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Offseason could bring big changes for Packers

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Offseason could bring big changes for Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) One by one, Greg Jennings took down the photos of his wife and children that lined his locker, careful not to rip them as he removed the tape. Below him, two plastic bins were filled with shampoo, lotion, toothpaste and deodorant.

Still numb from the rout in San Francisco that ended their trying season, the Green Bay Packers headed into an offseason sure to bring change - some of it big. Jennings and Donald Driver, key parts of the team that won the Super Bowl two years ago, are all but gone, and Charles Woodson may have played his last game for Green Bay.

``At the end of the day, you know the Packers are going to do what's best for the Packers. And that's not going to change whether you're No. 4, No. 80, No. 85, No. 77. That's going to be the case,'' Jennings said Sunday, referring to Brett Favre, Driver and Cullen Jenkins, as well as himself. ``And as the other half of the businessman sitting down at that table, I have to do what's best for myself and my family.''

Jennings finished with career lows in receptions (36), yards per catch (10.2) and total yards (366) after missing half of season with a torn muscle in his groin. He remains Aaron Rodgers' favorite target, however, and he reminded everyone why with one big catch after another when he returned from the injury. He led Green Bay with six catches and a score in Saturday night's 45-31 loss to San Francisco in an NFC divisional game.

But the Packers have perhaps the deepest receiving corps in the NFL, and breakout seasons by James Jones and Randall Cobb have made Jennings, an unrestricted free agent, expendable.

``Everybody in this locker room is trying to win Super Bowls, but everybody in this locker room is trying to take care of their family as well,'' Jones said. ``Football is our job and football is how we do it, and we understand that we've got four or five No. 1 receivers that are going to want money at some time. So we know it's going to be hard for this organization to pay everybody what they want, which (stinks) ... because I wish we could stay together for the rest of our career and go on a run and win some Super Bowls.''

Driver is Green Bay's all-time leading receiver, and is adored by fans. But he will be 38 next month, and had only a bit role in the offense after restructuring the final year of his contract. His eight catches for 77 yards were his lowest totals since his rookie season, and he was inactive for four games, including the NFC wild-card, possibly his final game at Lambeau Field.

Driver would like to play until he's 40, and thinks he can still help a team. But he said he'll talk with his wife and children before making any decisions on his future.

``If (Saturday) is my last game, then it was a true honor just to put that uniform on once again,'' said Driver, who played on special teams Saturday. ``I wore that uniform for a long time and it's truly a blessing to be wearing the green and gold.''

Woodson, linebacker A.J. Hawk and big tight end Jermichael Finley are all under contract for next year. But they're all due raises, too, and the Packers have to begin making tough decisions because they need to lock up long-term deals with Jones, Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji. The three, considered cornerstones of the franchise, all will be free agents after next season.

Woodson, the 2009 defensive player of the year, is one of the most-respected players in the Packers locker room - by players and coaches alike - and he's still disruptive. But he turned 36 in October and missed nine games with a broken right collarbone, the same one he broke in the Super Bowl. Youngsters Casey Hayward and M.D. Jennings made big impressions this season, and the Packers may decide they're enough to make up for Woodson's absence.

The Packers were repeatedly torched by Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers, and Hawk looked particularly overmatched.

Then there's Finley. He set a franchise record for receptions by a tight end this year, and few Packers were better down the stretch. But he's mercurial, and general manager Ted Thompson may decide he's not worth the big bump in payroll.

``We just finished losing, man,'' Finley said. ``Hopefully I'm here forever. I'm good for next year, as far as I know.''

Regardless of what the roster looks like, the Packers have to find a way to finish better next year. This was the second straight year they were bounced out in the divisional round, and neither game was close.

In fact, finishing was a season-long problem for Green Bay. The Packers fell to 2-3 after blowing an 18-point halftime lead at Indianapolis. They also struggled to put away less-than-mediocre teams like New Orleans, Jacksonville and Detroit. After securing the No. 2 seed with a rout of Tennessee, the Packers gave it up to San Francisco by losing to Minnesota in the regular-season finale.

