Rangers rewarded Stepan for playing ‘big in the big moments on the biggest stage’

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The New York Rangers made Derek Stepan their third highest-paid player on Monday and, to hear GM Jeff Gorton explain it, a major reason why was Stepan’s ability to perform under pressure.

“[You] want players who can play big in the big moments on the biggest stage — and there is no bigger stage than New York City,” Gorton said, per Blueshirts United. “Derek has proven he can do that.”

It’s a telling statement for a team in the midst of a Stanley Cup window.

Having been to the Final in 2014 and Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final last season, the Rangers are clearly in win-now mode; Stepan has been a major part of that, and will continue to be moving forward.

The only difference now?

He’s got a contract to live up to.

The 25-year-old more than doubled his annual average value — from $3.075M to $6.5M — and, as mentioned above, trails only Rick Nash and Henrik Lundqvist in terms of New York’s highest cap hits. Gorton said Stepan was rewarded for “success he’s had, the leadership qualities he has,” adding the Rangers identified him as “one of the guys we want to build around.”

With this new contract, Stepan will receive an increase not just in dollars, but also responsibilities and pressure. He’s now getting paid like a true No. 1 center.

And to be fair, Stepan earned his pay bump. His 55 points in 68 games last season resulted in a 0.81 PPG average, on par with the likes of Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar. He also finished third on the team in scoring in each of the last two playoffs and, quite memorably, scored the OT winner in Game 7 of New York’s second-round victory over Washington in May:

The hope now, of course, is that the best of Stepan is yet to come. It’s easy to forget this is still a relatively young player; thanks to an early debut (at 20) and his durability (he’s played 362 of a possible 376 games), Stepan has a wealth of experience for someone that only turned 25 last month.

It’s something Gorton banked on by shelling out $39 million over the next six years.

“We’re really happy to get Derek locked up,” he explained. “It’s a really good thing for the Rangers and for Ranger fans.

“This is a 25-year-old player, who has played well for us already, and who now will play his prime years for us moving forward.”

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

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.