Blackhawks

MLB forcing Astros to join the American League

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MLB forcing Astros to join the American League

From Comcast SportsNet
HOUSTON (AP) -- Major League Baseball told Houston businessman Jim Crane it would not approve his purchase of the Astros unless he agreed to move the team to the American League, The Associated Press has learned. Crane was forced to agree to move the sale along, a person familiar with the negotiations said Wednesday on condition of anonymity because no official announcement has been made by MLB or the Astros. Approval of the sale could be announced as early as Thursday at a meeting of baseball executives in Milwaukee. Crane reportedly agreed to the move in exchange for a drop in the sales price valued earlier this year at 680 million. The person who spoke to the AP could not confirm the sales price. "We'll let baseball talk about that," current owner Drayton McLane said Wednesday night. "There were a lot of adjustments, so we'll just wait and see what they have to say (Thursday)." The players' association believes two 15-team leagues would create a more proportionate schedule and has urged baseball to make the switch. With schedules for next season already completed, the earliest such a move could take place is 2013. Time is running out for approval of the Astros deal: Crane has said that his offer, which was announced on May 16, expires Nov. 30. Messages were left seeking from Major League Baseball, but Commissioner Bud Selig did address the Astros' situation during a Twitter chat on Monday. "For 1515 realignment, Houston would be the team moving to AL West. Would create more fairness in baseball," Selig tweeted via the Colorado Rockies' feed. He also added that "15 teams in each league would necessitate interleague play every day but it will be better schedule overall." The Astros currently play in the six-team NL Central. The AL West is the only league in the majors with four teams (Rangers, Angels, Athletics and Mariners). McLane said it will be difficult, at least at first, to see his team in the other league. "I've always been a National League fan," he said. "Change is a big part of my life and what I've tried to do in business. I think it's going to be interesting to see the American League teams come in and getting a rivalry with the Rangers. That won't be too bad. It's going to be good." The move would put the Astros in the same division as Texas. But fans are unhappy the other three teams are all on the West Coast, meaning many road games would routinely end past midnight Central time. Rangers president Nolan Ryan, who pitched for the Astros during his Hall of Fame career, said he has some of the same feelings as McLane. "I grew up an Astros fan and I look at the Astros as a National League team but I understand the desire to balance out the two leagues," Ryan said Wednesday. "From our perspective, I like having them in the same division because it gives us a team in our time zone. ... We've talked about the fact that there will be more interleague play and how does the schedule actually work. ... It's going to bring some dynamics. We're not sure how they'll work. Obviously, it's going to change some things." McLane bought the team in November 1992 for about 117 million. He turned down an offer from Crane to buy the franchise in 2008. McLane said he's leaving with mixed emotions, something that hit him as he attended a meeting with other owners Wednesday. "Last night when I went to bed, I thought about it. I can remember 19 years ago how elated I was. It's been a wonderful, wonderful ride," he said. "Each of these owners have been my friends for 19 years. One of the strange things is, I'm one of the older owners right now," McLane said. "There's only seven or eight that have been here longer than I have. Been a world of turnover." The 680 million sale price is the second-highest in major league history, trailing the 845 million purchase of the Chicago Cubs by the Ricketts family two years ago. The 660 million sale of the Boston Red Sox in 2002 currently is second. Like the Astros' deal, the Cubs and Red Sox transactions included related entities. A major selling point in Houston was the Astros' share in a new deal with the NBA's Houston Rockets to create a regional sports network that will begin airing Rockets games in 2012 and the Astros in 2013. Crane has said the team's 30-year lease at Minute Maid Park, which is owned by the Harris County Houston Sports Authority, will remain intact under his ownership. Crane, who founded a Houston-based logistics company in 2008, is also the chairman and chief executive of Crane Capital, a private equity fund company. In 2009, he was in the running to buy the Cubs and last summer teamed with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban in an unsuccessful bid to buy the Texas Rangers.

Anthony Duclair regrets not making most of opportunity with Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Anthony Duclair regrets not making most of opportunity with Blackhawks

Anthony Duclair knew what kind of opportunity he had in front of him when he was traded to the Blackhawks in January. The first day he stepped into the locker room, he admitted he was a little "star-struck."

But the marriage didn't last very long. 

After recording only two goals and eight assists in 23 games, the Blackhawks chose to move on from the restricted free agent by not extending a qualifying offer. Duclair later latched on with the Columbus Blue Jackets on a one-year, $650,000 "prove-it" deal.

"I wasn't surprised," Duclair said before Saturday's game against his former team. "I knew that I didn't perform as well as I did when I was there. I think I was there for only 20 games and didn't live up to the standards. As soon as I didn't hear anything from my agent I sort of got the message. But it was time to move on."

Duclair made no excuses for what went wrong in Chicago and accepted responsibility for not taking advantage of his opportunity, even though a leg injury sidelined him for the final month that prevented him from giving the Blackhawks a larger sample size.