And after Mason Crosby's 31-yard field goal midway through the third quarter tied Saturday's game at 24, the 49ers steamrolled the Packers, scoring three straight touchdowns.

``We didn't finish. That's the bottom line, we didn't finish,'' Jones said. ``We had a chance to do something great and get back to the Super Bowl. (But) we didn't finish our season strong. So got to start all over.''

NOTES: RB Cedric Benson, who played only five games before a season-ending foot injury, hopes to return next year. ``Absolutely. I don't have a preference to be anywhere else,'' he said. ``This is what I know and I'm excited about winning Super Bowls, too, and everybody around here is as well.'' ... RT Bryan Bulaga, who suffered a season-ending hip injury Nov. 4, expects to be ready for next season. ``It's a little bit far out in advance to tell what I'm going to be doing, but I'm pretty confident training camp is a good goal.''

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A Capital doesn't win Hardest Shot at NHL Skills for the first time in 3 years

A Capital doesn't win Hardest Shot at NHL Skills for the first time in 3 years

ST. LOUIS -- John Carlson did a valiant job trying to defend his title for the hardest shot, but Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber took home the prize with a blistering 106.5 MPH shot at the NHL Skills on Friday.

Alex Ovechkin won the Hardest Shot in 2018 and Carlson won it in 2019. He looked to be in good position to win it again after taking the lead with only one shooter left to go.

As Carlson skated up for his turn, the number to beat was 102.4 from Vancouver Canucks forward Elias Pettersson. Carlson shattered that with a shot of 104.5, beating his own winning shot from last year of 102.8.

The only problem? Weber was the last shooter.

"With Webs going behind him you kind of just expect him to go put up some big numbers," T.J. Oshie said. "But when John put up 104.5, you thought maybe there was a chance, but obviously Shea stepped up and took care of business."

Weber had Carlson beat on his very first shot. Weber smashed the puck for 105.9 MPH on his first attempt. As he was the last shooter, he had already won, but took his second shot anyway and beat his own mark, finishing with a 106.5 MPH shot.

While the Caps had won the event in each of the past two seasons, Weber had won it three straight times before Ovechkin took the title in 2018.

Even when Carlson took the lead, he still did not believe he would win knowing Weber still had to go.

"I think I knew all along we were all just a part of the show," Carlson said.

Braden Holtby also fell short in his attempt to win the Save Streak event. Frederik Anderson had the number to beat of seven when Holtby went between the pipes. He faced shooters from the Atlantic Division and made a run at seven when he stopped David Pastrnak’s shot. A goalie's round could not end on a save. As the captain, Pastrnak was the last shooter unless Holtby saved his shot. When Holtby stopped Pastrnak, that meant he would continue facing shots until he was beaten. With two straight saves, Holtby denied Shea Weber and Brady Tkachuk to get his streak up to five saves before he was finally beaten by Jack Eichel.

"I was just hoping Shea Weber wouldn't come down and take a slap shot on me,” Holtby told the NBCSN broadcast.

St. Louis Blues Jordan Binnington ended up winning the event, much to the delight of the home crowd. Andrei Vasilevskiy raised the save streak up to nine with Binnington as the last goalie to go. In dramatic fashion, Binnington went on to deny 10 straight shots to take the win.

Other highlights of the All-Star Skills:

Ryan O’Reilly’s football helmet

Next week is the Super Bowl Sunday and Ryan O’Reilly showed who he is cheering for in warmups as he came onto the ice wearing a Kansas City Chiefs' helmet.


Connor McDavid is not the fastest skater?

We all know who the fastest skater in the NHL is. It’s Connor McDavid. You might as well just declare the race over, right?

Not so fast. (See what I did there?)

Stunningly, McDavid did not win the event and was edged out by New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal who completed the event in 13.175 seconds, just 0.03 seconds away from the record.

The Justin Bieber mask

San Jose Sharks forward Tomas Hertl decided to have some fun during the save streak. Before his shot attempt on Binnington, he busted out a Justin Bieber mask and put it on before shooting.

