It didn't take long for the Dallas Stars to get goaltender Ben Bishop under contract. After trading for the rights to the pending unrestricted free agent on Tuesday, the Stars signed Bishop to a six-year, $29.5 million contract on Friday.
"I think it's a great team. It has a lot of potential," Bishop said in a conference call Friday. "With [Ken Hitchcock] coming in [as coach] the sky is the limit and I am excited to be a part of it."
It's a homecoming of sorts for Bishop, who played hockey in Frisco with the Texas Tornado of the North American Hockey League in 2004-05 and graduated from Frisco High School.
"It had a lot to do with it, to be honest with you," Bishop said. "I've been fortunate to have played a few years in the league and now it's about a chance to go where you think you have a chance to win in a good city and Dallas has both of that. Being familiar with the city and knowing how good the fans are, it made it an easy decision to want to sign there."
The Stars acquired Bishop from the Los Angeles Kings for a fourth-round draft pick in 2017. He had a modified no-trade clause, which meant Bishop had a say in where he could be dealt.
"We were at the top of the list, so that shows the commitment that he wanted to come here," Stars GM Jim Nill said.
Bishop said there is a lot to like about the Stars, especially the team's forwards and their ability to score goals.
"It's hard to find forwards that can score like the Stars can. They have a lot of them," Bishop said. "As a goalie, it makes it a little more comforting knowing that the guys can go out there and score and you just have to do your job and stop the puck."
The Stars hired Hitchcock shortly after the season ended, replacing Lindy Ruff who had coached the team the previous four seasons. Bishop was briefly with the Blues when Hitchcock coached there and got to know Hitchcock as a person during offseasons in St. Louis.
"I'm excited. Hitch is a great coach. He has a winning pedigree," Bishop said. "As a goalie, you've seen guys that have played for him, and they have all done well. Hopefully, I can add to the list, and we'll do well and win a lot of hockey games."
The Stars gave Bishop, 30, a long-term deal and in return got a manageable salary cap hit of $4.917 million over the life of the deal. That cap hit ranks 17th among goaltenders currently under contract for the 2017-18 season.
"Ben wanted to make this home, his final stop, so he was looking for term," Nill said. "For us to give up that term, considering his age, we needed to have an AAV (average annual value) that worked for us with the cap. I think it is a great deal for both parties. It's a manageable number for us, and it's a long-term commitment for him, which was important."
The contract is front-loaded, paying Bishop $7 million in the first year, $6.5 million in the second, $5.5 million in the third and then $3.5 million in each of the final three years. Bishop hopes the lower cap hit will allow the Stars to add some players. As for the length of the deal, it's nice, but the new Dallas goalie is focused on winning next season.
"It's comforting with the [long-term] deal," Bishop said. "But at the same time, my only focus is winning game one and go from there. You don't worry about the long term, you just worry about the short term and getting ready for the season. The term and all that helps, but it is really not the focus."
The Stars hope Bishop will help solidify the Dallas goaltending position, which was a sore spot last season. The Stars ranked 29th in goals against (3.17) and 30th in save percentage (.893) as the team missed the playoffs for the second time in the past three seasons.
The 6-7, 215-pound Bishop, who is a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist as the top goaltender in the NHL, played for both Tampa Bay and Los Angeles last season, posting an 18-15-5 record, 2.54 goals against average and .910 save percentage. In eight NHL seasons with the Lightning, Kings, Ottawa and St. Louis, he is 148-80-25, with a 2.32 goals against average and .919 save percentage. He's posted a 21-13 record in the playoffs with a 2.09 goals against average end .927 save percentage, backstopping Tampa Bay to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015.
"He's an elite goalie the last six to eight years, and I think he is just coming into his prime. He's a little bit of a late bloomer," Nill said. "He's big in net, and he has good, strong goalie fundamentals. He's outstanding at handling the puck. I think he is going to make a big difference as far as us moving the puck out of our zone. That's a real bonus for us."
The Stars now have three goaltenders under contract for next season. Nill will need to make a decision on how to move forward with Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, who have shared the Dallas net the past two seasons. There's a chance Lehtonen could stay to form the goaltending tandem with Bishop and that the Stars would try to move Niemi via a trade or buyout. But Nill isn't tipping his hand and said time will tell.
As for Bishop, he said he's developed a good relationship with Lehtonen in recent years.
"I know Kari pretty well actually," Bishop said. "The last couple summers we've gone to the same goalie camp, and I've got to know him pretty good over the last few years. He's a great guy. We have a really good relationship, we've had some good times together and I'm looking forward to being a partner with him."
This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.