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Best & Worst of the Week: Christmas Giveaways

Dec 23, 2017
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Everybody’s face after Dmitry Orlov’s goal against the Stars. (Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

(Life’s busy — it’s not always easy to stay on top of everything happening around the NHL. So in case you missed it, here are some of the best and worst highlights of the week.)

Best Performance

It’s not often a three-goal, five-point performance gets overshadowed in a week, but with all due respect to Gabriel Landeskog and his monster game against the Lightning, Carter Hutton has a slight edge.

The Blues backup set a new franchise record and an NHL-high this season with a 48-save shutout against the Jets. In full disclosure, Juuse Saros probably deserved best performance last week with his 46-save shutout against the Oilers, but the Connor McDavid-Jack Eichel double feature was too hard to pass up. Plus, Hutton’s came against one of the league’s best offenses and power plays, so that’s worth bonus points.

Nicest Individual Goal

Adam Henrique seemed like a lock to have the best goal of the week with his alley-oop solo rush against Sami Vatanen and the Devils, but this one by Dmitry Orlov is in a different category of filth. The celebration at the bench was top notch, too.

Best Squad Goal

The Canadiens were the runner-up this week with this Jeff Petry-led beauty against the Canucks, but Sean Couturier’s goal against the Red Wings was just a notch above. All five players touched the puck, plus the pass by Claude Giroux between two Red Wings was stupid good.

Tastiest Dish

This apple by Max Domi is really the best of two worlds. The pass to Clayton Keller was superb, and the dangle to set it up was even better.

For the passing purists, there were some other good ones this week. Jordan Oesterle found Patrick Kane coming off the bench with this head’s up stretch pass. Martin Frk was the recipient of two slick setups this week, first on this cross-crease bullet by Jonathan Ericsson, followed by this Dylan Larkin dish that cleared two Flyers before landing perfectly on his stick. For the sauce enthusiasts, David Desharnais’s backhand pass to Paul Carey was also decent.

Best Save

Is this the best save ever made on the first shot of a game? It honestly might be. Anders Nilsson had no business making this stop, and on an elite shooter nonetheless.

Softest Goal

This one was unfortunate, as Brian Elliott was having a hell of a game before allowing this stinker to Ryan O’Reilly in the third period.

Worst Giveaway

Players must have been in the holiday spirit, because there were a bunch of gifts handed out this week.

Kevin Shattenkirk gave Blake Coleman a short-handed goal on Thursday, Josh Manson picked up an ugly assist against the Capitals and Scott Harrington was victimized by Ryan Spooner and the Bruins.

But taking the cake this week is Jonathan Drouin. It wasn’t your typical toss-it-up-the-middle-without-looking giveaway, but it sure was a major brain cramp. He literally just skates right into Bobby Ryan despite having two easy outlets on the wing. Yikes.

Best Shootout Goal

It was slim pickens this week, with only four shootouts to choose from. But this one by David Pastrnak was pretty nifty.

Firsts

Philadelphia’s Robert Hagg scored his first career goal this week, Charlie McAvoy and Pierre-Luc Dubois had their first big-league scrap, and Vatanen and Henrique each had their first points against their former teams. The most impressive, however, was Hampus Lindholm’s first career hat trick Thursday against the Islanders. Even though Lindholm’s first goal just hit him on the way in, you just don’t see this too often — it was only the fourth D-man hatty in the last five seasons.

Strangest Play

Michael Grabner is the most confusing goal-scorer in the league, given that he’s not a top-six forward, gets no power-play time and doesn’t shoot the puck all that much. Yet he’s tied for seventh in the league with 17 goals. That’s what makes his goal against the Bruins so good. He fires the puck several feet above the net and it just happens to bounce perfectly off the glass, off Tuukka Rask’s back and into the net. A goal-scorer’s goal if there ever was one.

Most Reckless Play

This is about as reckless as it gets. To hit a guy at that speed, in that spot, after the puck is gone is just disgusting. It’s incredible Vladislav Namestnikov wasn’t badly injured on that play. Erik Johnson got suspended two games for that, which seems light given how dangerous it was but precedent and what not.

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Biggest Hit

Vince Dunn, meet Drake Caggiula.

Best Scrap

Kevan Miller is a scary man, so kudos to Zach Bogosian for dropping the mitts with him and taking a beating in honor of his fallen teammate.

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Whipping Boy

You’ve surely seen the numbers by now, but in case you haven’t the New York Islanders are second in the league in goals for and 30th in the league in goals against. The defense certainly has to wear some of that, but the goaltending has been abysmal. Halak has been the better goaltender, posting a 3.07 GAA and .903 SV% compared to Greiss’s 3.83/.883. It’s pretty incredible actually that Greiss has started nearly the same amount of games as Halak (18 vs. 20) despite putting up numbers from the 1980s. What makes this whole situation even more bizarre is that Halak has actually put up good numbers at 5-on-5. He has a better save percentage (.932) at evens than Sergei Bobrovsky, Pekka Rinne, Braden Holtby and Henrik Lundqvist. But until the overall numbers improve, he’s going to receive a lot of the blame for the team’s struggles.

