Pre-game reading: On Peter Budaj, who’s been a great story for the Kings

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— Up top, Eric Staal reflects on his first year in Minnesota, which has gone rather well we’d say. The Wild committed just $10.5 million over three years to Staal. Quite the bargain for GM Chuck Fletcher.

— An excellent read on Peter Budaj, the 34-year-old netminder with the $600,000 contract who’s been so good for the Kings in the wake of Jonathan Quick‘s injury. “When you look at where I was at the beginning of the year, or maybe two years ago, not many people would give me this kind of a chance to become anybody. Nobody, I think, in the hockey world would believe that I’d be here. Not even me.”  (Sports Illustrated)

— The Winnipeg Jets have an interesting decision to make about Bryan Little. The 29-year-old center is eligible to sign a contract extension this summer, and he’d apparently love to do just that. But GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will have to be careful not to overpay. Though Little is an under-rated player, he’s already got 646 NHL games under his belt, and he’s getting to the point in his career where many players start to decline. (TSN)

— With all we’re learning about the long-term effects of concussions, it can be pretty darn scary to get one these days. Take it from Devils defenseman John Moore, who had to be stretchered off the ice on New Year’s Eve after getting hit from behind by Washington’s Tom Wilson. “For about a week, I really wasn’t myself at all,” Moore said. “I couldn’t remember things, I was angry all the time, and anxious. I know I wasn’t easy to be around, just not myself. It was scary, really scary.” The good news? Moore is hoping to return to New Jersey’s lineup soon, possibly even Sunday against San Jose. (Yahoo Sports)

Frederik Andersen plays a lot of games for the Maple Leafs, and he faces a lot of shots. In fact, as noted by Jonas Siegel of the Canadian Press: “The 27-year-old is on pace to face 2,173 shots in his first season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, in what would be the 15th highest total ever. Only 31 times in league history has a goaltender faced even 2,100 shots in a single season — Pekka Rinne and Cam Ward the last to do so five years ago.” Andersen stopped 38 of 40 shots in Thursday’s 2-1 OT loss to St. Louis. Though he didn’t get the win, it was a solid performance after four straight tough outings. (Canadian Press)

— Speaking of busy goalies, here’s an interview with Bruins starter Tuukka Rask, who had the following to say about the new, slimmer pants that all NHL netminders must wear now: “The way they feel, it will increase scoring, for sure.” Not all goalies feel the same way, but Rask believes the pants are “so much slimmer from your hips and thighs that some pucks that would normally hit your pants will go right through.” (ESPN)

Enjoy the games!

2017 NHL Draft especially big for Devils, Golden Knights

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CHICAGO (AP) The NHL stage belongs to Ray Shero and the New Jersey Devils. Then it goes right back to George McPhee and the Vegas Golden Knights.

In the wake of Vegas’ expansion draft, New Jersey is on the clock with the No. 1 pick of the amateur draft beginning Friday night at the United Center. The only other time the franchise had the first pick was in 1979, when the then-Colorado Rockies selected Rob Ramage.

“I think it’s been exciting for our franchise, exciting time for our scouts,” said Shero, who was hired as New Jersey’s general manager in May 2015. “In addition obviously to the first overall pick we’ve got the nine other picks, which are going to be very important on Day 2.

“But this is, I think, once the dust has settled now with expansion in terms of Vegas making all the selections or trades, whatever they’ve done, it really puts into focus again OK, the draft itself, which is important for every team.”

After New Jersey makes its pick – Shero said the Devils know who they are going to take, but he was keeping that to himself for now – Philadelphia, Dallas, Colorado and Vancouver round out the top five. Then Vegas makes the first pick in franchise history.

The Golden Knights announced two more trades Thursday, running their total to 13 selections for this year’s draft. Vegas sent defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk and a 2018 seventh-round draft pick to Carolina for a second-round selection on Saturday. It also shipped defenseman David Schlemko to Montreal for a fifth-round pick in 2019.

