Jonathan Toews wins Conn Smythe; Was he the best choice?

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toewsyoungestcaptain.jpgThere was a moment or two during this year’s playoffs when I wondered if Jonathan Toews might ascend another rung on the superstar ladder and join the truly elite players in the hockey world.

After he came down to earth a bit during the Cup finals, I’m not sure if he’s quite “there” yet. Instead, I guess Toews will just settle for this pittance of a year: an Olympic gold medal, being named a top forward for that tournament and now the dual honors of being the youngest captain to ever win a Stanley Cup (take that, Sidney Crosby!) and a Conn Smythe. All that for a 22-year-old nicknamed “Captain Serious” – who happens to rock some serious sideburns, to boot.

Considering the fact that the playoffs are often jam-packed with hockey heroism, debates over the “most deserving” Smythe winner will crop up in many circles. Before tonight’s game, I stated that Chris Pronger should win it (Cup or not) while Brandon picked the Blackhawks’ fantastic defenseman Duncan Keith.

While he faced similar struggles as his teammate, one could also make a decent argument for Patrick Kane, as well (and not just because of his courageous decision to grow a playoff mullet). Toews had three assists in the Cup finals to augment his 29 points overall (second only in the playoffs to the Flyers’ other dark horse Smythe candidate, Danny Briere, who scored 30). Kane wasn’t far behind with 28 of his own, though. The thing is, Kane put up much better numbers in the championship round. He had three goals and five assists for eight points, all in the last four games. Oh yeah, he also scored that oddball overtime game winner that clinched the first Blackhawks Cup since 1961. It’s at least reasonable to wonder if Kane’s late surge made him just as MVP-worthy.

Really, though, all that talk is just nitpicking at this point. Toews never stopped fighting … even when he wasn’t putting up numbers and even when he was on the wrong end of a Pronger collision. His “puck luck” seemed to run out after putting up a crazy 26 points through the first three rounds, yet few questioned his leadership or determination during the postseason.

He might not have the magical skills of a Gretzky or a Lemieux (or even his partner in crime, Patrick Kane) but he’s mature beyond his years when it comes to leading by example. I’ve heard the comparisons to Mark Messier – and while he might not match the bloodthirsty brutality of the man who broke the New York Rangers curse – he certainly seems to share that do-whatever-it takes DNA. And, really, you cannot complain too much about Messier comparisons, can you? (Unless someone says you have a “Messier-like” hairline. Then they’re being mean to you.)

For all we know, Toews could have 10-18 seasons left in his career. Chicago will have a “bulls-eye” on their collective backs during every game next season as contenders use those games as “measuring sticks” for their own progress. With a roster that could be at least dented – if not seriously damaged – by salary cap issues, the team will lean on Toews even more as time goes on. In other words, it’s only going to get tougher for the young Canadian leader to experience the joy of hoisting the Cup again.

Something tells me he’s not particularly worried about that right now, though.

Blackhawks F Katchouk will be sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced Sunday.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.