Monkey off the Back

It was a good week for slump-busting. Mitch Marner scored his first in 15 games, Erik Karlsson got his first in 17, Radim Vrbata potted his first in 18 and Mikko Koivu ended a 24-game goal drought and 11-game pointless streak. But no player is feeling better this week than Byron Froese, who scored his first goal in almost two years. Although the drought was dragged out over a long period of time, it was only 32 games which is bad but not crazy for a fringe fourth-liner. Given that Koivu is an actual good NHL player his drought is probably worse, but the mental baggage of going so long without a goal would be tough to carry around.

Streaking

Some impressive streaks came to an end this week. David Pastrnak’s 12-game points streak fell, as did linemate Brad Marchand’s nine-game spell and Corey Crawford’s 9-0-2 run. Still standing among the rubble is Predators forward Kevin Fiala, who extended his goal streak to five and point streak to nine Thursday against the Hurricanes.

Best Quote

To alcohol! The cause of and solution to all of life’s problems.

Snapshot

More NHL Coverage from Yahoo Sports:

https://ca.sports.yahoo.com/news/best-worst-week-orlov-christmas-gifts-islanders-goaltending-163639025.html?src=rss

 

Top 10 Canadian sports stories of 2017

Dec 21, 2017
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Canada is much, much more than strictly a hockey nation, and never has that been more evident than in 2017.

Sure, Sidney Crosby keeps adding Stanley Cups and Conn Smythes to his resume and Connor McDavid solidified himself among the world’s elite this year. But Canadians also had momentous triumphs in basketball, swimming, tennis and MMA, while the country continued to cement itself as a football, baseball and soccer hotbed. Many memorable moments were witnessed over the past 12 months, and while most of them provided proud Canucks something to cheer about, there were a few that are painful to look back on, too.

As another year comes to a close, the Yahoo Canada Sports team has put together a list of the top-10 Canadian sporting moments of 2017.

Penguins, Crosby go back-to-back

The Pittsburgh Penguins winning their second of back-to-back Stanley Cups — a feat no club has accomplished in the NHL for 20 years — was just another feather in the cap for the team’s Canadian captain.

Pittsburgh was led to its fifth championship by several notable Canadians including goaltenders Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray, defenceman Kris Letang, trigger-man Chris Kunitz, and of course, Sidney Crosby. In the postseason, the Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia product finished second only to teammate Evgeni Malkin in points (27) and goals created (9.4), while ranking second in points per game and first in assists. Crosby capped off the third Cup triumph of his career with his second Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP.

Connor McDavid’s coming out party 

Connor McDavid not only threw his own breakout bash in 2017, he swept the place up when the festivities were over.

The 20-year-old had a dream-like sophomore season with the Oilers, leading the NHL in assists (70), points (100), assists per game (0.85) and points per game (1.22), while dragging the Orange and Blue on his back towards the team’s first playoff appearance since 2006. At the NHL Awards in June, McDavid became just the 10th player in NHL history to win hockey’s version of the triple crown, capturing the Art Ross Trophy, Hart Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award. He was also just the fourth player 20-years-old or younger to win the Hart Trophy as league MVP. The others? Wayne Gretzky (twice) and Sidney Crosby.

Toronto FC’s historic campaign

After dropping the Montreal Impact to become the first Canadian team ever to advance to the MLS Cup final just over a year ago, Toronto FC made 2017 even more memorable.

Further breaking ground for league and country, TFC broke the 19-year-old points record held by the L.A. Galaxy en route to becoming the first Canadian MLS franchise to win the Supporters’ Shield. But what ultimately cemented TFC as the greatest club in league history was atoning for last year’s loss in the MLS Cup Final with a dominant victory in the championship rematch with Seattle Sounders at BMO Field.

The return of GSP

The UFC and Canada as a whole were blessed by the comeback of one of the sport’s best-ever fighters and one of the country’s all-time great athletes.

Georges St-Pierre made his long-awaited return to the Octagon after a four-year hiatus, and delivered more than anyone could have imagined in an incredibly entertaining bout with Michael Bisping for the middleweight crown. GSP, bruise-faced and leaking a steady stream of blood, slapped a rear naked choke on Bisping to re-assert himself atop the MMA world. At 36-years-old, St-Pierre is once again a top-flight superstar in the UFC and firmly entrenched in the conversation for greatest pound-for-pound fighter of all time.

Roy Halladay’s tragic death

Though he wasn’t Canadian by birth, the country mourned the loss of one of its own when arguably the greatest pitcher in Toronto Blue Jays history was taken away far too soon.

