Goaltending in the National Hockey League is an extremely variant thing. Sometimes, clubs will find themselves strapped for healthy bodies and talent to the point to where they’ll need to turn to an emergency backup goalie- essentially a Beer League player that just happens to be nearby- like the Carolina Hurricanes did in 2020.
Then, there’s the situation the Dallas Stars currently have- almost an embarrassment of riches.
In his first media appearance in nearly a year and a half, goaltender Ben Bishop said he’s ready to return to the ice for an AHL conditioning assignment- possibly as early as Thursday.
Bishop hasn’t played since early in the Stars’ run to the Stanley Cup Final in September 2020- two seasons ago, now. This offseason, he made headlines when he agreed to commit his salary to long-term IR so that Dallas could have more flexibility in free agency.
Bishop las appeared in a game on August 31, 2020, and had surgery on his right meniscus that October. It’s been a long road back for the three-time Vezina finalist, who boasts a 74-48-11 record, 2.33 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in 143 appearances with Dallas over three years.
A lot has changed in net since Bishop last played. Backup Anton Khudobin took the reigns in net and carried the team with the most brilliant stretch of goaltending in his playing career, and was resigned to return in the unique September free agency period. “Dobby” also became a fan-favorite and a cult hero among Stars fans for his lovable personality.
Khudobin split time with rookie Jake Oettinger, the Stars 2017 first-round pick, who proved to be one of the league’s best goalies in his first season at the sport’s highest level. Oettinger was the odd man out this year, but has returned to the fold in recent weeks and appears to be Dallas’ clear answer in net moving forward.
This offseason, the Stars also signed veteran Braden Holtby- who started his 500th career NHL game last week against Carolina. Holtby’s one-year deal gave Dallas an insurance plan in the event that Oettinger endured a sophomore slump- or Bishop couldn’t return to the ice.
Today, Dallas has a slumping Khudobin, a streaking Oettinger, solid Holtby, and mending Bishop all on the roster. So what does that mean for the goaltending situation from here?
It likely means that Khudobin is on his way out. The 35-year-old last appeared in Dallas’ most recent loss- a 7-2 drubdefeat to the Minnesota Wild November 18. According to theScore.com, the Stars are already shopping the veteran backstop.
For fans, it would be an unceremonious ending for a player that will always have a spot in Stars lore, but it’s definitely the most likely move. And, with NHL teams desperate for depth due to injuries and COVID-19 situations, Dallas will likely be able to find a taker for his 2.25 million salary.
As for the two goalies the Stars will carry this season, expect to see a lot of Holtby and Bishop when he’s healthy. Oettinger’s youth gives the Stars a dream scenario- he’s only 22 years old, so he can benefit from the extra seasoning in net- and only commands $832,000 toward the salary cap.
Holtby has played well enough to earn the starting spot, and, no matter what happens in his conditioning assignment with the Texas Stars, Bishop’s $4.9 million salary is much less likely to be moved. His contract runs through the 2022-23 season.
It’s a great problem to have for the Stars- who have streaked into playoff position since Khudobin’s last appearance, and currently boast the league’s longest win streak with a 7-game burst. In this stretch, Holtby and Oettinger have combined to allow just 1.28 goals per game.
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