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Patriots in unfamiliar spot entering off-season of unknowns – Sportsnet.ca

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — For the first time in three years, the Patriots won’t enter the off-season following a Super Bowl appearance.

Now the franchise that has hoisted six Lombardi trophies faces questions it has rarely had to address during its run of success over the past two decades.

Tom Brady’s future in New England is the biggest unknown. The 42-year-old quarterback says it’s unlikely he will retire, but also acknowledged following Saturday’s 20-13 wild-card loss to Tennessee that nothing is certain regarding where he could suit up next season.

“I love the Patriots. I mean, they obviously — this is the greatest organization. Playing for Mr. (Robert) Kraft all these years and for coach (Bill) Belichick, there’s nobody that’s had a better career, I would say, than me,” Brady said. “I don’t know what the future looks like and I’m not going to predict it.”

Belichick said there was no timeline on making a decision on Brady, but conceded the six-time Super Bowl champions’ situation is unique.

“Everybody’s situation is different,” Belichick said. “Certainly, Tom is an iconic figure in this organization. And nobody respects Tom more than I do.”

Meanwhile, the futures of several players that made up the core of the Patriots’ most recent run of Super Bowl also are up in the air.

The list includes safety Devin McCourty special teams captain Matt Slater, linebacker Kyle Van Noy and offensive lineman Joe Thuney. Multiple teams are also expected to take another run at luring away offensive co-ordinator Josh McDaniels.

Van Noy said Sunday that where he plays football 2020 has crossed his mind.

“Of course. If I told you I didn’t, I’d be lying,” he said. “But right now, this is sit back and wait, get better in the off-season — which I’ve done each and every year. This time is gonna be nothing different.”

Following an 8-0 start, the Patriots lost four of their final five games to end the season. It’s an uncharacteristic finish for a team that had reached at least the AFC championship in each of the previous eight seasons.

“Certainly, when the season doesn’t end the way that you want it to, it is like a crash landing. It is very emotional,” Slater said. “But the reality is that it is going to end like this for all but one team and, unfortunately, this year we aren’t that team.”

WHAT’S WORKING

The Patriots’ biggest strength in 2019 was clearly a defence that allowed a league-low 14.1 points per game during the regular season and had an NFL-best plus-21 turnover differential. Assuming changes are on the way on the offensive side of the ball with or without Brady, New England must do what it can to ensure it retains enough of its defensive core.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Offensively, if Brady does stay he’ll need more playmakers around him than he had this season. That will probably mean spending some money on revamping the receiving group yet again. The offensive line had injury issues, but building more depth there also should be a priority.

STOCK UP

Van Noy followed up a strong 2018 season with a productive 2019. He finished second on the team with 6 1/2 sacks and was fifth with 56 total tackles, including a fumble return for a TD. He figures to garner a lot of attention on the open market and it will be interesting to see how much the Patriots are willing to keep such an integral part of this defence on the roster.

STOCK DOWN

Receiver Julian Edelman has experienced some of the highest points of his career over the past four years. He made huge plays during the Patriots’ historic Super Bowl comeback against Atlanta in the Super Bowl following the 2016 season and won Super Bowl MVP honours in New England’s victory last season against the Rams.

He led the Patriots during the 2019 regular season with 100 receptions, 1,117 yards and six touchdowns. But nagging injuries took a toll on him late in the season. He was mostly a non-factor in Saturday’s loss to Tennessee, catching just three passes for 30 yards on five targets.

KEY NUMBER

1-3 — That was Belichick’s record this season against his former assistants. Belichick entered 2019 with a 14-10 record against Al Groh, Eric Mangini, Jim Schwartz, Romeo Crennel, Nick Saban, McDaniels, Bill O’Brien, Matt Patricia, Brian Flores and Vrabel. In addition to Saturday’s loss to Tennessee, he split during the regular season with Flores, including the regular-season finale loss that dropped the Patriots to the wild-card round. He also lost to O’Brien’s Texans. Belichick went 0-2 during last season’s Super Bowl run, losing regular-season matchups with Patricia and Vrabel.

