Banner hopes to make Browns winners


Banner hopes to make Browns winners

BEREA, Ohio (AP) Joe Banner didn't want to make any promises or predictions. It's not his nature.

But just as he helped transform the Philadelphia Eagles into consistent winners, the new CEO of the Cleveland Browns has a plan to fix a franchise trapped inside a vortex of failure.

He just hopes it doesn't take five years.

``I'll be in a straitjacket if it takes that long,'' Banner joked.

On the same day GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan rerouted his campaign trail through Cleveland's practice, the Browns ushered in a new administration as Banner was introduced by new owner Jimmy Haslam III, whose $1 billion purchase of the franchise was approved at the NFL's fall meetings on Tuesday.

Banner spent 19 years with the Eagles, spending the final 12 seasons as team president. During his time in Philadelphia, the Eagles went to the playoffs 11 times, won six NFC East titles, advanced to five NFC title games and one Super Bowl. The 59-year-old knows that other than losing, the only constant in Cleveland over the past decade has been change.

He's aware that other executives have tried and failed to turn around the Browns, who have made the playoffs just once since 1999. Banner isn't going to dwell on past mistakes or make any rash judgments as eases into his new position. He's only interested in delivering a winner to Cleveland's long-suffering and passionate fans.

``I don't want to be the next person to make a bunch of promises,'' he said. ``I want to go out, do the work and let them see the result.''

Banner won't officially begin handling the Browns' day-to-day operations until Oct. 25, when Haslam's acquisition of the team from Randy Lerner will be finalized. By then, the Browns (1-5) will have played seven games and both Haslam and Banner will have a better sense of the work ahead.

After resigning as Philadelphia's president in June, Banner stayed on as a consultant to owner Jeff Lurie with the Eagles and kept one eye on his next challenge. He met with Haslam, and from his first conversation with the truck stop magnate, Banner knew he had found something worth pursuing.

The Browns had everything he wanted: a franchise with untapped potential, a passionate owner and fervent fan base. For Banner, it was so much like what he had experienced almost 20 years ago when he started in Philadelphia.

``I thought this would be a year or two process to find the situation I was looking for and the right ownership and the right city and everything like that,'' he said. ``To be honest, I wasn't even sure I would ever find it. But I certainly thought it would take a while. To have found somebody like Jimmy and to be in a market like Cleveland, with a love of the team and love of the game like this, in a matter of four or five months to me is remarkable and very, very lucky.''

Banner's arrival signals the end of Mike Holmgren's tenure as Browns president and could lead to a further shake-up in Cleveland's front office. Holmgren is expected to stay on until the end of this season, his third with the club, and then retire.

While Holmgren's future is known, the prospects for Browns coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert are uncertain.

Shurmur is just 5-17 in two seasons with the Browns, who got their first win last week over Cincinnati Cleveland. Haslam recently met for 90 minutes with Shurmur, offering him his support and telling him no decisions would be made until after the season ends.

``I'm at peace with what happens,'' Shurmur said Wednesday.

Heckert has overhauled Cleveland's roster since he was hired by Holmgren in 2010. And while Heckert appears to have the young Browns (1-5) headed in the right direction, there are no guarantees he'll survive the ownership change.

Banner worked with Heckert in Philadelphia and has respect for the GM. He would not comment on Heckert's track record with Cleveland.

``I don't want to get into the specifics at this point,'' Banner said. ``It's just premature. I know Tom well, I like him as a person and I respect him professionally a lot.''

Cleveland's pro personnel department includes several other members Banner worked with in Philadelphia. Banner holds them all in high regard and said they will be evaluated at the end of the season, which is the norm throughout the league.

``There isn't a single one I don't like personally, have a lot of respect for and I've seen them do their jobs extremely well in an environment where I worked right with them,'' Banner said. ``I come in with a very positive attitude and impression about all those people.

``There will be a thorough evaluation of everything that we do, but whether there will be changes or not I think time will answer that for us.''

When he began searching for an executive to run the Browns, Haslam sought advice inside and outside pro football for the right candidate. Almost every conversation ended with Haslam being pointed toward one person - Banner.

``It came up from people we know and people we don't know,'' said Haslam, who built his fortune with Pilot Flying J truck stops. ``Joe and I have spent a lot of time together over the last two or three months and have really come to know each other very well. I come from the business world and have hired a lot of senior executives. I can say I've spent more time with this senior executive, making sure he was the right fit for the Cleveland Browns than any we ever interviewed for Pilot Flying J.

``I checked out Joe as thoroughly as anyone I ever checked out.''

Banner, too, did his background work on Haslam. He came away convinced Haslam was the right man and Cleveland was the right place.

``He's totally real,'' Banner said of Haslam. ``First of all, he's incredibly passionate. He's very smart. He's a good person. He cares about people, and he is just laser focused on wanting to have the joy of running a football team that's winning a lot of games and ultimately holding a Super Bowl trophy.''