"I just didn't perform well," he said. "It's going to be one of my regrets, to get that opportunity in Chicago and not perform in the way I did. It was something I had to look in the mirror this summer and move on obviously, but at the same time whenever a team comes next I think I'm going to take that opportunity and run away with it."

It's obvious that Duclair's got the potential to be an effective offensive player in the NHL. But we've only seen that in flashes, which is a large reason why it didn't work out in Chicago and why, entering his fifth season in the league, he still finds himself trying to play for a long-term contract.

"Just being more consistent," Duclair said. "Thats comes up a lot and my agents talks to a couple GMs around the league and it's something I'm trying to work on. It's not something you can work on in the summer, it's more preparing mentally and physically and that's what I've been trying to do."

So far, so good in Columbus.

Duclair has two goals and two assists through six games and is averaging 15:22 of ice time playing in a top-six role, on track to shatter his previous career high in that category (14:23) when he did so as a sophomore in 2015-16 with Arizona. He even made headlines on Thursday after scoring a highlight-reel goal against the Philadelphia Flyers, saying his "phone blew up quite a bit."

How he scored it is what stood out and his perspective after it is encouraging for his overall growth, as well.

"I've already put it behind me to be honest with you," Duclair said. "I'm just focused on Chicago now. I want to be consistent throughout every shift. Look at that goal, [it was] second and third efforts. That's what I want to bring to the table every shift, especially with the guys I'm playing right now. I just want to be having the puck whenever you can and being big on the forecheck."

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Patriots

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Patriots

1. Good games from Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan. Here’s a sampling of Pro Football Focus grades for primary middle/inside/will linebackers against New England this year: 

Reggie Ragland (KC): 60.1
Anthony Hitchens (KC): 30.2
Zaire Franklin (IND): 48.6
Najee Goode (IND): 47.1
Kiko Alonso (MIA): 63.9
Raekwon McMillan (MIA): 62.5
Christian Jones (DET): 59.7
Jarrad Davis (DET): 29.8
Telvin Smith Sr. (JAX): 64.1
Myles Jack (JAX): 61.0
Bernardrick McKinney (HOU): 68.7
Zach Cunningham (HOU): 43.2

Think what you will of Pro Football Focus’ grades, but the average here is 53.2. Interestingly, though, the average grade for these 12 players over the course of the 2018 season is 51.5. So maybe the issue is the Patriots have faced a bunch of mediocre-to-bad linebackers, allowing them to take advantage of those soft spots with Sony Michel running the ball and James White catching it. Smith’s PFF grade is 62.3; Trevathan’s is 64.3, so by this measure, they’re better than any of the interior linebackers the Patriots have faced but still are the weak spot in the Bears’ defense (only Jonathan Bullard has a lower PFF grade among players with 100 or more snaps). 

How Smith and Trevathan play will be key in determining how quickly Brady is able to get the ball out (with passes to White), and how many times they get into third-and-less-than-five situations (with Michel running it). Both those factors will be critical for the Bears’ pass rush, which brings us to our next point.

2. Pressure Tom Brady without blitzing. Brady is a master of beating blitzes, completing 23 of 21 passes for 314 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and only one sack when blitzed, per PFF (that’s good for a 138.4 passer rating). When he’s under pressure, though, he has his lowest passer rating — which is still 87.2 — but the point here is that the Bears can’t afford to have to send blitzes to try to get pressure on Brady. The Bears were one of the best teams in the league at pressuring opposing quarterbacks without blitzing before the trip to Miami, and how healthy Khalil Mack really is will be a critical determining factor in those efforts. But when the Bears do earn their pass-rushing opportunities, as Akiem Hicks put it, they need to at least affect Brady and not let him comfortably sit back to pick apart their defense. 

3. Convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns. This was a point Taylor Gabriel made this week about the state of the NFL in 2018: You can no longer afford to settle for three points or, worse, come away from a red zone possession with no points. Scoring is up league-wide, and the Patriots have scored 38, 38 and 43 points in their last three games. One of the biggest reasons the Bears lost that shootout in Miami was two turnovers from inside the five-yard line (Jordan Howard’s fumble, Mitch Trubisky’s interception). Stopping New England’s offense will be difficult, and the expectation should be for Sunday to be a high-scoring afternoon. If that’s the case, the Bears will have to get in the end zone every opportunity they get. The good news: New England’s defense is allowing a touchdown on 68 percent of their opponents’ possessions inside the red zone. 

Prediction: Patriots 31, Bears 27. The Bears’ defense sounded properly motivated after getting gouged by Brock Osweiler in Miami last weekend, but that only goes so far when one of the best quarterbacks of all time rolls into town. This winds up being a back-and-forth affair, but the guy with 54 game-winning drives in his regular season and playoff career makes it 55 late in the fourth quarter at Soldier Field. A close loss to the Patriots wouldn’t dampen the positive vibes around the Bears, so long as they respond with wins against the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills in the next two weeks.