Crease Conundrumby Michael Oram | February 14, 2019, 7:50 PM ET
The 2018-19 season has not gone well for the London Monarchs. At the time of writing the team sits tenth in the World Conference, seven points out of the playoffs with half a season to play. The probability they make the postseason is low.
Yet 220 miles up the M40 and M6 the Liverpool Heirs are dominating the GHA. The team sits atop the league with 64 points and only has eight losses on the year. The team is poised for a long playoff run with their sights clearly set on nothing but championship glory.
Two teams. Two opposite directions. One franchise.
Perhaps the best way to personify this juxtaposition is to take a deep look at the men between the pipes. These two goalies represent two opposite approaches to the game. Both exemplify exceptional performance. And both give the franchise’s top brass a conundrum.
In London, Big Ben, Ben Bishop leads the way. The 31 year old pending UFA is having a bounce back season considering his 2017-18 numbers but isn’t playing up to the standards of his early career. The goalie who was acquired in a trade with Calgary in August 2017 along with a first round pick for Robin Lehner has put up .914 save percentage and a goals against average of 2.80. This good enough for an 18-17 record.
Bishop is good enough to steal a game any night of the week. He has shown throughout his career that he has the unique ability to bounce back from down games and seasons. There is no reason to believe that he won’t bounce back next year and be better than ever. And this here is what produces the conundrum for this franchise. Should he stay or should he go?
If Bishop stays it will be under the franchise tag. This means that no matter what he will be a Monarch for at least one more year and potentially beyond. Should his ability to rebound from down years hold this may not be an issue. But he is 31. He will be the second oldest player in the organization next season behind only Alexander Ovechkin. He will also, undoubtedly be one of the highest paid players on the team.
Meanwhile, there is an up and coming talent in the organization that needs playing time. Eight years ago when the Oslo Vikings moved to London to become the Monarchs they entered the 2011 draft with, perhaps a little to much, confidence. With their first ever pick as England’s team they selected Jordan Binnington 83rd overall in the fourth round.
Now 24, Binnington is having a career year in the GHA and looks poised to make the jump to prime time in 2019-20. He currently has an 0.899 save percentage and 2.14 goals against average in the high scoring GHA. This is good enough for a 30-5 record with five shutouts. Binnington’s time may be now.
Further complicating matters is the up and coming 21-year-old hot shot Mackenzie Blackwood. Blackwood is ready to take his career to the next level and needs solid playing time. The GHA crease should be his for the 2019-20 season.
So, what is a team to do?
Do they trade Bishop? This is much easier said than done. The market for goalies has not really emerged this season. While rumours suggest there have been some conversations around the goalie the team has been hesitant to pull the trigger on a deal. Are they holding out for a better return or are they nervous that Binnington cannot step up to the starters role next season? If Bishop is gone they better hope Binnington is ready for prime time.
Will they even be a better team next season?
Do they sign Bishop? This would mean paying their big goalie a significant sum. He’s earned it. Will he want to stay in London? If the team isn’t in a position to compete next season, they would be wasting one of the best goalies in the league who would have a complete no movement clause. He would also be taking away starts from the young Binnington potentially hindering his development. Of course, they could leave BInnington in the minors for another year of seasoning. But then what do they do with Blackwood?
Can the franchise afford to let Bishop walk away in free agency? Or should they maximize the value of this asset and trade him now? Should they keep him in the organization to help develop the youngsters? Can they win without him? Do they want to win? How close is this team to being competitive again?
The only thing we know for certain is that the Monarchs are facing a rather large crease conundrum. With the trade deadline fast approaching the time for hesitation is over. It’s D-day and this organization needs to commit to one path or another. Commit to one goalie or another. Indecision will kill this franchise and only waste assets. Does Big Ben chime again in London or has this clock been silenced once and for all. Only time will reveal the answer.