Folks, we need to make something perfectly clear here. There's a reason major league players are what they are, major leaguers. And there's a reason the rest of us are left to talk and write about their accomplishments. 

They're the best in the world at what they do, and although we may think we have an advantage or two in some athletic capacity — in some cases, it's possible we do — it's best to just leave well enough alone. Don't poke the angry bears, as they say. And certainly don't question their abilities or challenge them to anything competitive, because you're going to get their best and probably feel bad about it later.

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Just ask David Vassegh, co-host of Dodger Talk on AM 570. For awhile now, Vassegh has been using his airwaves to call out Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez for being slow. Of course, he did so knowing that information was getting back to Gonzalez on a regular basis, but he probably didn't suspect what Gonzalez's response would be once he'd finally heard enough.

That moment finally came this week.

Gonzalez's response? An open challenge to a footrace, which took place before Friday's game at Petco Park in San Diego.

The result of the race was a no contest. As in Vassegh, had no chance to keep up. With that said though, Gonzalez did have noe notable advantage. Per conditions of the race, Vassegh had to wear cleats. He ended up borrowing a pair from Dodgers infielder Justin Turner, but they were of little help as Gonzalez left him in his dust.

Tired of @THEREAL_DV saying how slow he is on air, Adrian Gonzalez challenged him to a race pic.twitter.com/SWWKqepMuo

— Mark Saxon (@markasaxon) April 24, 2015

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Seriously, you can start anytime, Mr. Vassegh. 

Of course, the race itself was all in good fun. Gonzalez didn't ttruly ake the comments personally, and would probably be the first to admit he's not exactly fleet of foot, at least by baseball standards. But it made for an entertaining stunt and a fun moment that will give the Dodgers clubhouse something to talk about for weeks. 

Also, we're guessing it will give David Vassegh something else to talk about on the air. Unless, of course, he's ready to challenge A.J. Ellis. Or better yet, a Dodgers colleague. 

There is now a movement among the #Dodgers to get a race between @alannarizzo and @THEREAL_DV

— Mark Saxon (@markasaxon) April 25, 2015

Make it happen!

BLS H/N: Bleacher Report 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: April 25, 2015, 10:50 pm

Leah Still, the 4-year-old daughter of former Penn State and current Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still, scored a touchdown during Temple's spring game on Saturday.

Leah Still taking a screen for a TD at the Temple spring game #LeahStrong pic.twitter.com/k2VZukt11M

— Tyler Meininger (@TMeininger1) April 25, 2015

If you're familiar with the NFL, you're likely familiar with Leah's story. She was diagnosed with cancer in June of 2014 and many rallied in her support. Proceeds from Devon's jersey sales went to help her treatments (his jersey became one of the more popular ones in the NFL) and by being on the Bengals roster, Devon was able to keep his health insurance.

In March, Devon announced that Leah was in remission after she had undergone her treatments in the fall following the removal of a Neuroblastoma tumor.

Her touchdown is an incredibly cool moment, and we're guessing this ranks right up with her first NFL game in the list of awesome memories she'll have from childhood. Well done, Temple.

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Nick Bromberg is the assistant editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: April 25, 2015, 10:41 pm

Most of the eyes in the non-sporting world were focused on ABC on Friday night, as former Olympic decathlete and reality TV star Bruce Jenner confirmed that he is transitioning into a woman. Jenner received scads of deserved support and praise for his bravery and honesty over social media, with one notable fringe ex-member of the ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians” clan deciding to weigh in somewhat vaguely in 140 characters or less.

Man, I'm glad I got out when I did. #Gottadoyou

— Kris Humphries (@KrisHumphries) April 25, 2015

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You’ll recall that Humphries enjoyed a 72-day sham of a marriage to we still don’t know what she does Kim Kardashian in 2011, prior to asking for an annulment. Kim Kardashian is the step-daughter of Bruce Jenner.

Predictably, the backlash to the Washington Wizards forward was severe. We rather enjoyed this response from comedian Nikki Glaser:

Yeah, and so were The Jazz, Raptors, Mavericks, Nets, and Celtics. #bfhelpedmewiththistweet https://t.co/s2Cd0REQHl

— Nikki Glaser (@NikkiGlaser) April 25, 2015

Just as predictably, Humphries’ lack of tact, self-awareness, and compassion forced Kris into a bit of a whitewash on Saturday morning:

I have and always will support Bruce hence #Gottadoyou. Now recognize I was too vague and sincerely apologize for the way this came across.

— Kris Humphries (@KrisHumphries) April 25, 2015

#FullySupportBruce

— Kris Humphries (@KrisHumphries) April 25, 2015

OK, pal.

That’s better than claiming you were hacked, I suppose. It’s pretty hard to read “Man, I’m glad I got out when I did” incorrectly, though. We’re not going to be in the business of encouraging you to think that Kris Humphries is a liar, but we should remind you that Humphries’ decade-long professional career has been marked with this sort of priggishness.

And, again, we’re having a tough time taking “glad I got out when I did” as anything less than an unfunny shot at someone that is working through something more trying and complicated and fearsome than Kris Humphries will ever go through.

Bruce Jenner should be proud of his gender identity. We’ll let the readers decide just what sort of attitude identity they want to associate Kris Humphiries with.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KDonhoops

Author: Kelly Dwyer
Posted: April 25, 2015, 9:38 pm
(Getty Images)

When Ricky Romero was named to the All-Star game in 2011 it appeared it was just the start of a long and prosperous career with the Toronto Blue Jays. Then he suddenly lost the ability to pitch effectively at the major league level and now his career in Toronto is over.

The Blue Jays released Romero on Saturday, less than four years after he received that All-Star nod. He was in the final year of a five-year, $30.1 million extension he signed back in 2010 and general manager Alex Anthopoulos decided that since he wasn't likely to contribute this season it was best to let him go.

From the Associated Press:

"We made the determination we just didn't think by the end of the year he was going to be able to factor for us up here," general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "We felt it was best just to give him the opportunity to get a head start somewhere else. It was the right thing for him."

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Romero's mound meltdown really started in 2012, when he he issued a league-high 105 walks in 181 innings and his ERA jumped from 2.92 in his All-Star year to 5.77. He last pitched for Toronto in 2013, giving up nine runs and walking eight in 7 1/3 innings and began 2014 in Triple-A, pitching there briefly before suffering a knee injury and undergoing season-ending surgery.

While Romero is still rehabbing, Sportsnet's Barry Davis indicates that the 30-year-old left-hander will seek an opportunity to prove himself elsewhere when he returns to full health:

AA says Romero was grateful for his time with #bluejays. He still plans to pitch again and hopes to catch on with another organization.

— Barry Davis (@SNBarryDavis) April 25, 2015

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There are certainly some parallels in Romero's story to the precipitous decline of fellow lefty Dontrelle Willis. Like Willis, Romero got off to a great start in the big leagues. After finding success though, a combination of injuries and control issues made it impossible to regain those heights. At his peak the strong-willed Romero had a reputation as a bulldog on the mound. He knows that getting back to the majors won't be easy, but he isn't ready to give up yet  it's just not in his nature.

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Israel Fehr is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at israelfehr@yahoo.ca or follow him on Twitter. Follow @israelfehr

Author: Israel Fehr
Posted: April 25, 2015, 9:30 pm

The phrase "never say never" has never been more appropriate.

A little more than two years after leaving the Texas Rangers in free agency, troubled outfielder Josh Hamilton is reportedly headed back to Texas via a stunning trade, which follows his much publicized relapse and falling out with the Los Angeles Angels.  It will reunite Hamilton with a team with which he shared many ups and downs.

The deal has been agreed to, according to multiple reports and could become official in a matter of hours or days. According to Evan P. Grant of the Dallas Morning News, the Rangers will take on less than $7 million of the $93 million remaining on Hamilton's contract. 

If finalized, it's expected Hamilton will join the Rangers once he completes his rehab from February shoulder surgery. Assuming he does take the field again at Globe Life Park, in many ways his career will have come full circle. Perhaps it wouldn't represent the smoothest or most well-rounded circle. It has bumps, it has divits, and maybe even some empty spaces. But it's a circle nonetheless. 

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And it's with that journey in mind that we now look back at the highs and lows, the good times and bad times, the love and support, and ultimately the falling out that make up this most unique relationship between Hamilton, the Rangers and their fans. 

Player of the month in April and May of 2008
After being traded over from the Cincinnati Reds following his rookie season, Hamilton's time with the Rangers couldn't have started any better. In April, he hit .333 with six home runs and 32 RBIs. He stayed hot in May, hitting .322 with eight home runs and 29 RBIs, which laid the foundation for the first of five All-Star selections, all of which came with Texas, and a true breakout season. By the end, Hamilton was a 304/.371/.530 hitter with 32 home runs and a league-leading 130 RBIs, which pretty much made him the man in Arlington, Texas.

(USA TODAY Sports)

Wins American League MVP in 2010
After an injury-riddled 2009 season, Hamilton returned to an elite level of production in 2010 with a 359/.411/.633 battling. His absurd 1.044 OPS far and away led the league, and he was the driving force behind Ron Washington's first World Series team.

Hamilton's season was highlighted by a game in Boston in which he helped Texas rally from an early 8-2 deficit to win by collecting four hits, including a home run, scoring four runs and making three superb catches in the outfield. Later injuries would rob him of the all-around athleticism he displayed that night, but for a time Hamilton could do a bit of everything very well. 

The death of Shannon Stone
A moment of kindness turned tragic on July 8, 2011, when Rangers fan Shannon Stone fell to his death at Globe Life Park after Hamilton attempted to toss a souvenir to the 39-year-old father. The accident understandably shook Hamilton on several levels and tested his resilience, but at that point he still had the support of the fans, who helped him heal and helped him move forward. 

10th-Inning Home Run in Game 6 of 2011 World Series
Had the Texas Rangers held on to win the 2011 World Series, Hamilton's profile in Texas may have reached legendary status. As it is, Hamilton’s dramatic go-ahead home run in the 10th inning of Game 6 was one of the franchise's biggest moments, and was especially impressive considered he was playing through a painful groin injury that to that point had limited his effectiveness.

That one swing nearly changed the course of franchise history, and along with it may have changed Hamilton's outlook with Rangers fans. If only they'd held on.

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Hamilton booed in final Rangers' home game
By the end of the 2012 season,  Hamilton's relationship with Rangers fans had gone south despite the fact he'd remained productive. There were many contributing factors, including Hamilton's impending free agency, and the season culminated with Hamilton being booed relentlessly. The hard feelings reached a crescendo in their final home game, which led to this reaction from Hamilton. 

On that day, Hamilton paraphrased Matthew 10:14: "If they don't receive you in a town, shake the dust off your feet and move to the next."

— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) April 24, 2015

A few weeks later, he signed with the Angels. 

(USA TODAY Sports)

Hamilton says Rangers don't have real fans
The tension boiled over to the following season when Hamilton returned to Texas wearing an Angels uniform. Rangers fans were not happy when Hamilton made it clear he didn't feel like Dallas-Ft. Worth was a true baseball area, and stated he'd stand by those comments until proven different. The fallout involved Hamilton's family being heckled, which resulted in security being forced to diffuse the situation, and his reception didn't improve in any of his following trips.

That sendoff and the fallout beg the question now about how Hamilton might be received if and when he returns to Texas, and whether or not it's the best place for him to resume his career.

From a business and professional standpoint, leaving the Angels should definitely benefit him. They wanted nothing to do with him following his relapse and he simply wasn't going to fit in there again. There's also obviously comfort between Hamilton and Rangers officials and players, which means he should get the necessary support from within. But will he be truly accepted by the fans? That's the question.

If not, how will Hamilton handle that added adversity? If he is accepted, will it last, and will Hamilton be able to mend fences completely?  

There are several interesting angles in play, and we'll be monitoring all of them as this scenario plays out. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: April 25, 2015, 8:34 pm

Not content with letting LeBron James act as the king of practice heaves from all the way across the court, Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard decided to toss in his own 94-footer following Rox practice on Saturday.

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Watch:

With the way James’ video quickly made its way across the internet, it’s safe to conclude that this has become a trend of sorts. We’d say we’re eagerly awaiting Derrick Rose’s response at Chicago Bulls practice, but you get the feeling that an unsmiling Rose and coach Tom Thibodeau have more sober-minded pursuits following a shootaround.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KDonhoops

Author: Kelly Dwyer
Posted: April 25, 2015, 8:06 pm

If the Gold Glove at third base in the National League is Nolan Arenado's to lose, all the other candidates might as well change positions or find a new goal for the year. Arenado has done nothing but add highlight reel plays to his already impressive resume, and the work he's currently doing could easily cement him as the man to beat for years to come.

For example, take Friday night's defensive exhibition in the Colorado's 6-4 win against the San Francisco Giants. At two key points in the game, Arenado stepped up to make exceptional defensive plays. The first saved Colorado at least one run, while getting them two outs. The second killed a rally before it could even get started, which helped Colorado hold on.

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Arenado's big defensive night started in the fourth inning. With runners at first and second, no outs and the game still tied, Casey McGehee hit a sharp one-hopper down the third-base line that seemed ticketed for the left-field corner. Arenado dived to his right, full extension, to flag the ball down, which alone was very impressive.

He quickly got to his feet and without hesitation ran three steps to third for the first out. That, also, was quite impressive.

Amazingly, he still had time to throw across the diamond to double up McGehee. In one fluid motion, he tagged third with his foot, and then fired across with a jump throw to nab McGehee by less than a step.

