It was both the biggest trade of the day.
And the smallest.
Ottawa Senators goaltender Ben Bishop, 6 foot 7, for Tampa Bay Lightning forward Cory Conacher, 5 foot 8 – and a fourth-round draft pick, height to be determined.
The Senators lost nearly a foot, and possibly an NHL starting goaltender, but they gained a feisty, fast little winger who, early on in this truncated season, was being talked about as a potential rookie-of-the-year candidate.
“A team that wants me is a team that I want to play for,” Conacher told TSN shortly after the deal was announced.
On paper, it is impossible to compare the two. Conacher is 23, from Burlington, Ont., and arrives with 9 goals and 15 assists – instantly making him the goal-hungry Senators’ leading scorer. He is related to the famous Conacher family, including Lionel (Big Train) Conacher, Canada’s “Athlete of the Half Century,” 1900-1950.
Bishop is 26, from Colorado, boasts an 8-5-0 record, a 2.45 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage – elite NHL numbers for a goaltender many saw as a minor-leaguer. His grandfather was a tennis pro.
In dollar terms, the deal struck by Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray and Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman is virtually a wash. Bishop makes only $650,000 (all currency U.S.), while Conacher’s deal is for $817,500 this season.
“With great glee,” is how Murray described the acquisition on Team 1200 radio in Ottawa.
“He’s quick, he’s courageous,” Murray said of the little player whom the Senators organization has encountered in both the American Hockey League and, this year, in the NHL.
“He’s a player our people have complained about.”
In 2011-12, Conacher scored 39 goals and 80 points for Norfolk Admirals of the AHL, becoming just the fourth rookie in league history to be named the league’s most valuable player. He also won the top rookie award and helped his team to the league championship. With 114 penalty minutes, it is easy to see why opponents might “complain.”
Even though Conacher’s scoring has cooled lately, the Senators do not have a single player with 10 goals this year. He will likely be the first, as the team plans to put him on left wing on a line with their own two top rookies, centre Mika Zibanejad and winger Jakob Silfverberg.
Zibanejad and Silfverberg have lately been Ottawa’s top forward combination, the two young Swedes playing with increasing confidence as the season enters its final stretch.
The Senators have been badly in need of additional scoring since top forwards Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek, as well as Norris Trophy-winning defencemen Erik Karlsson all went down to injury. Michalek is expected back soon, the others – Spezza recovering from back surgery, Karlsson from a partially severed Achilles tendon – might return should the Senators advance to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Lightning have to be pleased to land the tall goaltender who has been largely responsible for the Senators remaining in the playoff hunt following the high ankle sprain suffered by starting goaltender Craig Anderson.
Anderson, who still leads the league in both goals against average (1.49) and save percentage (.952), has almost recovered from his sprain, is practising with the team and accompanied the Senators to Boston on their current road trip. His impending return and the excellent work of young prospect Robin Lehner meant that the Senators had three quality netminders, and speculation had one of them, likely Bishop, on the trading block.
Murray said it would have been “unfair” to return Lehner to the minor leagues as “he’s more than ready” for NHL play. Anderson, Murray told the radio station, is “ready to go” and could even be in the lineup as early as the Friday against the Sabres in Buffalo.
Tampa Bay, struggling to a point where, in March, they fired coach Guy Boucher, is in second-last place in the Eastern Conference. Yzerman now has two young, promising – and extremely tall – goaltenders in Bishop and 6-foot-6 Anders Lindback as he begins to rebuild the Lightning.
Bishop says he was fine with playing on a team that already had its No.1 goaltender in Anderson and had publicly declared Lehner the goaltender of the future.
“It wasn’t frustrating,” he told TSN following the announcement of the trade. “It was a great opportunity for me.
“You can’t be mad at guys who are playing well,” Bishop said, wishing his teammates well.
“I’m going to a very good young team in Tampa and hopefully have a chance to play there.”