Roy Halladay tragically lost his life in November as a result of a plane crash off the Gulf Of Mexico. He is certainly one of the most talented MLB pitchers of the last half-century, and he spent 12 of his major league seasons tossing for Canada’s team. He captured his first Cy Young in 2003 with the Blue Jays and was an All-Star six times with Toronto while throwing an absurd 49 complete games with the club (he threw 67 in his career). He later went on to win a World Series, another Cy Young, and toss the second perfect game in postseason history with the Phillies.  One of the greatest athletes  — and by all accounts greatest people — to ever grace the Canadian sports scene.

Denis Shapovalov begins his ascent 

2017 was the year of El Shapo, as Denis Shapovalov thrusted himself into the Canadian sporting spotlight and finished the season as the talk of the ATP tour.

The 18-year-old Montreal native started 2017 as the 250th ranked mens player in the world, while making it known that his goal — which seemed quite lofty at the time — was to crack the top 150 by the end of the year.  Shapovalov started making his way up the latter at the Rogers Cup in Montreal with a gutsy victory over Juan-Martin Del Potro, then by defeating No. 1-ranked Rafael Nadal in a miraculous, three-set-thriller in front of a charged up home crowd. Shapovalov followed up his inspiring underdog performance by making it to the Round of 16 at the U.S. Open. He is currently No. 51 in the world — nearly 200 spots higher than he ranked 11 months ago.

Kylie Masse breaking records in the pool

A year after winning an Olympic bronze in Rio, Kylie Masse carried Canada’s momentum in the pool right into 2017.

The 21-year-old made history at the world aquatics championships in Budapest in July, becoming the first female Canadian swimmer ever to win a world title. Masse did so in dominant fashion, to boot, setting a new world-record in the 100-metre backstroke with a time of 58.10 seconds, and in the process throwing out the longest-standing record in women’s swimming.

Under-19 Men’s Basketball claims gold

One the best international basketball clubs Canada has ever assembled was led to gold by the most highly-touted Canadian baller since Andrew Wiggins.

After a historic win over the U.S. in the semifinal, Canada claimed its first-ever gold medal at an international FIBA competition after crushing Italy by 19 points in the championship game. Mississauga’s R.J. Barrett — who later committed to powerhouse Duke after receiving offers from every major D1 program — followed up his heroic performance versus the Americans with 18 points and 12 boards in the final contest, and was named tournament MVP for averaging 21.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists throughout.

Toronto Argonauts capture Grey Cup 

A tumultuous season for the Argos concluded in triumph with a Grey Cup victory set upon a backdrop of pure Canadiana.

In January, general manager Jim Barker was axed and head coach Scott Milanovich subsequently left his position to become a quarterbacks coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars of the NFL. The outlook seemed bleak for the Double Blue until the hirings of three-time Grey Cup champion Jim Popp as GM former Montreal Alouettes boss Marc Trestman as head coach. After a 4-6 start, the Argos ended up finishing first in the East and concluded the campaign by knocking off four Western teams including an upset over Calgary in an incredibly exciting (and snowy) Grey Cup.

Ottawa Senators improbable postseason march 

Everything about the Senators’ improbable season, and an even unlikelier playoff run, was magical.

After managing to scrape their way to a second-place finish in the Atlantic Division, the Sens took out the Bruins in a thrilling six-game series which included four one-goal victories — three of them in overtime. Ottawa went on to beat out the favoured New York Rangers in round two, also in six games, teeing up a Conference Final matchup with he defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

After a thrilling Game 6 victory, Ottawa’s Cinderella run ended a shot away from a berth in the Stanley Cup Final, losing in double overtime of Game 7 on a heartbreaking Chris Kunitz winner.

More end-of-year content from Yahoo Sports:

https://ca.sports.yahoo.com/news/year-review-top-10-canadian-sports-stories-2017-162323166.html?src=rss

 

Senators Fans Don’t Owe Melnyk Anything

Dec 18, 2017
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If Senators owner Eugene Melnyk paid to put a winning team on the ice every year, supported by a group of good decision-makers behind the scenes, there wouldn’t be a problem in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

Last week we talked about the value of Erik Karlsson to the Ottawa Senators, and how any idea that he shouldn’t pursue a top-level contract “for the good of the franchise” was wrongheaded.

Karlsson, of course, owes nothing to the Senators, having already taken a lengthy hometown-discount contract that devoured basically his entire prime and didn’t give him much in return; Ottawa made the playoffs three times since the new deal kicked in back in the lockout-shortened 2013 season and the Senators won a grand total of four rounds, three of which were last season’s run to the conference finals.

So if Karlsson would prefer to look for what he’s actually worth (or more accurately, recoup some of the value he lost on his last deal) on his next deal, wherever that may take him, it’s tough to place any blame on him. Most fans around the league, and even in Ottawa, seem to agree with that too, which is a rare thing in modern sports. But that seems to be because most of those people recognize that Ottawa is a badly mismanaged team that would be among the worst in the league were it not for Karlsson’s mere existence.