Simply amazing athleticism coupled with razor sharp awareness.

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But that was only one of his gems. In the seventh, Arenado was in on the grass for Gregor Blanco while the rest of Colorado's defense was shifted to the right side. Blanco hit a soft chopper where the shortstop usually is, but Arenado ranged to his left, and with a scoop, spin and throw, got Blanco at first. 

It's a play not many third baseman can make at all. Arenado made it look effortless, proving once again that he's the new measuring stick defensively at the hot corner.  

Along with Troy Tulowitzki and D.J. LeMahieu, who are also Gold Glove winners, it's no wonder people are calling Colorado's infield Coors Shield. The Leather Daddies has been coined in their honor as well, so Rockies fans are obviously having fun with their exceptional infield defense. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: April 25, 2015, 7:04 pm
(Getty Images)

The Oakland Athletics hoped a few days off would be enough for Ben Zobrist to recover from a knee injury he sustained last Sunday. Turns out he'll need a few weeks and surgery to get right.

Zobrist was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Saturday with what the team is calling torn cartilage in his left knee and is expected to be out for 4-6 weeks following surgery. He initially hurt his knee sliding into second base last Sunday and didn't start for four games before returning to the lineup Friday night. Unfortunately for the A's the pain persisted and the decision was made to send him to the operating room, though Zobrist is aiming to be back healthy in just over a month:

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#Athletics Ben Zobrist on meniscus surgery: "hoping I'll be back June 1 and will have four months to help this team the way I can."

— John Hickey (@JHickey3) April 25, 2015

Best known for his ability to play all over the field, Zobrist has been used at second base and in both corner outfield positions in his first season with Oakland and is hitting .240/.304/.400 with a home run and eight RBIs through 14 games.

With third baseman Brett Lawrie also banged up for Oakland, infielder Max Muncy was called-up from Triple-A to replace Zobrist on the active roster. Muncy is set to make his major league debut at third base against the Astros on Saturday.

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Israel Fehr is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at israelfehr@yahoo.ca or follow him on Twitter. Follow @israelfehr

Author: Israel Fehr
Posted: April 25, 2015, 6:45 pm

Through three playoff games, LeBron James is averaging a fantastic 27 points, six assists and 8.7 rebounds a contest, as his Cleveland Cavaliers have taken a 3-0 series lead over the Boston Celtics.

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LeBron has also missed 10 of 13 three-pointers, though, and he decided to take advantage of Saturday’s team shootaround to correct his faulty stroke:

Game 4 is slated for Sunday at 1 PM Eastern, and the Celtics have precious little time to prepare their 94-foot defensive rotations. Good luck, Boston.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KDonhoops

Author: Kelly Dwyer
Posted: April 25, 2015, 6:25 pm

Major League Baseball worked overtime this weekend to hand down discipline following the wild brawl involving the Kansas City Royals and Chicago White Sox on Thursday. 

In a press release issued Saturday morning, the league announced six players have been suspended for their role in the brawl. Kansas City Royals starter Yordano Ventura, who has been involved in multiple incidents already this season, got hit the hardest. He received a seven-game suspension for his role in escalating tensions after getting into a heated exchange with Chicago's Adam Eaton.

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Edinson Volquez of the Royals, along with White Sox pitchers Chris Sale and Jeff Samardzija, each received five games. That essentially amounts to having one start pushed back. All three were right in the middle of the brawl. At one point, Samardzija clearly targeted Lorenzo Cain, which is when the brawl turned real ugly. It would be easy to argue Samardzija's role was the most volatile. 

It's reported that Sale attempted to get into the Royals clubhouse after his ejection, while the game was still on-going. Sale refused to confirm or deny those reports on Friday. 

In addition to those punishments, Lorenzo Cain and Kelvin Herrera of the Royals each received two games, which may actually be the most costly suspension for Kansas City considering their roles. Herrera is currently appealing a five-game suspension for throwing at Oakland's Brett Lawrie last weekend. 

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All of the suspended players also received an undisclosed fine from the league. White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers was also fined an undisclosed amount.

Adam Eaton, for what it's worth, did not receive any punishment. It appeared he may have jawed at Ventura first on Thursday after taking exception to a quick pitch, but the league didn't feel his role was significant enough.  

On a related note, the White Sox also announced that relief pitcher Matt Albers is headed to the disabled list with a finger injury suffered during the brawl. In that regard, the brawl is going to prove more costly for Chicago in terms of games lost to the incident. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: April 25, 2015, 5:04 pm

Since the first year Alex Ovechkin made the playoffs with the Washington Capitals, they’ve played in nine playoff series. Seven of them have gone seven games; the only two that didn’t came in the same 2010-11 season, a five-game win over the Rangers and a sweep at the hands of the Lightning. 

So, chin up, New York Islanders fans: These things tend to go the distance for the Capitals, even if they’re up 3-2 in the series.

But this isn’t a Capitals team about tendencies, or the past. This is a Capitals team desperately trying to prove that this postseason, and this mix of players, is different.

Do they actually have a killer instinct this time?

Said Troy Brouwer to CSN Washington:

“We have to find a way where we can close teams out,” Brouwer said. “I like the pedigree of our team. I like how we’re embracing the situation right now. We know tomorrow night’s going to be our toughest game in a long time because that elimination game is extremely hard to win because the other team is extremely desperate. We have that same attitude as well, because we know what it’s like to exit the playoffs early and we don’t want to be doing that again this year.”

Barry Trotz said he wants the Capitals to use the past to thrive in the present:

“I think you have to go through a lot of stuff and you do remember. You don’t get any experience until you go through it. Sometimes having no experience is a good thing because you’re naive to the magnitude of stuff. But I think when you put everything in perspective and you know what’s coming, the guys that have gone through it.”

This group has been through a lot, even in this series, when they looked zombified in Game 1. But Tom Wilson’s hit on Lubomir Visnosvky changed the trajectory of the series. Let’s see if the Islanders can change it again in Game 6, and maybe add a few doubts to the minds of Caps players thinking it’s different this time.

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Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: April 25, 2015, 4:36 pm

Before the on field hostilities kicked in between the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays Tuesday night at Rogers Centre, it's reported the Orioles were already displeased by the ballpark's new artificial turf, which early in the season has played very soft and thick. That's led to several unusual hops and baseballs slowing down much quicker than on normal grass or typical turf surface. 

In fact, according to Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun, the Orioles may have been one step out the door, at one point even considering boycotting or flat out forfeiting Tuesday's game after infielder Jimmy Paredes was shaken up after taking a bad hop ground ball to the face.

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Paredes was fine, but there were concerns about another bad hop, or worse yet, the turf potentially giving way leading to a season-changing knee or ankle injury.

Not an excuse for sweep, but #Orioles left #Toronto thinking new Rogers Centre turf is major problem. Too spongy, slow & lots of untrue hops

— Eduardo A. Encina (@EddieInTheYard) April 24, 2015

In fact, there was consideration by #Orioles of not playing Tues night, especially after Paredes was hurt on bad hop. O's have contacted MLB

— Eduardo A. Encina (@EddieInTheYard) April 24, 2015

Over the offseason, the Blue Jays installed their new AstroTurf 3D Xtreme field, which is supposed to be a placeholder until they're able to get natural grass. The club is hopeful that will happen by 2018.

In the 26 years since the stadium opened, this is the fifth different playing surface they've used. As we noted last week, the new turf had already drawn attention of Major League Baseball. At this point, there's no indication the Orioles' concerns have created a sense of urgency for the league, but if there was ever a time to reevaluate the surface, now might be it with the Blue Jays out of town until May 4. 

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By the way, had the Orioles gone through with the forfeit, it would have been the first on record since the Dodgers were forced to forfeit a game at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 10, 1995. The ruling came after Dodgers fans continued throwing giveaway baseball on the field after disputing a call. 

We're guessing the Orioles would never truly go through with their forfeit or boycott, but it's interesting to hear those words thrown around. It will also be interesting to see how other teams feel about the turf, assuming there are no changes forthcoming. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: April 25, 2015, 4:07 pm

UAB’s football program may have been shut down by president Ray Watts, but former Blazers linebacker Derek Slaughter made sure to represent the program at his graduation ceremony on Saturday.

How did Slaughter do that? He brought his football helmet with him as he walked across the stage to shake Watts’ hand.

Trying to decide if I should wear my football helmet tmrw when I graduate and shake the presidents hand...

— Derek Slaughter (@dslaughter33) April 25, 2015

Ladies and gents I have brought the football helmet to wear at graduation today #freeUAB pic.twitter.com/9ivW5zafgS

— Derek Slaughter (@dslaughter33) April 25, 2015

Game time! Time to graduate!! #freeUAB pic.twitter.com/fCM2rcnAS4

— Derek Slaughter (@dslaughter33) April 25, 2015

While he didn't wear the helmet, Slaughter still brought the helmet up on stage and drew cheers from the crowd at Bartow Arena.

Another angle makes it seem like Slaughter did not shake Watts' hand, though it's hard to tell for sure.

pic.twitter.com/86cWbFs6ZG

— Thacker Rice (@JamesT_77) April 25, 2015

According to Al.com, there were "other reports of students refusing to shake Watts' hand as they crossed the stage."

That’s a strong statement from Slaughter, who registered 75 tackles in three seasons with the program after transferring from Nebraska.

The decision to shut down the football program has been met with plenty of scrutiny. On Thursday, a study published by an economic analysis firm said that the school’s decision to terminate football (along with rifle and bowling) was “ill-advised from a net cash-flow perspective.” The study also said that the program actually made money and was not a financial burden.

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Author: Sam Cooper
Posted: April 25, 2015, 4:04 pm

Dec 31, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Boise State Broncos quarterback Ryan Finley (15) against the Arizona Wildcats in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl at Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY SportsRyan Finley, the favorite to start at quarterback in 2015 for Boise State, was arrested early Saturday morning, according to the Idaho Statesman.

Finley, a 20-year-old redshirt sophomore, was hit with two misdemeanor charges – minor in possession of an alcoholic beverage and resisting or obstructing officers. No other details of the incident have been reported. 

Finley was Grant Hedrick’s primary backup as a redshirt freshman last season and completed 12-of-27 passes for 161 yards in five games. He also threw for two touchdowns and an interception.

He worked with the top offensive unit for most of the spring and started with the first team in the Broncos’ spring game.

According to the Statesman, Boise State is “aware of the incident and will follow the student conduct policy in accordance with the situation.”

For more Boise State news, visit Blue-Turf.com.

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Author: Sam Cooper
Posted: April 25, 2015, 3:28 pm

Leading up to this year’s draft, there’s a consensus that Amari Cooper and Kevin White are the top two receivers in the class, in a tier by themselves.

I agree that both of them are in a top tier. Cooper and White are both very good prospects. But I’d add a third receiver to that tier: UCF’s Breshad Perriman.

I think Cooper is the top receiver prospect this year. But if you asked me who is No. 2 among White and Perriman, that’s a tougher question. I really like Perriman. I heard an interesting comparison on Perriman from a scout the other day: Denver Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas. I can see that. Perriman is a big powerful, explosive, fast guy. Although he and White are about the same size, on film Perriman looks like the bigger guy. I could see ranking Perriman even with or ahead of White, although I’m in the minority on that.

Since I think there are three receivers in the top tier and not just two, let’s take a look at what all three do well.

Amari Cooper, Alabama

I like Cooper and think he’s the top receiver in this draft. But let’s put it this way – if Sammy Watkins, Odell Beckham and Cooper were in the same draft, where would Cooper go? I’d say he’d be the third one taken, and I think most people would agree. Cooper is the same size as Sammy Watkins coming out of Clemson but not as naturally explosive.

But that doesn’t mean Cooper isn’t a very good prospect. Quickness and precision are the foundations of his game. As a result he can be very effective in all three areas of route running: short, intermediate and deep. He has natural quickness and fluidity as a route runner, compact movement in and out of breaks, and little wasted motion. Route quickness is a definite strength of Cooper’s game.

He has a deceptive vertical burst, and I believe he will be able to get on top of NFL corners with his understanding of route running and a deceptive second gear. An 80-yard TD touchdown against Tennessee on the first play of the game showed Cooper’s outstanding short area burst and long speed.

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Cooper also showed burst with ball in the air, which is more important than timed speed. A receiver must be able to separate late in routes and Cooper did that.

Cooper clearly was well coached by the Alabama staff, as he showed some subtleties of route running that will transition well and early to the NFL. He showed a sense of refinement and pace as a route runner, and understood the purpose of routes and how to set up corners.

Kevin White, West Virginia

It’s not hard to figure out what NFL evaluators like about White. He has a lot of tools. Watch this 68-yard touchdown against Oklahoma, and see how he gets vertical in a hurry with smooth acceleration, showing off great foot quickness and burst.

White’s size and body fits the NFL game. There’s a physical nature to his movement; he looked powerful and strong. There’s also excellent short area quickness and burst for a big receiver. He showed explosive traits as both a route runner and running after the catch, and his combination of power and speed is in some ways reminiscent of Terrell Owens. White is also a hands catcher when well-covered, not allowing the ball to get into his body – that transitions well to the NFL.

There are things he’ll need to refine. White has a tendency to run his routes a little too upright; he needs more forward lean to vertically challenge off-coverage corners. White is not quick in and out of breaks; that’s not his strength. He’s more of a straight-line route runner, a speed cut receiver with a big body. There are a lot of athletic and movement traits to work with, but how quickly can White learn the subtle nuances of playing receiver in the NFL?

