Shero calls 11-12 his “most frustrating and disappointing season”

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If there’s a morale to the first round, it’s that there’s no such thing as a team of destiny in the post-lockout NHL. The Pittsburgh Penguins were able to stay competitive all season despite some significant injuries — the most notable of which was of course Sidney Crosby’s concussion. The idea was that if they got healthy in time for the playoffs, then they would be the heavy favorites to win the Stanley Cup.

Their top players were all available for the start of the postseason, but of course, the Philadelphia Flyers bested them, much to the dismay of Penguins GM Ray Shero.

“At the end of the year here for me that that is the most frustrating and disappointing that I’ve ever had. I’ve been a (general manager) for six years, an assistant (general manager) for 14 before that. This is the first year I’ve address the team after the season with what my feelings were. That was Monday. Yesterday was a little bit better. This morning, I’m still very displeased with how the season ended for us. Not a good person to be around right now.”

What might make the Penguins’ first round exit even tougher for Shero to swallow is the fact that his team’s golden window of opportunity might be closing. That might seem like a silly notion given how young their core players are, but keeping Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal all under contract on top of James Neal, Kris Letang, and Marc-Andrew Fleury might prove to be difficult, especially if the salary cap is reduced as a result of the next CBA.

None of those players are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this summer, but Crosby and Staal’s contracts will expire in the summer of 2013 while Malkin’s contract will end after the 2013-14 campaign.

“I’m certainly on record, I’d love to keep all three but in a practical world with a salary cap, that remains to be seen,” Shero said.

Ultimately, the issue won’t even be whether or not the Penguins can keep them. It’s whether or not they should. Holding on to that much star talent will rob them of potential cap space that could be otherwise used to build their core.

It’s something that might be in the back of their minds as they gear up for 2012-13.

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.