Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Kings have traded Bishop and only got a 4th Round Draft Pick!?!

     It was announced this afternoon that the Los Angeles Kings have arranged a trade with the Dallas Stars. The Stars have acquired the rights to Ben Bishop in exchange for a 4th round draft pick in this years draft. My initial gut reaction to hearing of this trade was surprise, not that the Kings traded Bishop they made no secret of the fact that they took him on purely for the playoffs this year, but that all they were able to get for him was a 4th round draft pick.  Bishop surely is a more valuable commodity as a highly effective and experienced goal tender. He is approaching 31 years of age, so he is no spring chicken, but is also not at the point where he would only have a couple of good years left in him, due to age at least.  He has had some history of groin injury, but again that is hardly unusual for an experienced goalie.
     I know the Kings have been having salary cap issues for the last several seasons and with Jonathan Quick healthy again they would not have the desire or the funds to keep Bishop on at the salary level he has earned the right to and would expect to receive.  Bishop is also in the market for a long contract, in the range of 5 or 6 years, at or above the 5.95 million he makes annually now. That being said with the Kings organizations in the process of restructuring and presumably looking to bring more speed and higher offensive production to bear next season, I would have hoped that they could deal Ben Bishop for one or more players who could help them achieve that goal.
     So I started reading up on the trade that the Kings had arranged with Dallas. The key to the reduced trade value, I believe, lies in the the wording of the headlines on all of the articles I have found on this trade. Dallas has traded a 4th round draft pick for the "Rights" to Ben Bishop, not for Ben Bishop. What this means is that with Bishop going UFA on July 1st, now the Stars have exclusive bargaining rights for the next 7 and 1/2 weeks until his UFA status kicks in. In other words this trade does not guarantee that Bishop will be on the Stars roster in the 2017-18 season. It is possible that if the Stars do not come to terms with him before July 1st he could choose to go elsewhere.
     This begs the question why would the Stars acquire exclusive rights to a player they do not have excellent reason to believe they will be able to sign. While at this point I have not found any concrete evidence to support it, my guess is that the Stars organization had already begun the contract negotiation process with Bishop well before this trade happened.  A 4th round draft pick is hardly a high price to pay for the possibility of having a first class goalie, which they are unquestionably in desperate need of, but why give up anything for no guaranteed return? I think that the Stars took advantage of the situation by putting in a trade with the Kings now for "rights" giving them the time they need to finalize the likely ongoing negotiations without competition for other teams, and with out really having to give up anything at all. The 4th round draft pick that they traded was the one they got from Montreal at the end of last February for the Jordie Benn trade. I think the Stars definitely got the better end of this trade, but by making a trade now at least the Kings got something. If they waited until July Bishop would be UFA and the Kings would lose him for nothing in return at all, so overall it was still a win win situation.
     What Bishop would bring to the Stars? Stability and consistency in the net with a well proven record both during the regular season and the playoffs. He was a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2016, he has played in 36 total postseason games with a record of 21-13 and goals against average of 2.09 and save percentage of 0.927.  He also holds the record for most post season shutouts at 5 since the 2014-15 season.  Bishop has a career record of 270-148-80 with a GAA of 2.23 and a save percentage of 0.919. Antti Niemi was at a dismal 12-12-4 with a GAA of 3.30 and a save percentage of 0.892 last season in 37 games played.  Kari Lehtonen did little better with a record of 22-25-7 with a GAA of 2.89 and a save percentage of 0.902 in 59 games played. Looking at these stats alone and the fact that the Stars were willing to trade for "rights" to Bishop I would expect to see an announcement from Dallas before the end of June that they have Signed Bishop to a multi year contract.
     That leaves the other obvious question, will the Stars be keeping Niemi or Lehtonen as back up to Bishop for the 2017-18 season. Neither are outstanding choices, but both still have a year or more under contract with Dallas.  My guess is that they will try to trade or, more likely, buy out Niemi. While his dismal stats last season could be partially attributed to the fact that he played in less than half of the games, it was still his worst ever career showing. Not only that, but Niemi's stats have been consistently falling since the 2012-13 season. So this is not just a bad year for him, and he did not suffer any major injuries in the last few years either. This makes a significant comeback from him next season seem unlikely at best. Niemi also has a slightly cheaper contract than Lehtonen.  To buy out Niemi the Stars would be looking at a cap hit of 1.5 million for the next 2 seasons. Even if they do manage to cut Niemi loose they will potentially have a huge 13 million in cap space tied up in goaltenders alone when/if they sign Bishop, assuming they give him a contract similar to what he had previously. Even with that much money tied up I think signing Bishop would be the best possible move for the Stars, lack of consistent competent goal tending killed them last season and this would go a long way toward putting the Stars back in playoff contention next season!

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