KANATA, Ont. -- Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray was quietly looking for a goaltender before Craig Anderson lacerated his hand at home last Friday. Murray found one Sunday -- less than 24 hours before the NHL Trade Deadline -- in Ben Bishop, a minor-league prospect with the St. Louis Blues.
After trading a second-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft to St. Louis for the services of Bishop, Murray reached an agreement with Bishop for a one-year, one-way extension for the 2012-13 season.
Anderson could be back next week, but his return date is not completely certain. Ottawa, in the midst of a battle for the Northeast Division title and an Eastern Conference playoff spot, needed immediate cover at the position.
Bishop, 25, has spent the entire season with the Peoria Rivermen, the Blues' American Hockey League affiliate, posting a record of 24-14-0 in 38 games with the Rivermen, adding a league-leading six shutouts, a 2.26 goals-against average and .928 save percentage. Bishop's 24 wins are also tied for the AHL lead. Many consider him to be the best goalie in the AHL.
"We had talked about a depth goaltender (before Anderson was injured) -- we felt that we didn't have enough depth at that position," Murray said. "We've talked at great length about the draft this year and getting some goaltenders into our system. Ben is a five-year pro; he's had some real growth in his game. (Ottawa Senators goaltending coach) Rick Wamsley worked with him for two years and knows him quite well as a person.
"We felt that given the chance to get a guy (like him); we didn't want to get a rental. I talked to a lot of managers for a guy for the balance of the year, and the person would walk away. The price we talked about with a couple teams was not realistic for me and where we're at. We want younger, growing athletes if we could do that. We think this man is ready to play in the NHL. Whether he plays right away or not is something we'll determine as we go forward."
Coach Paul MacLean thinks the seasons Bishop has spent in the minors will serve the goalie well now.
"I've seen Ben play before and he's a good young prospect," MacLean said. "He's having a really good year and he's put in his time in the American Hockey League. I don't think it hurts anyone to spend time in the minors -- it makes you appreciate the game more when you get here, and how good the National Hockey League is and how (well) you get treated. We see him coming in (soon) -- we'll give him a practice and see how it goes."
Bishop lost a training camp battle to Brian Elliott, a former Ottawa goalie, in Ottawa. He was stuck behind Elliott and Jaroslav Halak on the Blues' depth chart.
The goalie is scheduled to arrive Monday in Ottawa.
"He's flying in tonight, he'll meet with me tomorrow," Murray said. "Then I'll talk with the coaches about where we put him. Do we play him a couple of games in Binghamton or do we give him a game here? I think that's under review at this point."
Murray admitted that while he had been looking for netminders for some time, he was not willing to let anything else go wrong in net after Anderson was hurt.
"What did it bring to light -- I was watching (Alex) Auld and (Robin) Lehner practice on (Saturday) and Auld got his hand stepped on," Murray said. "I looked and said, 'Wow … if we have another injury, we are really out of luck.' So that motivated me a little bit more."
With Alex Auld set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, the stage is now set for a battle between Robin Lehner and Bishop for the backup position with the main club.
"Now we have competition," Murray said. "Now performance will dictate who will be (the backup goaltender) next season. I think we need that challenge within, and as you know, Robin's had a tougher year that he anticipated down there. So now we're saying we have to be ready, no matter what happens. I think injuries do that to you. The fact that Craig got hurt – you never think you're going to through the year (perfectly healthy), but it sure brought to light how fine a line we walk in this League, and how important it is to have depth at all positions."
Despite Bishop's acquisition, Murray maintains that his outlook on Lehner remains the same.
"I don't think (my viewpoint has changed)," he said. "But one guy's played five years in the minors; one guy's playing (backup). Ben's played 158 games at the American League level, he's 25 years old. Robin is 20 years old and has played 50 games. Experience -- we know how important that is at this level."
Murray also said that the Binghamton roster would be shuffled, if necessary, to make room for all the goaltenders in the system.
"(Mike) McKenna is playing most of the games in Binghamton right now, but we can move him down. With 20 games left and (Binghamton) out of the Playoffs, we're not too worried about what happens, other than we want them to play and develop."
I definitely think going back down helped me, I had a lot of confidence down there, I played a lot of minutes and I think that helped me a lot. With the 37 games up here, that gave me experience as well. I know what it takes to play in the NHL and now it's time for me to show that I'm capable of being a full-time NHL player.
— Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl on finishing the 2014-15 season in juniors after playing 37 games with Edmonton to begin the season