Jonathan Quick

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Bolts ‘very interested’ in extending Budaj

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Tampa Bay needs a backup for Andrei Vasilevskiy next season, and it might already have one in house.

Peter Budaj, acquired at the deadline in the Ben Bishop-to-Los Angeles trade, played well enough down the stretch to pique the interest of Bolts GM Steve Yzerman.

“We were very please with the finish to the season Peter had,” Yzerman said on Thursday, 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.

This summer’s goalie market is expected to be crazy — it’s been active already, and it’s only the third week in May — so the Bolts might be smart to lock Budaj in now, rather than see how free agency unfolds. He’s coming off a one-year, $600,000 deal, so he could probably be retained on the cheap. And if he struggles, there’s always Kristers Gudlevskis in the system.

Gudlevskis, 24, has appeared in three career games with the Bolts, spending extensive time in the American League. He’s currently a restricted free agent.

Hurricanes, Stars get early jump on NHL goalie carousel

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When the Carolina Hurricanes traded a third-round pick to Chicago for the rights to Scott Darling, the NHL’s goaltender carousel started spinning.

After Carolina signed Darling to a $16.6 million, four-year deal, the Dallas Stars sent a fourth-round pick to Los Angeles for the rights to Ben Bishop and signed the 6-foot-7 former Lightning starter for $29.5 million over six years. Carolina and Dallas were willing to give up picks to get the jump on what Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis called an interesting offseason to shop for a goalie.

“There’s two different paths you can look at: One is certainly who’s going to be available on July 1 and what it may take to get them in terms of years and in terms of salary, and then the other option is you’re looking at who might be available in terms of teams not wanting to lose a goaltender in expansion and willing to make a trade and what it costs you to get that player,” Francis said. “When we looked at everything and studied things, we thought this was the best viable option for us.”

It looks brilliant now ahead of a goalie shuffle that expected to happen over the next several weeks leading up to the Vegas Golden Knights’ expansion draft June 21, the actual draft a few days later and the start of free agency July 1. The Golden Knights, Calgary Flames, Philadelphia Flyers and perhaps even the Winnipeg Jets and Colorado Avalanche are in the market, with Pittsburgh veteran Marc-Andre Fleury, Washington backup Philipp Grubauer and a handful of others in the mix to fill vacancies.

Fleury led the Penguins to the Eastern Conference final but could still be traded with Matt Murray entrenched as the goalie of the future, and his value has never been higher. Fleury wields power with his no-movement clause that could let him choose his destination.

Read more: Fleury could be good option for Flames … or even Flyers

Grubauer said he has no choice where he goes, but as a restricted free agent he does have some control and could be headed to Vegas. The Golden Knights will get 48 hours to negotiate with any unrestricted or restricted free agents left unprotected for the expansion draft, and the 25-year-old German had a 2.05 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in 24 games this season and is widely considered ready to be a starter.

“He’s an outstanding goalie,” Capitals starter Braden Holtby said. “What I think I’ve seen from him the last year especially, his talent is NHL talent, but a lot of guys have that. His mental game, his mental prep – every game he was in he was never out of it mentally. He was always sharp and that shows.”

Grubauer and Darling could follow the path of understudies-turned-starters blazed by Edmonton’s Cam Talbot, who has thrived since backing up Henrik Lundqvist with the Rangers, and San Jose’s Martin Jones, who took the Sharks to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago after being Jonathan Quick‘s No. 2 in Los Angeles. Much like Grubauer, the 28-year-old Darling has improved the mental side of his game as Corey Crawford‘s backup with the Blackhawks and believes he has the stuff to start.

“I’m confident because I’m excited about it and I’m going to do everything in my power to learn how to be the best starter I can be,” said Darling, who’s 6-foot-6 and had a .924 save percentage last season. “I have a good network of goalie friends that I’m going to be picking their brains and asking for help and just trying to do everything that I can do to be successful in that role.”

