Saints players get last laugh vs. Roger Goodell

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Saints players get last laugh vs. Roger Goodell

From Comcast SportsNetNEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Four players embroiled for nearly 10 months in the NFL's bounty investigation of the New Orleans Saints no longer have to worry about suspensions or fines, and can try to move on with their careers on the field.Off the field, the fallout from the dispute could endure for some time, particularly in federal court.In a surprising rejection of his successor's overreaching punishments, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue threw out "all discipline" current Commissioner Roger Goodell had imposed on two current Saints, linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith, and two players no longer with the club, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita and free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove.Tagliabue, appointed by Goodell to handle player appeals in the matter, essentially absolved Fujita, but agreed with Goodell's finding that the other three players "engaged in conduct detrimental to the integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of professional football."The 22-page ruling Tuesday allowed both sides to claim victory more than nine months after the league first revealed the Saints' bounty scandal to shocked fans, describing a performance pool operated by former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams that, among other things, rewarded hits that injured opponents.The four players punished by Goodell have maintained they were innocent of taking part in bounty program from the beginning, saying they never intended to injure anyone on the field. Vilma even has filed a defamation lawsuit against Goodell in U.S. District Court in Louisiana, and his lawyers, Peter Ginsberg and Duke Williams, said they intend to continue to pursue those claims "vigorously.""Commissioner Tagliabue's rationalization of Commissioner Goodell's actions does nothing to rectify the harm done by the baseless allegations lodged against Jonathan," Vilma's lawyers said a statement. "Jonathan has a right and every intention to pursue proving what really occurred and we look forward to returning to a public forum where the true facts can see the light of day."While no other players have yet filed similar lawsuits, Hargrove's agent, Phil Williams, said this week that "the NFL dragged (Hargrove's) name through the mud and lied about him," costing him an entire season of his career.Hargrove was cut by Green Bay shortly before the regular season. His agent said a number of other teams inquired about signing him, but only after they were confident that bounty matter had been resolved. That has finally happened, as far as the NFL is concerned, but there are only three weeks left in the regular season.Vilma, suspended by Goodell for the entire current season, and Smith, suspended four games, have been playing for the Saints while their appeals were pending. Fujita who was facing a one-game suspension, is on injured reserve. Hargrove's suspension initially stood at eight games but was reduced to seven with credit for his first five games missed as a free agent, essentially reducing the ban he'd been facing to two games.Tagliabue's ruling did nothing to vindicate Saints coaches or the organization. Rather, the former commissioner criticized the Saints as an organization that fostered bad behavior and tried to impede the investigation into what the NFL said was a performance pool designed to knock targeted opponents out of games from 2009 to 2011, with thousands of dollars in payouts.A "culture" that promoted tough talk and cash incentives for hits to injure opponents -- one key example was Vilma's offer of 10,000 to any teammate who knocked Brett Favre out of the NFC championship game at the end of the 2009 season -- existed in New Orleans, according to Tagliabue, who also wrote that "Saints' coaches and managers led a deliberate, unprecedented and effective effort to obstruct the NFL's investigation."The former commissioner did not entirely exonerate the players, however.He said Vilma and Smith participated in a performance pool that rewarded key plays -- including hard tackles -- while Hargrove, following coaches' orders, helped to cover up the program when interviewed by NFL investigators in 2010."My affirmation of Commissioner Goodell's findings could certainly justify the issuance of fines," Tagliabue said in his ruling. "However, this entire case has been contaminated by the coaches and others in the Saints' organization."Tagliabue said he decided, in this particular case, that it was in the best interest of all parties involved to eliminate player punishment because of the enduring acrimony it has caused between the league and the NFL Players Association. He added that he hoped doing so would allow the NFL and union to move forward collaboratively to the more important matters of enhancing player safety."To be clear: this case should not be considered a precedent for whether similar behavior in the future merits player suspensions or fines," his ruling said.Tagliabue oversaw the second round of appeals by