Capitals

The two biggest NHL free agents both sign with...

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The two biggest NHL free agents both sign with...

From Comcast SportsNet
The Minnesota Wild were a starless team in need of a big-time jolt to get the franchise back to the point of being worthy of playing in "the State of Hockey." The jolts don't come any bigger than this. The Wild landed not one but both of the NHL's top prizes in free agency, signing forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter on Wednesday. Each deal is for 13 years and 98 million, according to three people familiar with the contracts who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not release details. "WE GOT EM!" the Wild announced on their Twitter account early Wednesday afternoon, sending shockwaves across the league and through a devoted fan base that was starting to show signs of apathy after missing the playoffs for a fourth straight season. Parise, the former New Jersey Devils playmaker, and Suter, who paired with Shea Weber on the Nashville blue line, were regarded the cream of what was a thin free agent crop, and each had spent the past four days poring over numerous offers from several teams before making a decision. "This is a great day in the history of the Minnesota Wild," GM Chuck Fletcher said in a conference call. Maybe THE greatest. The Wild have had a relatively non-descript existence aside from one stirring run to the Western Conference finals in their second season. Parise knows the history well, having grown up in the Twin Cities. So he recruited his friend Suter to come help out the hometown team. "We kept in touch throughout this whole thing and we decided that we thought for both of us that the best fit would be Minnesota," Parise said in a conference call. "We're excited that it worked out and we get a chance to play with each other." One person said that even the breakdown of the contracts is exactly the same, with both players getting 12 million in each of the first two years. The deals then go down in value, with each player making 1 million in both 2023-24 and 2024-25. "My parents were so excited when they knew that I was considering coming back home," Parise said. "When I made the decision they were real excited as well. That played a big part. I grew up here, I love coming back here in the summers and I thought We enjoy it here so much it would be great to be here year round.'" And it's a relative homecoming for Suter, who is from Wisconsin, as well. "It came down to where I felt my family would like to live," Suter said. "My wife's from Bloomington, Minnesota. That had a lot to do with it. . Minnesota has a lot of good young players that I think will help make this team successful." With one fell swoop, the Wild have been transformed from a relatively young franchise with very little history of success since being re-established in Minnesota, to an immediate contender. The Wild got off to a tremendous start to last season before injuries and inexperience caught up to them in the second half. Minnesota endured a dreadful 11-28-7 stretch and finished 12th in the Western Conference. "We felt if we could add either a top defenseman or a top forward it would really help our team," Fletcher said. "I don't think you ever go in assuming you're going to land both of them. We shot for the moon, and we tried our best." For a team that has struggled to put the puck in the net, this was one monster score. "These signings will resonate well with our fans, with our players and with everybody associated with the team," said Fletcher, who added that they still have cap flexibility. "Our goal in signing them was certainly not to make a splash, it was to make our team better. We feel we are a better team, but our work is just starting." Parise was the best forward on the market. He scored 31 goals and 69 points last season in his first year as the Devils' captain. He also chipped in with 15 points in helping the team's surprise run to the Stanley Cup finals, which ended in a six-game series loss to Los Angeles. Drafted 17th overall by New Jersey in 2003, the 27-year old has 194 goals and 216 assists in 503 career games. He scored 30-plus goals five times. Suter, also 27, was the top defenseman available this summer. He spent all seven of his seasons in the NHL with the Predators after being selected with the seventh pick in the 2005 draft. The All-Star defenseman had career highs in points last year, with 7 goals and 39 assists. Parise tried to explain why he needed more than a few days to announce his intentions, saying he was evaluating each team and city that was trying to sign him. While the Wild celebrated, the players' former teams were left with big holes to fill. "There's no question we're disappointed," Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said. "It's a very unfortunate thing when you have a player of his stature that comes right through the ranks and, at this given time a decision is made to go elsewhere. But right now there's nothing we can do about that and our plans are going forward." Lamoriello said he met with Parise and his representatives in Toronto on Saturday, and made what he called a competitive offer. In later discussions with Parise, Lamoriello said, the player made clear he wanted an opportunity to play in his home state. "Zach told me that if it wasn't going home to Minnesota, it would be coming to New Jersey," Lamoriello said. "I respect that." The Devils cupboard isn't entirely bare as the team still features Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias and NHL rookie of the year finalist Adam Henrique. New Jersey also re-signed veteran goalie Martin Brodeur to a two-year contract earlier this week. The Predators had a similar reaction to Suter's departure. "It would be an understatement to say that the Nashville Predators are disappointed at this time," team GM David Poile said. "Actually, not disappointed, but very surprised." Poile had held out hope that Suter would consider re-signing with the Predators even after becoming a free agent. Now the Predators need to turn their attention to re-signing their other star defenseman, captain Shea Weber, who is a restricted free agent. Second-tier free agents such as defenseman Matt Carle and forward Alexander Semin seemed to be waiting for Suter and Praise to reach agreements so that they could offer their talents to teams that didn't get a top target. The Detroit Red Wings were among the teams to take a run at both players, and were most interested in Suter as a player who could fill in after captain Nicklas Lidstrom retired. "We feel good about our offer to Suter and Parise on July 1, and with our chance to adjust our offer to Suter on July 2," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said by phone. Holland said team owner Mike Ilitch and coach Mike Babcock joined him in making a presentation to Suter. He said they didn't have an opportunity to make a similar presentation to Parise.