Which brings us to the past few days, during which time Senators owner Eugene Melnyk ran his mouth about as effectively as he runs his franchise. At a time when his team was hosting the NHL 100 Classic — celebrating the league’s 100th birthday — he chose to make proceedings all about himself, his inability to make a deal for a new arena because his team currently (in its “very bad” iteration) can’t convince people to come out to Kanata.

While he said he wouldn’t be selling the team, he also basically said he’s more than happy to move the team. Unlike years past, the current Senators roster is pretty close to the cap ceiling, but Melnyk says that could change if other things with the organization do not. And he’s already running many parts of that organization on extremely limited budgets.

So the thing is, this is basically an NHL owner — albeit one whose team couldn’t draw a crowd with a box of crayons — using a vaunted league platform to say, “Show up or else.” Much like how things have gone in Calgary with the “Pay for our arena or else” argument, one imagines this isn’t a winning strategy. Especially because, for the millionth time, the Senators are horrendous.

Their win in the outdoor game was their second straight, but only their third in the previous month. Melnyk also used the opportunity earlier in the week to basically say “Trust me, this is a playoff team.” Which is not the kind of promise one typically wants to make when one’s team is six points out of a divisional playoff spot and 10 out of the wild card; the Senators would have to play at a 101-point pace for the rest of the season to even get to 92 points, which is probably the bare minimum cutoff for a playoff spot in the Atlantic. They would also have to leapfrog Florida, Detroit, Montreal and Boston to get there, as Tampa (certainly) and Toronto (probably) appear safely ensconced in the top-two.

Point being, Melnyk has done a number of very unwise things in the past several days — guaranteed a playoff appearance by a team that has almost no hope of making the playoffs, admitting to cutting behind-the-scenes budgets, and threatened to move the team — in what I guess is an attempt to coerce fans into……. showing up?

The idea, one supposes, is that Senators fans should really not want this team to move to Quebec City or Houston (hey! that’s the Flames’ gimmick!), but it’s a tough sell, because of Melnyk’s previous stewardship of the team.

Yeah, the club is spending money for the on-ice product now, but that’s a relatively new phenomenon, likely propped up by the revenues generated during last year’s fluke playoff run — which hey, credit to Melnyk for not just pocketing all that money — and little more. And again, spending on what, exactly? Lots of bad contracts on this team, right? And that big three-way trade that was supposed to reinvigorate everybody and get them excited for Senators hockey doesn’t seem to be working out in quite the way it is for, say, the other two teams in that trade.

Point being, the Senators haven’t really given fans a lot of reason to show up apart from that playoff run (which, granted, was like six months), so threatening to move and saying the market has to “prove itself” is a poor strategy. Fans owe the teams they root for nothing. Most fans will give more than they should in terms of loyalty to their franchises — see also: the attempted vilification of Karlsson for saying he deserves to get huge money two summers from now, which has worked in a lot of other markets to turn fans against a lot of lesser players — but the rise of the European-style “Melnyk Out” movement in the wake of all these pronouncements tells you the owner pushed much farther than he should have here.

To use Melnyk’s own McDonald’s analogy, this is basically the owner of a run-down McDonald’s franchise 40 minutes away from anyone, whose restaurant has been serving some of the worst Big Macs in the region and refuses to pay more than one fry cook and cashier saying, “Hey, if you guys don’t come start shoving these undercooked McNuggets in your dumb faces, I’ll go to another city where people will!”

This is classic rich-guy stuff, though. People like Melnyk are owed fealty because they (barely) operate a thing people ostensibly should like, and when “consumers” he doesn’t care about — except as far as they can be parted from their money to support a bare-bones product — don’t grovel enough for their liking, the threats to take their ball and go home start pretty quickly.

Can’t imagine why Sens fans would chafe at that line of talk from a guy who, if he isn’t the worst owner in the league, is pretty close.

Move the team, don’t move the team, whatever. Think the people of Quebec or Houston will keep showing up after the novelty wears off if the team keeps barely making the playoffs every other year? Fans show up to see good teams. It’s really that simple. If Melnyk paid to put a winning team on the ice every year, supported by a group of good decision-makers behind the scenes, that would be one thing.

If we’re supposed to be mad Karlsson vaguely implied he would go elsewhere if he couldn’t get what he’s worth, but not mad that a billionaire absentee owner who runs the team on a shoestring budget for basically doing-the-same-thing-times-100, that seems like a bizarre logical leap. Generally speaking, if your net worth has three commas in it, people probably aren’t going to have too much sympathy when you cry poor, for any reason.

Ransoming fans’ love of a team against that team’s ongoing existence is the basest, most desperate act an owner can undertake. Why Melnyk would expect any response other than the one he got shows the disconnect between working-class fans and team owners.

