The reaction was decidedly mixed in the lead-up to the NHL Trade Deadline after the Ottawa Senators acquired Ben Bishop from the St. Louis Blues for a second-round pick. Despite his terrific AHL numbers, people wondered whether the price was too high, what it would mean for top prospect Robin Lehner, and why we'd trade for a player who was likely to become an unrestricted free agent in the off-season.
For now, though, some--notably Michael Farber of Sports Illustrated, among others--are billing Bryan Murray's acquisition of the league's tallest goaltender as the top deadline deal.
There were other big acquisitions, including Jamie McGinn and Andrei Kostitsyn, but Bishop's come into a tough position in Ottawa--in the middle a stellar starter who succumbed to a freak injury, an intense (to say the least) goaltending prospect, and a veteran backup whose best days are behind him--and done nothing but stop pucks.
There were bigger names that were moved on Feb. 27, but few have jumped into the fire as fully or quickly as Bishop has with the Sens. He played a few games with Binghamton before jumping up to Ottawa with the Sens in the midst of their playoff race, and didn't falter. He's had more responsibility for Ottawa's continued success than, say, McGinn with the Colorado Avalanche; he might have nine points (7G, 2A) in nine games so far, but the Avs haven't exactly been lighting it up. Kostitsyn has six points (3G, 3A) with the Nashville Predators so far, but they're moving along at the same clip as they were before he was acquired. Youngsters like Cody Hodgson (moved to the Buffalo Sabres) and Marc-Andre Gragnani (now with the Vancouver Canucks) haven't yet scored a point with their new teams. Bishop, though, has been just what the Senators needed: Calm and reliable.
So far with the Sens, Bishop's earned six of eight possible points, going 2-0-2 with a 2.16 goals-against average (top-ten numbers, albeit in a small sample size) and a 92.6 save percentage. Statistically, anyway, he's been better than Craig Anderson (but don't expect a goaltending controversy when Anderson returns). That's especially impressive considering he's had to get used to a new system and new defencemen in a big hurry.
Anderson appears to be very close to a return, but Bishop's presence behind him should relieve plenty of Sens fans at least as much as Alex Auld's presence worried us. Hopefully he's not needed in the playoffs, but if he is, Bishop will almost certainly be ready to go.
As for Lehner, he still seems to have something to learn about consistency. His NHL play this season has been nothing short of fantastic, but since heading back to Binghamton to make room for Bishop, Lehner shut out the Toronto Marlies and then went on to drop two straight games to the Rochester Americans, allowing nine goals in the process (his save percentage in the two games was a lowly 82.7 per cent). The Amerks are doing better than Binghamton this season (as is every other team in the AHL), but they're not a powerhouse; they're not even in a playoff position.
Lehner will probably join Ottawa once the AHL season is done, but shouldn't be expecting much ice time. In training camp next year, Bishop's one-way contract will give him the inside track on the back-up job, but Lehner will be right behind him pushing him all the way. If Lehner looks like he's ready, there's no reason why the Senators can't trade Bishop at that point--and I'd expect them to get at least a second-rounder in return.