Breshad Perriman, UCF

Perriman has the movement of a smaller receiver, and plus suddenness for a big receiver with his body type. He has excellent acceleration off the line of scrimmage when he had free access. He showed short-area burst and explosion on vertical routes; you can see a second gear. But what I liked about Perriman was he played big and powerful. That will transition well to the NFL.

Perriman has an NFL body with excellent height/weight/speed combination (6-foot-2, 212 pounds and a 40-yard dash time of less than 4.3 seconds) and long strides that eat up ground.

At this point Perriman is not a refined route runner, as he has a tendency to round off his routes. But there’s a lot to work with. Perriman is not as purely explosive as Julio Jones was coming out of Alabama, but he is similar in size and movement. You could make the argument that Perriman has similar size and movement traits to Dez Bryant. He has all the physical tools and traits NFL teams look for in a receiver.

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NFL analyst and NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches as much NFL game film as anyone. Throughout the season, Cosell will join Shutdown Corner to share his observations on the teams, schemes and personnel from around the league.

Author: Greg Cosell
Posted: April 25, 2015, 1:32 pm

Adam Wainwright, SP, at Mil (Peralta), $9600 at FanDuel: His strikeouts are down, and it’s best to use pitchers in home starts, but Wainwright remains highly effective and gets a Brewers team that’s an MLB-worst 3-14 and missing Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy from their lineup. The Cardinals are -160 favorites, and Milwaukee has the lowest team OPS (.587) in all of baseball. Opposing starter Wily Peralta is off to a dreadful start (eight strikeouts over 19.0 innings) thanks in part to a noticeable drop in velocity.

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Justin Maxwell, OF, at Col (De La Rosa), $2600: His recent play has forced himself into the Giants’ everyday lineup, and Saturday he gets a lefty in Coors Field.

Dustin Pedroia, 2B, at Bal (Chen), $3000: He’s hitting atop one of the best lineups in baseball and has slashed .364/.462/1.000 against southpaws this season, yet Pedroia is a reasonable price, with nine other second basemen more expensive.

Mookie Betts, OF ($3100) and Xander Bogaerts, SS ($3000), at Bal (Chen): Like teammate Pedroia, both have also excelled against LHP and are available at extremely reasonable prices given their upside.

Justin Smoak, 1B, at TB (Ramirez), $2600: Tropicana Field is a tough place to hit, but the former top prospect is off to a career best start (.947 OPS), as the switch-hitting Smoak is being used strictly against RHP. He faces a pitcher making a spot start who’s been throwing batting practice this season, as Erasmo Ramirez has allowed six walks over 6.1 innings with a whopping .455 BAA. Dalton Pompey ($2800) is another sneaky play as a result.

Robinson Chirinos, C, at LAA (Wilson), $2400: This would be better at home, but Chirinos has belted eight homers over 101 at bats against left-handers dating back to last season.

Matt Joyce, OF, vs. Tex (Lewis), $2300: He doesn’t have a hit since April 15, but Joyce owns a career .258/.352/.456 line against right-handers and faces one Saturday who’s vulnerable to giving up the long ball. If you want to spend a little more, use teammate Kole Calhoun ($3400).

Jimmy Paredes, 2B, vs. Bos (Masterson), $2600: There’s no stopping him. Locked atop Baltimore’s lineup and facing a righty who’s typically shaky against LHB, the switch-hitting Paredes is still a major bargain at this price.

Carlos Gonzalez, OF, vs. SF (Hudson), $3100: He’s off to a horrendous start (.197/.231/.328), so it’s safe to question whether he’s playing injured. But Gonzalez had two hits Friday and looked good at the plate, and this is a career .334/.395/.615 hitter at Coors Field, so he’s unlikely to remain at this cost much longer.

Matt Carpenter, 3B, at Mil (Peralta), $4100: After looking at bargains, let’s go with one pricier player for Saturday, as few (if any) players are hotter than Carpenter right now. He’s destroyed righties this season (1.270 OPS) and has owned Wily Peralta throughout his career (1.202 OPS over 24 ABs). He’ll also be hitting in Miller Park, which has increased home runs for LHB by 39 percent over the past three seasons, with only GAB boosting them more during that span. 

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Author: Dalton Del Don
Posted: April 25, 2015, 7:54 am

The Houston Astros and Oakland A's cornered the market on crazy on Friday night, so it would have been appropriate for Josh Reddick to dash home in the 10th inning with the game-winning run, which also would have doubled as a walk-off Little League home run. 

The thing is, this game was so crazy, a crazy A's victory wasn't good enough. It needed to go another inning, where the first-place Astros — crazy, isn't it? — could prove their resilience before holding off another wild A's rally. 

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Digest that.

Now we'll continue.

Prior to the play in question. Houston had just taken a 2-0 lead in the 10th inning. Reddick stepped up with Oakland down to its final out and the tying runs on base. He proceeded to lace a double to left-center field that sliced away from Colby Rasmus. Sam Fuld scored easily from second. For Stephen Vogt, the tying run, it was a lot closer as he motored around from first base. The relay throw came home and had Vogt beat, but it skipped away from catcher Hank Conger.

Reddick, eyeing a big finish, then charged home. Unfortunately for him, closer Luke Gregorson did his job backing up the plate. Reddick ended up being out by a good 10 feet, but man, the shot of the ball bouncing away and Reddick with his head down running hard was thrilling. 

(Getty Images)
Was it smart? Maybe not. They would have had a man on third with two outs and Eric Sogard at the plate. Who knows though, the percentages may been in his favor. Maybe there's a better chance the ball bounces away from Gregorson or his throw his his wild, than the chance of Sogart getting a hit. 

As it turns out, Sogard did not get the hit. In the 11th, Houston would break loose for three runs off Eric O'Flaherty. Three being the key, since Oakland once again scored two before leaving the tying and go-ahead runs on base. Chad Qualls earned the save, retiring Brett Lawrie to end it. 

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It's exhausting to consider everything that was jammed into those two innings. It's also amazing considering the superb starting pitching that led up to extra innings. Astros' starter Dallas Keuchel was every bit as good on Friday as any starter we've seen this season, holding the A's scoreless through nine innings on two hits and two walks. He actually had a chance for the victory, but Reddick spoiled that with his big hit.

On the other side, Scott Kazmir dialed up seven scoreless innings before giving way to Evan Scribner and Tyler Clippard in regulation.  

There was so much to like about this game. It was edge-of-your-seat wild, it was well played for the most part and definitely well pitched. It had a little bit of everything, and it ends with the Astros extending a division lead. It's April, sure, but it's still fantastic. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: April 25, 2015, 7:21 am

No. 1 Star: Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild 

The Minnesota goalie had yet another great bounce-back game, stopping 36 shots in the Wild’s 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues in Game 5. He made 19 saves in the third period alone. 

No. 2 Star: Carl Hagelin, New York Rangers

The forward’s second goal of the playoffs turned out to be the series clincher, as his leaping tally past Marc-Andre Fleury gave the Rangers a 2-1 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 5. 

No. 3 Star: Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators

The starter who became a backup and is now a starter again made 45 saves in the Sens’ 5-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens, including 19 in the third period. Montreal now leads 3-2 in the series.

Honorable Mention: Marco Scandella and Nino Niederreiter scored their second of the playoffs. … Vladimir Tarasenko scored his sixth. … Bobby Ryan scored two goals, breaking a long slump. … Mike Hoffman and Mika Zibanejad had two assists each. … Fleury made 34 saves, while Lundqvist made 37. 

Did You Know? The Penguins scored eight goals on 132 shots against Lundqvist.

Dishonorable Mention: Jay Bouwmeester, Paul Stastny, Alex Pietangelo and T.J. Oshie were a minus-2. … Brandon Prust, Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn were a minus-2. … Prust got into it with Anderson:

Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: April 25, 2015, 7:03 am

The previously red hot Atlanta Braves were cooled off in New York to begin the week. Now it would appear they're frozen after dropping their weekend series opener 1-0 to the Philadelphia Phillies.

The fact the game ended 1-0 is painful enough for Atlanta. That they only mustered two hits against Aaron Harang, who was in their rotation last season, adds some salt to the wound. But the kicker has to be their defense, which committed four errors on the evening. The final one led directly to the game's only run, as Freddie Freeman was unable to handle Ben Revere's ninth-inning chopper.

Freeman and the entire infield were drawn in on the play to cut down the winning run at home. It might have worked, but the ball squirted away before Freeman could corral it, which allowed Freddy Galvis to sprint home. It goes down as a game-winning RBI for Revere, and a walk-off error for Freeman, who committed only five errors all last season.

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Galvis had three hits in the game, including his single leading off the ninth. He advanced to second on a sacrifice and third on a passed ball by A.J. Pierzynski, so that's even more sloppy defense from Atlanta. 

Unfortunately, it goes as a no-decision for Harang, who was lights out in his eight innings of work. He struck out six and lowered his ERA to 1.37. Overall, the Phillies will take any win they can get after dropping 9 of their previous 11.   

KING FELIX OVERWHELMS THE TWINS
Felix Hernandez against the Minnesota Twins offense is not a fair fight, but it's a challenge the Twins were forced to take on Friday night.

Hint: They didn't win. 

The King of Seattle's rotation lived up to his moniker with an efficiently dominant outing, as he shut out the Twins on just five hits. In fact, the Twins had zero baserunners until two outs in the fifth. Hernandez, perhaps humoring them or perhaps toying with them, allowing a pair of runners in the sixth, but escaped without allowing a run. He ended up needing just 102 pitches to complete his first shutout since Aug. 27 2012.

(Getty Images)
Amazingly, it really has been that long. On Friday, Hernandez struck out nine. On the other side, Phil Hughes matched him with nine strikeouts and went eight full inning for Minnesota. Unfortunately, he allowed solo home runs to Nelson Cruz and Logan Morrison, and those held up in Seattle's 2-0 win. 

SHANE GREENE CRASHES BACK TO EARTH
After three trips through the starting rotation, right-hander Shane Greene had been far and away Detroit's most effective starter. That wasn't exactly expected when they acquired him from the New York Yankees, but his one run allowed through 23 innings entering play on Friday was surely welcomed.

Of course, with that great start came some trepidation considering he'd only struck out 11 batters during that time. When the ball is in play frequently, the odds for clunker obviously increase, and that's the exact scenario that played out in Friday's 13-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians.

In four innings, Greene was tagged for eight runs on nine hits. He walked two and struck out one, but mostly watched on helplessly as the Indians peppered the gaps with four doubles and racked up five timely singles. The pummeling took his sparkling ERA from 0.39 to 3.00, which is a huge jump, but still a very good ERA considering Friday's damage. 

Focusing on the Indians, Brandon Moss hit two home runs after Greene left the game and drove in seven runs. Danny Salazar struck out 11 to pick up the win. 

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ROCKIES ARE GOING STREAKING
After sweeping the Giants in San Francisco and then losing five in a row to Los Angeles and San Diego, the Rockies are back on a three-game winning streak after knocking off the Giants 6-4 in Denver.

The Rockies continued riding the sizzling hot bats of D.J. Lemahieu (three hits, two RBIs), Corey Dickerson (two hits, RBI) and Nolan Arenado (two hits). With Troy Tulowitzki getting a routine day off, Carlos Gonzalez stepped up as well with two hits, raising his average to .197.

They also received more stellar defense from Arenado, who started a key double play with a diving stop. Young starter Eddie Butler was inefficient but competent for his fourth straight outing this season, allowing four runs over six innings. However, if you know anything about Rockies pitching historically, inefficient but competent basically translates to stellar.

Here, it was good enough to win, which moved Colorado past San Diego into second place.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: April 25, 2015, 5:54 am

SAN ANTONIO - APRIL 24: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs goes up for a shot against the Los Angeles Clippers during Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals at the AT&T Center on April 24, 2015 in San Antonio, TexasThe first-round matchup between the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs is still the only series in the NBA playoffs in which both teams have wins. But it looked a whole lot less competitive in Friday night's Game 3 at the AT&T Center.

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After topping the Clippers in an overtime thriller to even the series in Game 2, the Spurs returned home and completely dominated the visitors in a wire-to-wire 100-73 win. San Antonio led by double digits for the final 22:30 and held a vaunted Clippers offense to several season and franchise playoff lows. Kawhi Leonard, who received his Defensive Player of the Year trophy in a pregame ceremony, scored a career playoff-high 32 points to lead the defending champs.

The game started well for the Spurs, who scored 25 points in the opening 10 minutes behind a strong start from Leonard. However, that stretch was rare for a relatively low-scoring first half in which both teams struggled to make shots against defensive pressure. The Clippers had trouble scoring nearly across the board throughout the night, but the Spurs went for just 10 points from the 2:00 mark of the first quarter to the 3:30 mark of the second, turning a 25-13 advantage into a mere 35-31 lead at a time when they theoretically should have opened up a dominant first-half margin. The typical Spurs execution was not there, perhaps due to Tony Parker dealing with a litany of leg injuries that limited his movement to intermittent bursts.

Their fortunes changed soon after with a 10-2 run buoyed by Leonard, who served as the team's catalyst all night. The Clippers finished the quarter on a 5-0 mini-run to make the halftime score 46-38, but it was difficult to imagine them winning the game without reversing their offense fortunes.

