Capitals

After rocky start, Zeigler blossoming for Panthers

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After rocky start, Zeigler blossoming for Panthers

PITTSBURGH (AP) Trey Zeigler thought he had it all figured out. On paper, it looked so obvious.

When the former Central Michigan guard transferred to Pitt over the summer and was granted a waiver by the NCAA that allowed him to play for the Panthers right away, Zeigler just assumed he'd be inserted right into the starting lineup alongside point guard Tray Woodall.

``That's how I had it in my head,'' Zeigler said.

Jamie Dixon's head, however, had other plans.

A couple days before the team's first exhibition game, Dixon sat Zeigler down and told him freshman James Robinson would start at the point and Woodall would be the shooting guard, leaving the player who averaged 16.0 points a game in two years at Central Michigan somewhat stunned.

Asked if his initial reaction was something along the lines of ``for real?'' and Zeigler laughed.

``Once I figured out I was going to be coming off the bench, it was just growing up,'' he said. ``I had to grow up and deal with the new role and that's just part of life.''

The adjustment period proved rockier than expected.

Though Zeigler was productive when given playing time early in the season, things changed when the 21-year-old was charged with two misdemeanor counts of driving under the influence in late November. Dixon suspended Zeigler two games. It gave Zeigler time to re-evaluate his outlook.

Did he wonder if he'd made a mistake by coming ``home'' to Pittsburgh - where his father Ernie, served as an assistant coach under Ben Howland from 2001-03 - instead of accepting transfer offers from Duke and UCLA? Did he think maybe he should have sat out a year to get acclimated instead of trying to immerse himself in an entirely new system in a few short months?

``All kinds of thoughts went through my head when I was going through it,'' Zeigler said. ``The biggest thing was having my family here, that really helped. Having my mom and dad here, talking me through it. If I was here by myself, it might have been even worse.''

Ernie and Seantelle Zeigler moved to Pittsburgh to be with the oldest of their two children when Central Michigan fired Ernie as head coach following six uneven seasons. Though he's out of coaching for the moment, Ernie is still getting his fix by breaking down tape with Trey into the wee hours of the morning.

Lately, dad's been a little busier than usual thanks to a decided uptick in play - and in playing time - for his son.

Zeigler is averaging 9.0 points over his last three games for Pitt (16-4, 4-3 Big East), which hosts DePaul (10-8, 1-4) on Saturday. It helps that he's playing about 22 minutes a game since Dixon made him the first guard off the bench before a loss to Marquette two weeks ago.

``I'm playing a lot more so I feel more comfortable on the court and doing what coach wants me to do, rebounding and defense,'' he said. ``I'm just trying to bring positive energy out there.''

The most direct route to getting into the lineup when playing for Dixon is crashing the boards, a point of emphasis since the beginning of the season.

The 6-foot-5 Zeigler is unlike most shooting guards in that he's not big on chucking 3-pointers - he's taken just three all year - and instead relies on slashing to the rim or pulling up for a midrange jumper. That means he's around the basket quite a bit, making him an effective rebounder. Nearly half (14) of his 34 boards have come off the offensive glass and he's shown a knack for tipping a ball to a teammate for an easy putback.

``It's just about reading the ball, reading it coming off the rim,'' he said. ``I'm not as big as other guys but I can sneak in there and try and get one or two a game.''

Zeigler's increased role has coincided with a three-game winning streak that has Pitt in the thick of a muddled middle in the Big East. A win on Saturday would clear the way for the most pivotal week of the season. Pitt plays at No. 5 Louisville on Monday and hosts No. 3 Syracuse next weekend.

At some point, Zeigler knows the Panthers will have to knock off a team they're not supposed to if they want to bolster their NCAA tournament credentials.

``We know we're good enough to beat anybody, but we need to do it,'' he said. ``We've got some opportunities coming up, hopefully we take advantage of it.''

It's something Zeigler believes he's done following a rough start. While Dixon said there are plans to put Cameron Wright - who Zeigler replaced as the top player off the bench - back into the mix, the coach is also well aware that Zeigler needs to be on the floor.

