Lightning’s biggest question(s): Everything about Stamkos’ contract situation

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The Tampa Bay Lightning are successful because they have a deep and talented roster, but at the foundation of that is Steven Stamkos. He’s one of the best players in the league today, which makes the fact that he might actually enter the season without a contract a huge issue.

To say that his situation is the Lightning’s biggest question would be insufficient because there are multiple angles to consider. The most immediate is why he hasn’t already signed.

Extending Stamkos was Lightning GM Steve Yzerman’s clear top priority going into the summer. Stamkos’ agent Don Meehan did caution back in July that there wasn’t “any criteria on timing at this point,” but that was over a month ago. Now the question is if he’s going to enter training camp without a deal and if so, why. At that point it would become a big and constant distraction hanging over the Lightning and the longer he remained unsigned from there, scenarios that at one time were dismissed as implausible will start to look realistic.

For example, can Tampa Bay really afford to let a player of Stamkos’ caliber walk as an unrestricted free agent? If they don’t have a deal in place by the trade deadline, would the Lightning actually move him less than a year removed from reaching the Stanley Cup Final? It might seem extreme, but that’s the direction the conservation heads in.

Of course, that’s only one scenario. Stamkos might still sign in August, killing that kind of speculation before it really takes off. However, even if there was a 100% guarantee that Stamkos would re-sign with the Lightning, this situation would still be their biggest question mark because there’s another factor in play: How much will he cost?

Stamkos has earned the right to become one of the league’s top paid players, if not the leader in that regard. However, the Lightning have a quite a few other noteworthy players that will need to be re-signed over the next couple of years, including Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Victor Hedman, and goaltenders Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy. The bigger Stamkos’ contract is, the harder it will be to keep that group intact.

In other words, even if Stamkos re-signing is very probable, if he decides to hold out for the most lucrative possible contract, then his decision could lead to the Lightning losing one or more other important pieces.

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.