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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.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Corey Crawford is BACK, are the Bulls legitimate playoff contenders?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Corey Crawford is BACK, are the Bulls legitimate playoff contenders?

Mark Lazerus and Hub Arkush join David Kaplan on the panel.

The guys discuss Corey Crawford’s return and what it means for the team’s playoff chances.

Khalil Mack misses practice again. The guys debate if it would be better to leave him out vs. the Patriots.

The latest on the MLB playoffs with controversy in Houston and gamesmanship by the Brewers.

Will Perdue and Kendall Gill join the panel to discuss Kris Dunn’s absence from the opener and the team’s playoff chances this season.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below.

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Three reasons why the Bears' offense should have success against the Patriots' defense

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Three reasons why the Bears' offense should have success against the Patriots' defense

Every team will try to scheme against what its opponent does best. Not every team does it as well as Bill Belichick consistently has in his Hall of Fame tenure as the coach of the New England Patriots. 
 
This is what Belichick is famous for, beyond the five Super Bowl trophies and historic partnership with Tom Brady. That thing your team’s offense does best? He’s going to take it away. 
 
That can create a mental challenge for an opposing coach during the week. Do you focus on doing something other than what your offense does best because Belichick is going to identify and scheme against it, or do you try to accentuate what you do best so it can’t be taken away? 
 
“That’s that whole chasing the cat’s tail thing,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “All of the sudden you start out-thinking to yourself, ‘What the heck?’ That’s the mystique, and that’s what they do. They’ve earned that over time because of the success they’ve had. 
 
“When you don’t go too crazy with that and balance it and control what you can control. Then in the end, win, lose or draw, no matter what, you at least feel good you approached it the right way, and you weren’t, ‘Oh shoot, I should have done this. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.’”
 
When Taylor Gabriel and the Atlanta Falcons faced the Patriots in Super Bowl LI, everybody on that team knew Belichick would do what he could to take Julio Jones out of the game. But that didn’t make preparations any easier. 
 
“We knew he was going to take away Julio, but we didn’t know how he was going to do it,” Gabriel said. “So it’s just just something you kind of have to adjust to when you get in the game.”
 
Jones only had four catches in that game, and the Falcons were able to quickly adjust to how he was taken away — though it wasn’t enough to keep them from a historic collapse and ultimate overtime loss. 
 
Tight end Dion Sims played New England eight times during his four years with the Miami Dolphins, and came away with a healthy respect for the scheme and the players on that defense. 
 
“They’re fundamentally sound, they got good coaching over there, a good staff,” Sims said. “You gotta be prepared because they come out and they play their ass off.” 
 
But what should give the Bears confidence they can mentally and physically beat New England’s defense?
 
1. The Patriots’ defense isn’t what it once was
 
The way Bears coaches and players have talked about New England’s defense this week has been with reverence and respect. But lately, the Patriots’ defense production hasn’t quite equalled its reputation. 
 
Maybe it started with Nagy’s Kansas City Chiefs launching 42 points and over 500 yards of offense against New England in 2017’s nationally-televised season opener. Maybe Super Bowl LII, in which the Philadelphia Eagles ripped off 41 points with a backup quarterback, was another turning point. Or maybe the Patriots’ 43-40 win over the Chiefs on Sunday night, which looked more like a Big 12 game than an NFL game, further chipped away at that mystique. 
 
New England’s defense heads to Chicago ranked 18th in points allowed (24.7) and has allowed 400 or more yards of offense in four of six games this year. They’re 19th in defensive DVOA, though Pro Football Focus’ grades do peg this group fourth, behind only the Bears, Rams and Eagles. 
 
What this defense does well is take the ball away, with eight interceptions and four fumble recoveries critical in propping up a defense that isn’t good on third down (44 percent conversion rate, 25th) or in the red zone (68 percent, 26th). But as long as the Bears' ball security is better than its two-turnovers-inside-the-five-yard-line showing in Miami on Sunday, an offense that scored 48 and 28 points in its last two games should be in good shape. 
 
2. Multiple weapons
 
How Belichick schemes against a Bears offense that’s been explosive and productive in its last two weeks will be fascinating to see on Sunday. Maybe it’ll be Tarik Cohen, who Belichick said is “a special player that you gotta know where he is at all times.” Maybe it’ll be making sure Taylor Gabriel doesn’t beat them deep (“The execution on that was like 99 out of 100,” Belichick said of Mitch Trubisky’s 54-yard deep ball to Gabriel against Miami). Or maybe it’ll be dropping seven or eight guys into coverage, spying Trubisky and forcing the second-year Bears quarterback to make good decisions and fit passes into tight windows. Or maybe it’ll be something else entirely. 
 
This goes back to the guessing game, though, and it’s one the Bears can’t allow themselves to play. 
 
“I think you can spend too much time on that,” Nagy said. “I look at that and I think I've said it before, it can be kind of like chasing the cat's tail. You've got to be careful of that and when you just start worrying about what you do — and of course here or there you might so something a little bit different — but if you just start doing things different because of one coach, now you've stopped worrying about just controlling what you can control and I haven't found too much success with that.”
 
The good news for the Bears, though, is they seem to have the multitude of weapons necessary to have success against a Belichick defense. Kansas City showed it on Sunday — when the Patriots took away Kelce, Kareem Hunt racked up 185 yards from scrimmage, while Tyreek Hill gouged New England for 142 yards on seven catches with three touchdowns.
 
So if the plan is to take away Cohen, that could lead to opportunities for Gabriel, or vice versa. Or if the plan is to drop seven or eight into coverage, that would give Jordan Howard an opportunity to carve out yards on the ground.  
 
“They utilize all their players, the backs, the tight ends, the receivers, the quarterback, they all have production, so if you take one away, they just go to the next guy, and that’s hard to defend,” Belichick said. “There are a lot of options on some of those plays, which guy is going to end up with the ball based on a quarterback’s decision, if it’s a check-with me type of play, bubbles and look passes and RPOs and things like that, it’s up to the quarterback to make the right decision and Trubisky’s done a good job of that. I think all those things, they keep getting better and they’re hard to defend.”
 
3. History repeating itself
 
In Nagy’s only meeting with New England as Kansas City’s offensive coordinator, his offense scored 42 points — and that’s a number that has resonated in the Bears’ locker room and practice fields this week.  
 
“You have to go into this game with confidence and know that we’re playing against a great group of guys who’ve been there, been to the Super Bowl and then they also have Tom Brady on the other side,” Sims said. “It’s important that we capitalize on everything and try to be mistake-free.” 
 
“What the defense is giving you is what the offense will take — what good offenses will do,” Gabriel said. “I feel like we have those type of minds up there in the booth and on the field with us to figure out what those guys are doing and how we want to attack it.”
 
The Bears’ offense is young, from the coach to offensive coordinator to most of the players that populate it. Beating New England, even if its defense isn’t what it used to be, would send a message around the league that the Bears are for real. Until the Patriots are dethroned in consecutive years, or even finish a season with fewer than, say, 12 wins, they’re still the Patriots.  
 
But while this team is young, it does have a handful of guys who’ve competed against New England on some of the NFL’s biggest stages. So expect guys like Gabriel, Burton and even Nagy to not allow this team to let facing the Patriots become daunting on Sunday. 
 
“It’s not difficult at all,” Gabriel said of avoiding thinking about that mystique. “Just like this team, we have the weapons to take advantage of those one-on-one matchups. I don’t care what defense you are, you’re going to have a one-on-one matchup somewhere unless you’re dropping everybody. So as long as you’re staying the pace and being confident in what you’re doing, I feel like we’ll be okay.”