Islanders embarrassing off the ice too: Team pulls journalist Chris Botta’s press credentials

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By now you’ve read about it or heard about it on the radio, but the paranoia over having bad things said about the team on Long Island has reached a new high, leading to team pulling the media credentials of one time team PR man Chris Botta. Botta, who worked for the Islanders for 20 years, runs the fantastic Isles site Islanders Point Blank. Of late, Botta’s had his hands full in dealing with the woeful, terrible Islanders, losers of 11 straight games and recent firers of coach Scott Gordon.

Recently, Botta has been critical of the direction the team has taken in firing Gordon and raising questions about what’s going on with goaltender Rick DiPietro, who’s become invisible in favor of 40 year-old goalie Dwayne Roloson. For what Botta’s done on Long Island to provide fans with a consistent and level-headed approach to covering a team he knows intimately you’d think that the Islanders would be happy that anyone giving them that amount of attention would be a good thing given how bad the team has been for the last few years.

Instead, the team treats those who dare question anything that goes on in Long Island like traitors to the throne and cast them aside. Just think of what happened to former color commentator Billy Jaffe who was not brought back to TV this year in favor of Islanders legend Butch Goring. Sounds like the Islanders front office is doing their damnedest to control the message coming out of the home office, doesn’t it? It sure comes off looking that way.

What’s most stunning about this development is that the Islanders come off as looking so thin skinned they can’t take constructive criticism. Questioning Botta’s work ethic here is foolish and wondering if he cares about the Islanders would be even dumber. The guy has been with this team through some of the thinnest years in its existence, you’d have to think he cares about the team more than most people. Silencing him because he dares question the direction the team is going in is insanity.

After all, if the Islanders do this, what’s to keep other teams from denying anyone they don’t like hearing from and turning the press box into a pack full of “yes” men and women who won’t dare question anything at all? Keeping the message clear for what you want to be heard is up to team public relations, it’s not up to the media to “play nice” with the organization.

Instead, the Islanders have instantly put the spotlight on themselves as the bad guys and it’s hard to not think they’re just really paranoid when it comes to doing just about anything. Sure the team is sensitive to having their moves questioned, but that will happen when you’ve been as bad of a team as the Isles have been since Charles Wang bought the team. Now they’re casting aside a guy who used to be one of their own, a guy that used to handle meltdowns like this himself and they’ve got the Professional Hockey Writers Association challenging their actions as well. If the Islanders are going to answer to anyone over this it’ll be the NHL but it doesn’t seem likely that they’d step on the Isles toes to tell them how to do things.

It’s tough to say anything nice here about the Islanders because, let’s face it, they’re cutting off a guy who does the same sort of thing we do here and if it was us in Botta’s shoes I doubt we’d be handling things as graceful and gentlemanly as he has. We’d be shouting from the top of the mountain about injustice and shouting it to anyone who would listen. There’s only one right move the Islanders can make here, but cutting off their nose to spite their face has been so in vogue with the Islanders lately, it’s tough to see them making a good decision to keep Botta in the fold after it’s all said and done.

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

Rasmus Sandin
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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.

Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

“They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

“I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

“We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

MORE POWER

The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

“It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

“Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

UP FRONT

With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

ON THE SLATE

This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.