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Saints' Vitt returns after 6-game suspension

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Saints' Vitt returns after 6-game suspension

METAIRIE, La. (AP) Fresh off his seven-week bounty-related suspension, New Orleans interim coach Joe Vitt did not wait an extra second to rejoin the team - in Florida.

After watching Sunday's game from an undisclosed location in the Tampa area, he flew back to New Orleans with the Saints after they beat the Buccaneers 35-28 in a game Vitt was barred from attending.

On Monday, he said his suspension was excruciating.

``I agonized,'' he said. ``It's hard to go through that. I've been with these guys for seven years. I care very deeply for this team. When you're not there on game day, win or lose, with guys that you respect and love, it was a challenge.''

The Saints losing their first four games under his interim replacement, offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, made it even more agonizing. New Orleans has won two in row but still faces an uphill battle to climb into playoff contention a year after finishing 13-3.

First on Vitt's agenda is fixing the NFL's worst defense statistically.

The Saints (2-4) have allowed a league-high 465.5 yards per game under new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, including 513 to Tampa Bay, which scored touchdowns on its first three possessions.

Four of the Saints' six opponents have gained more yards against them than anyone else. A fifth, Washington, score a season-high 40 points.

``I'm certainly not a miracle worker,'' Vitt said. ``I'm humble to be back here. I met with (Spagnuolo) this morning, and we know there are things we can do better from a coaching standpoint and from a players' standpoint and from a schematic standpoint.''

Vitt can help just by coaching the linebackers, his position responsibility. The Saints have been down a defensive staff member since his suspension started at the end of the preseason.

``I know it's been hard for him as much as he loves the team to see us playing the last six or seven weeks,'' linebacker Scott Shanle said. ``Everybody was excited to see him back. He went around on the plane talking to different guys just to catch up.''

The serious work began when Vitt got back to his office around 9 p.m. on Sunday night. Fewer than 12 hours later, he said he already had talked to every assistant coach individually, the team doctors, owner Tom Benson and team president Dennis Lauscha in an attempt to make up for his lost time.

Although Vitt is much more fiery than the reserved Kromer, neither coaches nor players expect any significant changes in tone. From the day training camp started without head coach Sean Payton, who is suspended for the season, the Saints have preached staying the course Payton laid out over six years.

``The foundation has been built,'' Shanle said. ``It will be a different person in front of us, maybe saying some different things, but the message will be the same week in and week out.''

The Saints will try to build on their performance against Tampa Bay even though it was uneven. Drew Brees rallied them from deficits of 14-0 and 21-7 by throwing for 313 yards and four touchdowns in the first half alone.

The defense was awful at the start and the finish, allowing the Bucs to come within 9 yards of scoring two touchdowns in the final 4:10, but it shut them out for nearly 40 minutes in between.

After safety Malcolm Jenkins ran down wide receiver Vincent Jackson at the end of a 95-yard gain and tackled him just outside the 1 in the third quarter, New Orleans stuffed Tampa Bay on four consecutive plays to take over on downs.

Linebacker Jonathan Vilma, with his season-long bounty suspension on appeal, returned from rehabbing knee surgery and pressured Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman into a near-interception in the first half.

Vilma can play this Sunday at Denver before his and Saints defensive end Will Smith's appeals are heard Oct. 30.

``Jonathan Vilma is the epitome of team player and an inspirational guy that I think all the guys kind of feed off,'' Spagnuolo said. ``I'm sure glad we got him back.''

For at least one week, the Saints will have every player and coach but Payton back from the bounty suspensions. Their mood is much brighter than it was a few weeks ago, when a 28-27 loss at Green Bay dropped them to 0-4.

``I told somebody yesterday that this is the best 2-4 feeling I've ever had,'' said wide receiver Lance Moore, who caught nine passes for 121 yards against Tampa Bay. ``We're not where we want to be, but we're moving in the right direction.''

Vitt is thrilled to be part of it again. Always quick to point out questions he did not like in his preseason stint as interim coach, he drove that enthusiasm home in his opening statement to reporters on Monday.

``I never thought I would say this,'' he said. ``But it's good to see you guys.''

Notes: Vitt said he thought Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham, who missed the Tampa Bay game with a sprained right ankle, had a good chance to be ``full go'' on Wednesday when the Saints return to practice. . Kromer said he would have no difficulty going back to being solely the offensive line coach.

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The human side of the NHL's trade deadline

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USA TODAY Sports

The human side of the NHL's trade deadline

Congratulations! You just got a new job. There’s just one catch: it’s in a new city.

Oh, and by the way, you start tomorrow. Good luck.

That would be a pretty big shock for anyone, but it is the reality that hockey players constantly face and one that is exacerbated as the trade deadline approaches.

“I know fans and media get really excited about it, but they're not the ones that have to pick up and move their families,” Brooks Orpik said following Sunday’s practice. “I think players are looked at as kind of objects at times, just a number. People don't know there's a human side to trades.”