``I think he's making better decisions with the basketball,'' Dixon said. ``He's now been with us for half a year and I think that's only natural. It's something that we expected and hoped for and we're seeing it. So it's not surprising.''

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The 6 biggest offseason questions facing the Capitals

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USA Today Sports

The 6 biggest offseason questions facing the Capitals

The second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs are underway, but for the first time since 2014, the Capitals are not in it. Though Wednesday’s Game 7 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes is still fresh in the team’s mind, there is no rest for the weary. The offseason is now officially here and there is work to be done to prepare for next season.

With that in mind, here are the biggest questions facing the Caps this offseason.

Will the Caps re-sign Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby?

Backstrom and Holtby’s current contracts expire at the end of the 2019-20 season meaning that they are only locked in with the Capitals for one more year. Allowing big-name players to enter the last year of their contract without a new deal in place can get messy and you often see teams look to finish these deals a year beforehand.

But finding the right numbers for both players may prove difficult. Backstrom is 31 and is on an absurdly team-friendly deal with a cap hit of $6.7 million. For that reason, you could understand if he had no interest in giving a hometown discount for Washington.

Holtby, meanwhile is only 29 and still at the top of his game, but the team’s future in net, Ilya Samsonov, is now in North America. The Caps may not be interested in committing to Holtby as their starter for a long-term deal, especially as the Seattle expansion draft is only two years away and Washington will only be able to protect one goalie between Holtby and Samsonov.

How much money will Jakub Vrana and Christian Djoos take?

Of the team’s restricted free agents, there are two who will almost certainly be back in Washington next season. Vrana is coming off a career-high 24-goal and 47-point season. Djoos struggled in the first round of the playoffs, but let’s not forget he played a pivotal role in the 2018 Stanley Cup run playing in 22 playoff games. All it is going to take to retain his rights is to qualify him at his current salary of $650,000. I really see no reason why general manager Brian MacLellan would not do this.

The question then is how much of a raise will each player get?

Washington is a cap team and as a result, they do not have a lot of money to work with. The more money both players end up with, the less the team will have to sign or re-sign free agents.

Vrana’s raise will be significant as his cap hit for the 2018-19 season was only $863,333. With the team’s cap crunch, I see a bridge deal being likely somewhere in the ballpark of $3 to 4 million per year.

Djoos’ will not see as significant a bump to his $650,000 cap hit and will likely come in somewhere in the $900K to $1 million range.

Will the Caps keep Andre Burakovsky and/or Chandler Stephenson?

The other restricted free agents from the current roster besides Vrana and Djoos are Burakovsky, Stephenson and Dmitrij Jaskin. Jaskin played in only 37 games in the regular season and none in the playoffs. He just did not seem to fit into Todd Reirden’s plans and it would be bizarre if MacLellan elected to qualify him.

After underperforming for much of the regular season, trade rumors began spreading regarding Burakovsky’s future in Washington. MacLellan elected to hold onto him, however, and he began to play well after the trade deadline and into the playoffs. Still, it would take a cap hit of $3.25 million to qualify him and that’s a lot of money for a player who has shown he is prone to inconsistent play throughout his career and who scored only 12 goals in the regular season.

I wonder if we could see a similar tactic to what the team did with Devante Smith-Pelly last season. MacLellan elected not to qualify Smith-Pelly even after his brilliant playoff performance. That then took away the restriction of a qualifying offer allowing the team to re-sign Smith-Pelly at a lower cap hit. That’s a risky move that could result in a player simply walking as a free agent, but I would not be surprised if MacLellan went down a similar path with Burakovsky.

As for Stephenson, Reirden plays him frequently and clearly likes what he brings. I would expect both players to return next season.

Can the Caps afford to re-sign Brett Connolly and/or Carl Hagelin?

You can never have enough 20-goal scorers and Connolly is one of those caliber players. He scored a career-high 22 goals for Washington this season and is likely to generate a lot of interest as an unrestricted free agent. After struggling with two different franchises before he landed in Washington, Connolly may want to stick around with the only team he has managed to find success. Given the team’s cap constraints, however, it is almost guaranteed that there will be other teams willing to offer Connolly more money and a bigger role than what the Caps can. Even if he wants to stay in Washington there is always a limit to how much money a player is willing to leave on the table. It is going to be tough for the Caps to keep him.

