Report: Avs to protect Varlamov, expose Pickard for expansion draft


Colorado GM Joe Sakic thinks Semyon Varlamov is a key piece of the team, and is apparently ready to prove it.

According to BSN Denver’s Adrian Dater, the Avalanche are going to protect Varlamov at the upcoming expansion draft, meaning 24-year-old Calvin Pickard will be eligible to be selected by Las Vegas.

The move will undoubtedly raise eyebrows. Varlamov, who turns 29 later this month, has two years left on a five-year, $29.5 million deal. His $5.9M cap hit is the 12th highest among all goalies, but his numbers have taken a precipitous fall over the last few campaigns.

Some of that’s to do with chronic hip and groin problems, culminating in a disastrous ’16-17 season in which he was in and out of the lineup, starting just 23 games before undergoing season-ending surgery in January.

To hear Sakic explain it, losing Varlamov played a big role in Colorado’s awful season.

“Our goaltending situation, with [Varlamov] being out, we might as well say the whole year with his issues, that snowballed,” Sakic told the Denver Post.

The veteran Russian may well indeed be a big part of the team.

But is it worth protecting him?

It could be argued that, given his age and contract, Varlamov wouldn’t be on Vegas’ radar anyway. There are rumblings that Golden Knights GM George McPhee — who had Varlamov in Washington, only to trade him to Colorado amid a contract squabble — would prefer go young and cheap.

Pickard, a former second-round pick, carries a $1M cap hit and has shown well in the past, posting a .922 save percentage or better in his freshman and sophomore campaigns. The Avs thought Pickard had enough ability to challenge Varlamov for the No. 1 gig, and actually used him quite a bit at the beginning of the season — before everything went pear-shaped.

Simply put, Pickard would appear a more likely target for Vegas than Varlamov.

Which is why this decision will undoubtedly come under scrutiny. There’s a very legitimate scenario in which the Avs could expose Varlamov, protect Pickard and end up with both on the roster come next season.

But that doesn’t appear to be the direction Sakic will go.

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

Rasmus Sandin
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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.