The NHL is an entertainment product, and it is therefore incumbent upon team owners to put an entertaining team on the ice so that fans will show up. The idea that it should work in the opposite direction — that fans should pay a billionaire a lot of money and drive out to some far-flung arena so the team can be financed appropriately — is a uniquely late-capitalist idea that has no real basis in the previous 100 years of this or any other sport.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: The way these two teams have been playing, the Ducks getting a point out of the Capitals is pretty good.

Arizona Coyotes: “Has become,” sure.

Boston Bruins: In my opinion, if I were coach of a team that erased a two-goal deficit in a critical game, I would not also have that team take a too-many-men penalty in overtime and lose. Just my thoughts.

Buffalo Sabres: This is one of those things where it’s like, “Oh yeah, Jack Eichel ISN’T captain of the Sabres yet.”

Calgary Flames: The Flames got shut out on Saturday but they hit a post and three crossbars, and hey, sometimes that’s hockey, baby! And look, at least it was against the damn Predators. Sometimes you just don’t get the bounces when the other team is elite.

Carolina Hurricanes: Here’s me promising never to get too worked up about any results for the Hurricanes ever again. But they’ve won three straight, gang.

Chicago Blackhawks: Turns out guys don’t want to be healthy-scratched. Pretty wild.

Colorado Avalanche: One wonders if this is a salary-cap-era record: The Avs have used 11 players on their ELCs this season.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Sometimes you just run into a hot goalie. Sometimes you make that goalie look better than he was.

Dallas Stars: The Stars really shouldn’t be having this much trouble offensively. That’s the thing they’re supposed to be, y’know, good at.

Detroit Red Wings: The Red Wings have six shorthanded goals. Pretty good number! They also have 80 goals in all other situations. Very bad number.

Edmonton Oilers: This is without a doubt my favorite tweet of all time:

Florida Panthers: What a burn.

Los Angeles Kings: Win eight straight, and this is the best team in the world. Lose three straight and someone’s gotta talk you off the ledge. Tough business.

Minnesota Wild: My theory is: Mikko Koivu is almost 35.

Montreal Canadiens: Lots of people comparing the NHL to communism lately. What a time to be alive.

Nashville Predators: To have back-to-back shutouts? Folks, that’s good to do.

New Jersey Devils: Is this a good group of guys to get back healthy?

New York Islanders: We definitely all saw this coming.

New York Rangers: Not sure “playing the guy who’s almost 36 a ton of minutes the rest of the way” is a great strategy, but okay.

Ottawa Senators: What a beautiful boy this guy is. We do not deserve Erik Karlsson.

Philadelphia Flyers: Of course the Flyers have won six straight. Hockey’s fun, right?

Pittsburgh Penguins: Hearing Rick Tocchet speak freely about why the Penguins are good is really interesting.

San Jose Sharks: Logan Couture might be out long-term. That would be, uh, bad.

St. Louis Blues: That’s a 48-save shutout for Carter Hutton. Pretty good!

Tampa Bay Lightning: *Looks at Lightning roster* Ah, that’s why they’re legit.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Auston, come back!

Vancouver Canucks: Bless those wonderful Sedin boys.

Vegas Golden Knights: Have you all heard about this stuff with Gerard Gallant and the Panthers? Pretty crazy!

Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin is up to 23 goals in 34 games. He might hit 50 again. Good lord.

Winnipeg Jets: No coach in the history of the NHL has lost more games than Paul Maurice. That’s weird to think about.

Play of the weekend

This goal by Ryan Johansen? That’s incredible skill level.

Gold Star Award

Carter Hutton not only had a 48-save shutout, but also did it coming off not having played in two weeks. C’mon!

Minus of the Weekend

#MelnykOut

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year

User “ViktorBaeArvidsson” cooked up a goodie.

To Ottawa:

2018 1st Round Pick
Jacob Trouba
Jack Roslovic
Nicolas Petan

To Winnipeg:

Erik Karlsson
Alexandre Burrows (500k retained)

Signoff

Ho ho ho ho ho, delightfully devilish, Seymour.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)

https://ca.sports.yahoo.com/news/learned-fans-owe-ottawa-senators-151718164.html?src=rss

 

Cowboys keep playoff hopes alive on dumbest rule, strangest measurement in football

Dec 17, 2017
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In a season that’s seen some of the strangest, most absurd moments in the NFL’s entire history, Sunday night’s game, a 20-17 Dallas Cowboys victory over the Oakland Raiders, ended on the dumbest possible note: a ridiculous measurement followed by the return of the most nonsensical rule in football.

Settle in and get a drink; this is going to make you want to throw something.

The scene: Dallas and Oakland were both playing to keep the dying embers of their playoff hopes alive. Late in the fourth quarter, with the score tied at 17, the Cowboys were driving toward what could have been a game-winning score. On a crucial fourth down, Dallas couldn’t push the ball decisively past the first-down marker, and the officiating crew called for a measurement.

