Capitals

Wilfs take low-profile route to leading Vikings

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Wilfs take low-profile route to leading Vikings

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) For Minnesota Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, leadership isn't about doing interviews about the state of the organization.

It's about placing a symbolic arm around a heartbroken defensive end who suddenly and unexpectedly lost his mother during the season.

It's not about breaking down film and deciding which prospect should be chosen with the team's first-round draft pick. It's about sitting quietly in the room and listening while the people they hired to do that job debate the decision.

It's not about standing on the sideline in full view of the television cameras, so the country can see them slapping the backs of their players and congratulating the head coach. It's about retreating to the privacy of the locker room after the game and handing a necktie to the star of the day.

The understated approach has paid off this season with their Vikings surprising almost everyone to rebound from 3-13 to make the playoffs.

``Their approach works. It's good that they trust the people they hire to do their job as opposed to micromanaging the situation,'' Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said on Thursday. ``It's refreshing in a lot of ways.''

The Vikings (10-6) head to Lambeau Field on Saturday night for Episode III of their heated rivalry with the Green Bay Packers (11-5), less than a week after a 37-34 victory at the Metrodome that thrust them into the playoffs.

It's been a heck of a ride, with a 5-2 start preceding a stretch of four losses in five games that made every week a must-win in December.

The Vikings never panicked, taking cues from an ownership group that values patience and perspective in a league where the pendulum of emotion can swing wildly from one week to the next.

You won't see Zygi Wilf on the sideline on Saturday night and you won't hear him in the media during the frenetic buildup to this highly anticipated game - both Wilfs politely declined to speak for this story.

Now is not the time for them to be doing the talking, they said. It's the time when the focus should be on the players and coaches who have spearheaded this revival after two straight last-place finishes in the NFC North.

``Just like any family, when you go through ups and downs or different crises, it's unbelievable the relationship we have to discuss things openly and candidly,'' general manager Rick Spielman said. ``That's so important to how you get through things. It's not a business, even though it is a business. You can attribute a lot of success we're having to the atmosphere we get to work in.''

The gestures have been big and small this season, starting with sending Spielman and other members of the Vikings organization to Ohio when cornerback Antoine Winfield's brother was killed in September.

They did the same for defensive end Everson Griffen when his mother died at Griffen's home in October, making sure the distraught 25-year-old had every resource available to get through it.

``It showed me a lot,'' Griffen said. ``It showed me they really care about their players. It showed me that I had a home here and that really helped.''

Zygi Wilf also had several conversations with star running back Adrian Peterson over the summer when he was in the middle of his long and difficult rehabilitation from two torn ligaments in his left knee.

While many doubted if Peterson would be able to make it back, he said Wilf remained confident in his franchise player's recovery.

``I got to know him a lot better this past offseason,'' Peterson said. ``We built a bigger bond. We had a couple of really good conversations while I was going through it. I trust him.''

On the football side, the Wilfs approved spending for a set of officials to be at every practice after the Vikings struggled the previous season with penalties.

They also heeded calls from veterans and Frazier to install new turf in the practice facility, a surprise that was waiting for the team when it returned from the bye week in November.

They also provided a bigger, more comfortable private plane for the team's longer road trips to Seattle and Houston this season in addition to sparing no expense when Spielman set his sights on an important free agent or re-signing a core player.

``It's just so unique to have ownership that are in the background but are a lot more heavily involved than it's known in the public,'' Spielman said. ``They also let people do their jobs.''

The season appeared to be taking an ominous turn with a demoralizing loss at Green Bay that dropped them to 6-6.

A promising start seemed to be slipping away, so Wilf addressed the team on the Friday before a home game against the Chicago Bears to try to relieve some of the tension.

``He's passionate and genuine,'' Peterson said. ``It don't get no better than that. He said, `I got your back.'''

The Vikings haven't lost since.

``They treat our players more than just players. They're people they care about,'' Frazier said. ``Our players sense that. That's why when Zygi came in and talked about the passion he has for this team and this organization, that resonated with them. They've seen tangible evidence in the way he treats our players.

``When some owners talk about it being a family atmosphere, you take it with a grain of salt. Our players know it for a fact. When they deal with certain issues, Zygi, Mark and the Wilf family really care about what's going on in their lives.''

