The Lightning has said its first choice for backup goaltender was bringing back veteran Peter Budaj.
And it looks like Tampa Bay has got its wish, with Budaj, 34, in the process of agreeing to a two-year deal, the Tampa Bay Times has confirmed. The annual average would be $1.025 million. There's a league-wide roster freeze until Wednesday, other than for the Vegas Golden Knights, which is why this won't be official. Budaj was left unprotected for Wednesday's expansion draft, but it would appear Vegas would have other options.
Budaj, 34, acquired by the Lightning in the Ben Bishop trade to L.A. at the March 1 trade deadline, impressed, winning three of four starts down the stretch. He also worked tremendously well with No. 1 goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Budaj, an unrestricted free agent July 1, passed up the chance to see what was out there, knowing he wanted to stay in Tampa Bay.
"There was great interest in Peter coming back," Rolly Hedges,' Budaj's agent, told the Times Monday. "He likes the Tampa Bay area. He likes the teammates. Peter has some young children, and his priority was being in Tampa and living in an area that was comfortable for him and hish wife and his children. They enjoyed it there."
When I spoke with Budaj at the end of the season, he explained why he liked the fit with the Lightning so much.
"They're a great group of guys, great organization," Budaj said. "The coaching staff, the trainers are awesome. Everyone is friendly. We'll see what's going to happen, but I would definitely be interested."
Sounds like the feeling was mutual.
Budaj is a great fit, a veteran with experience in the backup role, one he's comfortable with. And several teammates went out of their way at the end of the season to praise Budaj for how he worked with Vasilevskiy. Budaj enjoyed a career rejuvenation last season, going from third goalie to Kings starter due to injuries. Now he's got more stability, with a pay bump from his one-year, $600,000 he made last season.
"He's a true veteran player, true leader," goalie coach Frantz Jean said. "He's a positive guy, great guy to be around for (Vasilevskiy). (Budaj) helps him out. He's been around the league for so long, and (I) heard a lot of great things about him. He hasn't disappointed."
TSN's Bob McKenzie was the first to report the agreement.