After a 2018-19 performance that saw him post career-high numbers and vault to the top of the NHL goaltending statistics chart, Ben Bishop pushed his way into a spot on the Top 10 Goaltenders list. With the new title, what could the 2019-20 season bring the Dallas Stars starter?
It’s not often that a starting goaltender has a season like Ben Bishop had for the Dallas Stars in 2018-19. But when you post a .934 save percentage and 1.98 and carry a substantial amount of the weight as you help propel your team to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, that’s to be expected.
Since the 2013-14 regular season, no other starting goaltender (which is defined here by playing in at least 41 games) has posted a save percentage of at least .934 and GAA of at least 1.98. While Corey Schneider (in 2013-14) and Carey Price (in 2014-15) did post lower GAA numbers, their save percentages fell short of Bishop’s .934.
Ben Bishop had a truly remarkable 2018-19 campaign that hasn’t been matched in over half a decade. But if you followed his performances throughout the regular season or even watched as he led the Stars to double overtime in Game 7 of the second round in the postseason, you might have guessed that already.
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Statistically speaking, Bishop was the best goaltender in the NHL this past season. From a Dallas Stars standpoint, he was by far the most critical player on the roster. And with Anton Khudobin backing him up, the two formed one of the best tandems in the NHL during the 2018-19 regular season.
But his season wasn’t entirely without blemish. The goaltender only played in 46 games during the campaign, which marked his second-lowest total since the 2013-14 season. That was due to a handful of injuries that sidelined him during various portions of the schedule. And while injuries have been a recurring issue for Bishop in his NHL career, he’s never let them slow him down upon returning to the crease.
After posting league-high numbers in two of the primary goaltending statistics, Bishop was named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy alongside Tampa Bay Lightning starter Andrei Vasilevskiy and New York Islanders starter Robin Lehner. Considering general managers determine the winner and tend to prefer a workhorse starter, Vasilevskiy won the award after starting in 53 games and helping lead the Lightning to the President’s Trophy.
But that didn’t take away from the incredible season that Bishop posted. After starting his tenure with the Dallas Stars on a decent note in 2017-18 with a 26-17-5 record, .916 save percentage, and 2.49 goals against average, he rebounded in a big way and put up some of the best numbers in the NHL in 2018-19.
And it wasn’t just Stars fans that took notice of Bishop’s supremacy; the entire NHL noticed as well. You could see it when he posted a .945 save percentage and gave up 12 total goals in the first round of the postseason against the Nashville Predators. You could see it when he stopped 52 of the first 53 shots faced in Game 7 of the second round against the St. Louis Blues. You could see it when Bishop earned the third Vezina nomination of his career.
You could also see it on Sunday night when the NHL Network ranked Bishop at No. 3 on the Top 10 Goaltenders list going into the 2019-20 season.
That’s a sizable step forward for the 6-7, 215 lb. starter, especially when you consider that he didn’t crack the list in the summer of 2018. But after a fantastic performance in 2018-19 that saw Bishop carry the Stars into playoff contention, earn a Vezina nomination, and do everything but score the goal needed in Game 7 to send them to the Western Conference Finals, a spot on the list is expected.
But his placement in particular is interesting. Only two goalies finished above Bishop, being Andrei Vasilevskiy with the Lightning and Sergei Bobrovsky of the Florida Panthers. And while these rating are subjective, both names have a reason to be near the top.
Vasilevskiy won the Vezina at age 24 and backstopped the Lightning to the best record in the NHL this past season. He’s a franchise-caliber goalie and will likely be in Tampa for years to come. Bobrovsky, on the other hand, spent the past seven seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets before signing with Florida on July 1. In Columbus, he won two Vezina trophies, posted a .921 save percentage and 2.41 goals against average, and concluded his time with 37 or more wins in each of his final three seasons.
So, both players have earned their spot near the top of this list. But so has Bishop.
After an impressive 3.5-year run with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Bishop has molded himself into one of the elite goaltenders in the NHL. He’s got some of the best puck-handling skills in the League, is rarely caught out of position, uses his size to his advantage, and can keep his team in a game when crunch time rolls around.
And that’s what makes the Dallas Stars starter so special. He’s 32 years old and is in the prime portion of his career. While he has a track record of success and built an impressive 2018-19 season, he’s yet to win a Stanley Cup. He came close with the Lightning in 2015, but fell short against the Chicago Blackhawks.
These rankings don’t mean a lot in the grand scheme of things. Players can easily break onto the list or fall out entirely with one productive or lacking season, so the year-to-year consistency is somewhat skewed. But with Bishop, the consistency is there. It’s visible in his performances and his statistics.
The hunger is there, and it seems as though Bishop’s career has been building towards some giant payoff. All of the years of going deep into the playoffs and coming up empty-handed and coming up short of the Vezina Trophy seems to set the stage for a grand achievement. And with the clock ticking on his prime years, that achievement should be arriving sooner rather than later.
Now that he has been pinned at No. 3, the NHL’s expectations are once again present. But for Bishop and the Stars, they have always been there.
The 2019-20 season will bring another high expectation bar for the Dallas Stars. After a resilient performance in the 2018-19 campaign, an impressive playoff run that still feels as though it was cut too short, and an offseason spent restocking their roster and shoring up their weak spots, Dallas now seems to be in a position to not only make the playoffs, but contend for the Stanley Cup.
A lot of that weight rests on the shoulders of Ben Bishop. Every contender has a consistent and dominant goaltender to rally around, and Bishop seems able to fit that mold for the Stars. And while the added scoring power should help take a portion of the load off of his shoulders, they will need him to be on top of his game on a nightly basis.
He proved that he could do it in 2018-19 as he helped the Dallas Stars exceed their expectations and finish one goal short of a trip to the Western Conference Finals. Will that carry over into the season ahead?