Current Rangers backup Antti Raanta, who has a year left on his deal at a bargain-basement $1 million salary-cap hit, has shown evidence he can be successful too and has been speculated as a Vegas option. So have Grubauer and Flyers goaltender Michal Neuvirth because of close ties to GM George McPhee and goalie coach Dave Prior.

“There’s a lot of other guys on the market too that could possibly go out there, so it’s not just me,” Grubauer said. “George drafted me, so they know what they probably get and with other guys they probably not know as much. I don’t know what they’re going to do.”

Vegas’ decisions in goal could have as much of a domino effect as Carolina getting Darling and Dallas locking up Bishop. The Flames made the playoffs with the tandem of Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson, now pending free agents, and could go young with prospect Jon Gilles, look at Fleury or move in another direction to improve on their 19th-ranked save percentage.

Winnipeg has youngsters Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson and Colorado has Semyon Varlamov and Calvin Pickard but could shake things up in net to speed up the process of returning to playoff contention. The Flyers will likely move on from the Neuvirth-Steve Mason combo, but former goaltender and now GM Ron Hextall seems fine patching things up until one of Philadelphia’s top prospects (Carter Hart, Alex Lyon or Felix Sandstrom) is ready for the NHL.

“We do have kids coming, and I think everybody knows it,” Hextall said.

 

Related: Nill thinks Niemi or Lehtonen could be ‘intriguing’ for some teams

Kings ‘working diligently’ on Toffoli, Pearson extensions

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Of all the tasks new GM Rob Blake has to accomplish in Los Angeles this summer, none may be more important than locking in forwards Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson.

And according to LA Kings Insider’s sources, Blake is already doing the work.

[The Kings] are “actively working diligently” to ensure restricted free agents Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson are under contract with the Kings next season.

“They want to be here and we want them to be here,” said one source who noted there never has been any discussion at any point of either of those players being anywhere but Los Angeles else in 2017-18.

Toffoli and Pearson are both restricted free agents, and both at the end of their second NHL contracts.

Toffoli, 25, was the more expensive of the two, having just wrapped a two-year, $6.5 million deal with a $3.25M average annual cap hit. It’ll be interesting to see how negotiations play out.

After two terrific offensive campaigns — which included a career-high 32 goals in ’15-16 — Toffoli, like many Kings, had a difficult season in ’16-17. He missed nearly 20 games with a knee injury (he’s since had surgery to fix it) and finished with just 34 points, his lowest total since his rookie year.

Pearson, 24, went in the opposite direction. Last season was the finest of his young career, as he posted highs right across the board: Games played (80), goals (24), points (44) and time on ice per game (16:19). He was also terrific value for Los Angeles, given he played on a $1.4 million cap hit.

Given their similarity in age and experience, it’s been suggested their new deals could be reasonably close to one another both in money and term. Speaking of term, one has to think Blake will try to lock up Toffoli and Pearson for the long haul, as they represent two of the club’s young building blocks moving forward.

But Blake will have to do it under a tight cap situation. He also needs to get three more RFAs signed — Nick Shore, Andy Andreoff, Kevin Gravel — figure out what to do with trade deadline pickup Jarome Iginla, and find a backup for Jonathan Quick (if it isn’t AHLer Jack Campbell).

Iginla ‘definitely’ wants to keep playing after Kings stint

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Jarome Iginla feels rejuvenated after his late-season trade to the Los Angeles Kings, and the 39-year-old forward would like to play in the NHL again next season.

Iginla confirmed his hopes in a conference call Wednesday, three days after the Kings’ season ended.

Los Angeles acquired the 20-year veteran on March 1 to aid in its ultimately fruitless playoff push. Iginla had six goals and three assists in 19 games for the Kings, his fifth NHL franchise.

Before the trade, Iginla occasionally felt worn down by a miserable season with the Colorado Avalanche. The chance to reconnect with Darryl Sutter, his former coach in Calgary, and to play in meaningful games again rekindled his passion for hockey.

“I would like to (play next season),” Iginla said. “But at the same time, I’ve got to wait and see what the options are. So it’s not 100 percent, but I definitely would like to. But I’ve got to wait and see what options, and where things are at.”