That turnaround certainly did not occur in the third quarter. San Antonio took full control of the game with a 24-11 period, holding the Clippers to their lowest-scoring quarter of the season. On the other side, Leonard exploded for 13 points on his way to a career-high (playoff or otherwise) of 32 points (13-of-18 FG, topping the 29 he put up in Game 3 of last June's NBA Finals.

If anyone questioned Leonard's star profile prior to this game, they absolutely shouldn't following this result. The 2014 NBA Finals MVP became the franchise's unquestioned top player in the final few months of the season and has only established himself further early in this postseason. The mild-mannered 23-year-old is understandably known first as a defender, but his offense has progressed to the point where he can be the first option for one of the best attacks in the league. Leonard hit all manner of tough shots on Friday, from turnaround jumpers to drives to contested threes. His development is a testament to the Spurs' player development but primarily a mark of Leonard's ability and determination. Kawhi never should have fallen to the 15th pick of the 2011 draft, but no one predicted that he could make such large strides by the end of his fourth season. Few other Spurs stood out on Friday (only Danny Green and Boris Diaw joined Leonard in double figures), but the team got many contributions to shoot 52.6 percent from the field despite their first-half struggles.

The Clippers were just a tad worse. Only DeAndre Jordan (10 points on 5-of-6 FG) made at least half his shots among rotation players as Los Angeles shot 34.1 percent from the field. That mark and their 73 total points both registered as franchise playoff lows, although the Clippers admittedly do not have the most accomplished postseason history. The more notable fact is that the Clippers — second in points per game and first in points per possession in 2014-15 — scored their fewest points of the season in a downright horrendous display. They got seemingly just a handful of open shots all night, with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin finding few gaps in a defense they had succeeded against with some regularity in Games 1 and 2. I suppose it's a good thing that no stars played major minutes after two very competitive games to open the series, but the Spurs asked even less of their top guys in Game 3. Maybe we should just move on.

The only real silver lining for the Clippers is that things cannot possibly get worse. While it's absolutely not good news that they are able to lose by 27 points to the Spurs even in a worst-case scenario, the Clippers will return to the court for Sunday's Game 4 with confidence that they can acquit themselves far better than they did Friday. Whether that's enough to beat a great team with a consistently improving star remains to be seen.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Eric Freeman
Posted: April 25, 2015, 5:08 am

The St. Louis Blues, darling pick by many to win the Stanley Cup – or at very least make it out of the Western Conference playoffs – are in trouble. A ton of trouble after losing 4-1 in Game 5 to Minnesota on Friday.

The Wild took a 3-2 series advantage and a chance to win at home Sunday. Ouch.

While Minnesota has out-maneuvered the Blues this series and should indeed be lauded fort the clinching scenario, the Blues are choking … again. This team has never gone past the second round of the playoffs with Ken Hitchcock as the head coach. And it appears the Blues may again find themselves going into yet another offseason asking whether this group assembled, coached by Hitch, can't make a dent in the postseason. The Blues had so many glorious chances in this game, but couldn't convert. 

Per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

"They were opportunistic," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "The first period, until they scored their goal, was the best we'd played in the whole series. We kind of flattened out a little bit when they scored their (first) goal, and then had all the chances in the second (period).

"We did so many good things today. We had a little bit of a lull. I didn't think we responded as hard as we could have when they scored their first goal. That gave them a little bit of wind. But just did so many good things, you're disappointed for the guys. We'll rebound and get ready for the next game."

The Blues blasted the Wild 6-1 in Game 4, and there was some wonder as to how Minnesota would bounce back. The Wild leaned heavily on goaltender Devan Dubnyk. 

After Vladimir Tarasenko made it 1-0 Blues at the 8:04 mark  of the first period, the Wild scored four unanswered goals to give them the win. Dubnyk stopped 36 of 37 St. Louis shots on goal while Jake Allen stopped 15 of 19 Wild shots on goal. 

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

“I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t approaching it like I had to go get a shutout after last game,” Dubnyk said. “I just wanted to get back to finding pucks and being set and feeling good about what I was doing.”

Even strength, the Blues beat the Wild in puck possession. Sigh,

So if you’re Hitchcock, going into Game 6, do you stick with Allen or go to veteran Brian Elliott? If the Blues lose, it could be one of his last decisions as the team’s head coach. 

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: April 25, 2015, 4:51 am

If the New York Mets are to make history this season, it will have to wait, because the New York Yankees weren't having any part of it on Friday night.

In the first-ever Subway Series battle that featured both teams entering play in first place, the Yankees dismissed the Mets bid for a franchise record 12th straight win with a 6-1 victory.

The victory was the Yankees seventh in their last eight games, which includes a sweep in Tampa Bay and taking three of four in Detroit. That officially makes them the hottest team in the American League. It also snapped the Mets 11-game winning streak, which matched the franchise record set in 1990.

The Yankees rode the hot bat of Mark Teixeira, who launched a pair of two-run home runs off Mets' starter Jacob deGrom, and the right arm of Michael Pineda, who improved to 3-0 with 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball.  

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For all intents and purposes, Pineda had all the offense he needed when Teixeira connected for his first-inning home run. That gave New York a two-run advantage four batters into the game. The Yankees added four more in the third. Jacoby Ellsbury started the inning with a homer. Three batters later, Teixeira added his second big fly, this time scoring Alex Rodriguez. From there, the Yankees loaded the bases with one out and added one more on a Stephen Drew sacrifice fly. 

(AP)
Pineda, who allowed just one baserunner in the first four innings, continued mowing down a previously relentless and resilient Mets' offense. Obviously, Masahiro Tanaka's bounce back in his last two starts is the most encouraging sign from the Yankees rotation. If Pineda can build on this strong start and finally prove to be healthy, suddenly those rotation questions begin to clear up a bit. Still too many ifs right now, but more encouraging ifs at least.  

Chasen Shreve recorded the final four outs to lock up the win. Ellsbury, Brett Gardner and Brian McCann all had two hits in a strong showing atop the lineup. 

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For the Mets, it was just one of those nights at the office that happens throughout the season. Coming in, Jacob deGrom had only allowed multiple home runs in one other major-league start. That was his second career start last season against the Los Angeles Angels. Overall, he's not a home run pitcher, having allowed just seven in 140 innings as a rookie. But he was victimized here by the short porch in right field and an offense that's clicking after a slow start to the season. 

Offensively, they just need to tip their cap to Pineda, who was locked in from pitch one, and look ahead to CC Sabathia on Saturday afternoon. They'll counter with Matt Harvey, so they have to feel good about avoiding a losing streak fresh off this significant winning streak. 

Round two, by the way, begins at 4;05 ET and it should be a fun one. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: April 25, 2015, 4:13 am

The Toronto Raptors entered Friday's Game 3 of their first-round series with the Washington Wizards down 2-0 and in clear desperation mode. For much of the game, they looked like the team that wanted it more. But that's often not enough when the opponent has nearly every playmaker on the floor.

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Despite a late effort from the Raptors, the Wizards held on for a 106-99 win to move within one win of a four-game sweep. The dagger came from a familiar source — veteran forward Paul Pierce, hero of Game 1 and established Toronto antagonist. A Kyle Lowry three-pointer with 40 seconds left drew the Raptors to within 102-99, giving the Wizards one possession to put the game away or to allow the visitors a chance at sending it to overtime. With the shot clock winding down, Washington star John Wall found Pierce on the perimeter for a look at a three-pointer. The attempt was a bit awkward, but the result was just fine:

After a relatively quiet Game 2, Pierce returned to his efficient Game 1 scoring with 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field and 4-of-7 from beyond the arc to give the Wizards an extra offensive weapon. With John Wall dominating proceedings for the second straight game, the Wizards were able to make enough plays in a tight game to grab a win at home and put themselves in fantastic position to close out this series very soon.

The Raptors deserve credit for not folding under terrible circumstances. After two disappointing losses at home to open the series, Toronto came out with a very good effort in the first quarter and scored 35 points in the first quarter behind quality shot-making from DeMar DeRozan, who went off for 20 in an excellent performance.

The problem for the Raptors was that they also gave up 33, which ended up being a more accurate indicator for the full game. DeRozan's scoring tailed off quickly (he finished with 32 points on 11-of-29 shooting) and the Raptors struggled to just 39 points combined in the second and third quarters. At the other end, they had few answers for Wall, who put up 19 points (5-of-15 FG and 9-of-10 FT) but affected the game much more as a facilitator with 15 assists. Wall has clearly established himself as the best player in this series and a game-changer at both ends. This one-on-four fastbreak finish early in the fourth quarter provides a taste of what he can do:

The Raptors' All-Star point guard has not fared quite so well. Kyle Lowry came into this series with an ailing back and struggled mightily in Games 1 and 2, but things got even worse for him in Game 3 due to pregame sickness. Although he helped spur the Raptors' late comeback with five points on two buckets prior to Pierce's dagger, Lowry shot just 5-of-22 from the field and 3-of-10 from beyond the arc for 15 points, seven assists, and four steals. He is now 10-of-42 (23.8 percent) from the field in the series, and those struggles are part of the reason that a typically impressive Raptors offense (third in offensive efficiency this season) has struggled so much in these three games. Toronto shot just 37.4 percent from the field, a catastrophic mark for a team that struggles to defend on even its best days.

The good news for Toronto is that they have now nearly won two games in the series. It's not crazy to imagine them taking Sunday's Game 4 and heading back to Canada at a 3-1 disadvantage with two home games left on the schedule. The Wizards have been a very good road playoff team in the last two years but are not world-beaters by any stretch. A mild return to form from Lowry and a few big games from other plays could get them right back into things. That's a long shot, of course, but it's the only scenario the Raptors have right now.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Eric Freeman
Posted: April 25, 2015, 3:58 am

The Dallas Mavericks emptied both barrels on Friday night, throwing every ounce of offensive firepower they had at the Houston Rockets in an attempt to overwhelm Kevin McHale's favored crew and fight their way back into their opening-round series. Unfortunately for Rick Carlisle and company, in this matchup, Houston's got the deadliest weapon.

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James Harden set a new career playoff high with 42 points (15-for-24 shooting, 5-for-7 from 3-point range, 7-for-7 from the foul line) to lead Houston to a 130-128 win over the Mavericks in Game 3 on Friday. The MVP candidate delivered the final two in the form of this step-back dagger from the left elbow over the outstretched arm of Dallas center Tyson Chandler to give Houston a three-point lead with 12 seconds left in a furious offensive affair:

After a tough running bank shot by Mavericks guard Monta Ellis over the defense of Houston big man Josh Smith drew Dallas within one with eight seconds remaining, the Mavs denied Harden the chance to make a clean catch on the inbounds pass, forcing the Rockets to inbound to reserve swingman Corey Brewer, whom Ellis fouled. Brewer split his two free throws, giving Dallas one more chance at a tie, or perhaps even a win.

With the Mavs for all intents and purposes needing one more bucket to save their season — no team in NBA history have ever come back from an 0-3 deficit — many fans and observers likely expected Carlisle to dial up something intended to get a look for the legendary Dirk Nowitzki. The 7-foot German had scored 16 points in the fourth quarter and 34 in the game, bouncing back beautifully from his struggles in Dallas' Game 2 loss. But Nowitzki's last touch would come in the form of catching Ellis' inbounds pass and giving it right back.

The Rockets switched the handoff, with wing defender Trevor Ariza tracking Nowitzki to the short corner and Smith once again drawing the assignment on Ellis. As the clock ticked down, Ellis drove right before crossing over to his left at the 3-point arc. He took one dribble to the top of the key, rose up and leaned back, creating enough space from Smith to get a good look and a clean release.

Ellis' shot, however, sailed right, clanging off the backboard and back out toward half-court as time expired, giving the Rockets a 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven series and leaving Dallas just one loss away from elimination. The Rockets will have the opportunity to finish off a four-game sweep of their in-state rivals on Sunday.

It was a bitter end to what had been a sensational night for Ellis, who, like Harden, set a new career playoff high with 34 points on 15-for-25 shooting. He also added nine assists against just one turnover in a team-high 39 minutes, providing precisely the sort of playmaking boost that Dallas needed after losing starters Chandler Parsons and Rajon Rondo, and after watching Game 3 starter Raymond Felton hobble to the sidelines holding the back of his right leg three minutes into the game. (He'd later return, but went scoreless in 12 1/2 minutes, missing all three of his field goal attempts while grabbing four rebounds and dishing one assist.)

But while he'd given Mavericks fans new life mere seconds earlier by getting all the way to the basket against Smith's defense, his inability to cash in by pulling up from further away all but dashed Dallas' hopes:

Mavs season came down to a Monta midrange jumper.

— Jeff Caplan (@Jeff_Caplan) April 25, 2015

It's a testament to just how potent Ellis and Nowitzki were, though, that it even came down to one shot at the end.

The Rockets got just about everything they wanted offensively in the early going, generating good looks in the paint through penetration, whether off the pick-and-roll or by getting Harden into the middle of Dallas' matchup zone. After struggling with his shot through the first two games of the series, going just 9-for-28 from the floor, Harden opened up 4-for-4 from the floor, offering early signals that this was going to be his night.

Harden, who also finished with nine assists and five rebounds in 36 minutes, was far from the only Rocket getting clean looks. From Jason Terry driving past Charlie Villanueva directly through the heart of the Dallas defense for a layup to a slew of Houston bigs (Smith, Terrence Jones, rookie Clint Capela) taking dump-off passes for layups or trips to the foul line, Houston absolutely carved the Mavericks up to the tune of 64 percent shooting and 42 points.