HOW TO GET IT RIGHT

Tough decisions await Belichick and not much will be known about what direction he plans to take until Brady’s future in New England is resolved.

Jimmy Garoppolo seemed to be the franchise’s heir apparent at quarterback before he was traded to San Francisco in 2017. The coaching staff likes Jarrett Stidham, who was drafted in 2019 and beat out Brian Hoyer to be Brady’s backup in the preseason. But Stidham threw just four passes during his first NFL regular season, so putting the offence in his hands next season would signal a complete rebuild on offence.

Throughout his time in New England, Belichick hasn’t been shy about moving on from players he felt were past their prime or seeking contracts that exceeded value in relation to their age.

While it seemed before this season there was no chance Brady would join that list, the offence’s shortcomings this season could cause Belichick to reassess his thoughts about a quarterback that will be 43 years old at the start of next season.

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William Nylander's improved play the key as he looks to best brother Alex, Chicago Blackhawks – TSN

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TORONTO – It’s a rare occasion now that William Nylander gets to play against his younger brother Alex in the NHL, but as the Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks prepare to clash on Saturday, the elder Nylander can’t help laughing over the many heated competitions dotting their past.

“Whatever we were doing, if it was soccer, baseball or whatever, it was always a battle,” Nylander said after the Leafs’ team meeting on Saturday. “In ping-pong we would end up in fights. But that was just part of it growing up. Every time I play him now, it’s very special and lots of fun. We went out to dinner last night, and we were joking about it. We’re looking forward to today.”

The Nylander boys come from athletic stock, sons of former NHLer Michael (who will be in attendance at Saturday’s game) and siblings to aspiring tennis pro Jacqueline. Nylander freely admits to “getting [my] butt kicked” when taking the court against his sister, but is less jovial about Alex holding this season’s bragging rights after Chicago topped Toronto 5-4 in their first meeting on Nov. 10.

William scored twice in that game while Alex didn’t make it onto the scoresheet, but those details hardly matter compared to the final score.

“I mean, winning is what counts,” Nylander shrugged. “He’s had them since the last game so we got to get that back.”

Should that happen, Nylander is primed to be very involved. Since the calendar turned to 2020, Nylander has seven points (four goals, three assists) in seven games, adding to his full season total of 42 points (21 goals, 21 assists).

Recently the winger has been finding his way even more to the middle of the ice, and now leads the NHL in goals scored from the net-front area with 17. But while the shift has influenced his output, it’s not something Nylander was particularly focused on changing.

“I haven’t really thought about that part of my game,” he admitted. “It’s just that you know where most of the goals are scored, so the more you’re around that area, the higher the chances are you’ll end up scoring. So you try to find your way there.”

Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe thinks there’s a bit more to his success around the net than Nylander cops to, so much so he’s had the winger take over as the net-front presence on the team’s top power play unit.

“His timing is right on,” Keefe said. “He hangs around in those spaces, so I think his intelligence and his instincts with reading the play and when it’s going to come [are strong]. The [goal] that stands out for me recently was that pass from [Pierre] Engvall the other day; on the backside it looked like the puck was going to leave the zone, but he just kind of hangs back and reads that he might get it back.”

Still, there’s a certain balance to be struck there for the instances where Nylander doesn’t get the puck back, and then isn’t in a great spot as the play moves the other way, but that’s just one part of a learning curve that Nylander is otherwise appearing to ace.

“He’s figuring out that [spot is] where a lot of goals come from and he’s in a really good area to get there,” said Zach Hyman. “And he’s being strong [on the puck] and putting the puck in the net so he’s been great.”

Nylander has also embraced his new position on the power play, in part because it allows for him to be versatile, and even switch around occasionally with John Tavares in the middle of the ice.

“You don’t have to really be stuck in front of the net,” he insisted. “You can also be an outlet down low, so it’s been good.”

When the puck drops on Saturday’s game, Nylander will no doubt try to spy his brother on the other side of the ice, but Alex isn’t the only Blackhawk that’s pulling his attention. Nylander admits to being a long-time fan of Chicago winger Patrick Kane, and still finds new things about him to admire.

