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Tomlin preps for Steelers' meaningless finale

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Tomlin preps for Steelers' meaningless finale

PITTSBURGH (AP) For the first time in his six-year head coaching career, Mike Tomlin will go into a game with his team already eliminated from playoff contention.

Tomlin insists he isn't going to treat the week of preparation any differently.

A day after his Pittsburgh Steelers were knocked out of the postseason race with a loss to Cincinnati, Tomlin vowed that injuries would be the only factor dictating lineup changes for the regular-season finale Sunday.

Don't look for an abundance of younger players auditioning for 2013 jobs.

``This is an opportunity to play and play to win, to get this sour taste out of our mouth,'' Tomlin said. ``I am not going to approach it with that (look-ahead to 2013) mentality.''

Among those who won't play for the Steelers (7-8) against the Cleveland Browns (5-10) is tight end Heath Miller, who sustained multiple torn ligaments in his right knee during the loss to the Bengals.

Miller, a prime candidate for the Pro Bowl and team MVP, has torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments as well as a possible tear in his posterior cruciate ligament.

Typical recovery time would extend well into next season's training camp. Just this past year, Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall, offensive tackle Max Starks and nose tackle Casey Hampton began camp on the physically unable to perform list after sustaining torn ACLs over the first eight days of January.

``I think we need to let the dust settle to know exactly what it is we're dealing with before we start framing his recovery or his rate of recovery,'' Tomlin said.

``He's been rock-solid for us, and we really appreciate his efforts.''

Miller, of course, faces surgery. Reserve running back Baron Batch had surgery to repair a broken forearm on Monday morning. Tomlin said roster moves will be made to replace those two so that the Steelers are not carrying any ``dead weight'' for Sunday's game.

Starting cornerback Ike Taylor (ankle fracture) is getting closer to being cleared to play after missing the past three games. But Tomlin indicated there isn't any reason to rush him back.

Receiver Mike Wallace (hip strain), rookie guard David DeCastro (left hamstring) and cornerback Curtis Brown (left ankle) also were injured during the Bengals game and will be evaluated throughout the week. Cornerback Keenan Lewis also was noticeably hobbled Sunday.

Tomlin acknowledged that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is ``less than 100 percent,'' but refused to attribute his struggles over the past three games to the effects of a shoulder and rib injury that sidelined him in the previous three contests.

Roethlisberger had 17 touchdowns and four interceptions in nine games before being knocked out against Kansas City Nov. 12. He has had four interceptions in the three games - all losses - since coming back.

Roethlisberger's 58.6 passer rating Sunday was his third worst for a game since Nov. 3, 2008, when he was knocked out of a win at Washington with a shoulder injury.

``You can attribute it to whatever you want to,'' Tomlin said. ``Obviously, the play is what it is. It hasn't been consistently good enough for us to win.''

The same can be said for the Steelers as a whole. Impressive wins at the New York Giants and Baltimore this season were overshadowed by head-scratching losses at Tennessee and Oakland, each on a last-second field goal after Pittsburgh blew a fourth-quarter lead, then failed to win it with a scoring drive later.

``We've been in a lot of close football games and we just consistently haven't made the necessary plays to win those games,'' Tomlin said.

``We're 3-5 in games decided by three points or less; that's just not good enough in the NFL. A lot of games unfold in that manner. You have to make the critical plays down the stretch in those games if you want to be a consistent winner. We haven't done that, and that's why we sit here in the position we are in.''

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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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