Things would've gotten ugly early had the Rockets been able to stop Dallas at all. But Ellis, reserve guard Devin Harris (back in the lineup after missing Game 2 with a toe injury) and the interior combo of ex-Knicks Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire helped pace the Mavericks to red-hot 61 percent shooting of their own, leaving Houston holding just a six-point lead after 12 minutes.

Monta Ellis was sensational on Friday, but came up empty on the final play. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)After Dirk missed four of his first five shots, he got unstuck in the second, hitting an open 3 and a left-elbow jumper. Dallas took advantage of Houston's offense stagnating with Harden on the bench, ripping rebounds and pushing the pace, with J.J. Barea (who'd finish with 11 points, nine assists and six rebounds off the bench) marching to the basket and dropping dimes off his penetration, propelling the Mavs to a mid-second-quarter lead.

Monta picked it up from there, keeping his foot on the gas with drive after drive, making the Rockets look like they were standing still. To be fair, Houston did its fair share to invite the comparison, with little ball movement and even less player movement, struggling to get to the middle of the floor for pick-and-rolls and winding up setting for the sort of wing isolations that are anathema in their spread-the-floor, layups-and-3-pointers offensive scheme.

Less than 2 1/2 minutes after taking the lead on a Chandler dunk, Dallas pushed the lead to 10 on a driving Ellis layup, with the Mavericks seizing control of the game by forcing turnovers that allowed them to get out on the break:

The Mavericks were averaging 18.2 transition points per game coming into tonight. They passed that mark with 6:16 to go in the half.

— Synergy Sports Tech (@SynergySST) April 25, 2015

Just as he did in Game 1, though, Harden came through with a sneakily critical stretch just before halftime to steady the sputtering Rockets.

He got into the paint for a short runner with 59 seconds left. Then, he fed Smith for a dunk off a high screen-and-roll with 33 seconds left. Then, he muscled his way inside for a 10-footer with five seconds left in the frame, generating six points in less than a minute before intermission. Yes, Dallas' 72 first-half points were the most any Mavericks team has scored in a half of playoff ball since 2003, and the most Houston has given up in a playoff half since 1995, but Harden's little mini-run cut a 13-point deficit to seven heading into half, giving the Rockets something to build off heading into the third quarter, and seemingly priming Harden's pump for an explosion.

Harden scored 10 points in the first five minutes of the second half to put Houston back on top. He cracked the 30-point plateau on a step-back 20-footer just before the midpoint of the frame, which emboldened him to get to stirrin' it up:

With Harden dealing en route to 16 points in the third, Houston's rhythm and ball movement returned, producing drives to the tin and some corner 3-pointers for Brewer. On the other end, Dallas' offense finally started to slow down a bit; 27 points on 9-for-20 shooting and an 8-for-8 mark from the line isn't anything to sneeze at, of course, but after consecutive 36-point quarters, Houston was happy to take it, and carry a 101-99 lead into the final frame.

As you'd expect in a tight game with so much on the line, things got awful physical at the start of the fourth quarter. (A bit too physical for Carlisle's liking, as the coach made sure in his postgame press conference to decry a number of plays in the paint that were "not kosher" and call for the series to be played "within the rules.") The game-long interior shoving match between Chandler and Dwight Howard going from undercard to main event, as the Dallas big man fought to keep Howard off the boards — mostly unsuccessfully, as Howard tied a career high and a Rockets franchise playoff record with 26 rebounds, including 11 on the offensive glass — and Dwight continued to maul just about everyone in his path to the backboard.

While the referees largely let the war in the paint go unwhistled, they seemed eager to govern some of the ticky-tack stuff on the perimeter, with Dallas picking up four quick fouls early in the fourth as Houston opened the frame on a 7-2 run punctuated by the sort of Smith-to-Howard alley-oop that put Dallas away in Game 2. With Smith (who finished with 18 points, four assists and three rebounds) and Brewer (15 points, three rebounds) carrying the load, the Rockets extended their lead to nine with Harden resting on the bench until the 6:42 mark.

It seemed like no matter what Carlisle did — clogging up the Rockets' 4-5 pick-and-rolls by having Stoudemire, Al-Farouq Aminu and others really get physical with Howard's rolls, baiting Houston into attacking cross-matches like Ariza-on-Dirk and Jones-on-Ellis, intentionally fouling Capela and Howard, etc. — he just couldn't get inside the Rockets' reach to deliver the body blows they'd need to come back. So he handed the keys to his two best offensive players, going time and again to the Dirk-Monta two-man game and hoping they could make something magic happen.

They nearly did, scoring the Mavericks' last 20 points over the final 5:39, with Dallas drawing as close as one point twice — at 124-123, after a pair of Nowitzki free throws with 1:13 remaining, and at 127-126, after Dirk made all three of his freebies following an ill-advised foul by Harden on an off-balance 3-pointer, with 33 seconds left. Then Harden came up with a dagger, and Monta came up empty, and Houston found itself one win away from making the conference semifinals for the first time since 2009, and just the second time since Hakeem, Charles and Clyde took the court together.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Dan Devine
Posted: April 25, 2015, 3:53 am

NEW YORK – The ultimate reaction to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ first-round exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs will come in the weeks and months following Friday's Game 5 loss to the New York Rangers.

Players will be jettisoned. Perhaps a coach. Perhaps a GM. Perhaps even a foundational star whose departure fundamentally changes the team’s identity. 

But in the short term, the Penguins sat in their dressing room at Madison Square Garden – their coach, Mike Johnston, opted not to speak to them after the game – and reflected on a tightly played but brief series, and the rocky road that led there.

“We’re missing some guys. All year. It’s tough to get your rhythm as far as team identity. I’m not using that as an excuse by any means. We still found a way to get ourselves into the playoffs,” said captain Sidney Crosby.

“We lost our two best defensemen. That’s tough for team,” said Evgeni Malkin of Kris Letang and Christian Ehrhoff, the team’s best puck-moving defensemen, who missed the entire series due to injury.

There was talk that Malkin himself was injured, being that the star center failed to tally a point against the Rangers and was a minus-6; in total, Malkin didn’t score a goal in his last 10 games of the season. But he denied any ailment was holding him back.

"If I step on the ice, it’s healthy. I have a couple small injuries, but not big one,” he said.

Malkin said he just didn’t get it done.

"I want to say sorry to fans, to my teammates. I know I’m a leader on this team,” said Malkin.

“Each game is tough. Two-one, two-one, two-one … one-goal games. Rangers just play a little bit, one goal better.”

The Rangers won each game of the series by a 2-1 score. Game 5 was a goaltending duel between Marc-Andre Fleury and Henrik Lundqvist that needed overtime to finish, as Carl Hagelin’s goal at 10:52 ended the series.

Fleury held the Penguins in the game; and according to his teammates, he held them together in the series and the season.

“Flower made some great saves. Crossbar for each team. That’s inches,” said Crosby, who added that any lingering criticism of Fleury’s postseason performances in previous seasons doesn’t resonate in their dressing room. “He’s proven, for a long time, that that’s in the past. He doesn’t have to prove anything to us.”

Fleury was emotional after the game. “We kept it close, but at the end of the day, we still lost,” he said, quietly.

He was the best player in the series for the Penguins, and the least of their worries.

Now comes the hard part: Figuring out who stays, who goes, and what the right configuration on the ice and in management might be to return this franchise to championship contention.

Because according to Malkin, they’re not there at the moment.

“[When] people lose, we’re not a championship team. It’s not good enough,” he said.

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Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: April 25, 2015, 3:38 am

Man, ever since game 3, Subban has completely disappeared.. pic.twitter.com/KtkJ80mHrC

— Callum Fraser (@CallumFraser18) April 25, 2015

"[We're] not dead" - Monty Python and The Holy Grail.

Also (possibly) said by the Ottawa Senators. 

Today just so happens to be the 40th anniversary of one of the best movies of all time. As a tribute to the classic line in the film, the Senators kept their playoff run on life support by forcing a Game 6 with a 5-1 over Montreal.

You saw that right. 5 goals scored by Ottawa. Every single one of them was on Vezina nominee Carey Price. At home.

It started midway through the first with a goal from the guy who needed to score in this series to stop the millions of questions as to why he hadn't scored yet: Bobby Ryan. Ryan sent a wrist shot on net that hit Price and dribbled backwards into the net. 

Looking back, it was a pretty good indication of the night ahead for Price and the Habs.

About five minutes later, Price was left helpless as he was screened by almost everybody in red and in white. Patrick Wiercioch's wrister from near the blueline went over Price's shoulder and in the net. It would stand as the game winning goal.

Erik Karlsson scored on the power play in the second period to put the game close to out of reach for the Canadiens at 3-0. What do you think about that Mr. Karlsson? From Steph:

GIF: much-requested Karlsson wink pic.twitter.com/eHabjSkvBR

— Stephanie Vail (@myregularface) April 25, 2015

Montreal brought hope back to life just 1:44 into the third period. Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson, annoyed by Dale Weise for invading his crease, gives the Habs forward a nice whack in the back of the knees for his troubles. Anderson's preoccupation with Weise left him unprepared for a Tom Gibert slapshot. 

Despite cutting into Ottawa's lead, it would be too much for the Canadiens to overcome. 

Erik Condra scored on a breakaway to put the Sens back up by three goals. Bobby Ryan scored his second of the game on the power play to ice it at 5-1.

In between Condra and Ryan's second goal, there was a general 'game is out of hand' meltdown by the Habs. 

It started with Brandon Prust taking a nasty whack at Anderson and the goaltender stood his ground. Again, from Steph:

GIF: ugly exchange between Anderson and Prust at the end of the game included Prust spearing Anderson pic.twitter.com/rsEAGG7kjX

— Stephanie Vail (@myregularface) April 25, 2015

Prust then got into it with Wiercioch, earning both gentlemen a trip to the box for roughing. Away from the action, PK Subban and Eric Gryba had a wrestling match resulting in the literal turtling of Subban in his gear (shown above). Both guys received game misconducts and were yapping at each other, and the other's benches, as they left the ice.

Afterward, Senators coach David Cameron had some choice words for Montreal and their behavior after the game. From John Lu of TSN Montreal, "A sure sign of frustration is when they take cheap shots at your goalie ... I've known Prust for a long time and what he did was cheap."

Cameron also noted that Clark MacArthur and Jean-Gabriel Pageau are day-to-day with lower body injuries. MacArthur did not come out to play the third. Pageau was visually hobbled as he blocked a Subban shot on the penalty kill. 

Not one to mince words, Subban spoke to Pageau's possible injury in the post-game:

"My shots are only going to get harder as the series go on. I wish (Pageau) the best of luck." P.K. Subban #Sens

— Sylvain St-Laurent (@Syl_St_Laurent) April 25, 2015

Could that be more of a line straight out of the WWE or what...

Anyway, closing the gap in the series to 3-2, the Sens aren't dead yet. However, it remains to be seen if the Habs can follow-up with another classic line delivered later in the scene, "Well, [they] will be soon..."

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Jen Neale is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow her on Twitter! Follow @MsJenNeale_PD.

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Author: Jen Neale
Posted: April 25, 2015, 3:13 am

That's an interesting line to take, @bencranegolf. #QuickHits http://t.co/nI7tLuys10

— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 24, 2015

Tee box, fairway, then green. That's usually the ideal way to play a golf hole. Not for Ben Crane, though, at least on one hole on Friday at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

In Round 1, Crane played the 476-yard, par-4 sixth at TPC Louisiana as designer Pete Dye intended, and it left him some 250 yards to the hole for his second shot. He made par, yes, but, in Round 2, he wanted an easier way to make 4.

So Crane decided he would aim not down the fairway, but over some trees to the left of the tee box. His ball landed on the 12th hole, leaving Crane a better angle and just 163 yards into the hole. From there, Crane hit the green and two-putted for an easy par.

Just remember: Where there's a will -- and a line -- there's a way.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Follow @RyanBallengee

Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: April 25, 2015, 2:52 am

Peyton Manning is giving his alma mater $3 million.

Tennessee announced his contribution Friday night and said it will go to the football program and the Peyton Manning Scholarship endowment.

Manning graduated from Tennessee after the 1997 football season and was the No. 1 pick in the 1998 NFL draft. The scholarship has been around since Manning turned pro and is given to two first-year students in the school's Honors Program. With his gift, the school says the goal is to expand the scholarship to four students annually.

In addition to the scholarship expansion, the school said Gate 16 at Neyland Stadium will be renamed the Gus Manning Gate as part of Peyton Manning's donation.

Gus Manning has been a member of UT's athletic department for 64 years. He first joined the program as the sports information director in 1951 and has served multiple roles within the department. A new athletic dining hall on campus will also be named for Carmen and Deborah Tegano. Carmen is a long-time member of Tennessee's athletic department and current associate athletic director while Manning had Deborah as a professor at UT.

"Gus and Carmen both personify what it means to be a Vol for Life, and both have made the University of Tennessee a better place," Peyton Manning said in a school statement. "No one has served Tennessee and its athletics program better than Gus, and Carmen has also served this University with tremendous distinction.

"We have been fortunate to maintain a close friendship with Gus, Carmen, and Debbie Tegano since I left UT, and our sincere hope is that the decision to honor them in this way is reflective of the positive impact they continue to have on this great University."

