybe Andrei Kostitsyn, who has three goals and six points in his first six matches as Rinne's teammate. But you also can make a case for Bishop, who has not lost in regulation in four matches with the Senators.
Bishop did lose, 3-2, to Montral in a shootout on Wednesday, his second skills competition defeat to go with his pair of wins. Other than leaving the odd greasy rebound, the pituitary puckstopper was excellent in foiling 24 of 26 shots as Ottawa continued to stalk the wobbly Boston Bruins, who won the Northeast Division en route to the 2011 Stanley Cup. (Fun fact: Since the creation of the current division set-up for the 1998-99 season, no team has repeated as Northeast champion.)
Bishop's start in Ottawa is, as Senators goalie coach Rick Wamsley cautions, "just a small snapshot." Fair enough. But Wamsley also says this, which also is inexorably true: "You can't teach big."
General manager Bryan Murray acquired Bishop on the eve of the deadline because Craig Anderson, who Murray obtained from Colorado at the 2011 deadline, injured himself while making a postgame meal. Anderson sliced the tendon in his right pinkie -- the origin of the phrase "finger food," perhaps -- and required surgery. Murray needed someone to bolster the surprising Senators for the rest of the regular season and maybe beyond. Alex Auld, Anderson's backup, is a great soldier, but not a frontliner. And while organizational whiz kid Robin Lehner still figures to be the No. 1 goalie in Ottawa at some point, he does not turn 21 until July and had not exactly been ripping up the AHL with Binghamton this season.
Bishop had been languishing in the minors with Peoria, the St. Louis Blues' AHL affiliate. He narrowly lost the Blues' backup job after a solid training camp -- general manager Doug Armstrong chose Brian Elliott, the ex-Senator, to partner with Jaroslav Halak because of Elliott's NHL experience -- and saw his chance of becoming a fixture in St. Louis fade as Elliott became the Blues' only representative in the All-Star Game.
"I can't fault them at all," Bishop says. "Elliott's been great. It was a little frustrating, but I realized it was nothing I could control. I wanted to go back (to Peoria) and play well. The way I looked at it, it was a tryout for 29 other teams."
With Bishop excelling (24 wins in 38 games, .928 save percentage) and Wamsley doing a little cheerleading (for two years he'd been Bishop's goalie coach during cups of coffee -- a venti, surely -- with St. Louis), Murray spent a 2013 second-round draft choice on the big netminder.
The price looks like a bargain. It might be a case of buying low and selling high. If Ottawa goes with the Anderson-Lehner tandem in 2012-13, Bishop's play should have heated the market for his services, perhaps something beyond a second-rounder.
"I didn't know much about him," says Daniel Alfredsson, the Senators' captain. "But he stepped in (after being recalled from Binghamton March 5) against Tampa Bay" -- Bishop allowed three goals on 28 shots in a 7-3 win -- "and that gave us confidence in him right away. He also looked pretty confident back there. This is still a young team. And when your starting goalie goes down (the way Anderson did), you think, 'Oh no, here we go again.' But Lehner and now Bishop have done the job for us."
"When you get a new goalie, he's not going to have time to learn the system a lot, so having a goalie coach he knew was probably helpful," says Jared Cowen, the 6'-5" rookie defenseman who leads all first-year players in ice time. "He's also very vocal on the ice, which is helpful for us defensemen. That makes the transition easier. He's also cool and calm with the puck. I think at some point he's going to be one of the elite goalies at playing the puck."
Bishop says there are, in fact, no disadvantages in being a large goalie. Not a Technicolor five hole. Nothing. And size is the best camouflage for mistakes. While Wamsley would never dream of comparing Bishop with Hall of Famer Ken Dryden, he does note that both have the long limbs that frustrate shooters.
"Phil Esposito would pull the puck wide and shoot and (the 6'-4") Dryden would throw an arm back and make the save," says Wamsley, who began his NHL career with the Canadiens. (Esposito once referred to Dryden as a "thieving giraffe.") "Bigger guys can make more mistakes and still be successful."
Although the 25-year-old Bishop was born in Denver, he grew up, and up, in St. Louis, where he rooted for the team that chose him 85th overall in the 2005 NHL Draft. He played three seasons at the University of Maine, reaching the Frozen Four as a freshman in 2006. If his professional progress seemed dilatory -- Bishop played in 159 games for Peoria in the equivalent of three full seasons -- his leisurely path is not unusual for goalies, who often mature in their mid-to-late 20s.
Anderson has been on the ice for the past week, doing some drills with his stick and others without it. (The kitchen mishap was to his stick hand.) Apparently he is progressing well and will miss less time than the six-to-eight week absence that was initially feared. He likely will return before the end of the regular season, which would relegate Bishop to the bench and Auld to who knows where.
Just prior to being traded to Ottawa, Bishop signed an extension that will pay him $650,000 next season. This is his first one-way contract, proof that he finally will be a building block in an NHL team's plans. Which team, of course, remains to be seen.
"He's been down a few roads, had a few bumps," Wamsley says. "That might be able to help him in his development."
As will six feet and seven inches.
Like Red Wings coach Mike Babcock says, "Fast guys get slower. But big guys don't get smaller."
Not at 25, anyway.
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