Capitals

Cincinnati coach Jones weighing options

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Cincinnati coach Jones weighing options

CINCINNATI (AP) Coach Butch Jones was weighing his options Tuesday after returning to Cincinnati's campus after two days of interviews at Purdue and Colorado.

Jones attended a news conference about the Bearcats' appearance in the Belk Bowl on Dec. 27 against Duke. Cincinnati (9-3) finished with a share of the Big East title for the fourth time in the last five years.

He declined to talk about his interviews or his future.

``I'm still the coach here, that's all that matters,'' Jones said. ``This is about the Belk Bowl. I have every intention (of coaching in the bowl). You have to understand why we're here. If you don't, we can end it right now.''

School officials were meeting with him to see what it would take to keep him at Cincinnati, where he's finishing his third season. He signed a contract extension following last season that stretches through 2017 with a $1.4 million buyout if he leaves before Jan. 1.

Keeping football coaches has been a challenge for Cincinnati. The last two used the job as a stepping stone to a bigger program, leaving after three-year stints.

Mark Dantonio oversaw the Bearcats' move into the Big East, but was discouraged with their inability to draw much of a crowd at 35,000-seat Nippert Stadium - a sticking point for years. Dantonio landed at Michigan State.

Brian Kelly took over after the 2006 season and led the program to its greatest heights, including appearances in the Orange Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. He also left after three seasons to coach at Notre Dame, his dream job. Kelly went to South Bend as the unbeaten Bearcats were preparing for their first Sugar Bowl appearance, leaving the team in disarray. They got drubbed by Florida, 51-24, while Kelly was settling in at Notre Dame.

Jones, who succeeded Kelly at Central Michigan, also replaced him at Cincinnati. The Bearcats have gone 23-14 in three seasons under Jones, including a win over Vanderbilt at the Liberty Bowl last season.

During Jones' tenure, the university has expanded its practice facilities, adding a football field with a protective bubble for bad weather. The school also has been trying to figure out a way to upgrade Nippert, which is the second-oldest playing site in the nation for a college team behind Penn's Franklin Field. Nippert has been in use since 1901.

Despite their Big East success, the Bearcats have played in front of less-than-capacity crowds at Nippert much of the time. They drew only 21,171 fans on senior night - their smallest crowd of the season - for a 27-10 win over South Florida.

The university also has been trying to find a place during the Big East's massive exodus. Last month, Louisville was accepted into the Atlantic Coast Conference, which also considered Cincinnati but chose one of its biggest rivals instead.

Jones interviewed at Purdue on Sunday and at Colorado a day later. Bearcats players have off this week before resuming practice for the Charlotte bowl. The players talked among themselves about Jones' future and were awaiting his decision.

Players were trying not to get caught up in the uncertainty.

``It's not a big deal for us,'' junior defensive lineman Jordan Stepp said.

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Who will the Caps play in their first playoff series? The round robin, explained.

Who will the Caps play in their first playoff series? The round robin, explained.

Before the season pause, the Caps were in danger of falling down the standings. Now they could claim the top spot in the east.
 
When the NHL paused its season on March 12, the Capitals held just a one-point lead in the Metropolitan Division and trailed the conference-leading Boston Bruins by 10 points.

The Bruins held an almost insurmountable lead atop the conference and the Philadelphia Flyers were one of the hottest teams in the league. At that point, Washington looked more likely to drop in the standings than to climb. With the NHL’s new 24-team playoff format for the 2019-20 season, however, the Caps will have three games to possibly claim the top spot in the east.
 
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced on Tuesday the league’s return to play plan including the 24-team playoff format.

Washington, as one of the top four teams in the conference, will get a bye to the first round of the playoffs and not have to play in the play-in round. Instead, the Caps will play a round-robin tournament against the other top seeds in the conference: Boston, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia. The winner of that round robin will determine the seeds for the playoffs.
 
The inclusion of a round-robin has some fans a bit confused as it is not something seen in a normal season so let’s break it down.
 