Well, this is just silly. (Via screenshot)

Here is where we note that the officiating crew was led by Gene Steratore, who last helmed a Cowboys game when Dez Bryant caught/didn’t catch a crucial playoff pass. That handy little coincidence ought to give you a sense of the strangeness to come.

When the crew brought out the chains, something amazing happened: no one could tell whether the ball had broken the plane necessary to give Dallas a first down. This wasn’t a case of being within a single link of the yardage chain, this was simply too close to call based on the shape of the football, the angle of sight, and the position of the first-down post.

So what did Steratore do? He brought out a folded index card — yes, seriously — and plunged it between the ball and the post. And because the ball moved: first down!

“Bull[expletive]” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio shouted on the sideline, and you can understand why.

“Didn’t use the card to make the final decision,” Steratore told a pool reporter postgame. “The final decision was made visually. The card was used nothing more than reaffirmation of what was visually done.”

An organization worth more than $10 billion is measuring yardage with all the technological sophistication of a kindergartner making a Mother’s Day card. Instead of Oakland getting the ball on the Dallas 40 with more than four minutes remaining, Dallas held onto the ball and, soon afterward, kicked a decisive field goal.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The NFL continues to trot out this goofy little community theater-level production of bringing the chains onto the field even though it could easily use a tennis-style electronic line judge to make the calls. (The technology has existed since the 1970s.) Why? Because the NFL loves the drama of the measurement, the tension that comes with wondering whether that chain will extend past the ball or not. And, like most attempts at drama, it ends up looking ridiculous a lot more than the NFL would want to admit.

Oh, but we were just getting started. After securing that miracle first down, the Cowboys couldn’t push in a touchdown even though they ended up practically breathing into the end zone — could’ve used a paper-width more distance there — and were forced to settle for a field goal. That allowed Oakland to drive back down the field —aided greatly by a 55-yard pass interference penalty, another one of those rules that seems unduly punitive — and get in position for either a game-tying field goal or a go-ahead touchdown.

With 31 seconds left and the ball on the Dallas 7, Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr took the snap, saw no one open, and took off toward the end zone. He extended the ball—because all you’ve got to do as a runner is break that mystical plane of the end zone—but he did so a touch too early, hit the ground, and fumbled forward into the end zone … thus activating the dumbest rule in football, the touchdown-to-touchback.If Carr had fumbled the ball half a foot in to the right, out of bounds, Oakland would have lined up for a first-and-inches. Instead, it was loss of possession, loss of game, loss of playoff hopes.

The NFL now resembles a particularly cranky homeowners’ association annual meeting, with a horde of black-and-white-striped bureaucrats jamming themselves into every possible crevice, arbitrarily applying game-altering rules, claiming they’re trying to eliminate uncertainty and yet doing the exact opposite. When you’ve got retired officials commenting on the officiating brain trust that’s officiating the officiating crew on the ground, it’s maybe possible you’ve gone too far down the rabbit hole.

A receiver now has to provide a notarized proof of legal adoption to confirm a catch. An offensive lineman can remove a kidney from a defender without penalty, but a defender can’t even think angry thoughts about a ballcarrier without drawing a flag. And oh, the challenges, the endless challenges, which apply in every situation except those where they don’t.

Protesting players, angry politicians, troublesome owners, falling ratings, and disaffected fans are combining to form an existential problem unlike any the NFL has ever seen, and one the league appears woefully ill-equipped to handle. Given the farce that was the final few minutes of Sunday night’s game—and, we could add, the final seconds of the Patriots-Steelers epic a few hours earlier—it’s not hard to see how the league bureaucratically knotted itself into this mess.

Changing rules from tax code-level complexity to simple common sense won’t get the NFL out of its current morass. But it’ll help make games less like small-claims court and more, you know, fun.

____
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

https://ca.sports.yahoo.com/news/cowboys-keep-playoff-hopes-alive-dumbest-rule-strangest-measurement-football-054207215.html?src=rss

 

The answer to UFC’s welterweight problem is obvious … if it wants to restore order

 

In a sane world, the next UFC welterweight title fight would have been signed, sealed and delivered in the time between Saturday night’s UFC on Fox 26 main event and the time you’re reading this.

Rafael dos Anjos, the former UFC lightweight champion, put on a clinic in defeating one of the toughest men in the history of the sport, former welterweight champ Robbie Lawler, in the main event at Winnipeg’s Bell MTS Centre. Dos Anjos pitched a 50-45 across-the-board shutout in a dominant performance.

The victory put the Brazilian standout into the Fighter of the Year conversation. After losing the lightweight title to Eddie Alvarez in 2016 and following up with a decision loss to current interim lightweight champ Tony Ferguson, dos Anjos reassessed his career and decided to go up to 170 pounds.

There, freed from giant weight cuts that were affecting his performance in the cage, dos Anjos shined. In the past six months, he’s defeated former Strikeforce champion Tarec Saffiedine, finished Neil Magny in the first round and now has a statement win over Lawler.

