Flashback to Aug 31, 2020. The Dallas Stars lead the Colorado Avalanche 3-1 in the second-round series of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In a surprise twist, Ben Bishop is named the starting goaltender for Dallas after missing most of the first two rounds of the postseason following knee surgery. Now fast forward to the end of the first period. The Stars trail 5-0 and Bishop has been pulled after allowing four straight goals. That is the last time Bishop has played in a hockey game. Today, that will change.
While his NHL future remains unknown, he will finally get his chance to play after being loaned on a conditioning assignment to the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League.
Bishop Took The Long Road Back
It has been 465 days since Bishop has played a game for the Dallas Stars and the road to recovery has been a bumpy one. Following knee surgery during the NHL stoppage in March 2020, he played in just three playoff games throughout the run to the Stanley Cup Final. After the Game 6 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, it was time for another knee surgery to repair the damage that occurred during the playoffs. This time, he was expected to miss most of the 2020-21 season.
As the season went along and the Stars were decimated with injuries, the team and their fans remained hopeful that Bishop would be able to return and push them into a playoff spot. Unfortunately, that was not the case. At the trade deadline in April, Stars general manager Jim Nill announced that both Bishop and Alexander Radulov would be held out for the remainder of the season.
“As we went through last year, they didn’t know how long it was going to take to get better,” Bishop said. “And when we looked at the schedule, trying to come back for the last week of the season didn’t really make sense. Not being able to really go down to Austin and play and kind of coming back for three games, it made more sense to keep resting it and trying to make it stronger for the entire summer.”
Not only was Bishop not able to play in the AHL to get himself ready but the Stars were in the middle of a packed schedule that allowed them nearly zero practice time. The lack of team practice had effects on all injured players as Bishop, Radulov, and Tyler Seguin all struggled to get back to game speed. While the road back was long, Bishop is that much more excited that his chance has finally come.
“It’s been a long process,” Bishop said. “It is what it is. It’s the cards I was dealt. You have to play them. I’ve taken my time getting ready, and now we’re here. I’m very excited. There’s a little nerves, too. It should be a lot of fun. We’ll see where it’s at.”
Don’t Forget What Bishop Brings
With the number of injuries that Bishop has faced in his career, sometimes it is easy to forget what he has accomplished when healthy. He has been to the Stanley Cup Final, is a three-time finalist for the Vezina Trophy for the leagues’ best goaltender, and carries a 2.32 goals-against average (GAA) and .921 save percentage in his career. During his three seasons in Dallas, he has been consistent, holding a .923 save percentage, a 2.33 GAA, a 74-48-11 record, and 14 shutouts. When the 2018-19 playoffs came around, he was even more heroic, nearly singlehandedly bringing Dallas to the Western Conference Final.
“I don’t feel rusty,” Bishop said during 2021-22 training camp. “It’s more just getting that strength and trust back in that knee. It’s been a long time. You can take shots all you want, but as far as battling through screens and whatnot and getting that trust back in the leg, it’s more the hurdle you have to get over. As far as hand-eye and feeling it, I feel like I haven’t missed a beat.”
If Bishop can return to the NHL at any point this season, it will be impossible for the Stars not to give him a chance to prove he can still play.
What Comes Next For Bishop?
Bishop is scheduled to start Thursday nights’ game for the Texas Stars as they take on the Chicago Wolves at home in Cedar Park. The conditioning stint can last up to three games before Dallas will need to re-evaluate his position.
“I don’t really know what to expect,” Bishop said. “I’m going to go into the game and treat it like any other game I’ve ever played. The expectation is to go down, play well and see how the knee holds up.”
Already carrying three goaltenders, the Stars will be put in a tight situation if Bishop is able to return. While Anton Khudobin seems to be on his way out, they will still be left with an overcrowding problem in the crease. Both Jake Oettinger and Braden Holtby have been playing extremely well which makes the situation even more tricky. Luckily for Dallas, Oettinger is in the final year of his entry-level contract, meaning he has the ability to drop down to the AHL without clearing waivers.
If Bishop shows he can play, the Stars will likely move Oettinger down to the AHL, trade Khudobin, and allow Bishop the chance in the NHL alongside Holtby. If Bishop is unable to return or performs below expectations, his future could become even more blurry.
For now, the first step in the road back for Bishop comes Thursday night in the AHL. While the Stars also play Thursday against the Los Angles Kings, there is a strong chance that many Stars fans will be keeping their eye on the game down in Austin.
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Sam Nestler is a credentialed Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the Stars, the NHL, and college hockey. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!