Earlier this week, UCLA announced former quarterback and NFL Hall of Famer Troy Aikman gave $1 million for the school's strength and conditioning facility.

For more Tennessee news, visit VolQuest.com.

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Nick Bromberg is the assistant editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: April 25, 2015, 2:49 am

NEW YORK – Carl Hagelin scored with 9:08 remaining in the first overtime to send the New York Rangers to the second round and eliminate the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games on Friday night, 2-1.

A hard-working shift from Dominic Moore dug the puck out to Hagelin, who put it past Marc-Andre Fleury while falling to the ice. 

"I don't remember it at all, to be honest," said Hagelin. "I didn't do much on that shift until I saw Dom was in trouble behind the net. I went behind there to pick up the puck and then I just skated around the circle and I took a shot. Somehow, it went in."

Hagelin said the goal was "one of the happiest moments of my life."

The game was an outstanding goaltending battle between Henrik Lundqvist (37 saves) and Marc-Andre Fleury (34 saves), as both netminders kept the score close with clutch saves in each period.

"I thought both goaltenders were good tonight," said Penguins coach Mike Johnston. "Unfortunately, it was another 2-1 game in their favor."

The Rangers struck at 4 minutes, 23 seconds of the first period after a Nick Spaling tripping penalty.

A high fluttering shot from Dan Boyle at the point hit Marc-Andre Fleury in the sternum. The puck dropped in front of the left skate of Derek Stepan, who kicked it over to his stick and shot it behind Fleury in one motion, before the two Penguin defenders flanking him – Rob Scuderi and Ben Lovejoy – could make a move.

(Not the best shift for Lovejoy, who started the play by failing to clear the puck.)

Both goalies had stellar moments in the second period, with Marc-Andre Fleury stopping multiple Rangers’ chances in close and Lundqvist stopping Patric Hornqvist with his left pad at point-blank range 

The Penguins tied the game with 2:37 left in the second on a funky deflection off Spaling. Sidney Crosby sent a pass through the crease that deflected off Lundqvist and then off Steve Downie’s stick before it hit Spaling’s arm and fell into the corner of the goal as he tumbled on top of Lundqvist.

As the NHL’s situation room explained, via Rule 78.4: "If an attacking player has the puck deflect into the net, off his skate or body, in any manner, the goal shall be allowed.”

The intensity in the game was turned up significantly in the third period, when Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi tripped held Crosby’s stick and then reached out with his arm to grab his leg. Crosby tumbled to the ice, earning a tripping call.

The sequence of events sparked the MSG crowd, and one of the loudest “Crosby Sucks” chants of the series.

But Lundqvist was up to the task, stopping two shots during the man advantage and then two more right after it ended.

Both teams had chances in the third, as the Penguins’ line of Evgeni Malkin/Brandon Sutter/Blake Comeau buzzed the Rangers zone – Malkin had his best game of the series, for whatever that’s worth – while Boyle had a golden chance with an open net put couldn’t handle the pass.

The game went to overtime. And that's where Hagelin ended it. 

 

 

 

Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: April 25, 2015, 2:16 am

World No. 1 Lydia Ko, who turned 18 on Friday, made last year's Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic site of her first LPGA win as a pro. 

Now Canadian prodigy Brooke Henderson is hoping to enjoy her own pro breakthrough at 17 in just her 10th LPGA start.

Henderson, who has no status on the LPGA Tour and was denied the right to play in Q-school last year because of her age, shot 7-under 65 on Friday in Round 2 at Lake Merced Golf Club. It was good enough to give her a two-shot lead over Na Yeon Choi at 9 under par halfway through the tournament.

An eagle at the short par-4 14th coupled with six birdies led to a tournament-record score. The question, however, is if Henderson is ready to parlay that into a win.

"I think I'm ready. Yeah, 17 is young," Henderson said. "As you've seen with Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson and even Jessica Korda, there are a lot of great names that have been able to do it. I'm hoping that I'm one of them."

For her part, Ko is in contention to defend her title. She shot 72 on Friday, which leaves her four shots back of Henderson.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Follow @RyanBallengee

Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: April 25, 2015, 2:15 am

Addison Russell's first week with the Chicago Cubs hasn't been nearly as buzzy as that of fellow top prospect Kris Bryant. But don't worry, baseball fans, he's still showing us flashes of the brilliance we expect to witness for the next 15 years

That includes  this remarkable webgem from Friday night, which robbed Reds speedster Billy Hamilton of a sure hit.

With Hamilton batting in the fifth inning, Russell, who's a shortstop by trade and a second baseman by necessity in Chicago, was playing pretty much straight up. That seemed to put him out of position when Hamilton laced a ground ball toward the middle that was ticketed for center field.

Honestly, with Hamilton's crazy speed, the placement of the ball looked like a sure hit regardless of whether it actually squirted through the infield, but Russell had other ideas. 

[Yahoo Sports Fantasy Baseball: Sign up and join a league today!]

Yeah, @Addison_Russell. You’re going to do just fine here in The Show: http://t.co/QIv4H5dAIp pic.twitter.com/5AfI5FXLMH

— MLB (@MLB) April 25, 2015

From his position, Russell got a great read and better jump on the ball. With a few quick steps to his right, he actually manged to flag it down with a diving backhand. That was step one, which in and of itself was pretty good. From there, he quickly sprang to his feet and not only attempted the long throw, but got enough on it to nip Hamilton at first base. 

That's a special play that you simply won't see happen to Hamilton very often. It's also an important play, as keeping Hamilton off the bases is vital to controlling Cincinnati's offense.

Consider this: In his first two at-bats on Friday, Hamilton reached, stolen three bases and scored twice. After being retired here, the Reds ended up going quietly in the fifth, and wouldn't score again all evening as the Cubs walked away with a 7-3 win in 11. 

If we're allowed to go here, the play had some Ozzie Smith to it, as Russell dove, snatched the baseball and bounced back to his feet in one seemingly fluid motion. Only the Wizard of Oz could pull that off with any consistency, though obviously Atlanta Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons can make such magic as well. 

[Check out Big League Stew on Tumblr for even more baseball awesomeness.]

The Cubs anticipate getting many great years from Russell defensively, most likely from his more comfortable position at shortstop, where he might join the elite group of defenders that have come before him. In the mean time, they're just happy to have him around and are happy knowing that the future had indeed arrived in Chicago. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: April 25, 2015, 2:00 am

Here's another reminder of the dangers of being on a NASCAR pit crew.

Look at this fire that happened in Brendan Gaughan's pit during Friday night's Xfinity Series race at Richmond. It's sparked as Gaughan's car is still being fueled and as we all know, gasoline and fire don't mix.

The fire was extinguished pretty quickly, though as you can see, it was pretty damn big. Three crew members were taken to a local hospital. Eric McClure's pit was next to Gaughan's.

NASCAR says two crew members from Gaughan’s team and one from Eric McClure’s team were transported to a local hospital.

— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) April 25, 2015

Gaughan ended up finishing the race, won by Denny Hamlin, in 11th.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: April 25, 2015, 1:39 am

GIF Lapierre: literally the worst pic.twitter.com/W105dVRdVK

— Stephanie Vail (@myregularface) April 25, 2015

Max Lapierre of the Pittsburgh Penguins is one of the most anything goes pests in the NHL, whether it’s faking an injury to earn a penalty or making light of Patrice Bergeron getting bitten by Alex Burrows.

He’s been an absolute miscreant in the Penguins’ series against the New York Rangers, and that continued in Game 5 on Friday night, when he taunted Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle by acting like a chicken. Which is the universal symbol for “you’re a coward,” last time we checked.

Speaking of checks, you might remember Lapierre and Boyle have a little history.

Lapierre was suspended five games for that hit, which put Boyle on a stretcher.

Said Boyle, 11 days after the hit: “I don't think he thought he was going to put me in the hospital with the hit, so I agree with him that wasn't his intention. At the same time, we're told since we were five years old not to hit a guy when you see numbers and it's pretty clear he saw my numbers and he decided to hit anyway. That's just lack of respect is what I think.”

The true measure of respect, of course, being doing the chicken wings to a guy you put on a stretcher. 

Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: April 25, 2015, 1:16 am

The NHL announced on Friday that Devan Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild, Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens and Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators are the three finalists for the 2014-15 Vezina Trophy, which is awarded “to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at his position,” as voted on by the League’s 30 general managers. 

(Photo by Charles Laberge /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) 

Please note the finalists are presented in alphabetical order; were they properly presented as “Vezina winner Carey Price and two guys who will watch Carey Price win the Vezina,” it would drain the award of much of the mystery that literally has hundreds of people tuning in for the NHL Awards in June. 

That said …

Why Devan Dubnyk Deserves The Vezina

The NHL says:

Eight points outside of a playoff spot when he made his team debut on Jan. 15, Dubnyk backstopped the Wild to their third consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Dubnyk, who set a franchise record with 38 straight starts following his acquisition from Arizona, went 27-9-2 with a 1.78 goals-against average, .936 save percentage and five shutouts after joining the Wild. He was the winning goaltender in 11 of the Wild's 12 consecutive road wins (Feb. 18 - Apr. 9) that tied the 2005-06 Red Wings for the longest such run in League history. Overall, the first-time Vezina finalist finished the season second in the NHL with a 2.07 goals-against average and .929 save percentage. He also ranked in the top 10 in shutouts (t-4th, 6) and wins (t-6th; 36).

The phrase “it’s an honor to be nominated” gets tossed around a lot, but seriously: Dubnyk went from the “never-was” journeyman scrap heap to quasi-starter in Arizona to starter in Minnesota, carrying the Wild to the playoffs and basically matching Price’s numbers during that roll. He doesn’t have the stats or the body of work to win the Vezina – truth be told, he’s a better Hart nominee – but what a story. 

Why Carey Price Deserves The Vezina

The NHL says:

Price led the NHL in wins (44), goals-against average (1.96) and save percentage (.933), becoming the first goaltender to pace the League in all lthree categories since Ed Belfour accomplished that feat with the Blackhawks in 1990-91. In doing so, the first-time Vezina finalist surpassed a 59-year-old franchise record for wins in one season. Jacques Plante set the former mark of 42 in 1955-56 and equaled the number in1961-62, while Ken Dryden also reached the milestone in 1975-76. Price’s save percentage was the third-highest in a single season since the NHL began tracking the stat in 1976-77. He also tied for second in the NHL and set a career high with nine shutouts, the most by a Canadiens goaltender since 1976-77 (Dryden: 10).

Insane numbers, especially when coupled with the fact the Canadiens’ offensive was straight up crap for most of the season. This performance was Hasekian in its effectiveness and importance.

Why Pekka Rinne Deserves The Vezina

The NHL says:

Rinne, who missed 51 games during the 2013-14 season due to hip surgery and a subsequent bacterial infection, returned to the ice this season and backstopped the Predators to their fifth 100-point season in franchise history and first playoff berth since 2012. He helped Nashville stay in the Central Division title race all season by going 34-7-2 in his first 43 decisions, including a 15-1-1 run from Dec. 16 - Feb. 17, and finished the campaign with a 41-17-6 record in 64 appearances. He tied for second in the NHL in wins, ranked third in goals-against average (2.18) and was seventh in save percentage (.923). A Vezina finalist for the third time, Rinne finished second in voting in 2011 and third in 2012.

Rinne’s even-strength save percentage was .932, which puts him right there with Dubnyk. His shorthanded save percentage was .862, which is why he was seventh in the NHL in the category overall. Much like Filip Forsberg, he helped Nashville establish an impressive lead in the Central from Nov.-Jan.; unlike Forsberg, he gets an award nomination out of it.

Who Wins The Vezina?

Price, and the only question left is if it ends up being unanimous. Keep in mind that even in Dominik Hasek’s best season, it wasn’t unanimous.

Who Should Win The Vezina?

Mike Smith of the Coyotes. Jokes! Totally Carey Price. 

Cases could be made for other potential finalists – Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals, Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Cory Schneider of the New Jersey Devils – but none of them were beating Price anyway.

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Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: April 24, 2015, 11:32 pm

(Getty Images)Noah Syndergaard, the New York Mets' top pitching prospect, got an earful from David Wright after he was spotted eating lunch in the clubhouse during a spring training game. And Friday, Syndergaard found himself getting an earful again — this time from the Mets after he got into a spat with a Twitter troll.

[Still not too late to sign up for Yahoo Sports Fantasy Baseball]

Syndergaard was scratched from his scheduled start Friday with the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s because he was sick. And, of course, some rabble-rouser on Twitter called out Syndergaard. This sort of thing happens quite often — an online troll is looking for attention from an athlete or celebrity and starts mouthing off.

Most of the time, these people get ignored, but Syndergaard felt compelled to defend himself. The conversation, captured by Newsday's Marc Carig, went as seen below. The Twitter troll, in a sure sign of shame, has since deleted his account.

Obvious troll comes after athlete. Athlete fires back, in this case Syndergaard. Question: Is it a big deal? pic.twitter.com/PwnIEigMXk

— Marc Carig (@MarcCarig) April 24, 2015

For context on the exchange between this fan and Syndergaard: pic.twitter.com/HZrJTkXOPF

— Marc Carig (@MarcCarig) April 24, 2015

The Mets, as you might recall, clashed with Matt Harvey over his Twitter account at one point. He deleted it, then brought it back. Keeping with that pattern, the Mets weren't too happy about Syndergaard responding to this troll. 