A fight between the red-hot dos Anjos and champion Tyron Woodley, an opportunity for dos Anjos to join the short list of fighters to hold UFC championships in two weight classes, is a no-brainer.

But this is the UFC in late 2017, and brains aren’t always part of the booking equation. This is a promotion dealing with the aftermath of two years of decision-making in which champions win titles and immediately go searching for “money fights” rather than defend their belts, and where interim champions are crowned at the drop of a hat.

 
Rafael Dos Anjos (R) celebrates a win over Robbie Lawler at UFC Fight Night in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017. (John Woods/The Canadian Press via AP)

So naturally, RDA had barely gotten back to the dressing room before the nonsense started.

Woodley didn’t outright decline to fight dos Anjos, but he also sounded less than impressed by the performance of both the winner and Lawler, whom Woodley knocked out to win the belt in 2016.

“In my opinion, what I saw tonight is that if any of those two guys in that bout would fight me, one of those guys is going to get knocked out,” Woodley told FS1. “I saw the IQ wasn’t as high as I would like for a No. 1 contendership fight. Both of those guys are always talking about pushing the pace, and they were going to do this and they were going to do that. I saw a ton of openings for myself.”

Woodley, it should be noted, claimed a shoulder injury caused his lackluster performance in his last title defense against Demian Maia at UFC 214. That was in July. Just last month, Woodley was in discussion to headline UFC 219 with a title defense vs. Nate Diaz, who is mostly a lightweight. He’s 3-3 in his career at welterweight, and lost his last fight to Conor McGregor back in August 2016. When those negotiations broke down, Woodley decided, months later after the original injury, that he was getting shoulder surgery after all.

Such game-playing is a natural result of the path the UFC has chosen over the past two years. It indulged Conor McGregor as he won first the featherweight title, then the lightweight title, then went on to box Floyd Mayweather Jr., without defending either of his MMA belts along the way.

As a stopgap measure, the UFC started awarding interim belts, which traditionally are used in combat sports when a current titleholder is too injured to compete, but working in good faith on their return, simply to cover for McGregor’s absence. This led to both Jose Aldo and Max Holloway having interim title claims before Holloway emerged as undisputed featherweight champ. At lightweight, Tony Ferguson won an interim belt in October, but when negotiations for a potential unification bout with McGregor fell apart, he opted for elbow surgery.

This, in turn, led to former champion Eddie Alvarez claiming a new title of “Most Violent Fighter” for himself, which has garnered more attention in recent weeks than the actual belts.

(And for the sake of sticking to the main topic, we won’t go in depth on middleweight, in which Michael Bisping was rewarded for ducking top challengers right up until he was finished by the four-years-absent Georges St-Pierre, who promptly vacated the middleweight belt.)

So it shouldn’t be a surprise the out-of-the-box thinking has spilled over to welterweight. Knowing that Woodley, who in fairness has defended his belt three times in just over a year, is going to be out a bit, fighters began angling on Twitter to create an interim welterweight belt, and volunteer their services.

Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, who came up just short in two challenges to Woodley’s belt, complimented both fighters while angling for an interim title fight.

Colby Covington, who has made noise in recent months as a poor man’s Chael Sonnen, predictably took the low road, as he tried to troll RDA into an interim title fight by insulting his homeland of Brazil.

Dos Anjos shut the latter talk down at Saturday night’s post-fight news conference, saying Covington is “just talking crap about people and he showed nothing on the division. He beat nobody.”

The UFC should likewise shut down the talk of anything except the obvious fight. Woodley wants a “money fight,” but the chances of McGregor deciding he wants to fight Woodley on the heels of his $100M Mayweather payday are slim, and St-Pierre isn’t going to be fighting again any time soon, either.

This is the opportunity for the UFC to put a lid on the nonsense that can be traced back to McGregor deciding he didn’t want to defend his featherweight title. It made for short-term financial success, but it’s not sustainable in the long-term. A fight between Woodley and the division’s hottest contender, the one who would be looking to add a second weight class title after doing things the right way by earning his spot in the divisional scheme, would send a strong statement that the company is ready to restore order.

More from Yahoo Sports:
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https://ca.sports.yahoo.com/news/answer-ufcs-welterweight-problem-obvious-wants-restore-order-003756938.html?src=rss

 

Carter: Toronto return is ‘supposed to happen’

 

He may be half-man, half-amazing but Father Time eventually calls on us all. For eight-time NBA All-Star Vince Carter, that day may arrive at the end of the current campaign with the Sacramento Kings.

Playing in his 20th season in the league, the former Raptor returned to the court in Toronto on Sunday for perhaps the final time. All indications are that the 40-year-old will call it quits next spring, although post-game, Carter hinted at a return to the place where he made his name.

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Following a toe-to-toe first half, the Raptors pulled away from the Kings in frames three and four to cruise to a 108-93 win at Air Canada Centre. Carter started the game and finished with 4 points in Toronto’s 9th straight home victory. However, the fans in the seats reserved their greatest acclaim for the visiting No. 15.

