ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The playing status of the Bills’ two top receivers, Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley, is uncertain for Buffalo’s wild-card playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday.
Both were listed as questionable after practicing on a limited basis on Thursday.
For Beasley, who has missed one game, it marked the first time he’s practiced since hurting his knee in the fourth quarter of a 38-9 win at New England on Dec. 28. Diggs, meantime, returned after not practicing Wednesday because of an injury to his oblique muscle.
Coach Sean McDermott provided no definitive update whether either will be able to play in speaking before practice.
“Still not sure. We’ll just have to see,” he said, referring to Beasley, before adding: “And I can tell you the same with Diggs.”
Diggs, who led the NFL with 127 catches for 1,535 yards, was added to the injury report this week after apparently being hurt in a 56-26 season-ending win over Miami on Sunday.
Diggs was slow to get up but continued playing after defensive end Christian Wilkins landed on the receiver’s back while he was down following a 16-yard catch in the second quarter. Wilkins was penalized for unnecessary roughness.
Diggs on Wednesday said he felt fine and jokingly added, “Don’t believe everything you read,” in referring to the injury report.
McDermott acknowledged Diggs’ comments by saying: “I appreciate where he’s coming from. But at the end of the day, I’m always concerned when guys are in the training room.”
In an encouraging development, backup receiver Isaiah McKenzie (ankle), who scored three times against Miami, and starting guard Jon Feliciano (knee) practiced fully and are expected to play.
Diggs and Beasley were key fixtures in a Josh Allen-led passing attack that helped the AFC East champion Bills (13-3) match a franchise record in wins and set a team record by scoring 501 points. Allen broke several single-season passing records including 4,544 yards passing and 37 TDs passing.
Beasley finished second on the team with 82 catches and 967 yards, both career highs, while scoring four touchdowns.
If there’s a bright side, the Bills have depth at the receiver position with John Brown returning on Sunday after missing five games with a knee injury and a stint on the reserve-COVID-19 list. Brown had four catches for 72 yards and a touchdown against Miami.
Gameday: Bucks @ Raptors: Jan 27 – Raptors Republic
There’s a growth chart in my son’s room which he measures himself against every few months but sometimes 14 times a week. Kids are weird. That’s what the Raptors will be doing tonight: measuring how much they’ve grown as a team since the start of the campaign. Games against the Heat and Pacers are practice runs for ones like tonight, where the result lingers for longer. The 10-6 Bucks are tied in the loss column for the best record in the East with Philly and Boston, with the Raptors sitting in 10th. That spot is largely considered a false position given the number of tight ones the Raptors have lost, especially on their travels west. The Bucks did beat the Hawks in their last game but prior to that they failed two significant tests against the Nets and Lakers, leaving them possibly questioning their position. That’s the thing with records – we’d rather believe what we feel about a team than how good they’ve shown to be.
Other than re-upping Giannis the Bucks pulled off the Jrue Holiday trade, netting them improved defense and athleticism at a spot they felt was capping their aspirations. Holiday’s shooting 38% from three, averaging 16 points and has brought a dynamism to their game absent with Bledsoe. Despite Kyle Lowry’s issues of late the point guard play has been solid thanks to Fred VanVleet. VanVleet’s answers to the questions posed by those who balked at his deal have been emphatic. He has improved his three-point shooting, mid-range game, defense, ball-handling and finishing. He remains the Raptors best offensive weapon and creator, which few would have predicted. Well, maybe Louis Zatzman but I can be forgiven for being skeptical of a man who has a secret shrine in his house, deep in the kitchen cabinet on the underside of a shelf. Push the shelf inwards and rotate it at an angle of 23 – no more, no less. You will be witness to a cosmos which shames Pan’s Labyrinth’s labyrinth. Those have dared entered it have not returned. Except Zatzman. He always returns. Each time growing stronger.
Anytime we’re talking defensive backcourt play we have to start with how dribble penetration is handled. Whereas in previous years the Raptors could devise schemes that funnel the ball into their formidable defensive big men, the same strategy doesn’t have the literal or figurative legs to stand on. Combine this with aggressive closeouts which teams are getting accustomed to, the Raptors are offering too many clean paths to the rim. In response, they have used the zone a lot more in recent games, especially pressure zones where the top two guys are actively playing the pass more aggressively instead of sagging back. This has been an effective counter but it hasn’t stopped the overall bleeding. Most recently the Pacers dropping 70 points in the first half while shooting 51%.
