Karlsson gets eight-year extension from Sharks

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The most coveted pending free agent defenseman won’t be making it to the dance.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported Monday that “all signs” point to two-time Norris winner Erik Karlsson re-signing with the Sharks, the only team that can offer the talented 29-year-old Swede an eight-year deal.

Not long after, fellow TSN insider Pierre LeBrun reported that the deal was done.

And then official announcement came from the team.

“We are extremely pleased that Erik and his wife Melinda have committed to the San Jose Sharks and that they have done so prior to July 1,” said Sharks general manager Doug Wilson in a statement. “Players with Erik’s elite level of talent are rare and when they become available, it’s important to be aggressive in pursuing them. He is a difference maker who consistently makes the players around him better. We are pleased that he has been proactive in addressing his injury from last season and are looking forward to him being part of our organization for a long time to come.

The Sharks wouldn’t disclose the terms of the deal, but according to McKenzie it’s in the $11.5 million per year range, making the total worth of the contract around $92 million. — in the realm of the $88 million Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty got last year.

The deal is the largest in Sharks’ history, besting both Brent Burns‘ and Logan Couture‘s eight-year, $64 million extensions.

The deal keeps Karlsson from hitting the open market, of course, on July 1. It also makes sure he doesn’t hit the courting period, which begins on June 23. The Sharks were the only team that could offer Karlsson the max eight years.

“I’m super excited to continue my journey with the Sharks,” said Karlsson. “Since my first day here, I have only good things to say about the people, organization and the fans. The entire Bay Area has been extremely welcoming to me and my family. I appreciate that and we can’t wait to spend the next eight years in San Jose.

“As far as hockey goes, I’m excited to continue the chase for the ultimate prize: the Stanley Cup. Last year was an unbelievable run but we didn’t achieve what we set out to do. But the dedication I witnessed from my teammates, coaches, staff and organization showed me that we all have a great future ahead of us, and that we are capable of fighting for that championship year in and year out.”

San Jose’s gain is a big loss to a few other teams that were in contention, including the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning, among others reported — perhaps even a stunning return to Ottawa, as reported earlier this month.

[MORE: Sharks set to sweat salary cap after Karlsson extension]

Karlsson was traded to the Sharks last summer by the Senators, the team that drafted him 15th overall in 2008 and one he put on his back in 2017 as the Sens marched to the Eastern Conference Final before losing in overtime in Game 7 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

At the time, the move appeared to provide the Sharks with a defensive core to die for.

Karlsson joined Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and other solid pieces that were supposed to carry the Sharks deep into the playoffs.

“It’s extremely rare that players of this caliber become available,” Wilson said at the time of the trade. “The word ‘elite’ is often thrown around casually but Erik’s skillset and abilities fit that description like few other players in today’s game. With Erik, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, we feel we have three of the NHL’s top defencemen and stand as a better team today than we were yesterday.”

Karlsson started slow with the Sharks but regained his stride along the way, finishing with 45 points in 53 games. But it’s that game total that was a big issue throughout the year.

Karlsson dealt with multiple groin injuries right up until the Sharks were eliminated by the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Final. Karlsson had to watch the decisive Game 6 in that series from the press box as the nagging problem.

It’s not the ideal season, but the Sharks appear fine with gambling on that groin after Karlsson had surgery on it earlier this month.

It will be interesting to see how the Sharks navigate the salary cap after the Karlsson deal. It appears someone will have to go from the UFA pack of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist. Thornton and Pavelski would command the most in terms of dollars (perhaps there’s room for one-year, low-salary, bonus-laden contracts for both.

The Sharks also have Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc, both restricted free agents in a need of a raise.

Meanwhile, attention for a top-pairing defenseman should now shift to Winnipeg Jets rearguard Jacob Trouba.

Trouba’s a restricted free agent but is likely to be dealt at some point this week or at the 2019 NHL Draft this coming weekend. A 50-point d-man last year, Trouba is a solid top-pairing defenseman that can play in all phases of the game.

The issue with Trouba at the moment is that any team willing to pay Winnipeg’s price tag needs to be darn certain they can extend him.

A small piece of consolation in Ottawa: The Senators will gain San Jose’s 2021 second-round selection because of the extension for Karlsson.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

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.

Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

“They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

“I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

“We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

MORE POWER

The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

“It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

“Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

UP FRONT

With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

ON THE SLATE

This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.