Rick DiPietro might just have his health back

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Unfortunately, there are plenty of NHL players with a reputation for being injury prone. It’s tough not to daydream about how outstanding Marian Gaborik’s career would be if the league could “turn injuries off” like a video game. (Don’t even get hockey fans started about the likes of Bobby Orr, Peter Forsberg, Pat LaFontaine and Eric Lindros.)

People generally use a sympathetic (or at least disappointed) tone when they discuss oft-injured players, but most comments about New York Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro lean toward jokes. Obviously, his absurdly long and ill-fated contract has a lot to do with it, but let there be no doubt that injuries play a role in his career becoming a sad punchline.

At this point, it almost seems natural to assume that the Islanders duo might be Al Montoya and Evgeni Nabokov (with the possibility of a push from prospect Kevin Poulin). The thing is, the Islanders are locked in to a $4.5 million annual cap hit with DiPietro* on a contract that runs through 2020-21, so they have plenty of reasons to give him a chance to earn playing time.

Surely DiPietro’s started the last few seasons thinking that “this would be the one” in which things pan out. The difference this time, however, is that he claims that he went into this summer healthy after years of surgery.

After so many season-ending injuries in years past, DiPietro actually went into this summer healthy.

“I feel good,” DiPietro said. “I think this is the first summer in six years I didn’t have to have surgery.”

DiPietro played in 26 games in 2010-11, which was actually a big step up from playing just 5 in 08-09 and 8 in 09-10. Unfortunately, his numbers weren’t as uplifting as his increase in appearances; he wen 8-14-4 with a 3.44 GAA and an abysmal .886 save percentage.

The 30-year-old goaltender might argue that part of his struggles came from shaky health, though. The Islanders and DiPietro’s hope is that he can regain the form he found in three seasons from 2005-06 to 07-08, when he made one All-Star Game and played 188 games while putting up solid numbers. Around that time, DiPietro’s contract seemed risky rather than borderline insane.

Some might think that you’d be crazy to read too much into the optimism surrounding DiPietro’s health, but it would certainly be an amazing story if things worked out after a rough few years.

* – Naturally, he could retire, have his cap hit buried in the minors or be placed on the long-term injured reserve here and there. Still, chances are, they’ll be committed to him for quite some time.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk 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.

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.