The defensive signs are still encouraging as necessity has once again proven to be the mother action, if not invention. Pascal Siakam playing Free Safety by being everywhere yet nowhere was the de facto defensive stance. His absence has correlated with Nick Nurse having more guys play a more contained approach because they can’t cover the ground Siakam can. We often talk about injured players coming back and seeing the game differently because they’ve finally had a chance to purely observe without the anxiety of playing. It’s interesting to think about how a coach might change their perception of the scheme based on the same. Like any human being they learn through inspection and adaption, and inspection takes many forms. He’s not going to re-wire the defense but perhaps a sprinkle or too of something that might have been gathering dust was in order.
Here’s an interesting stat: The Raptors three-point rate (threes as a percentage of all FGAs) last season was 42%. For the Bucks it was 43%. This season the Bucks are at 42% where as the Raptors have climbed to #1 in the league at 48% (they’re shooting 37%, 2% higher). That’s a significant shift in the balance of the offense which is why there’s so much emphasis on three-point shooting this season: the Raptors just take a ton of them and arguably live and die by the three. Though that’s true of many teams, this degree of dependency on three-point shooting is something new. This can be curbed by not taking shots that are unequivocally poor. There’s at least 2-3 shots a game (1-2 usually Norm) that would make even Mike D’Antoni raise an eyebrow. These are indiscretions that need to be cut out but if you insist on taking hail mary thees perhaps they should be taken by Matt Thomas, our best three-point shooter.
Let’s talk Giannis. The Raptors will probably throw a few different looks at him – OG, Watanabe, Johnson, Boucher – but the 30% three-point shot says it’s the zone that’s the main weapon. Giannis has the ability to slither his way between defenders which diminishes the effectiveness of even deep zones played against him. See, he doesn’t drive to the rim. He snakes towards it at a cheetah’s speed with the footing of a mountain goat. There’s much to be said playing man-defense against him what with OG’s speed and size, and Boucher supplying help through shot-contention. The risk is that it leads into situations where you pick up fouls and leave yourself vulnerable to the drive-and-kicks they feed of. Switching through different zone defenses may not win you an entire series as the defense gets used to it, but in a single game it can surprise and lead to short-run profits. But maybe that’s exactly why you don’t play it.
Other than that, I’d like to see Brook Lopez go 0-13 and get decked by Aron Baynes if for no other reason to culminate the return of Baynes to something resembling an NBA player. The man is not just jumping, he’s blocking shots. He’s not just boxing out, he’s getting the rebound. He’s not just moving, he’s rotating. He’s not just shooting, he’s scoring. If the NBA was handing out MIP awards every 2-3 days then Baynes for sure would be one of the 10 nominees. Welcome back, Aron.
We’re going to have live post-game shows immediately after the game with a variety of people. Sub us on YouTube and see you after the whistle.
More from RR:
Tipoff: 7:30pm EST | TV: TSN | Radio: TheFan590. Bucks are a 5.5 point favorite.
Pascal Siakam (left knee swelling) is questionable, Patrick McCaw (knee) is out.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Malachi Flynn
SG: Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Terence Davis, Matt Thomas, Jalen Harris
SF: OG Anunoby, Stanley Johnson, DeAndre Bembry, Paul Watson
PF: Pascal Siakam, Yuta Watanabe
C: Aron Baynes, Chris Boucher
Bucks have no injuries.
PG: Jrue Holiday, DJ Augustin, Bryn Forbes
SG: Donte ViVincenzo, Sam Merrill, Torrey Craig
SF: Khris Middleton, Pat Connaughton, Jordan Nwora
PF: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Thanasis Antetokounmpo
C: Brook Lopez, Bobby Portis, D. J Wilson
Seravalli: ‘Shocking’ move as Pittsburgh Penguins GM Rutherford departs in jaw-dropping fashion – TSN
Legendary Pittsburgh play-by-play man Mike Lange likes to roar “Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has just left the building,” after Penguins wins on home ice.
On Wednesday, one of the men responsible for hanging two Stanley Cup banners in that building left the Steel City in jaw-dropping, Elvis-like fashion.
