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NHL community 'can't take much more' heartbreak

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NHL community 'can't take much more' heartbreak

From Comcast SportsNet Thursday, September 8, 2011
For the NHL, an already dark summer became unimaginably worse Wednesday. From Anaheim to Montreal, the world's best hockey players struggled to comprehend a shocking loss to their sport after a chartered Russian plane carrying the Kontinental Hockey League's Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team crashed, killing several NHL veterans in one of the worst air disasters in sports history. Many players heard about the accident on their way back to work from summer breaks. Most NHL training camps open next weekend, and every club radiates optimism for the season ahead. But hockey is hurting after an offseason of tragedies and disappointments, including the deaths of three players in a four-month span before the catastrophic crash. "The hockey world mourns yet again. Please God, we can't take much more," tweeted New York forward Brandon Prust, the former roommate of late Rangers enforcer Derek Boogaard. Even a glorious, seven-game Stanley Cup series ended ugly with riots in Vancouver when the Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins. Looting, vandalism and sporadic violence left 140 people injured and resulted in 100 arrests and millions in property damage. "This has been a terrible summer for the sport all around," said Predators center David Legwand, who played four seasons in Nashville with Karlis Skrastins, a respected NHL veteran killed in the crash. "(Hockey) is a pretty tight-knit family, whether you play in Russia, Switzerland, Finland, Sweden ... it is a tough thing for everybody." No NHL team was left unscarred by the obliteration of a top club in the KHL, which emerged as Europe's most lucrative league over the past three years, with teams in former Soviet republics competing with the NHL for players mostly from eastern Europe. In the intertwined world of elite hockey, it's impossible to find two teams without players who share a common playing history, nationality or friendship. Lokomotiv's roster included three-time All-Star Pavol Demitra, a Slovakian who played for five NHL clubs; veteran Belarusian defenseman Ruslan Salei, who met his wife in Anaheim and raised his family in Orange County; and Czech forward Josef Vasicek, who won the Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006. "I am still in disbelief about today's tragic news," said former Avalanche captain Joe Sakic, who played with Skrastins and Salei in Colorado. "Both Karlis and Ruslan were unbelievable individuals and great teammates. They will be sorely missed." Hockey had been reeling since May 13, when Boogaard died in his apartment in Minneapolis. The personable forward was one of the NHL's top enforcers, bringing charisma to the traditional hockey role of brawler who sticks up for his teammates in crowd-pleasing fights. Boogaard died from an accidental mix of alcohol and the painkiller oxycodone, officials said. Meantime, Boston University scientists are studying his brain to determine whether he had a degenerative condition resulting from hits to the head. Three months later the body of Rick Rypien of the Winnipeg Jets was discovered at his home in Alberta after a police official said a call was answered for a "sudden and non-suspicious" death. Although Rypien had suffered from depression for a decade, his brawling style of play raised additional questions about the mental health of enforcers. Recently retired player Wade Belak hanged himself in Toronto on Aug. 31, a person familiar with the case told the AP. The Lokomotiv disaster will linger over the upcoming NHL season, particularly for teams with direct connections to the club. The Detroit Red Wings were hit particularly hard: Lokomotiv coach Brad McCrimmon was Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom's defensive partner and an assistant to Detroit coach Mike Babcock until May, while Salei played 75 games for Detroit last season. "It's just so sad that their lives have suddenly changed forever, and now they've got no dad or husband," Babcock said after driving to the McCrimmon family's home earlier Wednesday. "It just goes to show that you can't miss out on doing stuff with your family, because change can come in an instant."

The Bears will be making some QB decisions this offseason. Here's what to look for.

The Bears will be making some QB decisions this offseason. Here's what to look for.

At this week's Super Bowl Radio Row, The Ringer's Robert Mays, one of the most high-profile Bears fans in sports media, went on the Under Center Podcast to talk all things Chicago football. 

