Ben Bishop

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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.

Hextall staying patient in Flyers’ goalie search

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The Philadelphia Flyers were hoping to add a veteran goaltender this weekend to complement Michal Neuvirth and as of Saturday evening they had yet to accomplish that goal.

General manager Ron Hextall does not seem too concerned about that development and is leaning on the fact it seems to be a buyer’s market at the position.

“I don’t know what’s going to present itself. My comfort level is there’s a number of goalies out there. Not six No. 1 spots out there and one goalie out there. I have comfort in that,” Hextall said, via Adam Kimelman of NHL.com.

“We’re still doing our due diligence and in the end it’ll probably come down to the guys we like and then we’ll look at term and length. If we like this guy and he’s asking unreal term or whatever we’ll go somewhere else.”

He also added that Steve Mason is still in the mix to potentially return, even though most signs point to that not happening.

So far this offseason a number of goalies have already changed teams, with Ben Bishop going to the Dallas Stars, Mike Smith going to the Calgary Flames and Marc-Andre Fleury being selected in the expansion draft by the Vegas Golden Knights.

Still, Hextall isn’t wrong in his assessment of the goaltending market because there are more good goalies available than there are starting spots.

Just about every team in the league right now is settled with its starting goalie. Other than maybe the Winnipeg Jets there really isn’t anybody else out there along with the Flyers that is in the market to find a No. 1 goalie. That leaves the Flyers with what should be their pick of potential starters (or platoon partners for Neuvirth).

The unrestricted free agent market includes Ryan Miller, Brian Elliott, Jonathan Bernier and Mason.

As of this moment the Flyers’ goaltending duo would be Neuvirth and rookie Anthony Stolarz, a combination that Hextall did not seem entirely comfortable with given Stolarz’s inexperience and Neuvirth’s injury history, so he seems determined to bring in somebody else to help solidify the position.

It is just a matter who it is going to be and how much it costs to acquire. He is certainly going to have plenty of options over the next week.

The Neuvirth/Mason duo was a fantastic value for the Flyers two years ago, but due to injury and just all-around poor play everything kind of fell apart for them this past season.

It was a big factor in what turned out to be an extremely disappointing season for the Flyers.

Flyers want to add veteran goalie this weekend

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It’s pretty obvious what sits atop Philly’s shopping list this weekend at the NHL Draft in Chicago:

Goaltending.

“We’re going to look for the best option, and we’ll act on it,” Flyers GM Ron Hextall said, per CSN Philly. “The option is figuring out the timing and who is available.”

Currently, the Flyers only have two goalies under contract — Michal Neuvirth and Anthony Stolarz. The former will be in Philly’s mix next year, but the latter’s situation is more complex. Stolarz is coming off major knee surgery and, at 23, lacks experience at the NHL level. He looked good in a seven-game cameo last season (4-2-1, 2.07 GAA, .928 save percentage), but that’s still a pretty small sample size.

So not surprising to hear the following, from CSN Philly:

Hextall would prefer to get a jump on free agency this weekend by making a deal to obtain a veteran goaltender that has two years or less on his contract and is not looking to break the bank.

Or obtain a UFA’s rights if a deal can be struck.

It looks as though the Flyers have all but moved on from Steve Mason, so it’ll be interesting to see what direction Hextall takes.

He does have some options.

Dallas needs to move on from either Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi following the Ben Bishop trade and sign. Former Flames netminder Brian Elliott is available as a UFA, as is Vancouver’s Ryan Miller.

Bolts re-sign Budaj — two years, $2.05 million

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Tampa Bay has a backup for Andrei Vasilevskiy for the foreseeable future — per TSN, goalie Peter Budaj has signed a two-year, $2.05 million extension with an average annual cap hit of $1.025M.

A new deal was expected to be consummated. Last month, Bolts GM Steve Yzerman indicated the organization wanted to keep Budaj around after acquiring him at the deadline in the Ben Bishop-to-L.A. trade.

“We were very please with the finish to the season Peter had,” Yzerman said, in an interview with WDAE 620 radio. “We’d very much be interested in bringing him back.”

Budaj, 34, was one of the biggest surprises in the league last year. He was originally signed to be the Kings’ No. 3 netminder, but ascended to the starting job after an injury to Jonathan Quick and ineffective play from Jeff Zatkoff.

It was a noteworthy development for a guy that played exactly one game during the ’15-16 campaign, and was out of the NHL entirely the year prior. Budaj responded by going 30-21-3 this season, with a .915 save percentage and 2.18 GAA — most of it with the Kings.

After joining the Bolts, he started four times and won three games as the club made a frenetic late push for a playoff spot.

In terms of financials, Tampa Bay now has a very affordable one-two punch in goal, with Vasilevskiy entering the first of a three-year deal with a $3.5M cap hit. Collectively, Yzerman is now spending just $4.525 annually on goalies for the next two seasons.

Smith no ‘consolation prize,’ says Flames GM

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Mike Smith is 35 years old and hasn’t put up super impressive numbers for a few years now.

But according to Calgary’s general manager, Smith was the best goalie the Flames could’ve got

“Mike Smith is not a consolation prize,” said Brad Treliving, per the Calgary Sun. “We scoured the market and looked at every goaltender out there and we felt this was the best fit.”

And yet, there have been reports that the Flames pursued Ben Bishop, who went to Dallas, and Marc-Andre Fleury, who’s apparently off to Vegas. Hearing those reports, one naturally wonders where Smith ranked on Treliving’s initial list.

Granted, Smith is only signed for two more years, and the Coyotes are retaining a quarter of his $5.7 million cap hit. So even if he doesn’t work out, it’s not like the situation Dallas will be in if Bishop’s six-year, $29 million contract turns into an anchor.

Still, after making it back to the playoffs in 2017, the Flames should enter next season with reasonably high expectations.

There’s also a certain level of urgency, what with their captain and best defenseman, Mark Giordano, turning 34 in October.

In other words, the Flames’ goaltending better be good next season. Otherwise, it’s going to get quite uncomfortable for Treliving.