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How former Capital Sergei Gonchar helped the Penguins win Game 1

How former Capital Sergei Gonchar helped the Penguins win Game 1

Hockey is a game of organized chaos.

Sure, pucks can take some unexpected bounces, but a lot of what you see on the ice doesn’t happen by accident.

Trailing 2-0 early in the third period of Game 1, Patric Hornqvist got the Pittsburgh Penguins on the board with a deflection that scuttled past Braden Holtby.

You may dismiss the play at first glance as a lucky deflection off a wide shot, but it actually was much more coordinated than that.

The play starts with defenseman Justin Schultz holding the puck at the blue line. He buys time, sees Hornqvist and fires a wrister at the net. The shot is not going on net, but the net isn’t the target.

You can see the play here:

Schultz is specifically aiming to put the puck in a position for Hornqvist to deflect it on goal.

“Justin does a great job just changing his angle, having some patience and just delivering pucks down to the net that gives our forwards an opportunity to get a stick on it,” head coach Mike Sullivan said after the game.

According to the coach, it is a play the Penguins practice daily and one that is reminiscent of former Capital Sergei Gonchar who routinely made smart plays from the blue line to set up his teammates.

Gonchar was one of the top offensive defensemen in the league over a playing career that spanned from 1994 to 2015. He recorded 811 points in his NHL career, 416 of which came during his 10 seasons with Washington.

Now, however, he serves as an assistant coach for the Penguins helping the defensemen practice plays just like the one Schultz made to set up Hornqvist.

“Sergei is so good at helping those guys with the subtleties of the game and just those little skill sets along the offensive blue line,” Sullivan said. "I don't know that there was anybody better in his generation than Sergei was and he does a great job at relaying some of those subtitles to our guys and those guys, they work at it daily.”

Deflections are obviously very difficult for a goalie to handle. It is nearly impossible to react to the puck’s mid-air change of direction. A goalie has to be positioned perfectly to make the save. It also gives shooters at the blue line more targets. Rather than shooting just at the 42x78 inches of the net, players can shoot on net or in the shooting lane of any of their teammates anywhere on the ice. Essentially, the entire offensive zone becomes a potential target.

There’s a reason the Penguins have been as good as they are for as long as they have. They are not getting lucky bounces, they are creating their own deflections thanks in part to the expertise of the former Cap.

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The Redskins drafted for need, and this time, that is just fine

The Redskins drafted for need, and this time, that is just fine

ASHBURN, Va. -- After months, and maybe years, of the Redskins front office explaining that the NFL Draft came down to taking the best player available, the organization might have veered from that strategy Thursday night.

The Redskins selected Alabama defensive lineman Da'Ron Payne with the No. 13 overall pick. It's a fine selection, but the team made it not necessarily because Payne was the best player available, but because he was the best player available at a position of desperate need. 

"There were quite a few guys that were worthy of that pick, quite frankly, but for what we were looking for and the fit, I think Da’Ron is perfect for us and what we were looking for," Washington head coach Jay Gruden said after the first round ended.

Payne should help right away on the Redskins defensive line, but plenty of fans want to know why the team didn't select Derwin James and Tremaine Edmunds at No. 13. Both freak athletes, James could have helped the Redskins' secondary while Edmunds could help at the linebacker spot and rushing the passer.

Asked specifically if Payne was on top of the board at No. 13 with Edmunds and James present, the coach wasn't quite crystal clear.

"Yeah, he was up there. There’s a lot of scenarios we tried to play through and guys were getting picked and we’re happy as heck to get Da’Ron. He’s one of our top guys."

For Gruden and the Redskins, this pick was about competing in the NFC East.

"You see what’s going on in our division with Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott and Philadelphia, the way they run the ball," the coach said. "Our [2017] ranking on defense wasn’t quite up to speed at 32nd."

The coach is right. 

The Redskins struggled mightily last season against the run, coming in dead last in rush defense. In turn, they struggled in the division, going 1-5. Dallas and Philadelphia already run the ball very well, and now by drafting Barkley second overall, the Giants could be a strong run team too. 

There is no question Payne will step in and help against the run, and that should happen immediately. Gruden even said the Redskins will use Payne at the nose tackle position, likely with Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis lined up next to him. 

The question on Payne is pass rushing ability, and he's eager to prove it's no question at all. 

"I’m going to get after the pass rush and just dominate the run every chance I get," the new Redskins said in a conference call with media. 

In thre years at Alabama, Payne logged three sacks. Read that again. It's not a misprint. 

For interior defensive line players, sacks aren't always a great measure of effectiveness. Getting good push up the middle disrupts the quarterbacks time in the pocket, and that often results in sacks off the edge. Payne should be able to help in that capacity.

"I think he's got great power, and a lot of times the sacks that don't show up on the stat board, he enabled other guys to get them because of the push of the pocket that forces the quarterback outside. I think Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith and Ryan Anderson will be very happy to have Jonathan Allen and Da'Ron Payne in the middle pushing that pocket," Gruden said. "Stats don't always tell a story about pass rushers."

The Redskins made a smart, safe pick with Payne. He will help the team from Day One. 

The Redskins eschewed the chance for a riskier, but maybe more rewarding pick in Derwin James or Tremaine Edmunds. And that's ok.

If Payne boosts the run defense, like he should, he will be proven worth the No. 13 pick.

If Payne boosts the run defense, and proves capable as a pass rusher, then Redskins fans will forget all about James and Edmunds. 

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