By Larry Wigge
Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman could have had a chance at standout, young goalie, Ben Bishop one year earlier.
That's right. But Yzerman wouldn't pay a second-round draft choice that the St. Louis Blues were asking for Bishop. Instead, the Blues went to the Ottawa Senators, who surrendered a second-round pick in 2013 for Bishop.
Yzerman still didn't pay a second-round draft choice for Bishop, but he did include rookie center Cory Conacher in a deadline deal prior to the 2013 trade deadline.
But you would have to wonder ... whether things would have been different for the Lightning ... wouldn't you?
Bishop, born in Denver, Colorado, but raised in St. Louis and became the Blues third-round pick, 85th overall, in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. At 6-7, 215 pounds, the tallest goaltender in the history of the NHL, lost in a backup race prior to the 2011-12 season with Brian Elliott. Elliott and Jaroslav Halak would go on to post the best goalie tandem in the NHL. ... And in Ottawa, he was sort of in the same predicament -- playing second fiddle behind Craig Anderson and fighting for the backup job with Robin Lehner.
But the 26-year-old goaltender had evolved. Thanks to the offseason work with David Alexander, the goaltending coach at the University of Maine, for his development. Alexander trained with the Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard, St. Louis rookie Jake Allen and Bishop.
In his debut game with the Lighting, Ben turned aside 45 shots in the Carolina Hurricanes, 5-0, April 4. Bishop tied Daren Puppa's franchise record for saves in a shutout and tying for the second-most saves in a game in franchise history.
It was quite a contrast for Cooper to see Bishop in his debut for Tampa Bay compared to when Cooper first saw the up-and-coming goaltender in the North American Hockey League. Back then, Bishop's Texas Tornado team was knocking out Cooper's Texarkana Bandits in the 2004-05 playoffs.
"I'll tell you, for somebody that size and you have to get up and down, up and down at 18 years old and your leg muscles are not developed yet, it's hard on you," Cooper said. "He was kind of a gangly kid back then, but he has really developed into his body, he's strong, his legs are strong, so now he's strong in all those areas and now he doesn't break down like he did when he was younger.
"So if tonight game is any indication of what he is going to be, it's going to bode well for us."
Ever the vigilante GM, Yzerman said that Bishop would have to outduel Anders Lindback and Mathieu Garon for the No. 1 job.
"We're not going to anoint either of them the No. 1 guy," Yzerman said. "We'll let the situation evolve. They will all play. They can look to each other to have someone to ease the load that neither player is expected to go out and start 60 games. It's a good step for each of their careers."
Yzerman's still the sceptic.
Here's a little background of Bishop for you to peruse and make up your own mind.
Bishop is the son of Ben Bishop II, who runs Western Waterproofing, a construction company in St. Louis West County. Cindy, his mom, is a nurse. Bishop's grandfather was a tennis professional, who played in the US Open. Neither of Bishop's parents are nearly as tall as he is; his father is 6-1 and his mother is 5-3 tall.
He was a forward until age 8. Then, he switched to goaltender.
How often do you get asked how tall you are?
"A lot," he says, shaking his head. "It probably averages out to once a day."
Is size always an advantage to a goalie, or can it be a disadvantage?
"I think it's an advantage," he said. "I don't think there's anything that a smaller guy can do that I can't. And there's many things I can do that he can't. I mean, I like to think I'm just as athletic as those small guys, if not more athletic, so I don't think it's a disadvantage."
Former St. Louis goalie Curtis Joseph is his favorite player, growing up a fan of the Blues. Joseph's competitive attitude in goal was one of the things that Bishop remembers most.
But, during the lockout in May of 2005, Bishop was invited to replace Joseph in a Blues Alumni/NHL All-Star Celebrity game. Ben was on loan from the Texas Tornado.
This is THE most important thing Yzerman should have known about Bishop.
He stood taller than the 6-5, 200 pounds, he played at -- especially in a five-man shootout, when he was asked to stop Luc Robitaille, Jeremy Roenick, Rob Blake, Joe Nieuwendyk and Adam Foote.
Bishop flawlessly turned aside each and every one of those NHL stars.
"That was a dream night," he remembered.
He'll never forget Grant Standbrook and the efforts that he provided at Maine.
"From Day 1, he stressed that I use my size to be bigger in goal and my balance to have the quickness I'll need to go from side to side to play at the next level."
Strength and conditioning were first on Standbrook's agenda.
The best hockey advice given Bishop, "Challenge, angle, rebound control. It's like Grant Standbrook has drilled that in my head."
And then this past summer Bishop's training session with University of Maine goaltender coach David Alexander.
"He's big, and he plays big," said teammate Marty St. Louis. "He moves the puck. He's calm. He was tremendous."
Lightning wing B.J. Crombeen, Bishop's teammate in St. Louis, described Bishop as lanky, athletic, competitive and mobile.
"He covers a lot of net," Crombeen said. "You look at his numbers, it's a great pickup."
But Ben Bishop wasn't out for personal accolades. He looks at his chance in Tampa Bay as a chance to compete. Ever since he was eight -- and switched from forward to a goalie.
"This is big for the team, there are no individuals in here," Bishop said. "We are chasing a playoff spot so every game is important. I just wanted to get off on the right foot and do that with a win."
Ben Bishop stepped in with both feet in his debut with the Tampa Bay Lightning.