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Stars Acquire Negotiating Rights To Ben Bishop

Photo Courtesy Wayne Masut / Senior Staff Photographer

Coming off a massively disappointing season, the Dallas Stars needed to make a splash. Acquiring the rights to Ben Bishop is a step in the right direction.

On Wednesday, the Stars acquired the negotiating rights to the Los Angeles Kings goalie and soon-to-be free agent. In return, Dallas gave Los Angeles a 2017 fourth-round pick. That pick originally belonged to Montreal, having been obtained in the Jordie Benn deal at the trade deadline.

Bishop posted a 2.54 goals-against average and .910 save percentage in 39 games this season split between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Kings. The Bolts dealt the two-time Vezina Trophy finalist to the Kings just before the deadline.

The trade means the Stars can negotiate with the 30-year-old Bishop exclusively and have until July 1 to reach an agreement on a deal.

Otherwise, Bishop hits the open market and everyone gets a chance to sign him. However, it’s hard to picture this happening. The Stars have a hole in their crease the size of the Grand Canyon. The duo of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi hasn’t worked out in Dallas, and the addition of Bishop would bring them some much-needed stability between the pipes.

This season, Dallas had the worst team save percentage in the NHL at .893. That’s unacceptable by AHL standards, much less those at the NHL level. Since going with the duo of Lehtonen and Niemi at the start of 2015-16, Lehtonen has posted save percentages of .902 this season and .906 the season before. Niemi’s was .905 in his first season with the Stars and a ghastly .892 this season.

The Stars’ play in front of their goaltending duo is partially to blame for those stats. However, Dallas needed to change things up, as their goaltending didn’t deliver when needed. Especially after missing the playoffs one year after finishing with the second-best record in the NHL.

There’s always the chance that Bishop decides not to sign with the team and leaves as a free agent. However, there are advantages to staying in Dallas. He’s likely to be paid well for his services. He’ll be the undisputed number-one goalie. Not to mention, the Stars are a prime candidate to bounce back due to the talent on their team. In addition, we’ve already seen one pending UFA goalie have his rights traded, as Chicago Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling was dealt to Carolina recently. Rather than hit the market, Darling agreed to a four-year deal worth $16.6 million.

The big challenge for the Stars going forward is figuring out what to do with Lehtonen and Niemi.

Lehtonen has one year left on his deal at $5.9 million while Niemi is locked in through next season at $4.5 million. Bishop seeks a raise over the $5.95 million on his previous contract, so something has to give. A trade could happen, although it’s hard to imagine too many takers for either of their incumbent netminders. There’s always the expansion draft, but Vegas will have their choice of quality goalies. A buyout is an expensive option, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if it came down to that.

Regardless of what they do with either Lehtonen or Niemi, the Stars need to find a way to reach a deal with Bishop while they have exclusive rights. Having brought on Ken Hitchcock to be their coach for a second time, Dallas still has an open window to make it back to the playoffs. They still need to acquire some more blue line help, but keeping Bishop around would go a long way towards helping them rebound from a disappointing season.

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