NHL needs to avoid a Classic mistake

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NHL needs to avoid a Classic mistake

Nobody wants to overstate the importance of any one day in the NHL lockout, but today is crucial when it comes to forecasting hockeys future.

The pessimists (realists?) have been predicting the cancellation of the leagues centerpiece Winter Classic for more than a week, and many believe it will happen today. When it does -- if it does -- it will mark the moment things got truly ugly for both the NHL and the NHLPA.

Today is the deadline for the league to send a 250,000 contracted payment to the University of Michigan, which is hosting the event. If the NHL decides not to write the check and pulls the plug on one of its crown jewels, well, that could spark the kind of doom usually reserved for comic book super villains from Latvia.

The NHL would simply be following through on its long-anticipated move of cancelling the Jan. 1 game between the Red Wings and the Maple Leafs in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In so doing, it would wipe out a glorious day that was not only supposed to break league records for revenue from a single event, but would create a winter festival atmosphere in a beloved hockey town.

It would be also the latest in a series of kidney punches hockey fans have endured over the first 47 days of this labor war. More than 300 regular-season games have been cancelled over the last two months. But the axing of New Years Day festival would mark the first loss of something everybody expected to survive the lockout.

It's cancellation would wipe out the kind of feel-good day the NHL will so badly need whenever it returns.

Think about it: It wasn't until the September 1995 night in Baltimore, when Cal Ripken played in consecutive game number 2,131, that Major League Baseball truly started healing the wounds of the 1994 strike. As NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr -- who was the head of the baseball players' union during the '94 strike, which also wiped out the World Series -- found out when he first began meeting with media from Montreal this summer, there are throngs of Expos fans who have never forgiven MLB for cutting short a magical season at Olympic Stadium, one in which the Expos had the best record in baseball when play stopped.

It's almost 20 years later, and they still remember.

The good people of Michigan -- not to mention hockey fans everywhere -- will have the same kind of long-lasting ill will if their Winter Classic is taken away.

The NHL appears hesitant to continue on with Winter Classic planning given the financial capital that's required, the long-range planning that's needed . . . and the goodwill that has to exist on both sides to make things work on New Years Day. Sources have indicated the NHL feels the bitter feelings and raw emotions left over from the lockout would damage the fairy tale aspect of the Winter Classic even if hockey is being played by January.

While thats understandable, the league should look at it from the other direction. Hockey will need signature events and big moments to win back the disenchanted fans.

The snow globe Winter Classic is the biggest club remaining in commissioner Gary Bettmans bag, and he loses leverage once he uses it.

Perhaps the Jan. 1 game in the Big House in Michigan -- with as many as 120,000 fans from Detroit and nearby Toronto expected to pay top dollar to attend -- is the one cathartic moment that will allow NHL fans to forgive and forget. Thats something the league didnt have when it attempted to make amends with its paying customers after whacking the 2004-05 season.

And remember: Removing all possibility of a Winter Classic also rips the heart out of anybody that loves the game of hockey. Sure, it doesnt mean that the entire 2012-13 season will be cancelled. But if the Winter Classic -- and the profits that go along with it -- become a memory, then the loss of the entire season becomes a very real possibility.

Some, given Bettman's past history, are resigned to the fact that there'll be no hockey this year.

But were not there yet.

Unfortunately, the cancellation of the Winter Classic would be a giant step in a direction the NHL shouldn't want to go.

Those with agendas talk about how the lockout is already doing irreparable damage to the NHL. But thats simply not true at this point.

If the NHL and NHLPA agree to keep the possibility of the Winter Classic alive through Nov. 15 -- probably the latest date in which all the preparations could still be made -- and come to an agreement that would start the season on Dec. 1, fans will forgive the greed and arrogance thats been shown over the last two months. People wont remember the bad times when the Red Wings and Maple Leafs suit up before a record hockey audience, and it will all seem like a fading bad dream once the Stanley Cup playoffs get cranking in April after a shortened season.

But the NHL needs to send forth an olive branch, and that starts with extending the life of the Winter Classic while finding some way to make a capped escrow system work within the parameters of a make whole provision. Hope is something that will keep hockey fans going, even though the NHL and NHLPA have given them little-to-nothing thus far in negotiations.

If the NHL and Gary Bettman cancel the Winter Classic today, they might as well just cancel the rest of the season while they're at it. Because it will destroy the one thing -- the public's goodwill -- that theyll desperately need once the business of hockey resumes, as it inevitably will.

And its already in dangerously short supply these days.

Thursday, Aug. 25: Nearly two decades later, the Whalers live on

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Thursday, Aug. 25: Nearly two decades later, the Whalers live on

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while in disbelief mode that the summer is almost over.

*Good piece on the remainders of the Hartford Whalers organization in Connecticut trying to keep the dream alive for the Whale.

*Tyler Seguin sits down for a podcast this week that I freely admit I did not have the time to listen to. I wonder if Boston even rated a mention in the conversation?

*Rating the top NHL contracts, according to the fancy stats hockey analysts, sounds like an interesting exercise.

*Tracey Myers has Duncan Keith bowing out of the World Cup of Hockey while recovering from an injury, and getting replaced by Jay Boumeester.

*The “Da Beauty” Hockey League has kept players like Dustin Byfuglien, Ryan McDonagh and David Backes in hockey shape this summer while slowly getting ready for the season.

*The Arizona Coyotes make a historic hire by naming Dawn Braid as skating coach, making her the first female coach in the NHL.

*For something completely different: FOH (Friend of Haggs) Rich Shirtenlieb guested on the #DORK podcast this week, and it sounds like he didn’t love “Stranger Things.” At the very least he liked “Preacher” better. I thought Preacher was entertaining, but I didn’t even think it was in the same stratosphere as Stranger Things. Rich also has me wanting to watch “It Follows” now, however, after his endorsement.