First off, you can throw out the current seeding for the top four teams. The regular season records determined who the top four teams are, but that is it. They no longer matter. The round robin is a clean slate for those four teams. Washington will play each of the other teams once and regular season rules will apply. That means there will not be continuous overtime in a tie game, but instead it will go to five minutes of three-on-three followed by a shootout.

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What this means is that Boston, despite being the presumptive Presidents’ Trophy winner, could fall all the way down to the No. 4 seed in the playoffs. The Caps, meanwhile, could claim the top spot in the conference with a strong showing in the round robin.
 
Why did the NHL do this? Bettman went into this in a video conference with the media after the initial announcement. Basically, this is an acknowledgment that the top teams need to play competitive games before playing against a team that had to win a playoff series just to get there.
 
What will be the reward for earning the top seed? It is not yet clear.
 
It has not yet been determined if the teams will be reseeded after the play-in round or if the playoff will be a bracket throughout. This could be significant depending on the upsets we see in the play-in round. For example, a bracket would set up for the No. 4 team to play the winner of the series between the No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins and the No. 12 Montreal Canadiens. If Montreal pulls off the upset as the lowest seed, that would give the No. 4 seed the best matchup on paper in the next round while the No. 1 seed would be playing either the No. 8 or 9 seed.
 
As one of the top seeds, the Caps will finish no lower than No. 4 in the conference but could potentially finish No. 1.

But we are still a long way off from determining who Washington will play in their first playoff series.
 

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Alex Ovechkin shares ninth Rocket Richard Trophy, but Capitals miss some other milestones

Alex Ovechkin shares ninth Rocket Richard Trophy, but Capitals miss some other milestones

The Capitals will hopefully be back on the ice this summer for the Stanley Cup playoffs after Tuesday’s return-to-play announcement by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. 

Remember where we left off on March 12 before the ongoing coronavirus pandemic halted play? 

Alex Ovechkin had 48 goals and with 13 games to go he seemed a lock to reach 50 for the ninth time in his career. That would have tied him with Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy for the most 50-goal seasons in NHL history.

That won’t happen now. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman declared the regular season over on Tuesday as he laid out his plans for what the league hopes to do if it can get players safely back on the ice.  

But if Ovechkin will fall just shy of 50 goals, he can console himself with yet another Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL’s top goal scorer. He will share that honor this year with Boston’s David Pastrnak, who also finishes with 48 goals.

It is the first time players have shared a Rocket since 2009-10 when Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos each had 51 goals. Three players tied for it in 2003-04. That trio was Rick Nash, Jarome Iginla and now-Capitals forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who was then with the Atlanta Thrashers, who now play in Winnipeg. In other words, it was a long time ago.

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Ovechkin remains two goals away from tying longtime Capitals forward Mike Gartner for No. 7 on the all-time goals list. Gartner has 708. Ovechkin sits at 706. That will have to wait until next year. Phil Esposito (717), Marcel Dionne (731) and even Brett Hull (741) could all be within reach.

Meanwhile, Ovechkin was far from the only Caps’ player pushing for a milestone only to come up short with the regular season ended prematurely. John Carlson won’t reach the hallowed 90-point mark for a defenseman. Carlson hit the break with 75 points, which was 10 more than anyone at the position. He still had a decent shot to get there with 13 games left.

Hall-of-Famer Ray Bourque was the last NHL defenseman to hit 90 points in a season 26 years ago with the Boston Bruins in 1993-94. Carlson remains a favorite for the Norris Trophy. Wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize.

The Capitals had other players posting career years, too. Tom Wilson has 44 points to set a new personal best and his 21 goals were just one short of his single-season high.

Jakub Vrana, in his age 23-24 season, hit his career-best mark with 25 goals. Lars Eller had 16 goals, which was two shy of his career best (18). He also needed just one more point to reach 40 for the first time.

Maybe the most intriguing number out there? Braden Holtby is currently tied with Olie Kolzig at 35, but he might never get another chance to make that record his own. His contract expires at the end of the season. 

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