With all eyes on the Bears' quarterback situation this offseason, Mays provided some insight into what Bears' fans should expect from the upcoming weeks and months: 

"I don't think you have to make a determination now, but I think you go into free agency wanting to get another option. I think you should try to find someone and try to go in with the motivation to find someone. How much they're willing to pay? I think that's the bar you have to set right now. I think that number will ultimately determine their thinking. It will display their thinking. If they go in and offer Phillip Rivers $20 million, you know they don't think Mitchell Trubisky is the guy. If they go offer Marcus Mariota $5 million, then it's much more of a nebulous spot." 

Mays also hits on the Andy Reid/Kyle Shanahan matchup, and how that pertains to Matt Nagy and his abilities as a playcaller. You can check the whole thing right here, or in the embedded player below: 

Picking All-Stars reserves depends on what you're looking for

Picking All-Stars reserves depends on what you're looking for

The NBA will announce the reserves for next month’s All-Star game at the United Center during a one hour special on TNT Thursday night.

My colleague Rob Schaefer did an excellent job of breaking down the numbers yesterday, and it’s hard to argue with any of his conclusions.

Here’s the way I see the coaches' picks shaking out on Thursday.

East Guards: Ben Simmons, Kyle Lowry. East Frontcourt: Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Khris Middleton. East Wild Cards: Domantas Sabonis, Bradley Beal.

West guards: Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell. West Frontcourt: Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert, Brandon Ingram. West Wild Cards: Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul.

All worthy selections without a doubt. But for me, the All-Star game is about athleticism and exciting open court plays. So, I would focus on players who could brings the fans to their feet with slam dunks, 3-point shooting and creative passing.

With that in mind, I would have Bulls’ guard Zach LaVine and Celtics’ forward Jayson Tatum on the squad instead of big men Adebayo and Sabonis. Let’s face it, LaVine was born to showcase his talents in an All-Star game. Zach is a two-time slam dunk champion and he’s shooting the 3-pointer more effectively than at any point in his career. Plus, the fact that the game is being played at the United Center would create even more motivation for LaVine to put on a show.

Tatum is another high-flying wing player who can make spectacular plays in the open court. He’s only shooting 43.5% from the field, but who cares? It’s an exhibition game!

And even though Kyle Lowry is having another good season in Toronto, he’s currently third in the league in average minutes played. So, why not give the 14 year veteran a little extra rest during All-Star weekend to gear up for the stretch run?

Let’s replace Lowry with former Bull and Chicago native Derrick Rose. How much fun would it be to watch Derrick flashing his end to end speed in front of the hometown crowd! Rose is having a terrific season with the Pistons, and you can only imagine what it would be like for him to cap off his basketball re-birth by playing in the All-Star game in Chicago.

Over in the West, I’ve got to get one of my personal favorites, Memphis rookie point guard Ja Morant into the game. Morant has been a nightly staple on the national highlight shows with his spectacular dunks, spectacular ball-handling and twisting finishes between defenders. Morant can take Chris Paul’s spot.

I would keep Jokic in the game because of his passing wizardry and 3 point shooting ability. He’s painfully slow changing ends, but he can still help create highlight plays with his impressive passing. On the other hand, defensive specialist Rudy Gobert has to go. I mean, who plays defense in an All-Star game?

Give me Paul George instead. George has been limited to just 26 games because of shoulder and hamstring injuries, but he’s still averaging 23.5 points and has the perfect skill-set for an All-Star game with the ability to bomb in 3-pointers (39.5% this season) and sky above the rim for alley-oop finishes.

My last change? Give Phoenix guard Devin Booker a chance to showcase his scoring talent at the All-Star game, and let Russell Westbrook leave his scowl at home. Booker once scored 70 points in a single game, and is a threat to score the minute he crosses half-court. He’s averaging 27 points a game, shooting an incredible 50.8% from the field and 36.5% from 3-point range.

No matter which players eventually wind up in the All-Star showcase, it promises to be an exciting night for everyone involved. But as the league gets ready to honor the memory of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, why not put on the most high-scoring, exciting All-Star game the world has ever seen?

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