 

Garoppolo: Panthers offer ‘closest thing we’ll get to Week 1’

Garoppolo: Panthers offer ‘closest thing we’ll get to Week 1’

One throw could have very well changed the overall assessment of Jimmy Garoppolo’s performance last Thursday against Chicago. 

Garoppolo had looked completely poised, on rhythm and decisive, carving up the Bears on four straight drives, including an impressive march to open the third quarter. And then, on third down in the red zone, the Pats quarterback correctly read man-under coverage, with a single high safety floating. But with his first two reads covered, Garoppolo pivoted back to his right and threw almost sight unseen to James White. One problem: Bears linebacker John Timu was sitting in the passing lane and dropped what should have an interception.

“Yeah, the linebacker made a nice jump on it,” said Garoppolo. “It’s unfortunate what happened.”

What happened was the Pats escaped with three points and Garoppolo exiting to excellent reviews. But that was a gift from the football gods, though the third-year pro shrugged it off.

“It was just one of those bang-bang plays,” said Garoppolo. “In the red zone, there are tight windows down there, so sometimes you’re going to make throws that get tipped or whatever it may be. You don’t try to make those happen, but sometimes it happens down there.”

A deeper review of the Pats approach versus the Bears showed a greater emphasis on Garoppolo getting rid of the ball the moment those feet settled on repeated three- and five-step drops. That resulted in the best performance by the Pats signal caller since before that full practice scrimmage in which the QB on the other side - a fella by the name of Tom Brady - went 25-for-25. That day, Garoppolo waded into choppy waters and took nearly two weeks to find solid footing. 

“I think part of that comes with just learning the offense overall,” said Garoppolo when asked about his decision making. “Year after year, you’re going to be more comfortable in the system, whatever it may be. I think I’m progressing the right way. There’s obviously a long way to go, you always want to be as precise and decisive as you can be, but I think I’m working in the right direction.”

No denying that, although now comes another test, the preseason tilt Friday night in Carolina against the defending NFC champion Panthers. There may be a greater strain put on Garoppolo and the starters, but as for the idea this is the closest thing to a dress rehearsal for the regular season, Bill Belichick reminds you not to get it twisted.

“I think this is a good opportunity for us to compete against arguably as good as any team in the league. [With] all that being said, we’re not talking about a regular-season game here, “ he said. “We’re not talking about game planning and all of those kind of things, which I can’t imagine would happen in this game, but they’re going to happen in a couple of weeks so it’s a whole different ballgame. I don’t think you can compare this game to a regular-season game even though I’ve heard people try to do that. I’m not sure what game they’re looking at. “

Maybe the same thing as Garoppolo is…

“It’s pretty much the closest thing we’ll get to Week 1, so we’ll see how it goes,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

Patriots trading for Browns OLB Barkevious Mingo

Patriots trading for Browns OLB Barkevious Mingo

The Patriots are in the final stages of trading for Browns outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo. 

Mingo, the former No. 6 overall pick in the 2013 draft, is in the fourth and final year of his rookie deal as his fifth-year rookie option was not picked up by the Browns. It is not yet known what the Patriots will send to Cleveland in return for Mingo.

The LSU product was selected by the Browns when Michael Lombardi was the team's general manager in 2013. Lombardi was let go after one season in Cleveland and was an assistant to the Patriots coaching staff Patriots in 2014 and 2015. The Patriots have shown an affinity for other former Browns who overlapped with Lombardi, making moves to acquire Jabaal Sheard and Dion Lewis.

Mingo, 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, has played in all but two regular-season games over the course of his three years and has recorded seven sacks.

With the trade for Mingo, the Patriots have added some depth to what was already a deep position on their roster. Between Sheard, Rob Ninkovich, Chris Long, Shea McClellin, Trey Flowers and Geneo Grissom, it seemed as though the Patriots had a wealth of options to choose from. However, injuries have plagued the group of late: Ninkovich is dealing with a torn triceps muscle that has kept him out of practice in recent weeks; Sheard has what's been reported by the Boston Herald as a sprained MCL; and McClellin has also missed practice time lately as he has rehabbed an injury. 

At the moment, the Patriots still don't have much in the way of long-term depth at the position given that Sheard, Ninkovich, Long and Mingo are all in the final years of their contracts. McClellin, Flowers and Grissom's deals takes them through the 2018 season.

Before playing the Browns in a regular-season game in 2013, Patriots coach Bill Belichick commented briefly on the Browns defense and perhaps foreshadowed his eventual interest in a pair of their players. 

"Overall, I think they’ve been a pretty impressive team to watch on film," Belichick said at the time. "Defensively they’ve got a lot of good players. They’re very good up front. They’ve got good depth and a good quality of players there . . . Sheard and [Paul] Kruger and Mingo are very athletic. They make a lot of plays."

He added: "Kruger and Sheard have done a good job as edge rushers . . . They’re good in the running game, they definitely generate pressure on the quarterback. Mingo, the rookie, is mixed in there and creates some negative plays in the pass rush and [has] done a good job for them being disruptive."

According to Pro Football Focus, Mingo generated eight quarterback hurries, no sacks and no quarterback hits last season. In 2014, he had two sacks, five hits, 20 hurries, and he was graded by PFF as the 17th best edge defender against the run.

The 2013 NFL draft class -- particularly at the top -- has been noted for its lack of impact players, but the Patriots have now traded for two of the top-10 players in that draft in the span of several months. Guard Jonathan Cooper, who was acquired by the Patriots in a trade with the Cardinals, was the No. 7 overall pick that year.