“The way he played the game, the way he saw the game; he’s the best scoring player of the last decade,” Nylander said. “You know the level [he’s on] right there. There are obviously things that you notice more playing against him versus on TV, just small little things, but he’s got that elite skill level.”

Now 48 games into his own season, Nylander is just one goal away from matching his career-high of 22, tallied through 82 games as a rookie in 2016-17. He’s also one game away from the Leafs’ bye week and the NHL All-Star Break, seven days away from hockey that will start with a trip for Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, Frederik Andersen and Jake Muzzin to play golf at Augusta National.

“Muzz is probably the best out of all of us, but we’ll try to beat him there, it’ll be fun,” Nylander said. “We haven’t played in a while so it’ll be fun to get away and play a course like that.”

And when he returns to the ice, Nylander’s hoping not to have skipped a beat. While this year hasn’t been without a few bumps in the road for him, including a second period benching from Keefe on Dec. 21 after one too many defensive lapses, Nylander has seemingly found his way now to a comfortable consistency.

“He’s a good player, and he’s putting himself in good spots,” Keefe said. “I think we’ve had the puck a lot as a team too, and when we do that I feel like it benefits a player like William, and he seems to be confident in that sense that he’s going to have the puck a lot.”

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Team Mayweather sends a warning to Conor McGregor ahead of UFC 246 – BJPENN.COM

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Floyd Mayweather, Conor McGregor

Team Mayweather has sent former adversary Conor McGregor a warning ahead of his UFC 246 bout with Donald Cerrone.

McGregor and Mayweather faced off in a blockbuster boxing match back in August of 2016, with ‘Money May’ emerging victorious by tenth round TKO.

With that said, the Irishman did have his moments in the contest, especially early in the fight. Due to that success, ‘Mystic Mac’ is confident that a rematch with Floyd Mayweather would go much differently.

However, the folks at Team Mayweather do not share the same confidence in Conor McGregor. Floyd’s longtime friend and bodyguard Ray Sadeghi, can’t imagine a scenario in which McGregor would ever get his hand raised against Mayweather Jr.

“Conor talks a lot, and one thing we do know is he talks a lot, and he doesn’t back it up,” Sadeghi told MMAJUNKIE. “He can say, ‘Oh, he did this in the beginning and in the third round.’ One thing we know as a fighter is everyone starts off fresh and strong. As the rounds go on and on he’ll show the true colors of who is the better fighter and who is the more skilled fighter.

Conor McGregor, Floyd Mayweather

Conor McGregor, Floyd Mayweather

“One thing we do know: Conor McGregor, you can say what you want to say, but you got knocked out, and you got severe head trauma and a concussion that was reported by your doctor. Is the outcome going to be the same? I truly believe that no one can outbox Floyd. No one can outwork Floyd. His offense and his defense and his technique – this man is just made for this.

“His dad, his uncles have been in this for decades, and he’s been doing this since he was a little boy. You can try. If that fight happens and the negotiations go so you guys can put it together and the fight is going to happen, will I love to see that? Absolutely. Is the result going to be the same? I don’t know. It’s going to be a very exciting fight, and I’m sure Conor is going to come out stronger, but you cannot underestimate the best ever.”

Do you think Conor McGregor will try and secure another boxing match with Floyd Mayweather if he proves victorious at UFC 246 this evening? Sound off in the comments section PENN Nation!

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Game Preview 49.0: Edmonton Oilers vs Arizona Coyotes (1pm MT, SNW) – Oilers Nation

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Good morning, Nation! Here we are with yet another Saturday matinee edition of the GDB as our beloved Edmonton Oilers get set to take on the Arizona Coyotes in what will surely be a massive Pacific Division matchup.

Before the Oilers take off for their bye week, they’ve got one last piece of business to take care of as Taylor Hall and the Arizona Coyotes visit Rogers Place for a Saturday matinee, and with the Pacific Division standings being as close as they are, this is undoubtedly a huge game for Edmonton. Right now, the Oilers are chasing the Coyotes for the division lead and winning today’s game would be a huge step towards grabbing that spot as they head into a 10-day break. Now that we’re in the back half of the season, it seems like the pressure to win rises exponentially and these divisional games become as important as it gets. As of this morning, first and fifth place in the Pacific are separated by only two points and that means closing out these four pointers are crucial for not only maintaining pace but also for putting space between Edmonton and the teams chasing them. Needless to say, the Oilers need to do whatever it takes to put two more points in the bank before the break.

