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4 players file bounty appeals to NFL

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4 players file bounty appeals to NFL

NEW ORLEANS (AP) All four players punished in the NFL's bounty investigation have filed appeals with the league. People familiar with the situation say the players have asked Commissioner Roger Goodell to remove himself as arbitrator because they do not believe he can be impartial.

One of the people also says New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma expects to play at Tampa Bay on Oct. 21 while his appeal is pending. The people spoke to The Associated Press Friday on condition of anonymity because the appeals were filed as private documents with the league.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed Friday that all four players had filed appeals, but said the league would decline comment on the substance of those documents.

This marks the second round of appeals by the players.

About a month ago, a three-member appeal panel created by the NFL's collective bargaining agreement vacated initial disciplinary rulings handed down by Goodell. Then Tuesday, the commissioner upheld his initial suspensions of Vilma and Saints defensive end Will Smith, and revised his suspensions of Cleveland linebacker and former Saint Scott Fujita and free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove.

Vilma has been on the Saints' physically unable to perform list while continuing his comeback from offseason surgery on his left knee, but may be activated after the first six weeks of the regular season. Goodell said Vilma could be paid for his time on New Orleans' PUP list.

New Orleans has a bye this week, then the Saints could activate Vilma next week, if he is healthy enough to play. When Vilma was first place on the PUP list, Saints interim coach Aaron Kromer said the goal was to have Vilma back in the lineup by Week 7.

``Excited to get Vilma back out there on the field,'' Saints linebacker Scott Shanle said in a text to the AP Friday. ``Played a lot of football with him and know how much he brings to the team and inside our defensive huddle on game day.''

Barring a successful appeal, Vilma will remain suspended for the season, while Smith will remain suspended four games. Hargrove's suspension was reduced from eight to seven games and Fujita's was cut from three games to one.

In effect, Hargrove now faces a two-game ban because his initial eight-game suspension was reduced by one and he was given credit for five games missed as a free agent after he was cut by Green Bay in the preseason.

The new appeals are only the latest of many maneuvers in a contentious months-long back-and-forth involving the players, the NFL Players Association and the league office.

Vilma has a related defamation case pending against Goodell in federal court in New Orleans.

In addition, Vilma and the NFLPA, which is representing the other three players, could ask U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan to revisit their earlier legal challenge of the suspensions.

The union and Vilma would have to refile those requests with Berrigan, who placed the matter on indefinite hold when the three-member NFL appeal panel vacated the initial suspensions on technical ground and informed Goodell that he had to clarify his basis for the punishment.

The panel, which did not address the merits of the investigation, said it needed to be clear that Goodell's disciplinary decisions in the Saints' cash-for-hits pool pertained exclusively to conduct detrimental to football, and not salary cap violations, which would have to be handled by an arbitrator other than the commissioner.

Berrigan has stated that she found the NFL's disciplinary process unfair and that she would be inclined to grant Vilma at least a temporary restraining order if she believed she had jurisdiction on the matter.

However, Berrigan also has stated that she is hesitant to rule until she is certain the players have exhausted all possible remedies available to them through the NFL's labor agreement. She has further stressed that all parties would be wise to settle the matter out of court, but a federal magistrate has had little success getting meaningful settlement talks moving.

The four players were implicated in what the NFL said was a bounty pool run by former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and paid improper cash bonuses for hits that injured opponents. The players have acknowledged a pool but denied they intended to injure anyone. Goodell has been unmoved by the players' distinction regarding intent, outlining several instances in which Williams made notations of player rewards due for hits that knocked opponents out of games.

Williams, now with St. Louis, has cooperated with the league's investigation but is currently suspended indefinitely. Saints head coach Sean Payton is suspended for the season, general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games and assistant head coach Joe Vitt six games. They were punished separately from the players and all are serving out their punishment.

By contrast, the players and their union have put up intense resistance for the past half-year with no sign of letting up.