With 11 seconds left in the game, Carter was replaced to allow the crowd to show their appreciation for a player who has rekindled a close relationship with the Raptors faithful since they cheered him to the point of tears before a Raptors-Grizzlies game back in November 2014.

After Sunday’s game, per Blake Murphy of the Raptors Republic, Carter opened up on a potential return to the Raptors:

Somehow, whether it’s one day or something, it’ll happen. It’s supposed to happen, I think. I can say that now.

 
In the dying seconds of the game, Vince Carter acknowledges the standing ovation. (Getty)

Last month, in an interview with The Undefeated, Carter shared his hopes of one day seeing his jersey retired in Toronto.

At the end of the day, every player’s end result is to see their jersey hanging in the rafters somewhere. That is where it started. Hopefully I will get that opportunity.

Earlier this year, ‘The Carter Effect’ debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival, a documentary capturing the lasting effect the former Raptor had on the city.

More Vince Carter coverage on Yahoo Sports:

https://ca.sports.yahoo.com/news/itll-happen-vince-carter-receives-standing-o-hints-return-toronto-235856177.html?src=rss

 

Big Read: The Oral History of Toronto FC

Dec 9, 2017
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Alongside the MLS regular season, TFC was competing in the Canadian club championship, a round-robin tournament that also included the Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps, who were both playing in the second-tier USL at the time. Toronto was in second place in the tournament (behind Vancouver) going into the final game. On the road in Montreal, the team needed to win by four goals to beat out the Whitecaps and lift the Voyageurs Cup.

CARL ROBINSON, former TFC midfielder: Chris Cummins was the manager and we’d been written off, because I think we’d [previously] lost in Vancouver, and we needed to go to Montreal and score four goals. I don’t think we’d scored more than three or four goals in our history. No one gave us a chance, [but] I said to the guys, “Miracles do happen.”

DANNY DICHIO, Sportsnet analyst and former TFC forward: We put a strong [starting lineup] out that day. There was a certain amount of confidence that we could get a result.

JIM BRENNAN, former TFC defender and captain: Montreal made a lot of lineup changes. They had a big game against Vancouver [in the USL] a few days after. They wanted to rest their key guys for that, so they made a lot of changes, and we had our full squad.

GERRY DOBSON, former Sportsnet commentator: I remember thinking, even early on, “Boy oh boy, the Impact are throwing on their reserve team here.” If Toronto could get one goal then anything could happen because those Montreal guys were not up to TFC’s level.

TFC’s chances seemed to be dashed in the 23rd minute when defender Nick Garcia brought down Montreal forward Peter Byers inside the box. Tony Donatelli converted the ensuing penalty to give the Impact the lead. Toronto now had to score five times without conceding.

DICHIO: I had early [scoring] chances where on another day I would have put them home easily. I had a shot and a header that I should have buried.

COCHRANE: Montreal took the lead, and I said to myself, “Okay, now it’s over.” [Laughs.]

DICHIO: We were creating opportunities, so even when Montreal scored, we never panicked. We knew that the tactics of the day were to get the ball, get it into the box, get the ball into me and then feed off of me. We had “DeRo” floating around. We were really putting them on the back foot after they scored that first goal. They looked very wobbly at the back. It was just a sense of we could do something.

De Rosario got things started for Toronto, burying a fantastic bicycle kick past former TFC goalkeeper Srdjan Djekanovic in the 29th minute and scoring again in the 39th to put the Reds up 2-1 at halftime.

BRENNAN: Serge was in net, a young goalkeeper, and one of the things we figured was we had to get in his head early. We have to bully him a little bit. He was great guy, a lovely fellow, who was with us that first season. But when you’re on the field, the friendship goes out the window.

DICHIO: Not much was said at halftime. It was more a sense of belief that the game was there for the taking.

De Rosario completed his hat trick in the 49th, slipping one past Djekanovic after beating Montreal’s offside trap. Amado Guevara made it 4-1 in 69th, curling a gorgeous free kick from 25 yards out just inside the near post.

BRENNAN: DeRo scored pretty quickly at the start of the second half. After that the flood gates opened.

COCHRANE: Dwayne put on a performance for the ages. He carried that squad on his back.

Chad Barret scored in the 82nd minute, heading home from in close off of a Guevara corner kick. 5-1. It was the first time in club history they had ever scored five times in a game.

BRENNAN: We were holding on for dear life after Chad’s goal.

Guevara scored in the final minute of regulation to seal the win and the players rushed onto the field at the final whistle. Most of the fans had left Stade Saputo by then, but approximately 200 travelling TFC supporters remained in the drizzling rain to watch their heroes hoist the trophy, the club’s first.

http://www.sportsnet.ca/soccer/big-read-oral-history-toronto-fc/

 
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