Ehrhoff says Sabres ‘definitely felt like a different team’ Friday

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It’s easy to overrate a win in an 82-game season, but it seems clear that the Buffalo Sabres’ regime change represents a breathe of fresh air for their players.

Christian Ehrhoff raved about the team’s raised spirits following a 3-1 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“It definitely felt like a different team,” Ehrhoff said. “Everyone was going, everyone was competing.”

Both Steve Ott and Marcus Foligno seemed delighted about having a fresh start/clean slate. Ryan Miller seemed pleased about the team’s “good energy” after making 32 out of 33 saves.

Troubled defenseman Tyler Myers seemed downright giddy, as the Buffalo News’ John Vogl reports.

“I love the way we came out in our first game with the big changes,” Myers said. “It was definitely our most fun game to play.”

Not surprisingly, it was an emotional night for Ted Nolan, who began his second tour with Buffalo.

(In case you’re wondering, Nolan’s second most recent coaching win with Buffalo happened on May 9, 1997.)

Signing pending RFA Parayko is priority for Blues — and it won’t be cheap

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The St. Louis Blues kickstarted their prospects camp on Wednesday, however their greatest offseason priority right now is getting pending restricted free agent defenseman Colton Parayko under contract.

The Blues recently extended Parayko a qualifying offer to retain his negotiating rights, and general manager Doug Armstrong is fully aware that the 24-year-old defenseman will require a significant raise from the two-year, $1.85 million (including $925,000 in NHL salary this past season) entry-level deal he has now concluded.

In two seasons, Parayko has transformed into a valuable player with the Blues. He not only brings size on the blue line at an intimidating 6-foot-6 tall and 226 pounds, but he’s been a strong contributor in the offensive end of the rink and boasts impressive puck possession numbers, as well.

He set new single-season career highs for assists (31) and points (35) with the Blues in 2016-17, while taking on a larger role as a top-four defenseman behind Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo.

“We’ve got a defenseman to take care of financially,” said Armstrong, per NHL.com’s Lou Korac. “Last time I talked to him, he wasn’t ready to play for the love of the game anymore.”

Going back to the days immediately following their second-round playoff loss, Armstrong referred to Parayko as a “cornerstone player” and admitted he wanted to get him signed to a long-term contract. It was suggested that Parayko may be able to look toward Morgan Rielly (six-year, $30 million extension with Toronto) or Hampus Lindholm (six-year, $31.5 million extension with Anaheim) as possible comparables.

The Blues currently have five defensemen under contract for next season, with about $17 million currently committed to the position. They also have about $11.6 million in projected cap space right now, per CapFriendly.

The Blues also had some bad news on Wednesday, as forward Patrik Berglund underwent shoulder surgery and is out until December. His absence isn’t likely to be filled through free agency, based on Armstrong’s comments.

“There are some internal options and we’ll explore those,” he said. “We’re always looking to see if we can get creative maybe.

“We’re talking to some potential free agents, but I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up that there will be a lot of change to this roster.”

The Blues did, in fact, announce the re-signing of a defenseman on Wednesday, inking Chris Butler to a two-year, two-way deal. However, right now, the priority is to get their young blue liner Parayko signed to a long-term deal.

Lightning re-sign journeyman forward Conacher

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Cory Conacher has turned an impressive Calder Cup Playoffs run into a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Per the club, it’s a one-way deal in the first season and a two-way deal in the second, paying $650,000 annually at the NHL level.

Conacher, 27, had 12 goals and 16 assists in 22 playoff games as the Syracuse Crunch made it all the way to the 2017 Calder Cup Final.

The undrafted and undersized forward was also productive during the regular season, racking up 60 points (17G, 43A) in 56 games for the Crunch and four points (1G, 3A) in 11 games for the Lightning.

Conacher has been quite the traveler in recent years, making numerous stops in both NHL and AHL markets. He spent the 2015-16 season in Switzerland, before returning to North America to sign with the Bolts last summer.

Sens keep Condon with three-year, $7.2 million extension

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Ottawa was thrilled with the way Mike Condon played last year.

And so, they’ve rewarded him.

Condon has signed a three-year, $7.2 million extension, the club announced on Monday. It carries a $2.4 million average annual cap hit, and makes him the only Sens goalie under contract beyond next season. Both Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond are UFAs in 2018.

Condon, 27, found stability in Ottawa after a whirlwind start to the year. He was waived by Montreal out of training camp and picked up by Pittsburgh, but only saw 20 minutes of action before the Sens acquired him.

His acquisition was necessary after news broke that Anderson’s wife, Nicholle, had been diagnosed with cancer. And as Anderson took leaves from the team to be with his wife, Condon got plenty of opportunities to play, and found his groove.

His first season in Ottawa featured several team records, including playing in a franchise-best 27 consecutive games between Dec. 1, 2016, and Feb. 4, 2017. He became the fastest goaltender in franchise history to record five shutouts, when he did so in his 32nd game on Feb. 16 versus the New Jersey Devils.

That performance led some to speculate Condon would test the market this summer, possibly for a No. 1 gig somewhere — or, the opportunity to compete for one.

That said, he and the Sens had started extension talks all the way back in February, suggesting both parties wanted to continue working together.

This means that another potential UFA goalie is now off the market. With reports that Ryan Miller is on his way to Anaheim, the pool of available guys is now led by Brian Elliott, Steve Mason, Jonathan Bernier, Chad Johnson, Anders Nilsson, Darcy Kuemper and Ondrej Pavelec.

Rangers reportedly on verge of re-signing Brendan Smith

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The New York Rangers are “close to finalizing” a contract extension with defenseman Brendan Smith, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie.

The deal is expected to be four years long with a cap hit of $4.35 million.

Smith, 28, was traded from Detroit on Feb. 28, and the Rangers clearly liked what they saw.

In the playoffs, Smith played all 12 games, averaging 19:41 of ice time while adding four assists and finishing a team-high plus-8.

It remains to be seen if signing Smith makes it less likely that the Rangers pursue Kevin Shattenkirk in free agency.

Don’t forget the Blueshirts got Anthony DeAngelo in the Derek Stepan trade, and DeAngelo’s game is quite similar to Shattenkirk’s — albeit far less proven at the NHL level.

Related: Smith, Rangers still talking