On Bernier, Reimer and the Leafs’ crease

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It’s hard to believe that James Reimer seems primed to suit up with the Toronto Maple Leafs (and presumably back up Jonathan Bernier) next season, but that is the case.

And — as it turns out — that could be a very, very good thing.

Bernier’s often-stellar play was probably the main reason the Maple Leafs stayed in the playoff picture as long as they did in 2013-14, but the bottom line is that the 26-year-old goalie still only has 117 games of NHL experience under his belt, and fairly close to half (55) of those came last season. In fact, his previous career-high for appearances in a season was just 25.

Bernier’s career numbers — as scant as they are — indicate that he could be for real. Still, goalies are an unpredictable lot, and Reimer represents one of the most qualified backups (or even 1B goalies) you’ll come by next season.

Reimer, also 26, actually has a little bit of extra experience under his belt (140 career games played). Reimer’s career save percentage is .914, not all that far behind Bernier’s .918 mark. He even has two nice statistical seasons under his belt, (20-10-5 with a .921 save percentage in 2010-11 and 19-8-5 with a .924 save percentage in 2012-13).

While many other teams have made long-term commitments to goalies with mixed results, Bernier’s on an expiring deal and Reimer still has much to prove with just a two-year contract. Netminders probably don’t really enjoy fighting for reps and dealing with uncertain futures … but that doesn’t mean their NHL teams can’t benefit from that motivation.

Just ask Reimer, who told Sportsnet earlier this summer he believes the starting job is up for grabs.

Sportsnet: In your mind, are you Jonathan Bernier’s backup or are you coming into camp intent on winning the No. 1 job?

Reimer: Yeah, obviously the latter. I was told there’s a definite opportunity. That’s the mindset I’m coming in with, to really take advantage of the opportunity that’s been given and earn the No. 1 spot.

In other words, it might not have been the prettiest process, but the Maple Leafs might have backed into a great situation in net.

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.