TGIF: Five NHL games to watch this weekend

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Saturday: Toronto at Vancouver (7 p.m. ET)

Also known locally as the one Saturday game each year that starts at 4 p.m. so all the precious Leafs fans back in the Center of the Universe aren’t sleepy the next day. This year, it’s also the night (check that: late afternoon) that Pavel Bure will have his number retired by the Canucks. As for the actual game, have we mentioned Toronto gets outshot a lot? Feel like that’s something we’ve brought up before. Yep, we’ve definitely touched on that once or twice.

Saturday: St. Louis at Tampa Bay (7 p.m. ET)

The Blues have only lost once in regulation, and they can blame that one on Maxim Lapierre. They also boast the NHL’s first star for the month of October, Alexander Steen. And perhaps the best news? Jaroslav Halak is still healthy. Speaking of, here’s a question to ponder: if you’re St. Louis general manager Doug Armstrong, do you give the Sabres a ring about Ryan Miller? No disrespect to Halak; just an admission he’s had trouble avoiding injuries, not to mention his pending unrestricted free agency. Given the market for starting goalies, getting Miller out of Buffalo may not cost a whole bunch. May even be worth it as a pure rental.

Saturday: Boston at NY Islanders (7 p.m. ET)

Let’s talk about the Isles, because this team has not been very good. Just four wins in their first 12 games, eight of which have been at home. Goaltending — surprise, surprise — has been an issue, as everyone thought it might be with Evgeni Nabokov and Kevin Poulin forming the tandem. Will Garth Snow be forced to make a move soon? You’d think a former goalie would appreciate the importance of the position. The Isles’ team save percentage is just .899, ranking them 24th in the NHL in that category.

Saturday: Montreal at Colorado (10 p.m. ET)

Putting the Semyon Varlamov situation aside for a moment, what we have here are the two best defensive teams in the NHL. The Avs rank first in goals against (1.46); the Habs are second (1.77). This, of course, has a lot to do with the guy we put aside for a moment, as well as the guy who’s been doing most of the netminding for Montreal, Carey Price. Having said that, we won’t see either of them start Saturday, as Varlamov is getting the nod tonight in Dallas and Price tonight in Minnesota. So it’ll be J.S. Giguere for the Avs and Peter Budaj for the Habs.

Saturday: Phoenix at San Jose (10:30 p.m. ET)

Yep, we’re going with an all-Saturday TGIF. (Sunday’s three games have a little too much Calgary, Dallas, and New Jersey in them to recommend.) We already wrote today about the Coyotes’ red-hot start, and everyone knows how the Sharks have been playing. These teams have already met once this season, on Oct. 5, a game San Jose dominated and won, 4-1. “Their forwards were too quick and we stopped playing hockey,” said Coyotes captain Shane Doan. Remember kids, it’s always important to keep playing hockey during a hockey game.

Stars give Lindell two-year extension

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More news out of Dallas, where the Stars have signed defenseman Esa Lindell to a two-year, $4.4-million contract extension.

From the release:

Lindell, 23, posted 18 points (6-12=18) in 73 games played for Dallas during the 2016-17 regular season, his first full season in the NHL. He finished second on the team by averaging 21:52 of time on ice per game and his +8 plus/minus rating finished third. Additionally, he finished second on the team with 119 blocked shots and tied for fifth with 93 hits.

The Stars still have a couple of restricted free agents on the back end. Both Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak are arbitration-eligible. Lindell was not.

Earlier today, it was reported that the Stars were buying out goalie Antti Niemi.

Dallas also signed forward Mark McNeill to a one-year, two-way contract extension. The 24-year-old was acquired from Chicago in the Johnny Oduya trade on Feb. 28.

Lightning extend Gourde — two years, $2 million

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Yanni Gourde has cashed in on an impressive 20-game cameo with Tampa Bay this season.

Gourde signed a two-year, $2 million extension on Monday, the Bolts announced. The deal came after the 25-year-old scored six goals and eight points in 20 games, while averaging 15:22 TOI per night.

Undrafted out of the Quebec League, Gourde has been a terrific AHL player since catching on with the Tampa Bay organization a few years ago.

He was instrumental in Syracuse’s run to the Calder Cup final this year — scoring 27 points in 22 games — and, given his new deal is of the one-way variety, seems primed to spend next year with the Lightning.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling to sign that kind of a deal knowing where I’ve come from,” Gourde said, per NHL.com. “It’s the organization that trusted me very early in my career, and I thank them for that.”

Carolina’s strategy of flipping picks for players ‘just didn’t pan out’

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In late May, the ‘Canes looked like a team primed to trade some draft picks.

GM Ron Francis kicked off proceedings by sending one of his 11 picks — a third-rounder — to Chicago for goalie Scott Darling. Shortly thereafter, Francis said his club had “the open for business sign out there,”suggesting he was ready to wheel and deal.

But said wheeling and dealing never occurred.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping to take a few less picks,” Francis said after he selected nine players at the draft, per ‘Canes Country. “We’d had a lot of discussions about trying to move picks for players, but it just didn’t pan out the way we had hoped.”

Prior to landing in Chicago, it was obvious the goal for Francis and head coach Bill Peters was to add pieces that’d help get the ‘Canes back into the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The team has shown steady improvement over the last three years — going from 30 to 35 to 36 wins — and had a nice late push before ultimately falling short this season.

“I think we have specific needs, very specific needs,” Peters said at Carolina’s end-of-year media availability. “So as a coach I’m going to give very specific names.”

As many clubs experienced at the draft, trades weren’t easy to orchestrate. It was a stark contrast to the flurry of action that proceeded the event — Jonathan Drouin to Montreal, Jordan Eberle to the Islanders, huge shakeups in both Arizona and Chicago.

The perceived weakness of said draft could’ve played a role in the lack of movement. It’s also worth noting that Francis did use one of his picks, a fifth-rounder, for Vegas to select Connor Brickley at the expansion draft.

And, to be clear, this doesn’t mean Carolina still can’t add players. Free agency opens on Saturday. But draft weekend certainly feels like an opportunity missed, given this year’s UFA market doesn’t project to be very strong.

Report: Stars to buy out Antti Niemi

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The Antti Niemi era in Dallas is mercifully over.

Per Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, the Stars will place Niemi on waivers for the purposes of buying out the final year of his contract. The buyout will result in a $1.5 million cap hit in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Niemi, 33, joined the Stars in 2015 with the hope he’d form an effective tandem with Kari Lehtonen.

But the experiment was a dismal failure. In 85 games over two seasons, Niemi registered a .900 save percentage, and the Stars responded last month by signing Ben Bishop to a six-year contract worth almost $30 million.

GM Jim Nill had hoped that one of Niemi or Lehtonen could be traded in the wake of the Bishop signing.

Lehtonen, 33, is still under contract for another year at a cap hit of $5.9 million. He had a .902 save percentage last season, higher than Niemi’s .892.