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Notre Dame's Te'o eyes Heisman after Maxwell win

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Notre Dame's Te'o eyes Heisman after Maxwell win

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) Manti Te'o is one of the most important leaders for undefeated Notre Dame, having played in a ton of big games for the Fighting Irish.

Even so, he had a tough time processing this victory.

The senior linebacker was ``at a loss for words'' after capturing the Maxwell Award as the nation's most outstanding player, one of three honors he received at the 22nd Home Depot College Football Awards show Thursday night at Disney World.

``The last time I ever dreamt of winning that award was on a video game,'' he said. ``So to win it is a mind-blowing experience.''

Te'o now has won six major awards since the end of Notre Dame's regular season, also taking home the Bednarik Award for top defensive player and Walter Camp Foundation player of the year award on Thursday. He became the first defensive player to win the Maxwell Award since 1980, ending a string of nine straight quarterbacks.

Next up is the Heisman Trophy ceremony on Saturday night, with Te'o and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel considered the favorites. Then Te'o will try to help the Fighting Irish dethrone defending champion Alabama in the BCS national championship game.

Wearing a black beaded lei representing his native Hawaii, Te'o said coming back to play football following the deaths of his grandmother and girlfriend just four days apart this season makes everything he's achieved since then more worthwhile.

``I never thought that me coming back for my senior year would be the best situation for me with the tragedy,'' Te'o said. ``It's a testament that the Lord answered my prayers and that I had 80-plus brothers there with me, sacrificing for me.''

Te'o finished the regular season with 103 tackles and seven interceptions.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, who was presented with the Coach of the Year award after leading the Irish to their first 12-0 regular season since 1988, said Te'o is an example of the family culture he's tried to build in his three seasons in South Bend.

``Everybody knows you don't do it with one guy,'' Kelly said. ``Collectively, everybody just bought in. ... We still got one (game) left. We want to finish it off the right way.''

While Te'o and Notre Dame certainly had a big night, so did Texas A&M. Manziel won the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award and junior offensive lineman Luke Joeckel took home the Outland Trophy for the nation's best interior lineman.

Other players honored Thursday were Southern California's Marqise Lee (Biletnikoff Award for top receiver), Tulane's Cairo Santos (Lou Groza Award for top kicker), Louisiana Tech's Ryan Allen (Ray Guy Award for top punter), Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks (Jim Thorpe Award for top defensive back), and Wisconsin's Montee Ball (Doak Walker Award for top running back).

Manziel acknowledged he will be nervous Saturday knowing he has a chance to win college football's most hallowed individual honor. Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein is the third finalist for the Heisman Trophy.

Three sophomores have won the Heisman, including Tim Tebow in 2007, Sam Bradford in 2008 and Mark Ingram in 2009. The best a first-year player has ever done is second.

``I had high expectations, but I never would have expected this for myself,'' said Manziel, a redshirt freshman. ``I'll be with two of the best players in the country, all eyes are on you. It's the biggest award in college football. I think you're gonna have a few butterflies.''

Joeckel said even he has been amazed at watching ``Johnny Football'' and his exploits this season.

``It's hard to protect for someone when nobody knows where he is,'' Joeckel said. ``He's a fun guy to block for.''

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said that type of level-headed poise is what has defined his quarterback all season.

``The way he plays, no moment has been too big for him,'' Sumlin said.

In one of the non-competition awards presented Thursday, Texas long snapper Nate Boyer was honored with the Disney Spirit Award, given annually to the most inspirational figure or team.

Boyer, a 32-year-old sophomore, earned a Bronze Star for his service with the U.S. Army Special Forces Unit and has also provided assistance to autistic children and Darfur refugees.

Former Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian was honored with the Contribution to College Football Award for his works off the field.

Kelly said the former coach is every bit as revered as he was in his prime leading the Irish.

``He walks with a limp, but let me tell you, he could still coach today. And he can tell me things about my football team.'' Kelly said.

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Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter athttp://www.twitter.com/khightower .

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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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