The Penguins announced Jim Rutherford had resigned from his post as general manager, citing personal reasons. The three-time Stanley Cup champion manager, who turns 72 in three weeks, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the builder category in 2019, thanks in no small part to the back-to-back Cups he led the Penguins to in 2016 and 2017.
The Penguins (4-1-2) are just seven games into their 56-game slate, tied for third place in the realigned East Division.
“I know it’s a little unusual to have this happen during a season, but just felt this was the right time to step away,” Rutherford said in a statement from the team.
“Shocking,” was how Penguins CEO David Morehouse described Wednesday’s turn of events.
Assistant GM Patrik Allvin (pronounced All-veen) will take over on an interim basis, the team said, with full autonomy of hockey operations. Allvin, 46, is the first Swede to sit in an NHL GM’s chair in league history. He had been at his assistant GM post only since Nov. 4, replacing Jason Karmanos, who was fired on Oct. 26.
Rutherford did not provide a specific reason for his resignation, but ruled out his health.
“No health issues, I’m probably healthier than I was 20 years ago,” Rutherford told TSN’s Pierre LeBrun.
Instead, Rutherford opted to keep his reasons for stepping down private.
“No, I’m not going to do that,” Rutherford told LeBrun when asked to elaborate on his decision. “I don’t think it serves anybody well. I’ve been treated first-class here and I really appreciate and respect what they’ve done for me. That’s the way I want to leave the Penguins.”
Morehouse said it was a “personal decision Jim made,” adding that Rutherford had “his mind made up” after sleeping on his decision overnight.
“I don’t think there’s any one thing that led to Jim resigning,” Morehouse said.
One thing Rutherford did make clear: He isn’t ready to retire just yet. This may be an abrupt end to his seven-year tenure in Pittsburgh, but it’s not necessarily the end of his career. Rutherford has this season remaining on his contract with the Penguins.
“I will just take it easy for a while until the summer time and at that point, I can decide if I want to keep working or if I want to retire,” Rutherford told LeBrun.
Morehouse said the Penguins plan to cast a wide net for Rutherford’s replacement. The jockeying for one of the NHL’s truly coveted jobs, with the chance to inherit a roster with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, had already begun according to Morehouse. He said he received calls from interested candidates before the news was even announced.
One of the prerequisites for interested candidates, Morehouse said: a manager willing to think outside the box and be aggressive.
There is no question Rutherford was that in Pittsburgh. After a shaky end to his two-decade tenure in Carolina, Rutherford reinvented himself at the confluence of the Three Rivers.
His nickname of “Trader Jim” was well-earned. Rutherford completed a whopping 61 trades in just over six and a half years on the job. For perspective, the NHL’s longest-tenured GM, Nashville’s David Poile, has completed just 126 in 23-plus years on the job, according to CapFriendly.com.
He swung big and he swung often, his courage of conviction never in question. Rutherford traded for maligned winger Phil Kessel from Toronto and Kessel ended up eating hot dogs out of Lord Stanley’s chalice. Kessel produced 45 critical playoff points over two postseason runs, nearly resulting in a Conn Smythe Trophy.
Rutherford often had the sterling silver touch. On one of his first days on the job, he dealt James Neal to Nashville in exchange for Patric Hornqvist. He added some more speed in Carl Hagelin, changing the look of the Pens, and properly insulated his stars with Trevor Daley, Nick Bonino, Ian Cole, Ben Lovejoy, Justin Schultz and Ron Hainsey.
But perhaps what Rutherford will most be remembered for from his tenure in Pittsburgh will be his no-ego ability to flush mistakes. If Rutherford swung and whiffed, he wasn’t too proud to admit it.
Head coach Mike Johnston was jettisoned after just a season and a half, a wrong righted by the hiring of Mike Sullivan. The Penguins said hello and goodbye quickly to Christian Ehrhoff, Derick Brassard, Nick Bjugstad, Patrick Marleau and Erik Gudbranson. The Penguins missed Conor Sheary, who walked to Buffalo in free agency due to cap constraints, so Rutherford reacquired him.
His reward was the 2016 Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award.