Vegas, which selected 30 players in its expansion draft Wednesday night, has three picks in each of the first two rounds. It also has two selections in the fifth and sixth.

“It’s a hard draft,” said McPhee, the franchise’s GM. “Going through it today, it’s been a harder draft that most so it’s taking some time … three picks, it’s a lot to manage and you really have to focus. When you have one pick in the first round, you’re looking for one guy. When you’ve got three, it’s harder. But it’s a good problem to have.”

Forwards Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier, Casey Mittelstadt and Cody Glass and defensemen Cale Makar and Miro Heiskanen are among the most coveted prospects. Patrick, whose father, Steve, and uncle James both played in the NHL, held the top spot in the NHL Central Scouting Department’s final rankings in April.

Despite missing much of last season with a groin injury, Patrick had 20 goals and 46 points in 33 games with Brandon of the Western Hockey League.

“At the end of the day I don’t care if I go one, two, three, four, like it doesn’t matter to me,” said Patrick, who threw out a ceremonial first pitch before Wednesday’s Cubs game at Wrigley Field. “I’m just excited to get drafted and have a chance to try out for an NHL team. So it doesn’t matter to me.”

Unlike the past two years, when Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews went No. 1 overall and immediately had a huge impact on their new teams, there doesn’t appear to be a transcendent talent at the top of the draft. Led by Patrick and Hischier, the forwards are generally considered the top position group.

“I think this still will be proven to be a good draft,” Shero said. “Especially as they always look back, there’s always one or two Hall of Famers in every draft. Doesn’t matter where, they’re going to be in this draft 20 years from now. And who is it? That’s what the challenge is for any team.”

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

End of an era: Coyotes part ways with Tippett days after Doan departure

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The Arizona Coyotes will look different in 2017-18, and not just because longtime captain Shane Doan won’t be back. The team confirmed that they’re parting ways with head coach Dave Tippett late on Thursday.

Tippett spent eight seasons as head coach of the Coyotes, peaking with a run to the 2012 Western Conference Final. Early on, he distinguished himself as being able to coach a sound enough defense to help the team correct for a low-budget roster.

In recent years, he hasn’t been able to conjure that same magic. The Coyotes missed the playoffs in the last five seasons of Tippett’s tenure.

“On behalf of the entire Coyotes organization, I would like to sincerely thank Tip for all of his hard work and the many contributions he made to our organization,” Coyotes owner Andrew Barroway said. “Tip is a man of high character and we are very grateful for his leadership during his tenure as our head coach. Ultimately, we have some philosophical differences on how to build our team. Therefore, we mutually agreed that it is in everyone’s best interest to have a coaching change in order to move our franchise forward.”

Along with Doan and Tippett, Mike Smith is also out of town, and the ownership situation has come into focus. Former GM Don Maloney was fired last summer, so this franchise has been making big changes for some time, even ignoring the perennial arena drama.

The Coyotes announced that a new coaching search would kick into gear “immediately.” They might not have scored points with potential candidates considering the last week or so …

It’s a true changing of the guard out in the desert. This is also a time of stability heading into Friday, the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft.

More on the changes

Coyotes receive criticism for the way they handled Doan’s departure.

Mike Smith traded to Calgary, “no consolation prize” for Flames.

Oilers reportedly might spend Eberle savings on signing Russell

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Optimistic Edmonton Oilers fans who didn’t like the Jordan Eberle trade could at least rationalize the savings, as Ryan Strome comes at a $3.5 million salary-cap discount. Surely that money will be focused squarely on locking up the future – aka sorting things out with Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid – right?

After all, that was the spin from GM Peter Chiarelli: moving Eberle for Strome was all about “long-term thinking.”

Well, about that …

TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports that the Oilers are nearing a deal with defenseman Kris Russell that could carry approximately a $4 million cap hit over a four-year term. The dollar amount can change, but that would put the shot-blocking defenseman’s cost at around $16 million overall. (There are rumblings that it might be $18M with a no-movement clause.)