Noah Syndergaard was spoken to by the organization for engaging a Twitter troll. #mets

— Kristie Ackert (@Ackert_NYDN) April 24, 2015

Syndergaard's response on Twitter when people started to pile on him was, "I'm allowed to stick up for myself, aren't I?" Yes, he is. But when it comes to people in the public eye, sometimes it's not worth it. Celebs have more to lose than they can gain by getting snarky with a troll.

And you can bet that's what the Mets told Syndergaard.

More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: April 24, 2015, 11:14 pm

Defending Richmond winner Joey Logano will start first for Saturday night's race.

Logano outpaced former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin for the top starting spot, his third pole position of the season. He's previously started first at Atlanta and Martinsville.

Hamlin has won twice at Richmond, though his last win at the track came in 2009 when he led 299 laps.

Kurt Busch will start third while AJ Allmendinger starts fourth and Kevin Harvick will start fifth.

Logano won last year's race after an awesome four-car battle for the win. Because why not, here it is again. It doesn't get old.

Hendrick Motorsports cars didn't have a very good qualifying session. While Jeff Gordon made it to the final round and will start 11th, he was the only full-time HMS car to even make it to the second round.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start 26th while Jimmie Johnson starts 36th and Kasey Kahne will start 40th. Kahne said he wondered if his car had a bad set of tires while Johnson's reaction to qualifying was summed up thusly:

I be like... pic.twitter.com/EJCykCzGLN

— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) April 24, 2015

Chase Elliott, making his second start for the team, will start 16th.

The two cars missing the race were Jeb Burton and Brendan Gaughan.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: April 24, 2015, 10:48 pm
Photo texted from Patten Fuqua 

Hello everyone, and welcome to your weekly update of our favorite jersey fouls from the past seven days. Well, now it’s going to be weekly, starting today.

In case you didn’t know, we’ve been posting a steady stream of fouls to our Tumblr page. You can go there for the ones that didn’t make the cut on this week’s list of absurdity.

In this blog, we give you the three ‘best of the best’ from the week that was, which – even by typical j-foul standards was pretty awesome since last Friday. The playoffs are fertile ground for such photos. How good are these fouls? The one up top of the mustard Stu Grimson Preds McLovin jersey didn't make the official cut. But it was so good we had to give it props anyway. 

If you want to submit, make sure to email us at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or tweet to the hashtag #jerseyfoul. We’ll pick them up, and try to make sure to give credit where credit is due.

Without further disruption here are the top three fouls of the week.

3. Is this Michael Keaton Vatman or Christian Bale Vatman? (@anaheimducks

This foul It would have been glorious without the actual cape and Batman hat type thing. But that made it so much better.

Photo via @anaheim ducks

2. Jason Arnott, Capitals legend

OK, so we dipped into a the t-shirt jersey foul category for this spectacular piece. There are many reasons why it is so wonderful. 1. Jason Arnott played 11 games in Washington. 2. During this stint, the Caps made a t-shirt for him. 3. This guy bought the t-shirt jersey. Forget the cover up. It's a foul because it exists and someone still wears it. 

Arnott

1. Crosby almighty (@elwoodjparker)

As we noted on the Tumblr page, this jersey must have been bought circa 2009 when Crosby was loved and revered. Now he’s a disappointment in spite of a Stanley Cup, two Hart Trophies and two gold medals? Regardless, no hockey player is a savior – not even Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. Oh how the mighty have fallen, but not really far given the fact he was still one of the NHL’s best players this year. 

Photo via @elwoodjparker

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: April 24, 2015, 10:04 pm

For clarity’s sake, we’ve divided the front-seven players on defense into three categories — interior linemen, edge rushers and off-the-line linebackers.

The interior group includes nose tackles and “under” tackles (or 3-techniques) in four-man fronts and defensive ends (or 5-techniques) in three-man fronts. That hopefully takes the confusion out of the difference between ends in 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, which most often are vastly different body makeups.

And while this year’s edge-rushing class has been touted as a borderline great one, the interior talent can’t quite make that claim. There could be seven or eight players in this designation who are picked in the top 50 selections, and perhaps four or five rookie starters, but there is lacking a truly obvious game-changing talent from Day 1.

Leonard Williams comes the closest, and he has been touted by some as the best defensive player in the draft. The USC big man has the talent to be an impact player immediately and for the long haul, but he almost certainly won’t be an interior penetrator and disruptor in the Ndamukong Suh mold, nor a edge wrecker like J.J. Watt. Williams, stout as he is, appears to fall just short of that lofty level.

A full tier below him are several solid talents, including bigger interior players such as Eddie Goldman, Danny Shelton, Jordan Phillips and Mario Edwards; there also are quicker, leaner rushers such as Malcom Brown and Arik Armstead.

This group is not to be dismissed at all, as it should provide needy teams with good reinforcements up front. But is there a potential franchise player in the lot outside Williams? We lean towards no.

Here are our top 10 interior defensive line prospects for the 2015 NFL draft:

Ranking Player School Height Weight Notable statistic Scouting skinny
1 Leonard Williams (3-4 DE, 4-3 DT) USC 6-5 303 21 sacks in 3 seasons Long-armed, athletic, competitive, strong, scheme-wrecking force
2 Malcom Brown (4-3 DT) Texas 6-2 319 More TFLs (15), sacks (6.5) in '14 than first two seasons combined Penetrating one-gap interior rusher with balance, quickness
3 Eddie Goldman (NT) Florida State  6-4 337 Six sacks combined last two seasons Bull-strong, scheme-diverse pocket wrecker; little pass-rush value
4 Danny Shelton Washington 6-2 338 2.5 sacks first 3 years, 9 sacks in '14 Wide-bodied plugger with good quickness, anchor strength
5 Arik Armstead (3-4 DE) Oregon 6-7 292 4 sacks in 39 games for the Ducks Massive-framed, well-sculpted athlete who remains a projection
6 Jordan Phillips (NT) Oklahoma 6-5 329 28 bench-press reps with 35-inch arms One-year wonder with great zone instincts; still raw, either CB or S
7 Mario Edwards Jr. (4-3 DT, 3-4 DE) Florida State  6-2 280 11 TFLs, 3 FF in 2014 Strong, multiple-technique DL who has done best work inside
8 Preston Smith (DE-DT) Mississippi State 6-5 271 15 TFLs, 9 sacks, 2 INTs, 2 blocked kicks in '14 Hold-the-fort edge/interior player, a la Antonio Smith
9 Carl Davis (4-3 DT, 3-4 DE) Iowa 6-4 321 33-inch vertical jump, 1.70-second 10-yard split Huge-framed ox with strength, quickness but questionable desire
10 Michael Bennett (4-3 DT) Ohio State 6-2 293 14 TFLs, 7 sacks, 3 FFs in 2014 Insinctive, smart, quick rusher who can shoot gaps effectively

Darius Philon (right) (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
SLEEPER
Darius Philon, Arkansas

The third-year sophomore will be a 21-year-old rookie and was just starting to show what he was capable of this past season, when he was starting to make a living in opposing backfields down the stretch. The Arkansas defense was outstanding the final five games, allowing a mere nine points per game and snuffing out opposing run games. Scouts who were focusing more initially on DE Trey Flowers noted that Philon repeatedly flashed and has the potential to be a sneaky-good 3-technique in time. Keep an eye on Philon in the middle rounds.

OVERRATED
Shelton

One west-coast scout who has seen Shelton develop and been through the Washington campus multiple times said that it’s clear he possesses good penetrative ability for a man his size, nice stamina (playing a high volume of snaps last season) and good base strength to anchor against inevitable double teams. But the scout also notes that his short arms, which were not an issue against the weaker interior offensive lines of the Pac-12, could give him trouble in the NFL against centers and guards adept at reach blocking and steering with great length and leverage. Plus, that playmaking ability Shelton displayed as a senior might be a bit of a mirage. He’s a very good, dependable player, but not a great one — he’s not Haloti Ngata as everyone likes to say.

SMALL-SCHOOL WONDER
Derrick Lott, Tennessee-Chattanooga

The Georgia transfer is a massive man who showed great bench-press prowess (30 reps) despite nearly 34-inch arms. Lott can bull rush effectively and might end up being a solid 5-technique for a 3-4 defense, able to stack against power and keep tackling lanes clear for teammates. Although some have said Lott is not special in any way, he could end up being a dependable anchor.

COULD RISE IN DRAFT
Edwards

This one is a bit confusing, as Edwards got way too heavy as a junior (over 310 pounds), appeared disinterested at times and made surprisingly few plays on one of the more talented defenses in the country. He was miscast as a 4-3 end, and his most likely mode to success is as an interior player — either as a 4-3 tackle or a 3-4 end. And since the end of the season, there has been a lot of positive momentum for Edwards, reminding people that he once was the top-rated high-school prospect coming into FSU. Sources we’ve talked to insist there’s a darned good chance Edwards hears his name called in the first 40 or so picks.

LATE-ROUND STEAL
Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Southern Miss

With interesting measurables and quickness off the snap, Nunez-Roches had a strong season on a bad defense (despite many double teams) as a penetrating nose tackle with 14 tackles for loss. He has a good frame, showed some real explosion with a 34-inch vertical at the NFL scouting combine and could interest some one-gap, penetrating teams later on in the draft.

PLAYER WHO WILL GO UNDRAFTED BUT SHOULDN’T
David Irving, ex-Iowa State

Irving had his share of problems at Iowa State, and he was kicked off the team when a picture of him carrying a detached stop sign was passed on to the university. (He also was arrested on domestic violence charges, which later were dropped.) Irving opted to come out for the draft early this season instead of transfer to an FBS school, and yet NFL teams (he has met with the Seahawks, Chiefs and Raiders) have not shied away. He put on a show at his pro day, running a 4.84 40-yard dash, a 4.53 short shuttle and a 7.27 3-cone drill and jumping 10’8” in the broad and 38 inches in the vertical at nearly 6-8 and 273 pounds with an insane wingspan of almost 88 inches. If he hadn’t gotten in trouble in college, those are first-round measurable we’re talking about. A fascinating 5-technique prospect.

IDEAL FIT
Shelton to the Browns

We actually wouldn’t love if they took him with their first selection, at No. 12, but would be OK with him landing there with their second first-round pick, at No. 19. Either way, he’s a good run-stopping force — a big need for the Browns — who can help tighten things up defensively. Moreover, he appears to be a high-floor selection, which the Browns have made precious few of in Round 1 in recent years.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm

Author: Eric Edholm
Posted: April 24, 2015, 9:53 pm

Peter Chiarelli was cautious in his introductory news conference as president of hockey operations and general manager with the Edmonton Oilers.The only real dig he took at the current team was its effort level. 

“There’s a lot of good things here and exciting things, a lot of young legs,” he said. “They play fast, I’d like to see them play a little harder.”

 While management has been the major issue with the Oilers, that sounded more like a shot at the coaching staff and interim boss Todd Nelson.

Whatever, it’s a tough line to walk when you come into an organization with a fanboy owner that probably still reveres now former general manager Craig MacTavish and team vice chair Kevin Lowe, whose role will transition out of hockey ops.

While fans may be dancing on their proverbial Oilers graves, Chiarelli didn’t make any real big statements about the obvious mismanagement of the team under Lowe, or MacTavish. Team CEO Bob Nicholson noted he himself will still work with Lowe at some capacity. It’s up to Chiarelli, who was recently fired by Boston as its general manager, to decide how he will use MacTavish

“I’ve seen the progression here in past years and talking to MacT, they’ve been trying to get bigger and heavier,” Chiarelli said, “That’s certainly an area where I’d like to improve.”

Chiarelli used some variation of the word “heavy” or “heavier” a lot in the news conference. Maybe he recently watched Back to the Future and is channeling his inner Marty McFly. Or he believes the Oilers need to add a little more poundage to their game, a la the Boston Bruins, his former team and one of the strongest groups (size wise) around. Chiarelli noted that you could be heavy with stick work or other areas of the game. While that point was a little confusing, it’s clear that Chiarelli wants the Oilers to be a tougher team to play against. Gone are the grand nostalgic designs of the run n’ gun teams of the 80s. Time to close that era for good. So the Oilers will select a defenseman with the No. 1 pick in the 2015 Draft, right? Noooo, but that would be hysterical. 

Both Nicholson (Providence) and Chiarelli (Harvard) have higher education degrees. This isn’t the end-all-be-all of the world, but when you’re running a multi-million dollar franchise it helps to be educated in the classroom and not at a hockey rink like say Lowe, for example, who at the end of the day, we can say really wasn’t qualified for the job at all. Maybe as a coach, but not as a general manager or team president.

While Chiarelli didn’t put any players on notice, he did say, when asked about his penchant for dealing talented young forwards, “that’s something I won’t shy away from.”

And the Oilers have a ton of these – maybe one or two that need to be dealt as the team prepares for the upcoming NHL Draft. Chiarelli, who won a Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins, said the Oilers reminded him of the Ottawa Senators, where he oversaw a team turnaround to contender from the early-to-late 2000s.

With this move, for the first time in a long time, it feels like the Oilers organization is making progress. The timing couldn’t be better with Edmonton holding the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft and the right to pick Canadian wunderkind Connor McDavid.  

Nicholson identified a smart hockey mind to run the franchise, and the Oilers finally moved their 80s old boys network to the side. You go Bob! 