“He deserves a lot of credit,” Sidney Crosby told TSN in 2016. “He’s had in mind what he wants our team to look like and how he wants us to play and showed a lot of confidence in different guys.”
Along the way, Rutherford lost lieutenants in assistant managers Bill Guerin, Tom Fitzgerald and Jason Botterill, all of whom went on to become GMs elsewhere in the NHL.
His latest protege, Allvin, will be given a long look by the Penguins. Allvin might just need to be surrounded by an experienced assistant like Les Jackson. Or perhaps Botterill, recently hired as an assistant in Seattle, will be interested in returning to the fold. Former Flyers GM Ron Hextall spent time growing up in Pittsburgh while his father, Bryan, played for the Penguins.
There is no shortage of qualified candidates (see the list below). But one thing is for certain: Whoever it is will have enormous shoes to fill. The Penguins are very much in ‘win-now’ mode after saying goodbye to Rutherford, who gave Crosby and Malkin and Co. every opportunity to do so.
|Patrik Allvin||Assistant GM, Pittsburgh|
|Craig Billington||Assistant GM, Colorado|
|Jason Botterill||Assistant GM, Seattle|
|Craig Conroy||Assistant GM, Calgary|
|Mathieu Darche||Dir. Hockey Ops, Tampa Bay|
|Kris Draper||Dir. Amateur Scouting, Detroit|
|Chris Drury||Assistant GM, N.Y. Rangers|
|John Ferguson Jr.||Assistant GM, Boston|
|Laurence Gilman||Assistant GM, Toronto|
|Ron Hextall||Advisor, Los Angeles|
|Mark Hunter||GM, OHL London Knights|
|Chris Lamoriello||Assistant GM, N.Y. Islanders|
|Dean Lombardi||Advisor, Philadelphia|
|Chris MacFarland||Assistant GM, Colorado|
|Scott Mellanby||Assistant GM, Montreal|
|Pat Verbeek||Assistant GM, Detroit|
“We’re going to do a careful analysis of people who are interested,” Morehouse said. “We’re looking for someone who can take this great group of players and hang another banner in the rafters.”
Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli
Blue Jays’ Springer signing needs to end tired Toronto narrative – Sportsnet.ca
TORONTO – Now that George Springer has donned a Toronto Blue Jays cap and jersey in public for the first time, with Marcus Semien soon to join him, let’s put the persistent narrative about players not wanting to come here to bed for good.
If the situation is right from a baseball perspective and the money is there, the Blue Jays have a legitimate shot at any free agent they want.
Toronto may not be a glamour destination like California, or home to a historic franchise like the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers or Cubs, or native to wide swaths of the major-league populace, but let’s stop acting like the front office has to sell players on Milwaukee.
This is a great place to play, and arms don’t have to be twisted to get guys to stay once here, as evidenced by the club’s strong history in retaining players that have been prioritized. Tired whinges like the border and customs and taxes are weak crutches that are convenient when the Blue Jays are struggling, or can’t compete on the baseball front.
The signing of Springer to a club record $150-million, six-year deal, and the looming arrival of Semien, who agreed to an $18-million, one-year contract pending a physical, reinforces what’s possible when the Blue Jays build an enticing core, and are willing to pay market rates.
They have plenty to work with, and GM Ross Atkins has effectively leveraged that.
“One that was most important is that they were themselves,” Springer said of how, beyond dollars, the Blue Jays swayed him to head north. “They were honest about where they wanted the team to go, about what they believed in, about how much they believe in their players now, the guys already in that locker-room, the plan, the direction they saw these guys going. When you have a young, talented group that’s already in place, it’s obviously very, very attractive because you know what they can potentially do. All the conversations I’ve had, not one person has said that they don’t want to win, that they don’t go out there and play as hard as they possibly can. That’s what I’m looking forward to the most, getting down to it and playing hard every day with these guys.”
To be clear, the Blue Jays’ decision to offer an extra year at a higher average annual value than what the New York Mets reportedly had on the table is ultimately what tipped the scales – in free agency, money almost always trumps all.
But it’s the other parts of the package that have allowed the Blue Jays to overcome the usual excuses that come up in their pursuit of players.
To wit, Springer cited the presence of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio as being a key part of the attraction, and augmenting a team coming off a playoff berth is a strong marketing tool.
