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Lions still dealing with questions about defense

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Lions still dealing with questions about defense

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) The Detroit Lions aren't a desperate team yet. Coach Jim Schwartz prefers a slightly different description.

``I think our word is `urgent' - we had six of our first nine on the road,'' Schwartz said Monday. ``We now have a stretch of three in a row at home. We have to do something with that.''

After a loss at Minnesota on Sunday, the Lions (4-5) remain in last place in the NFC North. Their playoff hopes are looking tenuous, especially with a tough schedule the rest of the way. Detroit does have that stretch of three straight home games coming up, but it starts Sunday against Green Bay - not exactly an easy matchup.

The Lions allowed 45 points to the Packers when the teams met at the end of last season, and the questions about Detroit's defense haven't gone away. Adrian Peterson rushed for 171 yards in Minnesota's 34-24 win last weekend.

``We don't have a whole lot of wiggle room for mistakes down the stretch. We have to play our best,'' Schwartz said. ``It's life in the NFL. You have to do that all the time.''

Schwartz spent some time Monday standing up for his defensive line. Peterson ran for a lot of yards Sunday, but 61 of them were on one play - a touchdown in the fourth quarter that made it 31-17.

Schwartz was particularly encouraged by Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, who had the team's only sack.

``Nick had one of the best games he's played since he's been here, but a lot like the rest of our team, a couple mistakes overshadowed the good things that he did,'' Schwartz said. ``I thought Ndamukong Suh might have played the best game he's played since he's been here. ... Unless they doubled him in pass protection, he was in the quarterback's lap the whole game.''

Lions fans better hope Schwartz is right about the defensive front, because this weekend they face Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Rodgers didn't even play in Green Bay's 45-41 win over Detroit in last season's regular-season finale. Backup Matt Flynn threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns.

Detroit was reeling a bit at that point, and the Lions went on to lose 45-28 to New Orleans in the playoffs a week later. The defense clearly needed to improve, and the Lions were seventh in the NFL in overall defense entering last weekend's game.

But Detroit wasn't able to stop Peterson.

``We contained him for most of the game and then kind of let up in the fourth quarter. He got a couple of runs on the outside and was able to get to the house,'' linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. ``We just have to play a complete game because when you're playing against a guy like Adrian Peterson it takes four quarters.''

There are more tests to come. After hosting the Packers, Detroit faces Houston on Thanksgiving, followed by another home game against Indianapolis. Then comes a difficult finishing stretch with games against Green Bay, Arizona, Atlanta and Chicago.

``We'll leave math for mathematicians and statisticians and stuff like that - need to have consistent performance,'' Schwartz said. ``You need to go out and win the next game that you're playing. You need to be able to put a win or a loss behind you.''

NOTES: Schwartz said CB Drayton Florence has been cleared to return from a broken arm. The Lions released CB Alphonso Smith. ... The Lions took exception to WR Calvin Johnson being hit in the head against Minnesota, but Schwartz said Monday he didn't think there was any deliberate attempt to injure the Detroit star. ``I don't think anybody in this league is trying to hurt somebody,'' Schwartz said. ``They're trying to defend him, but as a result, he ended up getting hit in the head a couple times. Thank goodness he was fine.''

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

Barry Trotz finds contract he was looking for, officially 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 on Thursday, the Capitals' now former bench boss was officially named the head coach of the New York Islanders.

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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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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