The Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi said he acquired goaltender Ben Bishop on Sunday in order to give his team the best possible chance in goal every game.
The Kings have played well defensively and Lombardi wanted to make sure that the person in net could provide the necessary backbone for the group in case of a breakdown.
“As far as where we are now, that this we felt was going go give us the best chance to get in (the playoffs),” Lombardi said in a conference call with reporters shortly after he acquired the former Tampa Bay Lightning starter.
Whether Bishop is the missing piece for the offensively challenged Kings remains to be seen. The Kings currently have 64 points – three back of the St. Louis Blues for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.
The 30-year-old Bishop played 32 games for the Lightning this season and held a 2.55 goal-against average and .911 save percentage. Bishop was a pending unrestricted free agent, which made him expendable asset for the team. His contract carries a $5.95 million salary cap hit and according to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, Tampa will retain 20 percent of the salary.
The Kings have played without starter Jonathan Quick for all but one game and one period this season because of a groin injury. He returned Saturday and stopped 32 of 33 Anaheim Ducks shots on goal in a win – and looked like his old self in the process. But Lombardi pointed out that the 30-year-old Quick needs to be eased back into action and couldn’t quite be the workhorse he once was with Los Angeles.
“I also think that when you’ve been out this long that I think you’re going to ride this like on a ratio on the past of playing John 70 games, I think that’s totally impractical. No. 1 I don’t think it’s the best way to break in a guy who has been out this long, and you look at the condensed schedule of three in four nights, and No. 2 quite frankly, I don’t think it’s good at any time,” Lombardi said. “I think the days of playing John Quick 70 games like we did two years ago make no sense in terms of not only letting him play at his best but also making sure that you have a player of his caliber extending his career and not wearing him out so he’s at the top of his game and he’s able to get the proper rest.”
Though Bishop makes Los Angeles deeper in goal, there are some questions on whether he was really what they needed most. The Kings’ 2.44 goals per-game rank 24th in the NHL – their 2.43 goals allowed per-game rank fifth – and there was a belief that a scoring forward would make more sense at the deadline for the Los Angeles.
Lombardi said that he believed that his team had enough guys on his roster who could puck in the net and hoped they could figure out how to get better at doing this in time to save their season.
“I think the focus has to be on the players we have producing up to their capability and then we can look at additions,” Lombardi said. “It doesn’t matter who we bring in here, you’re not going to get a, an (Artemi) Panarin, a (Patrick) Kane, an (Alex) Ovechkin or anything else that’s going to completely revamp your offense right now. The number one focus has to be now that your back end is in order and your goaltending is in order.”
In some regards the trade for Bishop showed how far Lombardi has come with his willingness to give up prospects in win-now moves, which was almost a yearly occurrence the last several seasons.
The Kings gave up backup goaltender Peter Budaj, 19-year-old defensive prospect Erik Cernak (who was a second-round draft pick), a seventh-round pick in the 2017 draft and a conditional pick for 2017 that could turn into a second-rounder depending on how far LA goes in the playoffs. The Kings have only made three first-round draft picks this decade and Lombardi said he wasn’t going to make a deal if a first-rounder was involved.
“That was out of the question if we were going to get into first-round picks was out of the question,” Lombardi said.
Lombardi was asked how he thought Quick and Bishop – two hyper competitive starters – would react to competing for the net. He didn’t see it as much of a problem with this.
“The one good thing about this is Johnny and him were together at the World Cup so the familiarity with each other,” Lombardi said.
He was also asked about the possibility of re-signing Bishop, and Lombardi didn’t sound too cavalier on the prospect of doing so but did say, “I think you never say never.”
Though the move was unconventional for Los Angeles, since most teams don’t utilize two high-end starting goaltenders, it actually wasn’t all that risky. The team didn’t give up any of its core and didn’t give up any top prospects or high draft picks. It still should improve Los Angeles and give the Kings a better shot at the playoffs even if it didn’t address the team’s biggest area of need.
Said Lombardi, “The focus was on getting the best goaltender available that arguably fits the description of a No. 1.”
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