With the Senators facing the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight, I figured I would try and answer three questions about the Ben Bishop-Cory Conacher trade from earlier this year.
1. Did the Senators trade the wrong goalie?
Let's make one thing clear: The Ottawa Senators acquired Ben Bishop from the St. Louis Blues for one reason and one reason alone. They wanted to push Robin Lehner and create an internal competition for him back in the spring of 2011.
At no point did the Senators truly believe that Bishop was in their long-term plans. The ideal scenario in Ottawa was always to have Craig Anderson hold onto the No. 1 job for a while and then gradually hand over the job to Lehner. Bishop was always viewed as an intermediary; a transitional netminder who could help bridge the gap when Lehner wasn't ready.
But now there is a revisionist theory floating around Ottawa suggesting that the Sens should have traded Craig Anderson while his value was sky-high last season and they could have hung onto a tandem of Bishop and Lehner.
To be clear, under that scenario, the Sens would be going into this season with a pair of goalies who had a combined 70 games of NHL experience. That would be a massive, massive gamble for any organization to take – especially one that viewed itself as a darkhorse contender in the conference.
Yes, Craig Anderson has been off to a slow start this season, but let's not forget that he has been arguably the best goalie in the history of this franchise over a span of 100 games. Six months ago, if you were to rate the ceiling on the three goalies Ottawa had last season, Bishop would come in third every time.
The Senators made the choice of trading Bishop out of that three-headed monster last season because Anderson was providing superior goaltending at a discounted price. Remember that Bishop's job was merely to push Lehner a little bit internally and from that standpoint it was mission accomplished.
Imagine if they traded Anderson away and he was having a Vezina-calibre season for another team while the Sens were this mess defensively. What would people say then? Probably that they needed a veteran presence in goal and that they shouldn't have traded Anderson.
2. Why did the Senators trade Bishop within the division?
On this point, I can see a valid argument for sure. If Ottawa had options, obviously it would have been in their best interests to move Bishop away from the Eastern Conference – and specifically the newly formed Atlantic Division. Remember when the Los Angeles Kings moved Jonathan Bernier this summer, they made sure to trade him to the Eastern Conference. Same goes for the Canucks who ensured Cory Schneider wouldn't impact their own playoff positioning by sending him to New Jersey.
But here's a question: Why did the Columbus Blue Jackets trade Steve Mason to the Flyers at the deadline last year, knowing they would be in the same division as Philadelphia this season? Well, they did it for the exact same reason why the Sens moved Bishop to Tampa Bay. The reality is that sometimes, you have to take the best deal on the table and hope that it works out for the best. If you recall, the Boston Bruins traded Andrew Raycroft within their division a few years and that worked out just fine for them. (Of course it helps that they got Tuukka Rask in return).
3. Why didn't Bryan Murray hold out for more?
I can tell you with a great deal of authority that the Senators were pursuing a trade with the Flyers near the deadline that would have seen Ben Bishop traded to Philadelphia for Sean Couturier. That was the Senators first option and it looked like it may happen right up until 12 noon on deadline day. The Flyers had even claimed centre Adam Hall off waivers right around the deadline, making the Sens believe they were ready to part with Couturier under the right circumstances.
But once the Flyers got cold feet, Murray had to look at his other options and he circled back to the Lightning. Yes, there was a deal on the table from the Oilers that would have included Ryan Jones, but the Senators needed some scoring up front.
Murray wanted to land a player who could add some offensive punch to one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league, so he acquired Cory Conacher for Bishop.
The other significant goalie who moved at the deadline was the aforementioned Steve Mason – who only cost the Flyers a third-round pick to acquire. And considering Mason had more than 200 games of NHL experience under his belt and had proven he could be a No. 1 goalie, the Flyers didn't give up too much in that trade. So the asking price for a goalie like Bishop wasn't going to be anything greater than a middle-round draft choice or a player like Conacher around the trade deadline.
At the time of the deal, Bishop had only played 36 career games and had posted a 15-13-3 record with a 2.58 GAA. Even if the Sens hung onto Bishop for a few more weeks and tried to move him at the NHL Draft, he probably wouldn't have netted them much more – especially considering goalies like Jonathan Bernier and Cory Schneider were being aggressively shopped. Those goalies weren't in play at the deadline, but were at the draft. The Devils paid a price of a first-round pick for Schneider, so let me ask this question: What would the Sens have gotten for Bishop at the draft? I don't know for sure, but I can tell you they wouldn't be getting a first-rounder. Bishop wasn't seen in the same class as Schneider or Bernier.
This idea the Sens could have held out and gotten more for Bishop is pure fantasy.