MLB to add extra playoff teams this season?

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MLB to add extra playoff teams this season?

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- Negotiators for baseball players and owners say there is no set deadline for an agreement to expand the playoffs to 10 teams this season. The sides have said for weeks a deal is likely. When players and owners signed their agreement for a new labor contract in November, the section covering the postseason established a March 1 goal for deciding whether the playoffs would increase by two teams for 2012 or 2013. But in recent days both sides said negotiations would continue beyond Thursday if they needed time. The sides spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because the talks have not been public. The deal would establish a new one-game, wild-card round in each league between the teams with the best records who are not division winners, meaning a third-place team could win the World Series. Creating it for 2012 has been complicated because the regular-season schedule was drafted last spring and summer, and the extra game has to be put in place in a manner that doesn't disrupt the World Series schedule. Further complicating scheduling, the sides reached a consensus that ties for division titles would be broken on the field with a tiebreaker game under the new playoff format, and not by head-to-head record. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said Jan. 27 the expansion for this season was on track. "I really believe we'll have the wild card for 2012, this year," he said. "Clubs really want it. I don't think I've ever seen an issue that the clubs want more than to have the extra wild card this year." "We're working on dates right now. That'll all take place. It looks to me like we'll have it because I've told everybody we have to have it. It'll be exciting. One-game playoff, it will start the playoffs in a very exciting manner," he added. According to the memorandum of agreement, the commissioner's office was to give the players' association a modified postseason schedule by Feb. 1. "The association shall have 30 days after receiving the modified 2012 postseason schedule from the office of the commissioner to determine whether it will grant its consent," the agreement states. "Such consent shall not be unreasonably withheld." Head-to-head record has been used since 1995 to determine first place if both teams are going to the postseason. But the sides decided with the start of a one-game, winner-take-all wild-card round, the difference between first place and a wild-card berth is too important to decide with a formula and a tiebreaker game would be played. As part of the labor deal, the Houston Astros will switch to the American League for 2013, creating two 15-team leagues with three divisions each. Players wanted to change to equalize the chances for making the playoffs for every division. Eight of 30 baseball teams have made the playoffs under the format that began in 1995, a year later than intended because of a strike that wiped out the postseason in 94. The postseason included just the league winners from 1903-68, then increased to four teams in 1969. In the NFL, 12 of 32 teams make the playoffs. In both the NBA and NHL, 16 of 30 teams advance to the postseason.

Morning Skate: Old friend Warsofsky called up by Penguins

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Morning Skate: Old friend Warsofsky called up by Penguins

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while waiting for the next wave of announcements that the Bruins have signed college players out of the NCAA tournament.
 
-- Former Wild goaltender Josh Harding is finding his way after his MS diagnosis forced him out of the NHL prematurely.

-- Young D-man Seth Jones is becoming the “hoss” defenseman that the Blue Jackets will need come playoff time.

-- PHT writer Cam Tucker has Wild coach Bruce Boudreau calling a loss to the Canucks “embarrassing” as the hard times continue for Minnesota.  

-- Backup goalie Curtis McElhinney is ready to step up for the Leafs after they lost Frederik Andersen to injury.
 
-- Old friend David Warsofsky has been recalled from the AHL and will be with the Penguins as crunch time hits ahead of the playoffs.

-- USA Hockey is now reportedly reaching out to rec league and former Division III women’s hockey players to find a replacement roster for the world championships as the USA women continues their boycott.
 
-- For something completely different: We have an honest-to-goodness think piece about pulling the “Irish Exit.” Well, okay then.

Haggerty: Time for Bruins to make a change in goal

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Haggerty: Time for Bruins to make a change in goal

BROOKLYN -- For the second year in a row, Boston's franchise goaltender and $7 million man Tuukka Rask couldn’t physically answer the bell for one of the biggest games of the year.

Rask was unable to go Saturday night when the Bruins faced the Islanders at the Barclays Center because of a lower body injury. Anton Khudobin stepped in and helped the B's to a 2-1 victory that snapped their four-game losing streak, moved them past the Isles back in the second wild-card spot, and enabled them to close to two points behind Toronto for third place in the Atlantic Division.