NOTES: Browns RB Trent Richardson was limited in practice, but expects to play Sunday against Indianapolis with a rib cartilage injury. Richardson got hurt last week against Cincinnati, taking a helmet to the ribs in the first quarter. Richardson said his side was tender and he had trouble breathing. ``It's gonna be day by day, step by step,'' Richardson said. ``Me in my head, I'm already ready for Sunday. It just depends how I do and Coach is gonna let me know what I need to do.'' ... Browns WR Mohamed Massaquoi practiced for the first time after missing three games with a hamstring injury. ... Browns LB Scott Fujita and DB Dimitri Patterson did not practice. Fujita is facing a possible career-ending neck injury.


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Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Coach Barry Trotz indicated that Andre Burakovsky’s benching wouldn’t last long.

And it didn’t.

The 23-year-old winger will return to the lineup on Monday night as the Caps look to stave off elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final.

During the morning skate, Burakovsky skated on the third line with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly—a trio that’s enjoyed some success in the past.

It’s been a difficult postseason for Burakovsky, who has not recorded a point in six games. He missed 10 contests after suffering a hand injury in Game 2 of the first round that required minor surgery.

What he found out upon returning was this: coming back from injury in the regular season is hard...and it’s exponentially tougher in the playoffs.

“It’s definitely tough to jump in in the semifinal,” he said. “When you’re out, you just want to get in and help the team and do what you’re good at—score goals and produce.”

“What I realized is that it’s not that easy,” he added. “I really thought I could jump in and just play like I did before I got injured. 

But obviously it didn’t work out as well I thought it would.”  

Burakovsky also said that he’s planning to work with a sports psychologist this summer in an effort to maintain an even keel when things aren’t going as well as he would like. It’s a problem that he said he’s struggled with since his childhood.

Asked what he hopes to see from Burakovsky in Game 6, Coach Barry Trotz kept it simple: offense.

The Caps have scored just two goals in each of the last three games, with Evgeny Kuznetsov contributing 50-percent of that total.

“He’s a guy that’s given us some good offense all through his time here,” Trotz said of Burakovsky. “We think that he can add some of that.”


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5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

The more you look at Monday's Game 6 between the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning, the more you realize this game is the most important game of Alex Ovechkin's career.

This is the first time Ovechkin and Co. have made it to the conference finals and it is the first time this postseason in which the Caps face elimination.

Here are the keys for the Caps to staving off elimination and forcing a Game 7:

1. Get off to a better start

It took Tampa Bay just 19 seconds to score in Game 5 and the score was 3-0 nothing before the Capitals really began to show any signs of life. They cannot allow the Lightning to jump all over them in the same way and take the crowd out of the game early.

With the game being in Washington, the Caps will have the crowd on their side. Use it.

The Caps have been at their best this series playing the trap, holding their own blue line and countering against Tampa Bay's aggressive defensemen leading to odd-man breaks. That's a hard gameplan to run if you're playing from behind. Scoring first would go a long way for Washington.

2. Stay out of the penalty box

Washington has given up six power play goals to Tampa Bay on just 15 opportunities in this series. That means the Lightning's power play is producing at a blistering rate of 40-percent. That's an insanely good power play rate and that may be putting it mildly.

So far, the penalty kill has had no answer for how to shut down a Tampa Bay unit that features Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov setting up for one-timers and being quarterbacked by Victor Hedman. That's a formidable cast.

If you can't beat it, then there's only one solution: Stay out of the box.

Despite everything that went wrong in Game 5, the one thing the Caps did right was not give up many penalties. They took only one on the night and even that one was avoidable as Brett Connolly got caught holding Brayden Point trying to get around him to get the puck.

3. Win the top line matchup

The Lightning have found success matching their fourth line against Ovechkin. Of his six points this series, only two of them (one goal, one assist) have come at 5-on-5. That's not good enough.

It's gut check time. The Caps need their best players to be at their best and that means Ovechkin has to win the matchup against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan. In Game 5, Tampa Bay's fourth line actually outscored Ovechkin's line in 5-on-5 play 2-0.

Washington will not win this game if the fourth line outscores Ovechkin's line. It's just that simple.

4. Take advantage of the power play opportunities

The Caps scored at least one power play goal in Game 1 and Game 2, both wins. They have not scored any since and have lost all three games since. They scored on three of seven opportunities in the first two games and zero of seven opportunities in the last three.

Not a coincidence.

Granted, they did not draw any penalties in Game 5, but it seems unlikely the Lightning will stay out of the box for another sixty minutes. At some point, they will take a penalty and when they do, Washington must take advantage.

5. Win the goalie matchup

Not much attention has been paid to Braden Holtby in this series. The Caps are not facing elimination because they have been getting bad goaltending, but when the Lightning needed Andrei Vasilevskiy to steal them a win and up his game to get them back into the series, he responded.

Vasilevskiy has been brilliant the last three games as he has turned aside 100 of the 106 shots he has faced for a .943 save percentage. For the series, Holtby has a save percentage of only .883.

Again, Washington is not down 3-2 in the series because of goaltending. Holtby has faced far fewer shots than Vasilevskiy and has been just about the only thing that has worked against Tampa Bay's lethal power play.

But as one of the team's top players, the Caps need Holtby to step up the way Vasilevskiy has. Game 6 will be about winning by any means necessary. If that means they need a hat trick from Ovechkin so be it. If that means they need Holtby to steal it for them, so be it.

Holtby has to be just as good as Vasilevskiy in Game 6, if not better, for Washington to come out on top.