Bettman: NHL referees ‘the best in the world’

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To nobody’s surprise, Gary Bettman was asked about the quality of playoff officiating during his Stanley Cup Final press conference.

And, also to nobody’s surprise, the commissioner was ready to answer.

In a reply that sounded like it was prepared for that very question, Bettman stuck up for referees and linesmen, saying he felt NHL officials were the best in the world — regardless of sport.

“The officials in this league are the best in the world, I believe – not just in hockey, but in any sport,” Bettman said. “I believe they have the most difficult job, and it always seems to undergo even more intense scrutiny this time of year.

“This is a game of errors. Coaches make them, players make them, and occasionally the officials make them. We constantly critique, supervise and coach them. They’re held accountable for their performance. You’ve got the best four referees who’ve made it to this point to work the Stanley Cup Final.”

One of the referees not chosen to work the Stanley Cup Final was Stephen Walkom, who controversially called coincidental minor penalties late in Game 7 of the Chicago-Detroit series, wiping out what could’ve been a game-winning goal for the Blackhawks.

Walkom did advance to the Conference finals — after the NHL came out and publicly supported his call — but didn’t make the cut for the final four.

Bettman said refereeing can be a thankless job.

“No matter what they do, they get criticized,” the commissioner explained. “If they call penalties at the end of the game, people get hysterical and say you shouldn’t call penalties like that at the end of a playoff game. If they don’t call penalties, ‘oh they’re not calling it, they’re letting the standard slip.

“The officiating has been consistent. It’s been consistent through the season. It’s been consistent over the last few years.”

One person in disagreement with that assessment?

NHL on NBC analyst Mike Milbury, who recently called postseason officiating “lousy.’

“The officials, they’ve been lousy this spring,” Milbury said. “And I’m telling you, they’ve been lousy throughout.”

Bettman did acknowledge that NHL officiating wasn’t perfect, but was adamant they’re always working and striving to be better.

“Is it perfect? No,” he said. “But that’s what we strive for.”

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.