Hagelin was acquired at the trade deadline and was seamlessly integrated into his new team. He instantly became the best penalty killer on the ice and his versatility allowed Reirden to play him on any line depending on what the team needed. A player on the wrong side of 30 whose biggest asset is his speed is always a player to be wary of as that speed is going to drop off at some point with each passing year.

Is this the end of Brooks Orpik’s time in Washington?

Orpik will be 39 before the 2019-20 season begins. Considering his age, it is fair to wonder if he has played his last NHL game. Even if he does decide to return next season, he was playing on a one-year deal and the Caps could elect not to re-sign him.

After a mediocre season, Orpik was good in the playoffs and that could lead to MacLellan wondering if bringing him back on a cheap deal to mentor the younger defensemen is not such a bad idea. Ultimately, however, this seems unlikely.

If MacLellan wants to pursue either Connolly or Hagelin, even a cheap Orpik deal could make it nearly impossible to make it all work under the cap. Plus, the Caps may not even need him. Assuming the same players return, the Caps’ blue line could look like this next season:

Michal Kempny – John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov – Matt NIskanen
Jonas Siegenthaler – Nick Jensen
Christian Djoos

If the team brings him in for one last ride, any contract conversations with Orpik should make clear that he is not going to be an everyday player and he will be expected to mentor the younger guys.

Do the Caps have any cap flexibility at all?

The salary cap is expected to be around $83 million next year. The ceiling for Washington, however, will be $1.15 million below that due to overages from performance bonuses paid out in 2018-19. New deals for Nic Dowd, Nick Jensen and Pheonix Copley kick in next season which all include raises for those players. The returning RFAs will chew up still more cap space with raises to their cap hits, especially Vrana.

There is going to be little to no cap room for Washington to work with this offseason. That’s a problem considering depth scoring is always so crucial to a team’s success and the Caps may be forced to let players like Connolly and Hagelin walk. If they do, MacLellan will have to find a cheap way to replace them and still have scoring depth in the bottom six.

Could all of this lead to the team trying to shed salary in the offseason and if so, who would MacLellan try to ship out? He may have no choice if he hopes to keep any of the team’s UFAs or replace them for players of similar value.

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2019 NFL Draft: Best remaining players entering Day 2; Third round targets for Redskins

2019 NFL Draft: Best remaining players entering Day 2; Third round targets for Redskins

Good news: The Redskins ended the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft with quarterback Dwayne Haskins and edge rusher Montez Sweat.

Related news: The Redskins no longer own a second-round pick. 

Nobody is complaining.

The NFL world returns Friday for Day 2. Since Washington dealt the 46th overall selection to the Indianapolis Colts along with a 2020 second for Sweat, it won’t be on the clock without another trade until the first of two third-round choices.

Again, no angry mobs are forming. The Redskins addressed two key needs. Yes, they have several more remaining. The same applies to every team to varying degrees.

Here’s a look at the best players remaining and names to watch for Washington in the third.

Day 2 Best Available

Drew Lock, QB, Missouri – So much for Drew being a round one lock. He was the most polarizing of the top four passing prospects based on pre-draft conversations with league sources. Somebody (Raiders?) will jump on the upside early in the second. Lock finished with 72 touchdown passes to 21 interceptions over his final two seasons. 

Byron Murphy, CB, Washington/Greedy Williams, CB, LSU/ Rock Ya-Sin, CB, Temple – The cornerback run never happened with only Georgia’s DeAndre Baker hearing his name called Friday. Williams owns the most public hype of these three thanks to sub 4.4 40-time and strong cover skills, but his stock plummeted throughout draft season in part because of his limited interest in tackling. Don’t be surprised if he’s third off the board among this trio. 

Cody Ford, G, Oklahoma – Arguably, the most surprising slider based on the foundational aspect of offensive linemen and Ford’s mauling nature. One source told NBCSW pre-draft that the Vikings dropped Ford after their meeting. Perhaps other teams struggled to believe in the college tackle in the first. 