No, he did not score. Yes, the mask was terrifying.


The women’s 3-on-3 game was awesome

If there is one complaint about the All-Star Skills and All-Star Game, is that it is not competitive enough. Players have fun with it, as they should, but they aren’t exactly going 100-percent like they would in an actual game. That was certainly not the case for the 3-on-3 women’s game between Canada and USA.

The women’s teams put on a great display of skill in what was an incredibly fun game to watch. Canada took a 1-0 lead in the first period off a goal from Rebecca Johnston. Melodie Daoust made it 2-0 in the second period and Hilary Knight finally put USA on the board putting them to within one.

But really it was the goalies who stole the show. With plenty of room to work, there were a number of breakaways and odd-man rushes. Both Alex Cavallini for the USA and Ann-Renee Desbiens for Canada were strong in net to keep it a three-goal game.

"It was pretty impressive," Oshie said. "The goalies stood on their head, but the girls were making some awesome plays, some great moves. It's always fun cheering on the Americans."

Desbiens had a drop the mic moment with a glove save just as time expired to maintain the 2-1 win for Canada.

Shooting Stars

You have to credit the NHL for trying. One of the new events featured players on a raised platform in the crowd shooting at targets on the ice. It was...different. The biggest issue with it was that the players could not hit most of the targets and the one that seemed the easiest to get was worth the most points. This one will need some tweaking if they want to bring it back again next year.

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Ryan Zimmerman’s return to the Nationals is finally happening

Ryan Zimmerman’s return to the Nationals is finally happening

If Ryan Zimmerman did not return to the Nationals, he at least would have a future teaching how not to negotiate.

Zimmerman openly drove down his bargaining leverage for almost a year before signing a one-year deal on Friday to return to the only professional team he’s known, a source confirmed. The deal is reported at $2 million.

Throughout the season, Zimmerman openly discussed his interest in returning and understanding it would be at a low rate. As if his stance wasn’t already clear, Zimmerman explained at a screening of the Nationals’ championship video he would return or play more golf.

“So, we’ll be good to go,” Zimmerman said.

It’s baseball for now. Zimmerman rejoins the defending World Series champions to play his 16th season. He’s a 35-year-old platoon player this season. Zimmerman’s money and legacy have been established. He’s back in the fold to pursue another title. 

And he makes an already old Nationals team older. Zimmerman turns 36 years old the day after the 2020 regular season ends. Howie Kendrick will be 37 years old by midseason. Asdrúbal Cabrera is 34 years old. Eric Thames is 33 years old. Will Harris is 35, Daniel Hudson 32, Sean Doolittle 33, Max Scherzer 35, Kurt Suzuki 36. Yan Gomes will be 33 just after the All-Star break. 

Zimmerman will share first base with Thames and, occasionally, Howie Kendrick. They provide an intriguing splits-based platoon. Thames hits right-handers well -- 23 of his 25 2019 home runs came against them, as did much of his opportunity in Milwaukee -- and Zimmerman has a .917 career OPS against left-handed pitchers. Zimmerman is the much better defender.

He’s back because he -- and the Nationals -- believe Zimmerman’s production remains directly tied to his health. His September and postseason work showed Zimmerman’s bat speed remains intact. He is quietly one of the better defensive first baseman in the league. They think they can protect him. Overall, the Nationals are so comfortable with an expanse of older players because they plan to shield them with limited usage. Also, Josh Donaldson went to Minnesota, clearing the cash and providing a need for Zimmerman. 

Kendrick, Cabrera and Starlin Castro can play various infield spots. Thames and Zimmerman will reduce the other’s role, as well as pinch-hit when not starting. Davey Martinez has options. He also has the challenge of rotating players. One thing on his side: older players know they are just that. Grousing about playing time should not be an issue with the group, the majority of which played as role players last year on the way to a World Series title. 

One other thing to note about Zimmerman: he’s 30 home runs short of 300. Can he get there with another two years on the field? He has at least one more to add to his total, assuring his driver has another lonely summer.

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