The other obvious storyline for tonight’s game is that Taylor Hall will be making his return to Edmonton for the first time as a Coyote after being acquired from the Devils back in mid-December. Now that he’s back in the Pacific Division and playing along with the likes of Phil Kessel, the Coyotes have a different look and feel than we’re used to, and it will be up to the Oilers to figure out a way to shut them down while also producing opportunities for themselves on the offensive side of the puck. As you’ll see in the numbers section below, the Coyotes score less than the Oilers do (they have five fewer goals in two more games), but they allow far fewer goals against which will certainly be a challenge to overcome. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that the Coyotes are still the defensive team we know and hate but they’ve found a way to add some offence into the mix which makes them a different animal to handle.

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Tonight’s contest marks the third of four meetings between these two clubs with the next coming up on February 4th in Glendale. Over the first two games, each side has secured a win with both contests requiring extra time to reach a conclusion.

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Numbers courtesy of Natural Stat Trick (fancies at 5×5)

Oilers

Neal – McDavid – Archibald
RNH – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Nygard – Sheahan – P. Russell
Gagner – Haas – Chiasson

Klefbom – Larsson
Nurse – Bear
K. Russell – Jones

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Smith

Over the past couple of weeks, the Oilers have really started to hit their stride in terms of producing offence from through their lineup and it’s a trend that I’m really hoping can continue after this afternoon and beyond the bye-week break. The lines shown above were what the Oilers were rocking at practice, but there haven’t been any updates since but I’ll go ahead and update things if anything changes.

Coyotes

Hall – Dvorak – Garland
Keller – Soderberg – Schmaltz
Course – Stepan – Kessel
Grabner – Richardson – Hinostroza

Ekman-Larsson – Demers
Chychrun – Goligoski
Oesterle – Hjalmarsson

Hill

Looking at the Coyotes’ stats page, the thing that stuck out to me was the balanced scoring they have from through their lineup, and that the real battle could come from how the depth lines match up against each other. If the Oilers’ third and fourth lines can outscore what the Coyotes can produce then we should be in line for a nice little afternoon here. At least, that’s the theory anyway.

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From Howlin’ Hockey:

When the ‘Yotes played deep and cycled in their “O” zone, it posed problems for the Canucks’ “D” men. Unfortunately, there was too much puck-watching by the Coyotes and not enough support for their linemates or movement away from the puck to generate many scoring chances.

In essence, there was too much “one and done” and loss of the precious puck to the home team. Many of the ‘Yotes seemed invisible at times, mere passengers on a slow-moving train to a destination called defeat. It seemed a blessing that the Canucks were at times just as inept as the Coyotes were.

It was certainly disappointing to watch the Coyotes’ performance against the Canucks, especially after they made it clear the day before and again pregame that this contest was going to be approached as if it was a playoff game. Coach Tocchet stated that with the NHL break coming up after Saturday’s matinee game in Edmonton, the Coyotes needed to “empty the tank.” Instead, it looked as if the tank was empty from the start.

Let’s hope there’s an effective “response” game that reminds us all of the desert dogs’ resilience come Saturday afternoon in Edmonton. Win and come home to warmer weather, boys. Let’s go Coyotes!

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

Game Day Prediction: Oilers take it 3-2 and head off into the sunset to enjoy their bye week. I believe.

Obvious Game Day Prediction: Seeing as it is a tundra outside right now, Rogers Place sells twice as much alcohol as normal as Oilers fans will do anything to keep themselves warm. Or, at least, numb the pain a little bit.

Not-So-Obvious Game Day Prediction: Gregor predicted he’d score on Tuesday night against the Predators and it never happened, so I’m going to go ahead and call Patrick Russell’s first NHL goal here and now. One of us needs to get this one. 

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