players, who initially opposed his appointment.The former commissioner found Goodell's actions historically disproportionate to past punishment of players for similar behavior, which had generally been reserved to fines, not suspensions. He also stated that it was very difficult to determine whether the pledges players made were genuine, or simply motivational ploys, particularly because Saints defenders never demonstrated a pattern of dirty play on the field."The relationship of the discipline for the off-field talk' and actual on-field conduct must be carefully calibrated and reasonably apportioned. This is a standard grounded in common sense and fairness," Tagliabue wrote in his 22-page opinion. "If one were to punish certain off-field talk in locker rooms, meeting rooms, hotel rooms or elsewhere without applying a rigorous standard that separated real threats or bounties' from rhetoric and exaggeration, it would open a field of inquiry that would lead nowhere."Saints quarterback Drew Brees commented on Twitter: "Congratulations to our players for having the suspensions vacated. Unfortunately, there are some things that can never be taken back."The Saints opened the season 0-4 and are now 5-8 and virtually out of the playoffs after appearing in the playoffs the three previous seasons, including the franchise's only Super Bowl title to conclude the 2009 season.Shortly before the regular season, the initial suspensions were thrown out by an appeals panel created by the NFL's collective bargaining agreement. Goodell then reissued them, with some changes, only to have them overturned."We respect Mr. Tagliabue's decision, which underscores the due process afforded players in NFL disciplinary matters," the league said in a statement."The decisions have made clear that the Saints operated a bounty program in violation of league rules for three years, that the program endangered player safety, and that the commissioner has the authority under the (NFL's collective bargaining agreement) to impose discipline for those actions as conduct detrimental to the league. Strong action was taken in this matter to protect player safety and ensure that bounties would be eliminated from football."The players have challenged the NFL's handling of the entire process in federal court, but U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan had been waiting for the latest appeal to play out before deciding whether to get involved. The judge issued an order Tuesday giving the NFLPA and Vilma until Wednesday to notify the court if they found Tagliabue's ruling acceptable.The NFLPA indicated that it was largely satisfied by how the process worked out, so some federal court claims against the NFL could be dropped on Wednesday, even as Vilma's defamation claims remain."We are pleased that Paul Tagliabue, as the appointed hearings officer, agreed with the NFL Players Association that previously issued discipline was inappropriate in the matter of the alleged New Orleans Saints bounty program," the NFLPA said in a statement. "Vacating all discipline affirms the players' unwavering position that all allegations the League made about their alleged intent-to-injure' were utterly and completely false."NFL investigators had concluded that Vilma and Smith were ringleaders of a cash-for-hits program that rewarded injurious tackles labeled as "cart-offs" and "knockouts." Witnesses including Gregg Williams said Vilma made a 10,000 pledge for anyone who knocked Favre out of the NFC title game in January 2010. However, Tagliabue found it was not clear if the pledge was genuine or simply a motivational tactic."There is more than enough evidence to support Commissioner Goodell's findings that Mr. Vilma offered such a bounty" on Favre, Tagliabue wrote. "I cannot, however, uphold a multigame suspension where there is no evidence that a player's speech prior to a game was actually a factor causing misconduct on the playing field and that such misconduct was severe enough in itself to warrant a player suspension or a very substantial fine."The NFL also concluded that Hargrove lied to NFL investigators to help cover up the program. The players have from the beginning denied they ever took the field intending to injure opponents, while Hargrove has said he never lied about a bounty program, because there wasn't one.Goodell suspended Gregg Williams indefinitely, while banning Saints head coach Sean Payton for a full season.Tagliabue's ruling comes after a new round of hearings that for the first time allowed Vilma's attorneys and the NFLPA, which represents the other three players, to cross-examine key NFL witnesses. Those witnesses included Williams and former Saints assistant Mike Cerullo, who was fired after the 2009 season and whose email to the league, accusing the Saints of being "a dirty organization," jump-started the probe.Smith said he was pleased that Tagliabue vacated his suspension."I continue to maintain that I did not participate in a pay-to-injure program or facilitate any such program," he added. "I appreciate that Mr. Tagliabue did not rush to judgment, taking into consideration all facts presented to him, before ruling -- something that was clearly not done by Commissioner Goodell in previous hearings."