Now, before we criticize (er, discuss) the move, do note that McKenzie reports that it isn’t a done deal. If it happens, it might not be announced until Friday, anyway.

If it does go through, the move inspires comparisons to last summer. To refresh your memory, the Oilers made a polarizing (but money-saving) move by sending Taylor Hall to the Devils for Adam Larsson. Shortly after that trade, the Oilers essentially used those savings to sign Milan Lucic.

Results were … mixed, and Lucic’s contract seemingly stands as a barrier to accrue other assets.

Could the same thing happen here? Russell has his proponents, yet his possession stats indicate that his stature has been inflated, at times, around the NHL. One thing that’s undeniable is Russell’s age: he’s 30.

Will a 30-year-old defenseman fall apart during a four-year deal? Not necessarily, although his shot-blocking tendencies inspire some concern; just look at how Dan Girardi aged in New York.

Either way, it’s difficult to defend giving Russell about $4 million a year when you’re trying to sign Leon Draisaitl (RFA this summer) and Connor McDavid (RFA next summer, but eligible for an extension as early as July).

Recent rumblings don’t inspire a ton of confidence, either. For one thing, Chiarelli made a strange semi-challenge regarding Draisaitl and offer sheets.

There are also rumors about McDavid’s potential contract demands.

Again, the parameters of a Russell deal could change; the Oilers might not even bring him back at all. TSN’s Darren Dreger also notes that McDavid wouldn’t necessarily receive that big payday he’d possibly ask for.

Still, Oilers fans have experienced the worst-case scenario far more often than not in recent years, and these developments could inspire some doom and gloom … even if all three players are kept in the fold.

Report: Vegas isn’t interested in trading defensemen Theodore, Schmidt

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The Vegas Golden Knights enjoyed another busy day on Thursday, moving the likes of David Schlemko and Trevor van Riemsdyk. That doesn’t mean that all their defensemen are necessarily for sale, even with some pressure to trade away a few more.

Now, it’s plausible that someone merely hasn’t found the right price to entice Golden Knights GM George McPhee, but TSN’s Pierre LeBrun indicates that he’s shooting down offers for especially enticing young defensemen.

Specifically, McPhee gave a hard “No” to at least three teams regarding Shea Theodore and also stonewalled offers for Nate Schmidt, according to LeBrun.

It’s probably not fair to say that McPhee hasn’t been willing to move younger players altogether. After all, Trevor van Riemsdyk is 25, much like Schmidt.

Even so, one could infer that McPhee would be quicker to trade away a veteran whose value may not ever be higher, such as Marc Methot or Alexei Emelin.

For what it’s worth, let’s break down the Golden Knights’ current defensemen in two camps (30-and-under, 30-and-older) along with their contract situations, with help from Cap Friendly.

Under 30

Luca Sbisa, 27, $3.6 million cap hit through 2017-18
Brayden McNabb, 26, $1.7M through 2017-18
Jon Merrill, 25, $1.138M through 2017-18
Colin Miller, 24, $1M through 2017-18
Theodore, 21, $863K through 2017-18
Griffin Reinhart, 23, RFA
Schmidt, 25, RFA

30 and older

Methot, $4.9M through 2018-19
Jason Garrison, $4.6M through 2017-18
Emelin, $4.1M through 2017-18
Clayton Stoner, 32, $3.25M through 2017-18
Deryk Engelland, 35, $1M through 2017-18

Considering the options at hand, it’s still feasible that someone might convince McPhee to ship Schmidt and/or Theodore over, anyway. The Toronto Maple Leafs have been connected to Schmidt and Colin Miller in rumors, though it’s unclear how likely such moves might be. Vegas isn’t tied to many players beyond this coming season, so they have plenty of flexibility to change their minds.

The Golden Knights may also view the trade deadline as a more fruitful time to move a veteran such as Methot.

Even so, it sure sounds like McPhee would at least prefer to build around his youngsters, and Theodore might be the clearest keeper of them all.