Pondering Boston’s defense without Chara

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If multiple reports are correct, the Boston Bruins will be without defenseman Zdeno Chara for at least four-to-six weeks. That’s a scary thought considering the fact that Chris Kelly described the blueliner as “irreplaceable,” according to the Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa.

Head coach Claude Julien seemed a little less dour about the situation, although it’s important to note that his comments came before the update dropped. (Granted, he may have been aware that it was a significant injury already …)

While discussing life without the 37-year-old defenseman, Kelly said that they’ll have to replace Chara as a group. That’s probably the best way to approach the situation, as “The Big Z” ranks as one of the NHL’s few do-everything defenseman.

He headed into Thursday averaging just a bit less than 24 minutes of ice time per game, which is a shift or two lower than his 2013-14 mark but is still the workload of a No. 1 defenseman.

Counting Thursday’s game, only Torey Krug has logged more power-play time on ice while Chara towers over everyone else in penalty kill work. He’s the kind of player you match up against an opposing team’s top line on a night-to-night basis.

Many point out the cruel coincidence of Chara going down on the night of Johnny Boychuk’s return to Boston, and it’s easy to see why. Boychuk’s versatility would have been especially valuable in a time like this.

Shouldering the burden of Chara’s loss may come down to the combined efforts of veterans like Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid (each averaging about two minutes of PK time per game) and young upstarts Dougie Hamilton and Krug.

While those defensemen may absorb the loss collectively, others face potential opportunities to prove that they deserve more reps. Matt Bartkowski has been a frequent healthy scratch, yet Julien may need to lean on him on a nightly basis.

Shinzawa discusses the players who might get called up with Chara on the shelf:

If he can’t play, the Bruins will call up a defenseman from Providence. If they need a left shot, David Warsofsky and Chris Breen are options. If they want a third right shot to complement Hamilton and McQuaid, they could tab Zach Trotman or Chris Casto.

On the bright side, NHL.com’s Arpon Basu believes that Boston’s schedule is pretty merciful:

Of course, Basu provided a grim glimpse later on Thursday, too:

Much has been written about how Boston will move on without Chara. The Bruins probably don’t want this to be a lengthy sneak peek at that future, yet we could learn a lot about this team in the next month or more.

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.