In his opening comments, Atkins shouted out Shannon Curley, the club’s senior manager, player relations and community marketing, for her role in the courtship process, and the dedicated work she does in assisting players and their families is essential in building comfort.
The tax hits here, meanwhile, aren’t much different than in New York and California, and the Blue Jays must do more to kill the imbedded perception of excessively onerous clawbacks. From a tax perspective, it’s really no worse joining the Blue Jays than the Yankees or Dodgers.
None of that means the Blue Jays will get every player they want – no team does. Gerrit Cole spurned aggressive pursuit from the Dodgers and Angels to play for the Yankees. Mookie Betts wouldn’t sign an extension with the Red Sox so they traded him to the Dodgers, who locked him up. Some players have a destination in mind, no matter what, a right they’ve earned in free agency.
But former Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi – whose fall 2005 signings of A.J. Burnett ($55 million over five years with an opt out) and B.J. Ryan ($47 million, five years) remain the fourth and fifth largest free-agent commitments in team history – was bang on when he told me last year that, “most free agents want three things.”
“They want the most money they can make; they want to be as close to their home as they can be; and they want to be on a winning club,” added Ricciardi, now a senior advisor to San Francisco Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi. “Sometimes, you just can’t get as close to their home as they want, so you’ve got to try and create the other two things.”
In other words, it might be harder to sign free agents and it may cost more, but it can be done.
That’s why marketplace perceptions matter, underlining the importance of president and CEO Mark Shapiro describing Springer as a step, not the destination.
If his plan to build a sustainable winner is successful, upper tier off-season additions like Ryu last year and Springer this year are going to become the norm, rather than outliers. Ryu’s $80-million, four-year contract last winter was viewed by some in the industry as an overpay by a team spurned by other free-agent pitchers, but it also established a credibility that’s been bolstered by the moves this winter.
One agent in regular contact with the Blue Jays is impressed with how aggressively they’ve pursued such a wide array of players in recent months, believing it demonstrates a real change in direction.
Making that view more widespread is critical with Shapiro indicating the team’s payroll has the potential to exceed record highs in the $165 million range during the 2016-18 window if the wins keep coming, and the revenue increases commensurately once the pandemic passes.
“There is no limit to what that can reflect from a revenue perspective” if the team grows into a consistent contender, said Shapiro. “(The) plan is to continue to win. And as we win, the revenues will increase. And where those dollars go, I think there’s no limit to what this market can be. It’s a behemoth and we’re going to continue to get better and continue to add the players and keep the players that we have necessary to be a championship team year-in, year-out.”
Those are bold words and when asked if the Blue Jays could be a team that spends to or beyond the $210 million competitive balance tax threshold, Shapiro hedged around the uncertainty with the collective bargaining agreement expiring in December.
“Whatever system is going to be in place after this year, we’ll have to consider it and adjust,” said Shapiro. “But beyond this year, there is no system in place. So that’s not a concern right now.”
Fair enough, but it’s refreshing to think in those terms about a franchise that for too long has constrained itself.
Fading into forgotten history is that the Blue Jays led the majors in payroll during the World Series years of 1992 and 1993, when nobody cried about the difficulty in luring free agents.
Hall of Famers like Dave Winfield, Jack Morris and Paul Molitor signed with the Blue Jays as free agents because they believed this was a place they could win. And thanks to the brilliant framework Hall of Fame GM Pat Gillick put in place, that’s exactly what they did.
The ensuing drift into an extended playoff-less wilderness steadily eroded the organizational derring-do, and when combined with some player abandonments of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, a deep insecurity settled into the local sporting psyche.
And it’s lingered since, even after Masai Ujiri, the Raptors president, sought to pull everyone from the malaise during Kawhi Leonard’s introduction in September 2018, telling a questioner that, “the narrative of not wanting to come to this city is gone. I think that’s old and we should move past that. Believe in this city, believe in yourself.
Those words should resonate again after seeing Springer in a Blue Jays uniform Wednesday and hearing him respond to a question about if playing in Canada gave him pause by saying, “No. To be honest, no.”
There’s no better proof that the narrative of not wanting to come to this city is gone, is old and that we very much should move past that. The Blue Jays have reason to believe in themselves and they’ve started to make star free agents believe in this city, too.
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