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Butler returns INT for score, Colts lead Jags 24-3

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Butler returns INT for score, Colts lead Jags 24-3

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Darius Butler intercepted Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert and returned it 11 yards for a touchdown as the Indianapolis Colts increased their lead to 24-3 over the Jacksonville Jaguars at the end of the third quarter Thursday night.

It was the second big defensive play of the game for the cornerback, who recovered a fumble in the second quarter that led to a score.

The Jaguars, who struggled offensively all game, seemed to finally be making some traction on their ensuing drive thanks to a 52-yard pass to Cecil Shorts that put them inside the Colts 30. But a sack and holding penalty on consecutive plays led to a punt.

Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck ran for two touchdowns and Adam Vinatieri added a field goal in the first half.

Luck was surgical in the opening half, keeping drives alive with several long passes.

He scored on a close 4th-and-goal sneak for his second touchdown, prompting Jacksonville coach Mike Mularkey to throw his play sheet as he ran onto the field arguing for a review.

He was assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and told the play was reviewed and the ruling on the field confirmed.

That seven-play, 61-yard drive was set up by the Colts winning a challenge on a fumble by Laurent Robinson.

It was a microcosm of another abysmal half for the Jags in recent weeks.

Aside from the coaching staff losing two key challenges, Gabbert also had several passes dropped, and there was a costly false start penalty late in the half inside the red zone that caused the Jags to settle for a field goal as the offense struggled.

The Jaguars went three-and-out on their first two drives of the game, before using a few long passes and a scramble by Gabbert to get inside the Colts 30.

The drive stalled, though, and kicker Josh Scobee missed a 44-yard field goal attempt wide right. It would have given him a franchise-record 21 straight makes.

Jacksonville appeared to intercept Luck on the first play of the ensuing Colts series, but the interception was nullified by a roughing the passer penalty on defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.

The Jags' defense did intercept Luck late in the half, but otherwise put little pressure on him.

Indianapolis was without six starters, including both of its starting cornerbacks, two offensive linemen, their starting tight end and All-Pro defensive end Robert Mathis.

Still, they entered the night riding a three-game winning streak, including close wins in consecutive games engineered by the rookie Luck.

It was the sixth game the Colts played without coach Chuck Pagano, whose leukemia diagnosis in October has definitely inspired his team.

Playing in his first prime time game, Luck was one the most recent players to shave his head in his coach's honor, joining more than three dozen others.

The Jaguars came into the matchup hoping to continue their three-game win streak in the series.

Jacksonville had the advantage of home teams boasting a 6-2 mark in Thursday night games this season, after going 7-2 in those prime time games in 2011.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said before the game that fact hasn't been lost on him.

``We had some discussion about that this week. We're looking at that,'' he said. ``One of the things I want to try and do is get the analysis on how teams are performing outside of the Thursday games. We've got to be careful of making decisions quick without the data. We've got to analyze that.''

Home teams are 29-14 all-time.

``Yes, but that's not what I'm interested in,'' Goodell said. ``What I'm saying is how are they doing outside of that? In other words, those teams may have a higher percentage of winning anyhow. So, you just have to look at that.''

It was the Jaguars annual ``Salute to Service'' Military Appreciation Game.

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Barry Trotz finds contract he was looking for, expected to be named New York Islanders new head coach

Barry Trotz finds contract he was looking for, expected to be named New York Islanders new head coach

Barry Trotz did not remain unemployed for very long.

Trotz, who led the Capitals to the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup title, resigned from his post less than a week after the team's championship parade in Washington, D.C.

But the former bench boss appears to be headed to New York to become the Islanders new head coach, according to Darren Dreger of TSN.

Trotz's contract was expected to expire at the end of the 2017-18 season, but upon winning the Stanley Cup, an automatic two-year extension was triggered, raising his $1.5 million yearly salary by $300,000. But Trotz wanted to be compensated as one of the top five coaches in the NHL.

While the terms of his deal have yet to be finalized, according to Elliotte Friedman, Trotz's deal could be in the 5-year, $20 million range.

With the Islanders, Trotz inherits a team that finished 35-37-10 last season under head coach Doug Weight, despite having John Tavares, one of the best centers in the NHL, and several young studs like Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle, and Josh Ho-Sang. But Tavares enters the offseason as a free agent, and many teams will be looking to pay top-dollar for his services. 

Trotz will report to Lou Lamoriello, who was named the Islanders' president and general manager in May after spending three seasons in the same role with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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The Caps' Cup-winning roster is a lesson in building through the draft

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USA TODAY Sports

The Caps' Cup-winning roster is a lesson in building through the draft

Every year, the Stanley Cup-winning team shows the importance of building through the draft. This year, that team is the Washington Capitals.

With the NHL Draft starting on Friday, let’s break down the Capitals roster from the playoffs to see just how it was put together.

Acquired by the draft: Nicklas Backstrom, Madison Bowey, Travis Boy, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Shane Gersich, Philipp Grubauer, Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Alex Ovechkin, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Nathan Walker, Tom Wilson

Acquired as a free agent: Jay Beagle, Alex Chiasson, Brett Connolly, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Devante Smith-Pelly

Acquired by trade: Lars Eller, Jakub Jerabek, Michal Kempny, T.J. Oshie

The first thing to note is that the vast majority of Washington’s roster is made up of draft picks. Specifically, the majority of the Caps’ top six on offense, three of its top six defensemen and both goalies were drafted by the team.

Of the free agent signings, only two were big money players in Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik. In 2014, defense was a major question mark for the Caps and Brian MacLellan made a splash as the new general manager by signing both blue liners to big deals. The majority of the signings, however, are cheap, low risk and high reward players.

Finally, the trades include players who filled obvious needs. The Caps needed Oshie to shore up the top six, Eller was brought in to be the third line center, Kempny stepped in as a top-four defenseman and Jerabek was brought in for defensive depth.

So what does this show us?

First, the draft is absolutely critical to building a team’s core. True superstar players are hard to come by. Once a team gets one, they do everything they can to keep them. The draft is a team's first opportunity to acquire a certain player and, if they have superstar potential, sign them long-term. John Tavares this season looks headed to free agency and the buzz around him stems from the fact that he is very much the exception, not the rule. The base of the Caps’ Stanley Cup team was built by drafting star players like Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Carlson, Holtby, etc.

This also shows the importance of the draft for depth. In the salary cap era, teams need to find enough cap room for their stars and their depth players. Having young players is absolutely critical because their low cap hit allows for the team to sign the expensive stars and make the important addition in free agency  or by trade. This is a formula that only works if those young players are productive as well.

Players like Vrana and Burakovsky, for example, played big roles in the playoff run, but also carried low cap hits.

So the Caps built a core through the draft and filled key roles with trades and mostly cheap free agent signings.

There is no formula for how to win a Stanley Cup, if there was everyone would do it, but this is about as close as you can come to one. A team has to draft very well and then build around those draft picks to be successful. You cannot hope to build simply through trades and free agency because of the cost. Trades always require sending an asset the other way and very often that asset turns out to be prospects or draft picks. Free agency, meanwhile, requires team overpay for top targets leading to serious cap trouble down the line.

There are always trades and free agent signings that prove to be important, but those are only pieces to a much large puzzle. To win a Stanley Cup, you have to build through the draft.

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