Iginla was a definite improvement to the low-scoring Kings’ offense, and his speed even impressed his younger teammates on a sometimes plodding team. He scored three power-play goals and four game-winning goals during his six weeks in Los Angeles, which faded from the playoff race late and finished 10th in the Western Conference.

Iginla said he would definitely consider returning to Los Angeles, but nobody knows what the Kings will be seeking. They fired Sutter and general manager Dean Lombardi on Monday, appointing Hall of Fame defenseman Rob Blake as their new GM.

“I don’t know if they’re an option from their point of view,” Iginla said. “They have to take time and do what they do in their analysis and stuff. But from my point of view, that would be an option. I did enjoy it. It was great for me.”

Iginla might want to join a team closer to Stanley Cup contention as he continues to chase his first NHL title. Yet he wouldn’t be surprised by a quick rebound from the Kings, who won championships in 2012 and 2014 with largely the same core that has won just one playoff game in three seasons since.

“It is a top organization,” Iginla said. “You go there and you see the core that they have with (Drew) Doughty, (Jake) Muzzin, some of the young (defensemen), one of the best goalies in the world (in Jonathan Quick), some of the best centermen in the world with (Jeff) Carter and (Anze) Kopitar. I know it’s a tough time there right now, but if anyone can turn it around quickly, they would be one of the organizations with that kind of core that can bounce back and have a great year.”

Iginla has 625 goals and 675 assists, giving him an even 1,300 points in 1,554 career NHL games. He spent his first 15 1/2 seasons with the Calgary Flames before suiting up for Pittsburgh, Boston, Colorado and Los Angeles over the past five years.

Goalie nods: Marc-Andre Fleury will try to keep Maple Leafs from clinching

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There is only one playoff spot still up for grabs in the NHL, and the Toronto Maple Leafs can take care of that on Saturday night if they can beat the Pittsburgh Penguins.

They will have to go through Marc-Andre Fleury to do it.

With Matt Murray getting some rest before the start of the postseason, Fleury will get the call for the Penguins on Saturday night in what could be one of his last starts in a Penguins uniform, depending on what happens over the summer with the expansion draft situation.

When we last saw Fleury in the Penguins’ net he allowed five goals in an ugly loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, but before that had played some of his best hockey of the season. Since the beginning of March (just after the NHL trade deadline when that distraction was removed from the equation) Fleury has a .931 save percentage for the Penguins.

The Maple Leafs will go with Frederik Andersen in net as he tries to get them into the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13 season.

Elsewhere on Saturday…

— In the afternoon games it was Henrik Lundqvist vs. Craig Anderson in the New York Rangers-Ottawa Senators game, Sergei Bobrovsky vs. Steve Mason in the Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Philadelphia Flyers game, and Philip Grubauer vs. Anton Khudobin in the Washingtno Capitals vs. Boston Bruins game.

Corey Crawford gets the start for the Chicago Blackhawks when they visit the Los Angeles Kings, who will counter with Jonathan Quick.

Jaroslav Halak starts the must-win game for the New York Islanders against the New Jersey Devils. The Devils will go with Keith Kinkaid.

— It will be Carter Hutton vs. Cam Ward when the St. Louis Blues visit the Carolina Hurricanes.

Robin Lehner and James Reimer get the start for the Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers respectively.

Charlie Lindgren will make his second start for the Montreal Canadiens when they visit the Detroit Red Wings. Petr Mrazek is in for the Red Wings.

— The Nashville Predators will start Pekka Rinne in Winnipeg against Conor Hellebuyck and the Jets.

— The Colorado Avalanche will send Jeremy Smith out against the Dallas Stars. The Stars will go with Kari Lehtonen.

Devan Dubnyk gets the night off as the Minnesota Wild will start Darcy Kuemper against Mike Smith and the Arizona Coyotes.

Cam Talbot makes his league leading 73rd appearance for the Edmonton Oilers when they visit the Vancouver Canucks. Ryan Miller starts for the Canucks.

Brian Elliott will start for the Calgary Flames when they visit the San Jose Sharks. Aaron Dell gets the call for the Sharks.