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Ben Bishop is Stars' No. 1 goalie, GM says

Gives no indication on status of Dallas backups Antti Niemi, Kari Lehtonen with NHL Expansion Draft nearing

by Sean Shapiro / Correspondent

DALLAS -- Ben Bishop will be the starting goalie for the Dallas Stars next season. However, what the Stars do with each of their other two goalies remains unclear.

"We look forward to him being our No. 1 goalie moving forward with the team," Stars general manager Jim Nill said Friday of Bishop, who was traded to Dallas by the Los Angeles Kings on May 9 and signed a six-year, $29.5 million contract with the Stars on May 12. "There [are only] so many elite goalies in the League, and Ben is one of them. When you have a chance to acquire one of those goalies, it became a priority for us."

Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen were the Stars goaltenders last season. Lehtonen was 22-25-7 with a 2.85 goals-against average and .902 save percentage, and Niemi was 12-12-4 with a 3.30 GAA and .892 save percentage.

Dallas was 29th in the NHL in goals allowed per game (3.17) and 30th and last in save percentage (.893).

Nill didn't address what the Stars will do with Niemi and Lehtonen, but they will have to move or buy out one of them in the offseason and likely will expose them in the NHL Expansion Draft that will supply the Vegas Golden Knights with their players. NHL teams can protect one goaltender and must submit their list of protected players by 5 p.m. ET June 17. Vegas must choose one player from each NHL team.

Bishop had been on Nill's radar for a while; the GM said he spoke with Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman about a trade for Bishop at the 2016 NHL Draft but wasn't able to work it out. The Lightning traded Bishop to the Kings on Feb. 26.

Bishop is 148-80-25 in 270 NHL games with the Lightning, Kings, Ottawa Senators and St. Louis Blues and had a .910 save percentage and 2.54 goals-against average in 39 games this season. He has a .919 save percentage, 2.32 GAA and 19 shutouts in his NHL career and twice has finished in the top three in Vezina Trophy voting (second in 2015-16; third in 2013-14).

"It's a great fit," Bishop said of Dallas. "I think you look at the forwards (Tyler Segiun, Jamie Benn), it's a hard league to score in and it makes a bit more comforting when you know the guys in front of you can go out there and score. It's a good team and they've got a lot of potential to win now. It's not a rebuild or anything like that."

Bishop is spending time looking at houses with his fiancée and getting reacquainted with an area he knows well. He graduated from Frisco High School, which is about three miles from where the Stars practice, and played for Texas of the North American Hockey League in 2004-05, when he was 18.

"It was a really neat year. I would say it was one of the best years of my life," Bishop said. "Coming down here playing juniors and winning a championship down here led to a lot of great memories. I've always talked about how great Dallas and Frisco was. And to be able to call it home is exciting."

Bishop said he's entering the prime of his career.

"I feel like I've gotten better every year each of the last four or five years," the 30-year-old said. "I'm comfortable. I feel really confident and every year you learn a little bit more. And hopefully it's a big peak and I can keep going."

Bishop said he's also looking forward to working with Ken Hitchcock, who was rehired as Dallas coach on April 12. He helped the Stars win the Stanley Cup in 1999 and has spoken about bringing in a more structured defensive system after they allowed 262 goals last season, second-worst in the NHL (the Colorado Avalanche allowed 270).

"I think we've got to change the way we play, I think you see in a lot of sports [that] defense wins championships," Bishop said. "You've got to be able to win those 1-0 games and keep the other team off the board. It's a team effort, it's not just on the defense and the goalie. It all starts with the coaching staff and the mindset they put forth."

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