OTTAWA - The Battle of the Backups is set for Binghamton.
Goalie Big Ben Bishop and the Senators confirmed Thursday his days as a locked-out player are over after he signed an AHL deal to join the club’s affiliate in Binghamton until the lockout is settled.
The 25-year-old Bishop, who has been skating in St. Louis to pass the time during the lockout, will leave Friday to make the 15-hour trek to Binghamton and there he’ll go head-to-head with goalie Robin Lehner for the No. 1 job.
Bishop was allowed to sign in the AHL because he was on Binghamton’s playoff roster last spring.
“It’s nothing different than years past,” said Bishop from his St. Louis home. “You’re always competing against whoever you are with at whatever level you’re at. It shouldn’t be any different circumstances than in the past.
“I was down there for a couple of games last year, so I kind of know my way. It’s going to be nice to see some familiar faces.”
The Senators are looking forward to seeing how the 21-year-old Lehner reacts to Bishop’s arrival. Goalie coach Rick Wamsley noted at Binghamton camp last month Lehner played his best hockey after Bishop was dealt to Ottawa in February.
Acquired from the Blues at the trade deadline in exchange for a draft pick, Bishop was considered the best goalie not playing the NHL last season. He and Lehner were supposed to go head-to-head for the backup job at camp in Ottawa.
While Bishop would have held the upper hand because of his one-way contract that was supposed to pay him $650,000 this season, he also could have been trade bait if Lehner had won the job to play behind Craig Anderson.
At the very least, the decision to sign in Binghamton means Bishop won’t be rusty if the NHL and the players are able to get a CBA in place. Lehner and Bishop will both be on equal ground when the NHL does start.
Bishop said it is tough for a goalie to be idle.
“That’s the biggest thing,” said Bishop. “When the season does start, I’m going to have some games under my belt and I’ll be ready to go. It’s great. You want to be playing.
“There is nothing worse than sitting around doing nothing.”
Lehner said on the first day of camp he was looking forward to the challenge.
“It doesn’t matter. They can send whoever they want down here,” said Lehner. “Bishop is the guy I’ve got to beat anyways if I want to play up (in Ottawa). He’s a little older than me. I’ve shown I’ve had success down here with the Cup ... I don’t think too much about that.”
Bishop said he looked at the possibility of going to Europe, but it has been difficult for NHL goalies to find jobs overseas. Kings backup goalie Jonathan Bernier, desperate for work, signed with a second division club in Germany Thursday.
“That’s what has been tough,” said Bishop. “There has been a lot of options, but nothing that has really been the best. To be able to skate with the guys in Bingo and some guys from Ottawa is going to be good.
“The biggest thing is I’m going to be able to work with (Wamsley) while I’m down there.”
The Senators also have former Islanders netminder Nathan Lawson under contract as a backup. He could play games in Elmira of the ECHL if Bishop ends up in the AHL all season.