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Making the case for each of the Capitals’ four goalies

Making the case for each of the Capitals’ four goalies

Goalie may not be the most important position in hockey, but it is certainly the most impactful. No player has a bigger effect on a single game than a goalie, so teams better make sure they have a good plan for who can lead them in the crease heading into each season.

The Capitals have been set at goalie for several years now, but heading into the 2019-20 season there is some question about what the team’s goalie tandem will and should look like. Luckily for general manager Brian MacLellan and head coach Todd Reirden, they have plenty of options.

Here are the four goalies who could see playing time this year, along with the case for each of them.

Braden Holtby

Why there is an argument: In terms of being a starting NHL goalie, Holtby has proven himself time and again. If he remains with the team, he is the No. 1 next season without question. That is not the issue. But Holtby is heading into the final year of his contract, and the team’s top prospect, Ilya Samsonov, is a goalie. Wouldn’t it be smart to trade Holtby now to avoid losing him for nothing next summer?

The case for Holtby: Trading away a player on the final year of his contract can be smart business, but not always. Circumstances ultimately dictate whether a move like this makes sense, and the fact is it would not make sense for the Caps.

The team’s mentality heading into the season is the championship window is still open. That’s why a team with serious cap constraints still went out and added pieces like Richard Panik and Garnet Hathaway in order to make the roster better. If the goal this season is a Stanley Cup, then you have to keep the goalie who brought you there two years ago, instead of entering the season relying on a starter with zero NHL experience.

There are plenty of examples of teams that have held onto prominent free agents and were burned by them the following year. John Tavares left the New York Islanders for Toronto and the Columbus Blue Jackets just saw both of its top players, including goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, leave this offseason. But this does not mean teams should trade away players every time they reach the final year of their contracts. The mistake the Islanders and Blue Jackets made was keeping those players despite having no reasonable chance of winning a Cup.

The Islanders did not even make the playoffs in Tavares’ last season, and a Blue Jackets team that had never won a playoff series decided it was a good idea to go all-in for “one more run.”

The Caps, on the other hand, are just one year removed from winning the Cup with the same core. They will not be the favorites heading into this season, but it is not unreasonable to think they still have a chance. That chance would fall between “slim” and “none” if they traded away Holtby before the season started.

Plus, while Samsonov may be considered the future of the franchise, that can change. What if he stinks this season? What if Holtby is great? It seems pretty clear right now this will most likely be Holtby’s last season in Washington, but will it still look that way midway into the season? Keeping Holtby for now at least gives the Caps a chance to talk with him about next season and keep that door open just in case.

Pheonix Copley

Why there is an argument: The Caps are still over the salary cap and need to find ways to save money. A backup goalie with a cap hit of $1.1 million may be just too expensive considering there are two cheaper alternatives.

The case for Copley: Backup goaltending is an underrated factor in a team’s success, but it is extremely important. There was a question of whether Copley was even good enough to be an NHL backup heading into last season, but a 16-7-3 record on a team that struggled defensively last season shows that Copley is absolutely a serviceable backup.

While there is certainly a case to be made for each of the team’s younger goalies (more on that later), both goalies remain unknowns at the NHL level and there may be some growing pains when they reach the big leagues. Washington’s backups are going to play in 25 games this season at a minimum and probably closer to 30-35. The team is going to need points in those games against an ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division.

Copley’s skill set is far from elite. His ceiling is as a backup, and there are plenty of times when he seems to struggle even making reasonably easy saves. Many of his best saves last season came from him having to make up for his own mistakes. Having said that, you know Copley can get you points, and those will be at a premium.

Also, unlike Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek, Copley is not waiver exempt, meaning if the Caps want to send him to Hershey, they risk losing him. The Maple Leafs lost both Curtis McElhinney and Calvin Pickard on waivers last season and...yeah, they regretted it.

Ilya Samsonov

Why there is an argument: Samsonov is widely considered the future starter for the franchise, but he has yet to play a single NHL game and struggled immensely in Hershey at the start of last season, his first in North America. You do not want to bring him up too soon, only to sit him on the bench behind Holtby and mess with his development.