This season’s NHL trade deadline is 3 p.m. on Monday. Until then, every locker room faces a degree of uncertainty.

RELATED: KEMPNY GETS QUICK PROMOTION TO THE TOP-FOUR

Almost no player or prospect is untouchable. Even if there are no rumors surrounding a team or things seem set, the threat of a trade hangs over the heads of the players like the sword of Damocles until the deadline finally comes and goes.

Even for those players who know they won’t be moved or who can’t be moved because of various clauses in their contracts, it still remains a stressful time as they could still see friends shipped to another city.

“I think what happens on that day is all the players, as soon as they get off the ice at morning skate, they're all looking at their phones and trying to see what happens,” Barry Trotz said. “They want to see what happens around the league.”

Sure, a player can go from a last place team to a contender. On the surface, they should be happy. Behind the scenes, however, midseason trades always carry family implications.

“It's tough on guys,” Orpik said. “Guys have kids in schools or have roots in the community of the teams they play for. As fun as it is for some people, I think as players it can definitely be nerve-wracking for people.”

MORE CAPITALS: TRADE TO CAPS POTENTIALLY OFFERS JERABEK WHAT HE NEVER GOT IN MONTREAL

When those trades do happen, they obviously can throw a player’s life upside-down.

For those players who are not traded, the team has to adjust both to losing familiar faces and to embracing new ones into the locker room.

“When someone comes into a new group, it's not much changed except for obviously a new piece,” Jay Beagle said. “But it's definitely harder on them so you try to make it as easy as possible on them.”

Thus far, the Capitals have added defensemen Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek over the past week. While both trades were done in exchange for draft picks, Taylor Chorney was a casualty of the trades as he was placed on waivers to make room for the new additions and was claimed by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“It's tough losing guys, especially guys that are well-liked in our room,” Orpik said. “Taylor Chorney is a really well-liked guy so I think that impacted us a little bit.”

On Monday, fans, analysts, players and coaches alike will all be frantically checking their phones looking for the latest trade news, but while the deadline brings excitement for fans, it bears very different feelings for the players involved. Those players are people working a job and those trades mean uprooting their life in a matter of days. Regardless of whether a player is better off in terms of the team situation, there is still a human cost to doing business.

“It can affect certain guys because their names are obviously spread all over the place,” Trotz said. “They're human too. They pretend to not hear it, but they do.”

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Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

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Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

After two games, it looks like Michal Kempny is already moving up in the lineup.

At Sunday’s practice, Kempny played on the team's second defensive pairing, lining up on the left of John Carlson. Previously, the Czech defenseman had been playing on the right of Brooks Orpik. The move to the left allows him to play on his natural side as he is a left-handed shot.

Here are the pairs from Sunday’s practice:

Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny – John Carlson
Brooks Orpik – Christian Djoos
Jakub Jerabek – Madison Bowey

Acquired on Monday from the Chicago Blackhawks, Kempny has played in two games for the Capitals and has received glowing reviews thus far.

“He's a really good pro, that's what sticks out,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “He takes care of himself, he works at his game off the ice and with the guys, he has fit in very well.”

RELATED: THE TRADE TO WASHINGTON OFFERS JERABEK THE CHANCE HE NEVER SEEMED TO GET IN MONTREAL

“I've gotten to play a little bit with [Kempny] the last couple games,” Brooks Orpik said. “I think he's a guy that, he moves pretty well and he moves the puck pretty well and likes to keep things pretty simple. He's very consistent and predictable so he's very easy to play with.”

When the Capitals first acquired Kempny, it seemed like the best fit for him would be alongside Carlson. It’s a natural fit with Kempny being a left-shot and Carlson a righty. It also bumps down Christian Djoos to a third-pair role which is preferable to having a rookie in the top-four come the playoffs.

Should Kempny play well with Carlson, that would likely solidify Washington’s top two pairs. The Orlov-Niskanen pair was not going to be changed and Carlson was going to be on the second pair. The only question was who would ultimately play with him in the postseason?

The third pair, however, remains a work in progress.

The Caps will have to wait at least another day for the debut of their second recent acquisition as Jakub Jerabek cannot yet play due to visa issues and will miss Monday's game, reports Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Considering the issues Washington has had on defense, they would not have brought in another defenseman just to be a healthy scratch. He will get his shot to earn a spot in the lineup.

With two new defensemen in tow, obviously the team will need to experiment over the next few days and weeks to find the right combinations.

“We're going to have to probably spend at least the next 10 to 12 games doing that and then we'll have to sort of settle in,” Trotz said. “With eight defenseman, you sort of want to see which guys you’re going to play and who to play as partners and sort of a little bit of ranking. If someone goes down, who's filling that extra role?”

MORE CAPITALS: WHY THERE'S NO REASON FOR CAPS FANS TO WORRY