Saturday, January 21, 2012

Bishop ready for whatever future holds

Peoria netminder, having banner season,
becomes a Group VI UFA; Blues likely to trade him

By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Ben Bishop sees the writing on the wall.

A local kid who would love to fulfill a dream of playing for his hometown team has suddenly slipped away.

Bishop, who was able to don a Blues uniform for 13 games -- he's 4-5-1 in his career over two seasons with a 2.83 goals-against average and .896 save percentage -- likely has seen his last days in a Bluenote, thanks to the play of Brian Elliott.

Elliott and Bishop battled through training camp for the right to win the backup job behind Jaroslav Halak. Elliott, 26, won the battle and a disappointed Bishop was asked to go back to Peoria and the American Hockey League and continue to develop and build on his growth.

(Getty Images)
Ben Bishop can expect to be traded before the Feb. 27 trade
deadline after the Blues gave Brian Elliott a contract extension.
"It was definitely some sobering news, getting sent down like that," Bishop said. "But I just wanted to come down and show all 30 teams in the NHL that I was ready to play. We have a good team down here in Peoria and I was able to get off to a great start and hopefully just keep it going for the rest of the year."

But Elliott, who is 15-5-1 with a 1.68 GAA and .937 save percentage, has performed better than anyone could imagine.

The Blues rewarded Elliott with a two-year extension Wednesday, signaling that Bishop will more than likely be shopped leading into the Feb. 27 trade deadline.

"Yeah, there's obviously some writing on the wall, but at the same time, you never know what can happen," Bishop said. "If I end up getting traded, I end up getting traded. But you never know what could happen in St. Louis. I could be up there tomorrow, so you just have to get ready for all situations and not really look into it too much."

Bishop has raised eyebrows with his play in Peoria. He was 17-9-2 with a 2.30 GAA and .928 save percentage going into Saturday's game. But unless something unforeseen happens, Bishop will become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Had Bishop played with the Blues 17 games of 30-plus minutes this season, the Blues would have kept his restricted free agency rights. That doesn't look like it will happen -- unless the Blues lose one of their goalies to injury -- so Bishop will become a Group VI unrestricted free agent, which applies to players who have reached the age of 25, who have three accrued years of professional experience and whose contract expires but have played less than 28 NHL games as a goaltender.

Bishop has 13 games as a pro but 11 of them with 30-plus minutes.

There is no way the Blues allow Bishop to walk for nothing.

Bishop, a third round pick (85th overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, got some good news Saturday when the AHL selected him to the Western Conference All-Star team.

"It was definitely exciting news," Bishop said. "That should be a lot of fun to go up to Atlantic City and represent the Rivermen and the Blues' organization ... it'll be an honor.

"I feel like I'm playing the best I've ever played. I think the experience in the American League has definitely helped. You always say you're ready for the NHL, but I think the years down in Peoria really helped me out. So hopefully I can take that to the next level and produce at the NHL level."

Elliott's contract will lock he and Halak up for the next two years and just like the old comedy sitcom says: Three's Company. But Bishop has no animosity towards Elliott.

"Yeah, it was definitely a little tough to see that news, but he deserves it," Bishop said. "He's having a great year, he's putting up great numbers. It's a well-deserving contract, so you can't get mad at the Blues for doing anything like that.

"They want to compete and win, and they've got two guys up there right now that are probably the two best in the league, so you can't complain about that at all. My situation, I'm playing well down here, so I've just got to keep it up and focus on my team down here."

Bishop, 25, is getting looks around the league. As the deadline approaches, the Blues will no doubt be getting calls from franchises looking for a long-term solution.

"My heart's always been with the St. Louis Blues ever since I was a little kid," Bishop said. "I've always wanted to play with them. It's always been an honor to get a chance to play with them. Obviously I would like to do that in the future, but right now, I just want to show that I can play in the NHL, no matter where that is. If that's going to be with another organization, it's going to be with another organization. Right now, I'm just ready to get up there."

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