It wasn't quite the same as last year, when Rask was too sick to play the win-or-go-home regular-season finale against Ottawa. The Bruins got shellacked in that one and missed the playoffs. There are still two weeks left in the regular season, so Saturday didn't have the same do-or-die consequences.

But Khudobin, who made 18 saves, gave Boston some energy and enthusiasm in the crease with the same kind of battling, chaotic style that Tim Thomas exhibited. Watching Khudobin throw a double-pad stack at John Tavares on a late third-period Islanders power play in a one-goal game was a clear sign that Rask wasn’t in net, and his unconventional technique perhaps distracted Tavares enough that he ripped his open shot off the crossbar and away from harm.

Afterward interim coach Bruce Cassidy fervently sang Khudobin’s praises, and almost seemed to be shedding some light on what they aren’t always getting from their top goaltender in these crunch-time games.

“That’s the type of win that goes a long way in the room when your goaltender is battling hard, and fighting that hard to see pucks and your D are blocking shots," he said. "And you kill that many penalties. (The Islanders failed to score on six power plays.) It was a nice building-block win for us.

"I loved [Khudobin’s] performance. He’s a battler. He got swimming a couple of times, but that’s Dobby. He keeps it interesting for you. He’s a battler and he always has been. That’s what we needed tonight.”

So now the Bruins have a choice about what to do Tuesday against the Predators. And the hope here is that Khudobin gets a second straight start, whether or not Rask is healthy enough to go.

Khudobin has won five games in a row and has a 1.98 goals-against average and a  .920 save percentage since the All-Star break. Rask, in contrast, has an inflated 2.91 GAA and .892 save percentage in that span.

More than that, however, there’s a real issue developing with Rask and how much trust the Bruins can have in him when the games matter most. He gave up a couple of bad goals in the loss to the Lightning on Thursday night, and afterwards looked like the boy who lost his dog when answering questions with a soft, unsure voice that began to trail off when it came time to accept responsibility for his part in the ugly defeat.

The downcast expression was a concern, and it certainly seemed like Rask was rattled mentally as much as he was beaten physically after that defeat.

So the overriding question now is: What good is a No. 1 goaltender if he doesn’t play like one when it matters most?

Maybe Rask is seriously injured and we’ll find out after the season that he needs hip surgery, and was far less than 100 percent all year. Or maybe playing three games in four nights was too much of a strain, and he needed the weekend away from the ice after the unavoidable bump in workload.

The fact that the Bruins expect Rask to practice on Monday, however, really takes some of the oomph out of the serious-injury argument, and makes one wonder how he can practice Monday after not playing in the biggest game of the season on Saturday.

Maybe Rask was angered by Cassidy calling him out by saying the team “needs more from him” after the goalie's lackadaisical performance in the loss to Tampa Bay, and that played into the goalie’s sudden case of “lower body discomfort” on Friday after saying Thursday he felt fine physically.

Maybe Rask is frazzled emotionally after the burden of carrying the team at times this season, and he needed a few days away from the ice to recollect himself and get ready for the crucial seven remaining games on the schedule.

Still, the Bruins can’t look at Rask as someone they can rely on when the chips are down for the rest of this season. That cost them last year, and shame on the Bruins if they again make the mistake of putting all of their playoff eggs in the Rask basket.

Perhaps it’s time to even start thinking about other goaltending options this summer. Rask will no longer have full no-trade protection once the season is over. He's been inconsistent at best in the biggest moments over the years, and the B’s shouldn’t pay a goaltender like he’s one the best if he isn’t when the late-season heat is on.

But that’s a question to ponder in a month or two.

For now, the Bruins should ride the hot goalie -- Khudobin, who showed Saturday he's willing to battle his butt off -- and let Cool Hand Tuukka cool his heels on the bench while recuperating from whatever it is that kept him out of a gigantically important game in Brooklyn this weekend.