The case for Samsonov: Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably heard by now that Holtby is on the last year of his deal, and it seems unlikely he will be back next season. If that's how it plays out, presumably the plan going forward will be for Samsonov to take over. If he does, you have to have at least some idea of what you have in him.

Is Samsonov ready to be a No. 1 next season? Is he even ready to be a full-time NHL goalie? Is he as good as we all think he is? We ultimately won’t know unless we see him in the NHL.

It is unlikely Samsonov plays enough next season to give us answers to any of those questions -- it does not make sense for him to play 20 games as an NHL backup and sit on the bench behind Holtby instead of getting 40-50 games in the AHL -- but MacLellan is going to have a much better idea of what the team’s situation in net will be next season if he at least gets a few looks at Samsonov in the NHL. He has to get some NHL time, even if it is limited.

Vitek Vanecek

Why there is an argument: The ceiling is not nearly as high for the 23-year-old prospect as it is for Samsonov. While Samsonov is seen as a future starter, Vanecek is either a high-end AHL goalie or possibly an NHL backup. After a strong season in the AHL, however, has he earned a shot?

The case for Vanecek: Of the four options, Vanecek is certainly fourth on the team’s depth chart. He is not an NHL starter like Holtby, there is no real buzz around him as a budding starter like there is with Samsonov and he has not established himself as an NHL backup the way Copley has. Having said that, Vanecek is also a more polished, finished product than the still-developing Samsonov and had a better season in Hershey last year.

But the real case for Vanecek comes down to money.

Currently the Caps remain over the salary cap and will have to find a way to get under before the start of next season. They have options for how they can do that, but Vanecek provides an intriguing possibility. With a cap hit of only $716,667, if the Caps used Vanecek as Holtby’s backup and waived Copley, then the only other move the team would have to make to get under the cap would be to waive Chandler Stephenson.

Washington has two extra forwards on the roster, Stephenson was underwhelming last year and his new contract is just low enough that the entire salary can be buried in the AHL.

This is the simplest solution to solving the team’s cap issues. Keeping any other goalie combination will force the team to get creative in order to make the money work. If the team has faith in Vanecek as a backup, then this would make MacLellan's job before next season a heck of a lot easier.

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Orioles Roundup: Trey Mancini tries to remain persistent while Orioles beat themselves

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Orioles Roundup: Trey Mancini tries to remain persistent while Orioles beat themselves

On Friday evening Baltimore fell short 9-1 to Boston. 

As the Orioles continued to struggle, Trey Mancini was the only thing that stayed constant. 

The Orioles have extended the record and are now one of the only two teams to have allowed at least 250 home runs in a season. 

PLAYER UPDATES:

SP Aaron Brooks had three poor innings. Starting with his fastball being tagged by Mookie Betts, followed by the changeup hit by Rafael Devers for an RBI double and the slider was smoked out at about 102 mph by J.D. Martinez.   

In the top of the 3rd, OF Mancini extended his hitting streak to 10 games when he doubled on a line drive to right fielder Mookie Betts and Johnathan Viller scored tying the score 1-1. He went 1-for-3 with an RBI. 

Following in the third, 1B Chris Davis had a fly ball that barely went anywhere. 

RHP Thomas Eshelman closed the final two innings against Boston. He allowed three runs on three hits and a walk, finishing with a 6.50 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in 36 innings this season. The Orioles optioned him to Triple-A-Norfolk for a fresh arm. 

OF Dwight Smith Jr. has been out all month with a strained left calf. Before the start of the game on Friday Smith did some running in the outfield and is expected to be ready for a rehab assignment soon. 

OF DJ Stewart suffered a concussion earlier this month and has been sidelined for a week and a half. 

INJURIES: 

OF Dwight Smith Jr.:  Calf, Expected tp return in late August 

RP Josh Rogers: Elbow, Out indefinitely

SP Alex Cobb: Back, Out until 2020

DH Mark Trumbo: Knee, Expected to return in September 

COMING UP:

Saturday, 8/17: Orioles @ Red Sox, 7:10 p.m., Fenway Park 

Sunday, 8/18: Orioles @ Red Sox,1:05 p.m., Fenway Park 

Monday, 8/19: Royals @ Orioles, 7:05 p.m., Kauffman Stadium  

Source Credit: Rotoworld 

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