Hagg Bag: Breaking down storylines from Bruins camp

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Hagg Bag: Breaking down storylines from Bruins camp

The Bruins are now just about halfway through training camp and the World Cup of Hockey participants are finally on their way back to Boston to rejoin their NHL organization. 

Things are beginning to get back to a sense of normalcy for the Black and Gold after moving into a new practice facility and integrating some new faces into the mix at several different levels of the Original Six organization. 

So, with all of this going on and only a couple of weeks until the start of the regular season, it seemed like an appropriate time for a new training camp edition of the Hagg Bag mailbag.

As always these are real questions from real fans via emails to my jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com email account, tweets to my Twitter account with the #HaggBag hash tag and messages to my CSN Facebook page. Now, on to the bag:

 

Hey Joe

Not sure if you’re doing a HaggBag anytime soon, but here goes anyway.

I am all for the rebuild when a team is past its prime, but the World Cup just showed us we have two of the best players in the world. Add Krejci and Backes to that, and the Bruins can and should still compete in the playoffs. That is why it is so frustrating that we are returning the same AWFUL defense we had last year. You haven’t agreed there have been right shot defenseman moved in the last year or two that have been available. And now, a potential top pair defenseman in Trouba is available.

We need to go out, overpay if necessary and secure this guy. It should help us this year and in the future. This guy is a top-4 D right now.

There shouldn’t be ANY prospects off the table, including Charlie McAvoy, despite how excited I am about him. It’s not hurting you long term because Trouba is 22. I am sick of waiting for some team to hand us a player. We need to go out and get one.

--John D

JH: You picked the perfect time to send a missive to the Hagg Bag, John. I agree that Jacob Trouba might be the perfect bridge D-man to make the Bruins competitive now, and get them to a point two to three years from now when the young D-men prospects are ready to carry the team. But scouts are very mixed about how good he’s ever going to get, and some feel that he doesn’t make decisions on the ice quickly enough to really be a No. 1 defenseman, or even a top flight, top pairing guy.

That’s somebody that I’m willing to acquire if the price is right, but not somebody I’m willing to sell the entire Black and Gold farm for. There is no way I’m trading Charlie McAvoy under any circumstances. He could be a Drew Doughty Lite defenseman for the Bruins a couple of years down the road, and could potentially solve their No. 1 D-man problems from within. He is the future, and the Bruins aren’t going to mortgage the future for a player in Trouba that’s not going to make them a Cup contender.

Sorry, but a six-game tournament at the World Cup doesn’t convince me that the Bruins are only one player away from suddenly being capable of going on a long playoff run, regardless of how well Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand played. They’ve got some excellent high end forwards, they’ve got a No. 1 goaltender that should be motivated for a rebound year and they’ve got a blue line group that needs a lot of help. If the Bruins can trade Joe Morrow or Jakub Zboril along with a forward (it would have to be Ryan Spooner at this point) and a first round pick for Trouba they should do it, but the cost in trade assets and in contract terms after that might be too prohibitive at this point.

If I were keeping an eye on trades, I’d keep watching an Anaheim team that needs to shed some salary cap before they sign some of their restricted free agents. That might very well be where the D-man comes from that the B’s are seeking out right now.

Joe,

Jacob Trouba requested a trade out of Winny, perfect chance for Sweeney to redeem himself after one full season and offseason not being able to get ANY help on D. This is his chance, but I'm not holding my breath, give them what they want and get this kid!!!!

--Christopher Foley (Message from Facebook)

JH: There’s another vote for Trouba if Don Sweeney is reading this today.

 
I hope tuukka is ready to try and earn his money with the d men on the bruins

--Matthew Wilson (@mattframingham)

JH: I hope you’re right because I think the goalies for the Bruins are going to have to be really, really, really good based on the defense playing in front of them.

 

Haggs:

I know Zachary Senyshyn will miss most of camp, but is returning to juniors the only option the B's have with him? Could he play in Providence instead?

--Mike Ierardi (Message from Facebook)

JH: As we have seen, Zach Senyshyn was able to come back and be a part of camp and even picked up an assist in Friday night’s overtime preseason win over the Red Wings. But I still think the 19-year-old will end up not making the NHL roster and will end up back in junior hockey with the Soo Greyhounds.

So here’s the breakdown: Senyshyn based on his age cannot play in the AHL for the balance of this upcoming season. That’s the same situation that Jakub Zboril and Jesse Gabrielle are in as well as younger players. All three of them will need to return to junior hockey if they don’t make the NHL. Brandon Carlo and Jake DeBrusk can both play for Providence this season based on their age and experience, so they will be a part of the B’s organization where or not they crack the NHL roster next month.

 

Is the Bruins PTO signing of Ehrhoff a sign they are not in on Trouba?

--John Hersey (@Neely82010)

JH: I think it’s a sign they want to get a free look at a defenseman that was still a top-four guy just a couple of years ago. I’m thinking Claude Julien must have liked the way he was playing during the World Cup of Hockey and it’s a no-brainer for Ehrhoff given the B’s back end situation and the openings that might be there for the right performer. Certainly the Bruins are going to utilize every outlet to try and improve their defense, and this is just another one of those avenues to purse.

