Stamkos shrugs off talk of LeBron-like homecoming to Toronto in 2016

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About two weeks ago, Steven Stamkos caused a stir by (briefly) “favoriting” stories pondering a Lebron James-inspired* homecoming to the Toronto Maple Leafs once he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2016. He removed such favorites from Twitter, yet it caused some hysterics among Maple Leafs fanatics.

(Hey, it’s the summer, which you may notice is a tough time for hockey-crazed people.)

Stamkos broke his silence on that subject on Wednesday, essentially telling everyone to take it easy in an interview with the Canadian Press.

“We’ll see what happens. It’s a couple years away,” Stamkos said. “Right now I’m focused on what I have to do to win in Tampa, and I think we’ve really established ourselves as a team that can compete in upcoming years.

“For me, that’s the important thing is getting a chance to win. It looks like we’re going to have that chance for a couple years.”

Well, that’s not exactly an emphatic “no,” but it’s not exactly an invitation to play this song, either.

While more than a few Tampa Bay Lightning fans might be hyperventilating at the idea of their team on the rise losing another captain, the message really might be that the Bolts need to do everything in their power to make sure Stamkos, 24, views his squad as legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

In the meantime, Stamkos said he tries “not to focus about that stuff” and appreciates that Tampa Bay isn’t the hockey “mecca” that Toronto is. Of course, he also said he has fun every time he goes back to Toronto …

* – To be fair, the Lebron – Stamkos parallel has some serious holes in it, especially since the NBA star actually was drafted by his hometown team before leaving for Florida in free agency. Still, that last part makes it a fun comparison in slower hockey times. (Replace fun with “unnerving” if you cheer for the Lighting.)

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.