Fire

Yet another coaching change in the NHL

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Yet another coaching change in the NHL

From Comcast SportsNet
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- Randy Carlyle appeared relieved after his Anaheim Ducks snapped a seven-game skid Wednesday night, figuring his talented club had turned a corner. If only the winningest coach in franchise history had known what was waiting for him around that corner. Fed up with the Ducks' inexplicably slow start, the club fired the Stanley Cup-winning coach and his staff late Wednesday night. Anaheim swiftly replaced Carlyle with former Washington coach Bruce Boudreau, who was dismissed by the Capitals just two days earlier. The Ducks made the abrupt moves after beating Montreal 4-1 on Wednesday night for just their third victory in 19 games. Despite the presence of league MVP Corey Perry, captain Ryan Getzlaf, 41-year-old scorer Teemu Selanne and All-Star goalie Jonas Hiller, the Ducks are off to a 7-13-4 start, ahead of only Columbus in the 15-team Western Conference. "Randy is a terrific head coach, and did a tremendous job for us for six-plus seasons," Anaheim general manager Bob Murray said. "We thank him greatly for his hard work and dedication to our franchise, not the least of which was a Stanley Cup championship. At this time, we simply felt a new voice was needed. Bruce is a proven winner with a great track record, and we are optimistic we can turn this season around under his leadership." Carlyle coached the Ducks to the franchise's only Stanley Cup title and Pacific Division championship in 2007, but the longtime NHL defenseman struggled to get his talented club's attention this fall after agreeing in August to a three-year contract extension through the 2013-14 season. After Anaheim's seventh straight defeat last Sunday night, a dispassionate 5-2 loss to Toronto, Carlyle lamented that his players sometimes seemed to be "dead between the ears." He was in a better mood after the Ducks handled the Canadiens, praising their tenacity and his stars' leadership through a tough stretch. A few minutes later, Carlyle was dismissed from the job he had held since August 2005. Anaheim cleaned house Wednesday night, also firing assistant coaches Dave Farrish and Mike Foligno and video coordinator Joe Trotta. The Ducks hired Brad Lauer as an assistant coach to Boudreau, and will add another assistant soon. Carlyle is the fourth coach to be fired in the always-impatient NHL's young season, and the third this week. Paul Maurice was also dismissed on Monday by the Carolina Hurricanes, while Davis Payne was let go by the St. Louis Blues on Nov. 6. Boudreau, after doing a round of interviews Wednesday morning in which he said the Capitals made the right move by firing him, took a new job less than 72 hours after leaving a remarkably similar situation in Washington, which dropped him Monday after a slow start with a talented roster that's had little recent playoff success. Boudreau will run the Ducks' practice on Thursday before his formal introduction, and his new players will be in for a major change from the sometimes-crusty Carlyle to the personable Boudreau, nicknamed "Gabby" for his garrulous style. Anaheim hosts Philadelphia on Friday night for Boudreau's debut. Carlyle was behind Anaheim's bench for many of the 1993 expansion franchise's biggest moments. He had compiled a 273-182-6 record after taking over for Mike Babcock as the seventh head coach in club history. Carlyle led Anaheim to the postseason in five of his first six seasons, winning more playoff games during that stretch than any coach except Babcock in Detroit. But Anaheim won just one playoff round in the past four years since winning the Cup, losing to fifth-seeded Nashville in the first round last season. Boudreau led Washington to the last four Southeast Division titles and the 2010 Presidents' Trophy while winning 201 games in just four years on the job, but the Caps' lack of playoff success helped to seal his fate when they slumped following a 7-0 start to this season. He won the Jack Adams award as the NHL's best coach in 2008, but never got past the second round of the playoffs despite a roster featuring Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and talented supporting casts. Boudreau favors an attacking offensive style that should suit the Ducks' talented forwards, although Carlyle also gave his players plenty of freedom for offensive creativity. Lauer was promoted from the Ducks' AHL affiliate in Syracuse, where he had been an assistant since July. He spent the previous two seasons on the Ottawa Senators' staff.

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

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USA TODAY

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

The wait to find out which players have their options picked up or declined by the Fire might still be a couple weeks, but the first news of a player move in the Fire's offseason came via Twitter.

Defender Joao Meira announced he won't be returning to the club in 2018.

Meira signed with the Fire just before the start of the 2016 preseason after being out of contract in Europe. The Portuguese center back signed a one-year deal with a club option for the second year.

After he played 28 matches with 26 starts in 2016, the Fire picked up his option. He became even more of a fixture at center back in 2017, beating out Jonathan Campbell for the other starting spot alongside Johan Kappelhof. Meira played in 30 regular season matches and made 27 starts, finishing fourth on the team in minutes played (2,412).

That Meira won't be back isn't a major surprise for a few reasons. First, he was out of contract. He was one of two players, along with Bastian Schweinsteiger, on the Fire's roster that the team had no control over for 2018. On top of that, the 30-year-old had made it clear that he wanted to be closer to his home and family in Portugal.

Meira's departure leaves a gap at the center back position for the Fire. Kappelhof, who enters the third year of a three-year guaranteed deal in 2018, and Campbell, who will likely have his club option picked up, enter as the only healthy center backs in 2018. Christian Dean was added in August via trade, but is coming off a broken foot, an injury that has plagued him before. His status for the start of the 2018 season is unclear.

Grant Lillard, a potential homegrown signing and a senior at Indiana, could compete for time at center back next season. He is one of the top rated players in the country for the Hoosiers, which are the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. While Lillard could step in from a numbers perspective and would add size to the Fire's back line (Lillard is 6-foot-4), he wouldn't be able to replace Meira's ability on the ball. Meira wasn't as effective of a defender as Kappelhof, but was arguably the best passer among the Fire's center backs and helped alleviate pressure at times.

This also opens up an international spot on the Fire's roster. The Fire went over the alloted total last season, but were able to put John Goossens and Jorge Bava on the disabled list to clear room. Meira's exit gives a bit more flexibility in that department.

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Only three of John Fox’s 12 wins as Bears coach have been against NFC North opponents, while 12 of his 29 losses have come against divisional opponents. 

That’s a recipe for back-to-back-to-back last place finishes in the NFC North. And if the Bears can’t beat an Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers team, why could it beat a Detroit Lions team that has a healthy franchise quarterback?

The positive end of that answer is the Bears do have wins over two playoff teams (Pittsburgh and Carolina) while six of their four losses have been by eight points or fewer. Sunday’s game will probably be close, again (if it’s not, and the Bears are on the losing end of it, it would raise some significant concerns about the state of Fox within the locker room). 

So if the game is decided by one possession or less, this could be the difference: Detroit has one of the best special teams units in the NFL, ranking second in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, while the Bears are 28th by the same measure. 

Getting Sherrick McManis back this week should help solidify Jeff Rodgers’ special teams units, but Jamal Agnew has two punt return scores and is averaging 18.3 yards per return. 

“Tough guy — he’ll return inside and outside,” Rodgers said. “He’s got multiple longer returns against people this year. it’s not just, ‘I had a long return in Week 2 or Week 1,’ and kinda held onto that. he’s been productive in a lot of games. certainly a guy that we’ve gotta do a good job against.”

If the Bears don’t do a good job bottling up Agnew, though, he could be the reason why the game flips to Detroit — or, at least, why the Lions keep the Bears at arm’s length. 

Prediction: Lions 24, Bears 16