Joe,

I see a legitimate shot of three rookies that could and probably should make the team Czarnik, Heinen, and Carlo.

I'm not in any rush for Carlo as more ice time in Providence will probably go a long way for his development. If the Bruins move Spooner to the left wing to play with Krejci and Pastrnak, what do you think of a 3rd and 4th lines looking like this: Beleskey-Moore- Hayes Heinen -Czarnik-Nash with Acciari as the team’s extra forward.

Thanks, Stu (Message from Facebook)

JH: I don’t think a Spooner-Krejci-Pastrnak line would make it very long with Julien simply based on the defensive responsibilities. There’s not enough heaviness and nobody on that line that will be winning any battles along the boards, and that’s just a statement of fact.

I do agree that Heinen and Carlo are probably the lead prospect-type players that could win NHL roster spots, and both are off to very good starts in training camp. Heinen has two goals in two games, and Carlo has played 20 minutes in both of his preseason games with very little damage taking place during his shifts.

Czarnik is interesting because he just keeps making plays, and his versatility could end up helping him crack the final roster. But I don’t think Dominic Moore is somebody I really want as a third line center because there’s just not enough offense on a forward line that needs to be able to provide secondary scoring behind the top two lines. Here’s my final roster based on what we know right now:

Marchand-Bergeron-Heinen

Hayes-Krejci-Pastrnak

Beleskey-Spooner-Backes

Czarnik-Moore/Acciari-Nash

 
Chara-C. Miller

Krug-K. Miller

Liles-McQuaid

Morrow

Rask

Khudobin

 

Hey Joe,

What do you think about the Bruins trading for someone like right-handed D man David Savard? Columbus is looking to shed some salary and with other young defenseman coming up (Werenski, Harrington, Heatherington, etc.) they could be looking to trade a D-man. With this trade, the Bruins could then look to expose K. Miller and/or McQuaid in the expansion draft or deal one for a late pick. Let me know what you think!

Cheers, Adam

JH: I suppose it’s a possibility, Adam, but I think Brandon Carlo could make that kind of a deal a moot point if he keeps playing at his current level in training camp. If that happens then either Kevan Miller or Adam McQuaid could eventually become expendable, but I think it immediately makes Joe Morrow a player who’s roster spot might in jeopardy. That’s not even counting Christian Ehrhoff, who could easily become the seventh defenseman on the roster if he shows more than he did in Los Angeles or Chicago last season.

If it’s a trade for a defenseman, my senses tell me that it’s going to be a bigger name than David Savard that the Bruins are chasing after. But who knows? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: nothing will surprise me with the Bruins anymore after some of the stuff that I’ve seen go down over the past couple of years.

 

Backes, Pastrnak make their Bruins preseason debut tonight in Philly

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Backes, Pastrnak make their Bruins preseason debut tonight in Philly

The Bruins have announced their lineup for Saturday night’s preseason road game against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center and it will include the exhibition schedule debuts of World Cup players David Backes and David Pastrnak.

Both forwards have been skating with the training camp group since Wednesday and will ramp things up after taking a couple of days to recharge following the tournament in Toronto.

Those two veterans, one of the older and one of the extremely younger variety, will mix in with the B’s group that’s been in camp for the past 10 days working out together and gaining chemistry on forward lines working together for two practice sessions each day at Warrior Ice Arena.

A number of B’s players will be back in the lineup on Saturday night after skating in Friday night’s 2-1 overtime win against the Red Wings including: Colby Cave, Seth Griffith, Danton Heinen, Joe Morrow and Riley Nash. 

Here’s the full Black and Gold lineup against the Broad Street Bullies with Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre getting the call in Philly with one of them most likely to get the entire game between the pipes a la Anton Khudobin in Detroit on Friday night: Backes, Chris Casto, Colby Cave, Tommy Cross, Austin Czarnik, Jake DeBrusk, Jesse Gabrielle, Seth Griffith, Jimmy Hayes, Danton Heinen, Zane McIntyre, Colin Miller, Kevan Miller, Joe Morrow, Peter Mueller, Riley Nash, Rob O’Gara, David Pastrnak, Tyler Randell, Malcolm Subban and Jakub Zboril.