Ben Bishop has been an injury magnet throughout his 13-year NHL career, and yet, he has remained an elite goaltender. The Vezina Trophy and Stanley Cup finalist has a career .921 save percentage and has backstopped a solid defensive Dallas Stars team for three seasons. Unfortunately, Bishop has only played one game since a knee injury that required surgery in March 2020. With three other goaltenders on the roster and Bishop still recovering, the Stars chose to place him on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) to start the season. Now, 14 games in, here’s a look at what the future holds for Bishop and the Stars.
Bishop Eligible to Return
According to NHL rules, a player who is placed on LTIR becomes eligible to return after at least 10 games and 24 days have passed, which means that Bishop has been technically eligible to return since Nov. 5.
However, that doesn’t mean he is ready to play. Bishop has been practicing with the team throughout the season, but his recovery time remains unknown. He was forced to miss the entire 2020-21 season despite an expected return date in April. Before that, he returned for Game 5 of the 2020 Playoffs against the Colorado Avalanche, only to be pulled after 20 minutes for allowing four first-period goals. That led to a second surgery and an even more complicated recovery. Despite all of that, he has made it clear that his goal is to play this season.
“That’s the goal,” Bishop said during training camp. “It’s a process and I don’t want to look too far ahead, but that’s the plan. That’s the goal.”
The condensed 56-game schedule last season did not help Bishop or the Stars. While he hoped to return during the regular season, the team was struggling to make the playoffs and had very little practice time for him to test out his knee. In the end, the decision was made to look forward to the next season.
“As we went through last year, they didn’t know how long it was going to take to get better. 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.– Ben Bishop
However, after a full offseason and training camp, not much has changed, and his status – and future – is still unknown.
Stars Need To Be Sure
There are other factors that complicate Bishop’s possible return. After missing the playoffs last season, Dallas decided to add veteran goaltender Braden Holtby for insurance. While this move gave the Stars four NHL-caliber goalies, general manager Jim Nill did not want to take any chances.
“We’re prepared for all scenarios, so we’ll see where it goes,” said Nill, who signed Holtby to a one-year deal in the offseason. “There’s one plan where, let’s hope, (Bishop) can play. That’s the best-case scenario, and we’ll deal with whatever happens there. And then the other case scenario is if he can’t play, we’re in a situation to handle that also.”
Having Holtby means that Bishop can take his time to recover while Dallas rides two veteran goaltenders. However, it also means that the Stars have some major decisions ahead. To put it simply, if and when Bishop fully recovers, Dallas will need to trade either Anton Khudobin or Holtby. There may be other moves that could absorb Bishops’ $4.9 million contract, trading a goalie is the best option.
Holtby or Khudobin…or Bishop?
The question is, which goalie will the Stars trade? Khudobin has been a solid backup, carried the team to the Stanley Cup Final in 2020, and is a locker room favourite. However, Holtby has won the Cup, a Vezina Trophy, and has been the better goalie early on this season. With Holtby’s impressive resume and cheaper contract, it seems likely that Khudobin is the top trade candidate. Either way, the decision will not be an easy one and may come down to the return.
The third option would be to release or trade Bishop. While he would not attract many buyers, given his injury history and status, this move would eliminate the risk of losing him to another injury and allow the team to move forward with their roster. Jake Oettinger is the future in net, so the Stars could ride Holtby and Khudobin until he is ready.
No matter the final decision, you can be sure that Nill will wait until things are a bit clearer before he makes one. With so much riding on this situation and three other goalies on the roster, he will not take any unnecessary chances. The team remembers the last time Bishop believed he was ready to return and won’t want that issue to arise again.
“We’re encouraged, but still, he’s got a long way to go yet. It’s one thing that you’re skating in the summer, but now you’re going into game decisions. We’ll see how things hold up. He doesn’t even know. That’s the tough part, for me to sit here and say where’s he at? Ben’s the one that knows that. And right now, he doesn’t even know, that’s why we’re in this process. It’s been a year-and-a-half now.”– Jim Nill
Whether it’s next week or months down the road, Dallas will need to address the Bishop situation, eventually. As the team continues to develop their game, it will be worth keeping an eye on this season.
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!