Vigneault praises Richards’ overall season, as buyout speculation continues

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Brad Richards currently has six years remaining on his current nine-year, $60 million contract, however he may soon find himself a headliner in the compliance buyout season.

Speculation that Richards could be bought out is running rampant right now, especially given his salary – a cap hit of $6,666,667 per year – and the fact he struggled mightily toward the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

In the final series against the L.A. Kings, the eventual champions, Richards registered just one point – an assist in Game 5, which the Rangers lost, giving L.A. its second title in the last three years.

Go back even further. Richards had only one goal in his last 11 playoff games, dating back to the start of the Eastern Conference final. So, it’s not hard to see what’s fueling this talk.

Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault gave the 34-year-old Richards a glowing review of his entire season, which included 20 goals and 51 points in the regular season. But the bench boss didn’t offer anything definitive on whether the skilled forward would escape the buyout season.

“If you look at Brad’s overall season, he had a real good year,” said Vigneault, as per NHL.com.

“In the Final series I don’t know if it was a combination of some other guys might have been playing better than he was, but we had some decisions to make in Game 4 and Game 5. But his overall play, 5-on-5 and on the power play, during the year was very good.

“I’m very happy with what he brought to the table; a veteran player that from Day 1 was a real good extension of the coaching staff in that dressing room. I think he should walk away from this season very pleased in how he played and how he contributed to our team.

“As everybody knows there are decisions to be made. We haven’t made those yet. We’re going to talk and figure it out.”

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule for Wednesday, April 26

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The second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs is set to begin on Wednesday, and the NBC Sports Group has you covered with wall-to-wall coverage.

After disposing of the Calgary Flames in the first round, the Anaheim Ducks will look to take down another team from Alberta, while two red-hot goalies, Jake Allen and Pekka Rinne, go head-to-head.

Here’s what you need to know:

Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)

Edmonton Oilers vs. Anaheim Ducks 

Time: 10:30 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online)

Green will be judged on progress of Canucks’ youngsters

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Expectations have officially changed in Vancouver.

Whereas the last few years the Canucks have tried to stay competitive and make the playoffs (failing miserably the last two seasons), the plan now is to develop their youth with an eye towards the future.

“I’m not sitting up here and saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to win the Stanley Cup next year,'” new head coach Travis Green said today.

“But I will tell you we’re going to get better.”

Green was hired after four seasons as head coach of Vancouver’s AHL affiliate in Utica. He understands that the Canucks need to keep injecting youth into their lineup. He knows that’s why he was hired, despite his lack of coaching experience in the NHL.

“We need to get younger, that’s no secret,” he said.

So, for Green, it will not be wins and losses that he’s judged on for the next year or two. Instead, it will be the progress of Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi, Markus Granlund, Jake Virtanen, Brock Boeser, Nikolay Goldobin, Ben Hutton, Troy Stecher, Brendan Gaunce, Olli Juolevi, Jonathan Dahlen, and any other youngsters in the organization.

A veteran of over 1,000 NHL games as a player, Green is not expecting this to be a smooth ride. Young players make mistakes. They are inconsistent. They can be immature. Sometimes they progress, only to regress.

“You have to let them learn on the fly, some of them,” said Green. “You have to give them rope. You want them to swim, you don’t want them to sink. (But) you want them to go through adversity as well. I think it’s good for young players to go through adversity.”

Green started his coaching career in the WHL with the Portland Winterhawks. Combined with his AHL experience, he believes he’s learned a thing or two about getting through to younger players.

Not that he’ll be Mr. Nice Guy all the time. He intends to push his players. He’s more than willing to make them uncomfortable, if that’s what he thinks is required.

“I want my players to be accountable,” he said, “in what they do, how they prepare, how they practice. But I think if you build relationships and you communicate with players, they appreciate it — especially today’s player. I don’t play a lot of mind games. They always know where they stand. At the end of the day, when I was a player, you always wanted to know where you stood.”

The end goal — whether it’s two years down the line, or even three or four — is to produce a winning team that can compete for a championship.

“We know where we’re at,” said Green. “I know the management group understands that, I feel confident in that. But hey, I want to win. No one likes winning more than me. I want to see our team get better. I want to start the process and push the envelope with these players, and see improvement.”

Related: Trading Burrows and Hansen represents significant ‘shift’ for Canucks

Report: Vegas’ first-ever game will be preseason tilt in Vancouver

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The Las Vegas Golden Knights are going to be busy this fall, and they’ll reportedly start their work north of the border.

Per the Review-Journal, Vegas has finalized its preseason schedule and, pending league approval, will play its first-ever game on Sunday, Sept. 17 against the Canucks at Rogers Arena.

The Golden Knights have submitted a loaded, compacted preseason schedule, which makes sense. The players selected in June’s expansion draft will have little to no familiarity with one another, meaning head coach Gerard Gallant has a massive task in trying to build chemistry.

More, from the Review-Journal:

On Sept. 19, they’ll travel to Colorado to face the Avalanche at Pepsi Center followed by a trip to San Jose Sept. 21 to face the Sharks at SAP Center. The road portion of the preseason concludes at Anaheim against the Ducks Sept. 24.

The first of the three home games at T-Mobile will be Sept. 26 against the Los Angeles Kings. The other home games are Sept. 28 against Colorado and Oct. 1 vs. San Jose.

Vegas team officials wouldn’t comment to the Review-Journal about the preseason schedule. According to the report, the timing of the Vancouver game hinged on the dates for the Canucks-Kings games in China this fall (Sept. 21 in Shanghai, and Sept. 23 in Beijing.)

Habs announce Emelin underwent knee surgery

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On Wednesday, Montreal announced that d-man Alexei Emelin underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, and would be sidelined for the next 4-6 weeks as a result.

Emelin, 31, was hurt near the end of the regular season with a suspected knee injury, and missed the final few games down the stretch. The ailment kept him out of the Habs’ first four playoff games against the Rangers, though Emelin did return for Games 5 and 6.

In the finale, the veteran Russian rearguard scored his first playoff goal, but only saw 16:11 TOI.

The knee injury and subsequent surgery marred what was an otherwise healthy campaign. Emelin appeared in a career-high 76 games, and averaged a career-high 21:19 TOI per night, leading the team in hits.

Next year is a big one for Emelin. He’s heading into the last of a four-year, $16.4 million deal with a $4.1M average annual cap hit.