Jawaan Taylor, T, Florida -- Wild day for Taylor, who entered the draft a projected top 10 selection, but several injury and weight red flags popped up in recent days. Seeing as Jacksonville at 7 made for a popular mock selection, maybe the Jaguars circle back on Day 2.

A.J. Brown, WR, Mississippi/D.K. Metcalf, WR, Mississippi -- Two receivers went in the first round. Some are surely shocked the Adonis-like Metcalf fell, but there are concerns about his agility and limited production especially compared to his talented college teammate. He also is 6-foot-3 and runs a 4.33 40-time. Brown had 85 receptions last season. One scout told NBCSW he believes Brown is the better of the two. 

Erik McCoy, C, Texas A&M/Dalton Risner, T, Kansas State – Fine, neither went in the first, but these two versatile linemen remain immediate starters for their yet-to-be-determined NFL team. The athletic and powerful Risner, a three-year starter and 2018 All-American, could play three positions. 

Irv Smith, TE, Alabama – Smith rated just behind the two Iowa tight ends that went in the first. Going with the 6-foot-2 target is more of an upside play, but he did average 16 yards per catch during his junior season with the Crimson Tide. 

Jaylon Ferguson, DE, La. Tech – The pass rusher received some first-round buzz. Don’t be surprised if a team trades up for the edge rusher who had 17.5 sacks and 65 tackles last season. For now… 

Others: Juan Thornhill, CB, Virginia; Nassir Adderley, S, Delaware; J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford; Parris Campbell, WR, Ohio State; Will Grier, QB, West Virginia; Justin Layne, CB, Michigan State; Dre'Mont Jones, DE/DT, Ohio State; Chase Winovich, DE, Michigan; Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina; Taylor Rapp, SS, Washington; Miles Sanders, RB, Penn State; David Long, CB, Michigan.

Third round

The Redskins enter Friday with the 77th and 97th selections and clear needs at wide receiver, free safety, left guard, tight end and inside linebacker.

Wide receiver: Riley Ridley, Georgia; Kelvin Harmon, NC State – Patience pays off and made easier considering the impressive Day 2 positional depth. Both Ridley and Harmon offer 6-foot-2 size, which the roster needs. Harmon, a three-year starter brings strong hands and a physical presence.

Tight end: Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M; Kahale Warring, San Diego State -- Several league sources believed the Redskins entered the draft focused on adding tight end help and not just mere depth. Head coach Jay Gruden said as much this off-season. Warring, a former basketball and water polo player visited Ashburn, pre-draft. The interest isn’t about the stats, but the tape. One scout cited the 6-foot-5 Warring as the player in this class he wanted on his team most regardless of round.

Guard: Conor McGovern, Penn State; Dru Samia, G, Oklahoma – Redskins senior VP of Player Personnel said Monday former Giants bust Ereck Flowers’ evolution from tackle to guard could earn him the starting spot next to Trent Williams. Legit hope or not, the Redskins must add more help somewhere in the draft. The 308-pound McGovern would immediately boost the run blocking.

Inside linebacker: Mack Wilson, Alabama; Bobby Okereke, Stanford – The Redskins have questions all over the place with this unit, including trusting Reuben Foster to make it through a season without incident. The other projected starter, Mason Foster, becomes a free agent in 2020. Wilson would provide the defense with a stout tackler – and yet another Alabama defender.

Safety: Deionte Thompson, Alabama; Amani Hooker, Iowa – Adding Landon Collins should change plenty in the secondary, but the defense lacks a true centerfielder. Injuries and late-season struggles dropped Thompson possibly into the third, but he would be a strong replacement option for fellow Crimson Tide safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. 

Others: Julian Love, CB, Notre Dame; Sean Bunting, CB, Central Michigan; Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis; Oshane Ximines, DE, Old Dominion; Michael Jordan, C, Ohio State; Marvell Tell, USC

Not included: Any quarterback. You know why. 

Bonus: Here's a second-round mock plus third-round choices for the Redskins and Ravens.

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