Ben Bishop, who will start in net Saturday against the San Jose Sharks, was supposed to be the answer in Dallas.
The Stars, with a return to the playoffs on their minds, traded for Bishop’s negotiating rights and signed him to a six-year deal worth nearly $30 million. After two seasons of subpar goaltending from Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen seemingly sunk the team, Dallas wanted a proven option.
On paper, he seemed like an immediate upgrade. Entering this season, Bishop was 14th out of the 40 goalies that played at least 5000 minutes since 2013 in five-on-five save percentage (.927), according to Corsica Hockey.
Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen, his predecessor and current backup, respectively, ranked 35th and 36th over that stretch.
With that in mind, Bishop’s contract may have even seemed like a bit of a bargain, considering 16 goalies carried a higher salary cap hit entering this season. Bishop’s been anything but this year.
He’s 25th in five-on-five save percentage (.917) among the 29 goalies that have played 1000 minutes this season, despite Dallas’ defensive improvement. Under Ken Hitchcock, the formerly run-and-gun Stars have been the league’s best team at suppressing shots (27.72 five-on-five shots against per 60 minutes) and shot attempts (52.01 five-on-five attempts against per 60 minutes).
There’s still plenty of time this season, and in his contract, for Bishop to turn things around. The problem is that goaltenders tend to get worse, not better, with age, and Bishop just turned 31.
Not all goalies are the same, and some prove to be legitimate outliers to aging curves, but Bishop’s decline this season should worry the Sharks before Martin Jones’ six-year contract extension kicks in next season.
Jones has been better than Bishop this season, but is still only 21st in five-on-five save percentage (.922) among the goalies that have played 1000 minutes. But of the 40 that played 5000 minutes over the last five years entering this season, Jones ranked 27th (.923).
Next season, Jones is set to have the 11th-highest salary cap hit among netminders (tied with Marc-Andre Fleury), and would receive the sixth-highest goalie salary in 2018-19. The Sharks will be paying for near-elite performance when Jones hasn’t necessarily reached that level.
Like Bishop, Jones’ postseason record speaks for itself, but his postseason sample size is decidedly smaller than his in the regular season. Basically, San Jose is betting on Jones to be the goalie he was in 1500 five-on-five postseason minutes over the last two years, as opposed to who he’s been over 7100 in the regular season since he joined the Sharks in 2015.
That doesn’t seem particularly prudent, especially as Dallas, arguably, had better reason to believe in Bishop long-term than San Jose did in Jones. Considering Bishop’s performance in the infancy of his own six-year deal, the Sharks have to wonder what comes next when Jones begins his.