Trade Analysis: Bishop Takes Conacher

Tampa Bay Lightning Rookie of the Year candidate and reigning AHL Most Valuable Player Cory Conacher was traded with a fourth round pick to the Ottawa Senators for goaltender Ben Bishop today.

Bishop, 6-foot-7, 214 pounds, has played in 13 games with the Senators this season, posting an 8-5-1 record with a 2.58 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage. He also has one shutout. Bishop’s eight wins are tied for the team lead, while he ranks tied for eighth in the NHL for save percentage among goaltenders with 10 or more games played. He also played in 13 games with the Binghamton Senators of the AHL this season, posting an 8-3-2 record with a 2.59 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage.

A native of Denver, Colorado, Bishop has played in 36 career NHL games, compiling a 15-13-3 record and a 2.58 goals-against average with a .911 save percentage. He made his NHL debut during the 2008-09 season with the St. Louis Blues. Bishop made his Ottawa debut last season against the Lightning, a 7-3 win at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

The University of Maine product was drafted by St. Louis in the third round, 85th overall, of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Bishop was then acquired by Ottawa from the Blues on February 26, 2012 in exchange for a second round pick in 2013.

How the trade helps the Lightning:

Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman is splitting the goaltender-of-the-immediate-future eggs between the baskets of Bishop and recently acquired Anders Lindback, 25.

Lindback was 10-7-1 with a 2.88 GAA and a .903 save percentage in 21 games with the Lightning before he sustained a high ankle sprain. While all of those games were in Guy Boucher’s offense-friendly (goaltender-not-friendly) system, Lindback had some mountains and valleys. When he played a simple game (read: economy of movement), he was successful. Other times he was “swimming” in net and didn’t show the mental fortitude GM’s look for in a No. 1 goaltender. This was particularly true during the latest of his two three-game losing streaks in which he looked lost between the pipes.

The 6-6 Swede still has high upside, but with only pending unrestricted free agents Mathieu Garon and Cedrick Desjardins and a handful of green prospects next to him, a lot of trust was on Lindback’s shoulders (and ankle). Too much.

In Bishop, the Lightning receive what TSN Toronto called the hottest goaltending commodity available at the deadline. He is in Lindback’s category – a young goaltender on the cusp of his prime with some NHL experience and high upside. Both goaltenders need(ed) an opportunity to thrive. Craig Anderson was blocking Bishop in Ottawa and the presence of Robin Lehner gave them depth from which to deal. The Lightning had depth at forward, hence the trade.

In short, the Lightning acquired a solid, young, and affordable (monetary price and asset price) option for now and in the near future. Goaltender is the most important position on a hockey club as Lightning fans are well aware. GM’s are taught to build from the net out and down the middle.

According to multiple reports, the Lightning outbid the Flyers and Oilers for Bishop.

Brett Connolly was called up to replace Conacher and he adds more size to the lineup to counter Tyler Johnson (a center) and Martin St. Louis. St. Louis Blues analyst Darren Pang, a friend of Yzerman’s, told TSN Toronto that while Yzerman likes Conacher, he was concerned with the lack of size Tampa Bay had at forward with three players under 5-8.

Note on Connolly: Fans absolutely cannot judge Connolly on what he did as an 18-year-old rookie.

How the trade hurts the Lightning:

The trade hurts Lightning fans more than it hurts the club. Conacher was a fan favorite and easy to cheer for. He is a player who is fun to watch, and his story was well documented.

Statistically, the Lightning can replace him with Connolly, Richard Panik, JT Brown, or Ondrej Palat and not miss much. The Lightning farm is deepest at wing with the above four, Alex Killorn, and the next wave of forwards headlined by QMJHL scoring star Nikita Kucherov and Quinnipiac’s Matt Peca.

One way this trade could hurt the club is Conacher will be an intra-division opponent starting next year. He will no doubt be on the scoresheet against the Lightning for many years.

The fourth rounder was previously acquired from Philadelphia in last year’s Pavel Kubina trade.

Future impact:

The Lightning will be okay at wing and they have good organizational depth to absorb the loss of the fourth round pick. This is a classic case of dealing from a position of strength to help a position of weakness.

Bishop and Lindback both have question marks, but both have had success at the NHL level, albeit briefly. Yzerman can sleep better at night knowing he has his two good goalies for next season and he is a strong believer in player competition.

At most, this gives the Lightning it’s goaltending duo until Andrey Vasilevskiy is ready to be a 1-B/2 in 2-3 years. At that time, the Lightning will have a high-priced tradable asset it can use to fill other areas. The Lightning have tried for years to plug the goaltending hole, and this gives Yzerman more than one option to do so.

At worst, neither Lindback nor Bishop is able to hold on to a No. 1 role and two years from now Yzerman is still searching for a legitimate answer in net. And if that’s the case, Lightning owner Jeff Vinik will likely be looking for an answer at GM.

It seems as though a true, No. 1 goalie is going the way of a bell-cow running back in the NFL. It's becoming more of a tandem situation because No. 1's are becoming rare. The Lightning would like the latter, but will settle for the former if it means pucks are stopped.

Opinion:

A longtime Lightning hockey friend tweeted me yesterday to remind me fans should use caution when emotionally attaching themselves to a player because that player can always be traded.

Prophetic.

Conacher was a fan favorite (and a personal favorite) and it’s hard to look at this deal with one’s head and not one's heart.

In the end, this is a business and personalities and backstories usually take a back seat to better-balanced roster composition.

The Lightning got as good an option as there was to put with Lindback. Cap concerns meant Ryan Miller or Roberto Luongo wasn't coming to Tampa Bay. Bishop was, without question, the best affordable option, and if the trade deadline – and any trade involving a goaltender – has taught us anything over the years, it’s that the price is always higher than expected.

Pang told TSN Toronto that Yzerman was close to pulling the trigger for Bishop last year but passed because he wasn’t comfortable spending a high second round pick on Bishop (even though at the time Yzerman had 3-4 second round picks) because he hadn’t seen Bishop at the NHL level for any duration.

A few months later Yzerman spent a second round pick, a third round pick, a fourth round pick, and Sebastien Caron for Lindback, a seventh round pick, and Kyle Wilson. That is still a viable – yet expensive – trade.

While it’s understandable why Yzerman would make this trade today, it’s disheartening to know it could have been done at a cheaper price one year ago. Hindsight is 20/20, but this wasn’t a Markus Naslund-for-Alex-Stojanov level of hindsight.

Reality bites and regardless of what could have been, when Yzerman looked at his roster he saw an injured, still not completely proven Lindback; an aging pending UFA; and a green, pending UFA in Desjardins without much upside. This wasn’t the answer for now, and it’s not the answer for the near future.

As new Lightning coach Jon Cooper said in his introductory press conference, the Lightning will be better next year for him taking over now as opposed to the summer. The same can be said for Bishop. He’ll get plenty of starts to close the year under the watchful eye of Cooper, who has always put precedence on teams being built around a strong goaltender first.

It will no doubt hurt watching Conacher in another jersey.

Losing because of bad goaltending hurts more.