Jack Eichel speaks on ‘disconnect’ with Sabres over handling of neck injury

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Jack Eichel spoke to the media on Monday afternoon and set the stage for what could be a fascinating offseason between him and the Sabres.

If nothing else, it at least created some doubt as to what his future with the organization might be.

Eichel said there is a “disconnect” between him and the team revolving around the handling his neck injury that sidelined him for most of the 2020-21 NHL season.

Eichel said he has been upset at the way things have been handled since the injury put him out for the final 33 games of the season. The central part of the disconnect revolves around the fact Eichel wanted to have surgery on his neck, while the team has not moved forward with that approach.

“I’d be lying to say that things have moved smoothly since my injury,” said Eichel on Monday. “There’s been a bit of a disconnect between myself and the organization. It’s been tough at times. The most important thing now is to try to get healthy, figure out a way to be available to play hockey next year, wherever that might be.”

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The “wherever that might be” line is a strong statement considering he is still under contract for another five seasons on a deal that carries a $10M salary cap hit. That contract includes a no-movement clause that will kick in before the 2022-23 season. His name was already floating in trade speculation during the season, and this will do nothing to calm those waters going into the offseason. That response from Eichel was to a question that directly asked him if he wanted to remain as part of the solution in Buffalo or if he wanted to move on.

Eichel was asked why he simply did not get the surgery on his own, to which he responded: “It doesn’t work like that. I wish. I’m under contract with this team, and they hold a lot of cards on what I can and can’t do.”

This situation, combined with Buffalo’s inability to build a winner around Eichel (their playoff drought is now at 10 consecutive seasons) seems like a volatile mix going into an offseason where the Sabres could be looking at even more significant change.

“I think I have a lot of thinking to do this offseason,” said Eichel. “I think there’s a lot that I have to consider. But for now, obviously, I’m here. I’m the captain of this hockey team and my goal is to be available and to try and help the guys in the room and to help this organization win hockey games. I’ll continue to do that as long as I’m here.”

The only question that remains now is how long he will be there.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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.