Even after his suspension was reduced this week, Fujita was harshly critical of Goodell, calling the ``condescending tone'' of his disciplinary letter unproductive, accusing the commissioner of misusing his power and questioning Goodell's record on player safety.

``The commissioner says he is disappointed in me,'' Fujita said Wednesday. ``The truth is, I'm disappointed in him.''

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3 stars of the game: Caps knockout the punchless Sabres

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USA TODAY Sports

3 stars of the game: Caps knockout the punchless Sabres

Coming off an ugly 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, a Buffalo Sabres team missing star Jack Eichel was just what the doctor ordered for the Caps to get back on track. Washington dominated the first two periods and then survived a late surge from Buffalo for the 3-2 win.

After battling to a scoreless first, Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson spotted Washington a 2-0 lead in the second. They then held on in the third period as Buffalo began to tilt the ice in their favor, with Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring the empty-netter to put this game out of reach. Evander Kane would pull Buffalo within one, but with only three seconds left it was too little, too late.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Alex Ovechkin: Ovechkin opened up the scoring in the second period as he deflected down an innocent shot from Christian Djoos past Chad Johnson. Ovechkin also set a physical tone as he battled with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen all game long. After taking a high elbow from Ristolainen early in the game Ovechkin skated up to Ristolainen prior to the faceoff on his next shift and let him know that it was on. 

2. John Carlson: Carlson had a hand in both of Washington's goals on Monday. He recorded a secondary assist on Ovechkin's goal as he made a blue line pass to Djoos which Djoos fired on net and Ovechkin deflected. Carlson then managed to hit the puck past the goal line in a scrum next to Johnson. It looked initially like Kyle Okposo had managed to kick out the puck just before it crossed, but Carlson was awarded the goal as a review showed the puck had completely crossed the line.

3. Philipp Grubauer: A Sabres team that ranks last in the NHL in scoring and that was also without its leading scorer did not test Grubauer much in the first two periods. Facing a 2-0 deficit, however, Buffalo made a third period push to try to tie the game, but Grubauer was up to the task as he turned aside 15 of the 17 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes. He finished with 32 total saves on the night.

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Carlson gets a goal, Kuznetsov simultaneously gets a penalty in bizarre sequence in Buffalo

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NBC Sports Washington

Carlson gets a goal, Kuznetsov simultaneously gets a penalty in bizarre sequence in Buffalo

If you take a look at the box score for Monday's game between the Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres, you will see a bizarre stat line at 13:33 in the second period.

At that time, John Carlson scored a goal to put Washington up 2-0. At the exact same time, however, Evgeny Kuznetsov was also assessed a penalty for tripping Evan Rodrigues.

A Kuznetsov shot from the blue line hit off the boards and bounced back out to the right of goalie Chad Johnson, sparking a scrum next to the net. Carlson got his stick on the puck for a shot that got past Johnson, but Kyle Okposo kicked the puck off the goal line and out for an incredible save. On the resulting breakout, Kuznetsov was caught tripping Rodrigues and the play was blown dead when the puck was touched up by the Caps.

The Situation Room then initiated a review on Carlson's shot and he was ultimately awarded a goal. Here's a look at the image the NHL sent out after the review:

When a goal is rewarded on review after play is allowed to continue, the clock reverts back to the time the goal was scored, meaning the roughly 14 seconds that happened after Carlson's goal never happened.

Yet, when the goal was assessed, Kuznetsov was still assessed a tripping penalty. Barry Trotz was clearly incredulous with the referee's decision, but ultimately it was the right call.

Rule 78.6 of the NHL rulebook states, "Any penalties signaled during the period of time between the apparent goal and the next stoppage of play shall be assessed in the normal manner."

Had Buffalo scored a goal after Carlson's goal, it would have been called back. Penalties, however, are to be called as normal despite the fact that the extra time after goal technically never happened.

Thus, at 13:33, Carlson was awarded the Caps' second goal while Kuznetsov was given a penalty.