No more waiting: Lightning sign Steven Stamkos to five-year, $37.5 million deal

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If you’ve been sweating things out all summer waiting to see what happens with Lightning superstar restricted free agent Steve Stamkos, your wait is over.

Tampa Bay announced they’ve signed Stamkos to a five-year contract to stick around with the fast-rising Lightning. The Sporting News’ Craig Custance tweets that the deal is worth $7.5 million per year against the cap bringing the total worth of the contract to $37.5 million. The rumors that swirled around the deal the two sides were working on proved to be true as the final amount of the deal was what was being floated in reports.

What proved to be totally unfounded were the trade rumors and potential offer sheets that were coming Stamkos’ way if the Lightning and GM Steve Yzerman kept taking their time getting a deal done. Yzerman had this to say about the deal in the team’s press release.

“Steven is extremely important to this franchise and is part of the foundation of our hockey team,” Yzerman said.  “We are very pleased to have him signed and look forward to seeing him in a Lightning uniform for years to come.”

Yzerman should be excited about keeping Stamkos in Tampa. Stamkos has scored 96 goals over the last two seasons and proved to be MVP-like in his play the first half of this season helping keep the Lightning afloat as the team adjusted to new coach Guy Boucher’s system. Stamkos’ ability to score seemingly at will on the power play from the face off circles helped further establish his star power and credibility after tying for the Rocket Richard Trophy two seasons ago scoring 51 goals. Scoring 45 goals this past year and breaking the 90 point barrier for the second year in a row have proven what an important player he is for the Lightning and why he’s their go-to guy up the middle now.

While Stamkos is now one of the premiere stars in the NHL, he managed to cut the Lightning a bit of a break in signing his new deal. Other NHL superstars Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby took larger and/or longer deals than Stamkos did when their entry level deals expired.

Ovechkin signed a 13-year, $124 million deal with Washington while Crosby signed a five-year $43 million deal. You can argue players worth all you’d like, but Tampa getting Stamkos locked up for less than either of those players is a major win for the team. After all, it’s not as if Stamkos is going poor here either.

According to CapGeek, Stamkos’ deal leaves Tampa Bay under the salary cap by more than $7 million and they’ve got one more RFA left to sign in Teddy Purcell. Looks like Yzerman is doing just fine with his cap management skills. Stamkos joins Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier as the highest paid players on the team and his deal is still dwarfed by the one Lecavalier signed back in 2009 that goes for 11 years and $85 million.

It’s just further proof that getting Stamkos locked up to the deal he got today is huge for the team and a sign of the times under a new regime in Tampa Bay.

Ekblad out again, this time with a sore neck

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It’s not concussion-related, Panthers interim coach Tom Rowe told reporters today — but defenseman Aaron Ekblad woke up this morning with a sore neck and will miss tonight’s game against Arizona.

Ekblad had only just returned to the lineup after missing four games with a concussion. He logged 18:14 in Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to Carolina.

And now he’s out again.

Certainly, the timing of Ekblad’s latest injury, not to mention the fact it’s a sore neck, will lead many to doubt Rowe’s assertion that it’s not concussion-related.

But Rowe said before the Hurricanes game that the club was being cautious with its 21-year-old star defenseman.

“We didn’t want to rush him back because he’s such a young guy,” said Rowe, per the Miami Herald. “With a concussion, we didn’t want to rush him back.”

Stars’ Janmark won’t play this season, and there’s a ‘question mark’ about next year

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In a season filled with injuries, one of the biggest Dallas suffered this season was Mattias Janmark‘s knee issue.

The 24-year-old Swede has missed the entire season thus far, but recently resumed skating and practicing with the club. That said, Janmark confirmed he won’t play this year — meaning he’ll miss the entire 82-game campaign.

And what’s more, he might miss games next season as well.

“I think there’s a question mark (about next season), but we don’t know to what degree yet,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff, per the Dallas Morning-News. “He’s progressing nicely. He still has a ways to go, but I think the fact he is practicing now and has gone this far always gives a guy like that a better chance for next year.”

Janmark’s original injury occurred during the preseason, when he knee locked up in a game against Colorado.

“He had a small segment, approximately 21 millimeters by 11 millimeters, that became displaced and is locked in his knee,” GM Jim Nill said at the time. “It’s the bone and the cartilage, they both came off together.”

Janmark underwent surgery to correct the issue, but his recovery was plagued by a preexisting congenital condition called osteochondritis dissecans. Nill said the likelihood of a full recovery was 80 percent.

Losing his services was a big blow for Dallas. After surprising onlookers by making the team out of camp in ’15-16 — a “great story,” according to Nill — Janmark had a pretty successful rookie campaign, scoring 15 goals and 29 points in 73 games.

He also fared well in the playoffs, with five points in 12 contests.

Janmark’s contract situation complicates things. He’s a pending RFA, currently in the last of a two-year, $1.6 million deal with an $733,750 cap hit. The Stars would (presumably) like to keep him, but the uncertainty regarding his health might made negotiations difficult.

Fehr injures hand, spotted in cast following Leafs debut

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Eric Fehr finally played his first game as a Maple Leaf on Wednesday night, suiting up for the first time since being acquired from Pittsburgh at the trade deadline.

It didn’t go especially well.

Fehr, who logged 10:44 TOI in a 5-2 win over Columbus, suffered a hand injury while blocking a shot in the third period and was seen afterward wearing a cast, per TSN.

According to the Toronto Sun, the 31-year-old forward confirmed he spent the night in hospital.

While a break or fracture might rule him out for the remainder of the season, it’s worth noting Fehr won’t be done entirely in Toronto. He’s in the second of a three-year, $6 million deal with a $2M cap hit. Prior to joining the Leafs he appeared in 52 games for the Pens, scoring six goals and 11 points while averaging just under 11 minutes a night.

He was also a regular in last year’s Stanley Cup run, scoring three times in 23 games.

Though his role decreased, Fehr was still frequently used by head coach Mike Sullivan — albeit in a more limited capacity. He is a good PK contributor, and can play both center and wing. Those were some of the attributes the Leafs were hoping Fehr could bring down the stretch and, should they make it, into the postseason.

He’s back: With 10 games left, Isles recall Halak

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The Isles are in full playoff push mode, and on Thursday made a move to bolster their chances.

Jaroslav Halak, the veteran netminder that’s been in AHL Bridgeport since early January, has been recalled ahead of New York’s crucial three-games-in-four-days stretch, the club announced.

It’s the latest in what’s been a tumultuous move for the 31-year-old. Halak opened the year as part of an uncomfortable three-goalie rotation — along with Thomas Greiss and Jean-Francois Berube — and was soon on the trading block after agent Allan Walsh criticized the setup on Twitter.

With no takers — and after then-head coach Jack Capuano called him out for his poor play — Halak was placed on waivers, and sent to the minors.

Halak has been really good in Bridgeport. He’s posted a 17-7-1 record with a 2.15 GAA and .925 save percentage, and a pair of shutouts. And given how spotty Berube’s play has been as Greiss’ backup, there’s a shot Halak could be making a start for the Isles soon.

As mentioned above, the club is in the midst of a compacted part of the schedule. Greiss was excellent in last night’s win over the Rangers — stopping 34 of 36 shots in a 3-2 victory — but he was also busy.

The Isles head to Pittsburgh on Friday, then host the Bruins on Saturday, then host the Preds on Monday. The Boston game looms large because, after last night, New York found itself just two points back of the B’s for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Per Newsday, there’s a real chance Halak will face the Pens on Friday, which would open the door for Greiss to take on the Bruins the following day.