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: April 24, 2015, 8:59 pm

Tennessee's Von Pearson, left, pulls in a touchdown pass during the first half of the TaxSlayer Bowl NCAA college football game against Iowa, Friday, Jan. 2, 2015, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/The Florida Times-Union, Bob Self)Tennessee wide receiver Von Pearson is a suspect in a rape case, the Knoxville Police Department said.

According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, the alleged rape occurred “between 3-4 a.m.” at an off-campus apartment and was reported “about 6 a.m. Friday." The alleged victim “identified Pearson as her attacker,” Knoxville Deputy Chief of Police Gary Holiday said.

No charges have been filed against Pearson, who has been suspended indefinitely by the program.

According to the Sentinel, six witnesses – including two UT football players – gave statements to KPD.

“Investigator Colin McLeod was called the University of Tennessee Medical Center about 6 a.m. to investigate a report of a forcible rape, according to the incident report.

During the initial investigation, KPD investigators took statements from the victim, several witnesses — five men and a woman — and alerted the Sexual Assault Center, according to Holliday.

Two UT players are listed among the six witnesses. Wide receiver Alton “Pig” Howard, 22, of Orlando, Fla., and defensive end Dimarya Mixon, 20, of Compton, Calif.”

Holiday said in a statement that the investigation is in its early stages and is ongoing.

The 23-year-old Pearson, joined the Vols program in 2014 after two seasons playing at the junior college level, has been working with the first team offense throughout the spring. He was second on the team with 38 catches and 393 receiving yards last season and led the Vols with five touchdown receptions.

The Vols’ spring game is scheduled for Saturday at Neyland Stadium.

For more Tennessee news, visit VolQuest.com.

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Sam Cooper is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Sam Cooper
Posted: April 24, 2015, 8:41 pm

(Photo by Marianne Helm/Getty Images)

(Ed. Note: As the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue, we're bound to lose some friends along the journey. We've asked for these losers, gone but not forgotten, to be eulogized by the people who knew the teams best: The bloggers who hated them the most. Here is Jared Dobias of Battle of California, an Anaheim Ducks blogger, on the 2014-15 Winnipeg Jets. Again, this was not written by us. Also: This is a roast and you will be offended by it, so don't take it so seriously.)

By Jared Dobias/Battle of California Managing Editor & Ducks Blogger

Hello, esteemed Yahoo! readers. I’ll try to use small words to make this easier on you.

Let’s take some time to say goodbye to the 2014-15 Atlanta Thrashers Winnipeg Jets, a franchise that has yet to win a single playoff game in their storied history dating all the way back to 1999. I’m as surprised as anyone that a team backstopped by goaltending elite Ondrej Pavelec got swept out of the first round!

There’s been a lot of talk in hockey media these past few days about the Jets’ passionate fanbase, and I for one am happy that fans of southern expansion teams are finally getting the recognition they deserve.

It’s not easy drudging up enough delusion day after day to support a lackluster team and to make a building with poor acoustics sound really loud. Impressive! Of course, they’ve wasted no time channeling that passion into scapegoating Dustin Byfuglien, for no other reason than his poor play, I’m sure (isn’t that right, Evander Kane?).

Speaking of the fanbase, there was some talk early on about a shared camaraderie among the Anaheim Ducks’ and Jets’ fanbases, bonded by their mutual respect for Teemu Selanne. But let’s get one thing clear: Teemu Selanne has nothing to with today’s faux Winnipeg Jets.

Teemu Selanne does not care about Winnipeg.

Being traded to Anaheim and out of the Manitoban hellscape was, in his own words, “the best thing to ever happen” him.

Of course it was the best thing to ever happen to him! Who wouldn’t prefer Southern California to Winnipeg? I’m not even saying this as a compliment to Southern California, because even a toilet bowl is preferable to Winnipeg.

Jets

Selanne has put down roots in Anaheim, and he has never looked backwards toward Winnipeg. The actual Winnipeg Jets franchise and rightful owners of Selanne’s rookie legacy, the Arizona Coyotes, surely are much less of an embarrassment to Teemu than modern day Winnipeg. Number 8 (and historically number 13, for you Thrashers fans whose hockey history doesn’t go back that far) is in no way sentimental about your team, your city, or the Winnipeg mole-people themselves.

The real former All-Star and power-play sniper who connects these two franchises is Dany Heatley, not Selanne.

Way to go, Faux Jets, Dany Heatley is your legacy.

Enough about proud Southern-Californian Teemu Selanne, let’s talk about Winnipeggers. I know it’s poor form to take potshots at the fans as opposed to the team, but as the third star of Wednesday night’s game, I figure you’re all fair game now considering you’re apparently a part of the team (and perhaps management can trade all of you idiots for some actual on-ice talent).

“Fans, thank you for overpaying to show up to a game in a city with nothing else at all going on, ever… We appreciate your ability to get drunk and be loud. As a token of our appreciation, please accept this third star.”

Congratulations on your participation trophy, Jets fans, but that’s not really how this works. In fact, every person who has attended a Ducks game over the past 22 years is a considerably better fan than any of you are, simply because Anaheim is a non-hockey market with actual competing entertainment options.

Look at it this way: If a dude is trapped on a deserted island with nothing but moss slime and dirt to eat, you wouldn’t congratulate him on his healthy vegetarian diet. You would rightly pity him. This also holds true for the fool who hasn’t found a way out of Winnipeg yet who decides to watch a Jets game, their only source of temporary escape from a soul-crushing existence (how sad it is, then, that the team also decides to crush their weathered souls with its lousy performance).

But let’s get back on track… Aside from not knowing the game well enough to tell the difference between former league MVP Corey Perry and pop star Katy Perry, and despite their lack of other entertainment options as mentioned above, it appears that Winnipeggers are not really big fans of the sport, anyway.

According to ESPN, the team is ranked 27th in attendance this season, which is more than just a little embarrassing in a Canadian market:

ESPN

Oh, I know what you're going to say: "They filled the building to capacity." Well a REAL hockey city would have found ways to add more seats, like maybe setting up lawn chairs that would otherwise never serve a purpose in Winnipeg in the aisles ...

Even Anaheim, a city with about half the population of Winnipeg, without a long history of or national identity built on hockey culture, manages to get more folks watching live hockey. And as I’ve pointed out, Anaheim hockey actually has a much richer entertainment scene in the area to compete with than the frozen tundra-misery of Winnipeg. There’s absolutely nothing to do in Winnipeg (they’re certainly not visiting any parks), and yet they can’t show up for a hockey game or two?

This is not a new phenomenon in Winnipeg. In fact, that’s why the Real Jets left town in the first place for greener pastures in Arizona. In Phoenix, the Real Jets found a much more appreciative fanbase than Winnipeg ever provided (of course, until mismanagement ran the poor Coyotes right into the ground…)

Jets

At any rate, the honeymoon period with this Faux Jets team will surely wear off soon, and attendance will decline even further. But in the meantime, before this franchise is moved to Las Vegas or granted to Florida as their third team, maybe the locals should at least pretend they care.

You know something Winnipeggers do care about? 7-Eleven Slurpees. The gluttonous, diabetic pig-people of Winnipeg average 188,833 Slurpee sells per month (compared to 179,700 for the rest of Canada combined). Obviously, this is a very smart thing to do in a town that hasn’t seen sunlight in over a decade.

If you’re looking to get a glimpse of just how insufferable Winnipeggers are as a fanbase however, consider this – In the waning days of the series, almost the entire hockey world began to rally behind the Ducks, hoping for a Jets elimination (you’re welcome hockey world, but you can go back to hating us now).

Convincing outside fanbases to cheer for a team with both Ryan Kesler and Corey Perry on the roster seems an almost insurmountable task. That is, until you expose those other folks to the entitled, petulant children who call the Jets their own.  It was pretty cute how they thought stealing the Arizona Coyotes’ “Whiteout” tradition might win them a playoff series, though.

Now, fans of the Faux Jets, regardless of how underserving your town and your team were of any true success, I know this elimination is heartbreaking. But as long as you stick together, you’ll be alright. Focus on the positives, like those three Avco World Trophy championships (that’s a little thing that the Real Jets brought to your town back in the day; I don’t expect fans of a southern expansion team to know this though).

And sure, Teemu Selanne wants nothing to do you with all of you, but what about goaltending great and best color-analyst in the business Brian Hayward?

Oh, right. He left you for Anaheim as well.

Ouch.

To bring this all to a conclusion, I would like to congratulate the Fake Jets on getting a taste of playoff hockey, the real game, and hope to see you back in the mix when you’re actually ready to try and compete in a more serious manner, in a few more years after the franchise has been moved to a more deserving Sun Belt market.

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Author: Yahoo Sports Staff
Posted: April 24, 2015, 8:25 pm

When Freddie Jacobson teed off in Round 2 of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, it had been 30 rounds since the Swede had three-putted a green. However, Jacobson's PGA Tour record streak didn't last long on Friday at TPC Louisiana.

On his first hole, the 10th at the Pete Dye-designed track, Jacobson three-putted from 34 feet, leading to a bogey that ended a streak of 542 holes without a three-jack.

Jacobson had not three-putted since the second round of the Humana Challenge on Jan. 23. At the RBC Heritage last week, he surpassed the Tour's previous three-putt avoidance record, held by Luke Donald at 483 holes. Tracking of that statistic dates back to 2003.

In the end, he closed with 1-under 71 to get to the weekend at 5-under 139 and within striking distance of the lead heading into the weekend.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: April 24, 2015, 8:25 pm

We now know when Tiger Woods will play next on the PGA Tour.

Woods announced on Twitter on Friday that he'll compete in two weeks at The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Looking forward to going back to THE PLAYERS this year, hoping for a repeat of 2013.

— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) April 24, 2015

This will be Woods' first appearance at The Players since 2013, when he won the event for the second time (2001). Woods didn't play in the event last year as he was recovering from a microdiscectomy procedure on his back on March 31. 

The 14-time major champion finished T-17 at the Masters two weeks ago, which marked his first tournament after taking two months off to find his game. Jack Nicklaus said he spoke with Woods at Augusta National, relaying that Woods indicated to him that he'll play in his Memorial Tournament in early June. Woods is a five-time champion of the event.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: April 24, 2015, 8:14 pm

A year ago at this time, when baseball fans heard the name Yordano Ventura, we thought of the fire-balling Kansas City Royals pitcher, one of the top young arms in the game, the guy they'd already started calling "Ace Ventura" in his rookie season.

Today, when baseball fans hear Ventura's name, we think of his fiery personality, one of the main troublemakers of the young 2015 MLB season, the guy they've already started calling a "thug," a "hothead" and various other not-so-endearing names.

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In the last three weeks, Ventura, 23, has joined Bryce Harper and Yasiel Puig in the ranks of baseball's villains, all of them a few steps down from baseball's villainlord, Alex Rodriguez. It's not always fair to get cast as a villain. For some players, it's the role they've been given. Others, it's the role they've assumed. In Ventura's case, it's more of the latter.

In each of his last three starts, he's been in the middle of an incident with an opposing player that caused the benches to clear. On April 12, he jawed with Mike Trout at home plate, causing Angels and Royals players to flood the field. Last Saturday, hit plunked Brett Lawrie with a pitch as part of the escalating feud between his team and the A's. And Thursday night, Ventura was front and center in the huge brawl between the Royals and White Sox.

He yelled "f*** you" at Adam Eaton after Eaton hit a comebacker, which immediately caused umpires to step in and both teams to spill onto the field. That F-word, as you can imagine, was not Fudgsicle.

A number of Royals fans have spent the last week explaining away their team's actions in their clash with the A's. The most loyal of them will make the same excuses for Ventura's three outbursts: Trout said something to him, Brett Lawrie started it, Eaton mouthed-off. 

Certainly Ventura is not the only guilty person in each incident, but he is the common denominator. He's also the one who walked straight at Lawrie after hitting him with a pitch. He stared down Trout after Trout singled off him. And consider this: How many fights has Mike Trout been in? How many times has Adam Eaton incited the benches to clear? 

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The Royals are supporting Ventura, all the way up to the front office, where GM Dayton Moore told the Kansas City Star's Andy McCullough on Friday that he wouldn't condemn what Ventura did against the White Sox. But Moore readily admits that Ventura needs to learn to control his temper. 

“If you’re going to have long-term success, it’s crucial that you manage your emotions well, in a way that’s constructive for the team,” Moore said. “So you have to be able to do that. There’s no doubt, it’s something that you have to manage.”

And so we've reached the point where the story shifts for Yordano Ventura. Last year, he was the hardest-throwing starting pitcher in the big leagues, the guy who went out and played rec-league softball after his team lost the World Series. You root for guys like that.

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This year, Ventura's a villain to the baseball-watching public. There's no denying it right now. It doesn't always have to be that way. But as Puig and Harper and A-Rod have showed us, it can be difficult, no matter how talented you are, to convince people otherwise. Unless, of course, you're Pedro Martinez.

People have been comparing Ventura to Martinez long before he was making the benches clear. They're both hard-throwing Dominicans whose electric arms made up for their small (by pitcher's standards) stature. Pedro was a villain too, a polarizing pitcher who caused problems at various points in his career.

Ultimately, Pedro ended up OK. He's a soon-to-be Hall of Famer and an in-demand broadcaster now. He had the right mixture of fierce competitor and charming showman. That's something Ventura still needs to learn. Right now, nobody's going to accuse Ventura of being charming.

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: April 24, 2015, 8:10 pm

The steep decline of Chris Walker reached its nadir Friday afternoon.

It was then that the onetime top 10 recruit announced he's leaving Florida and declaring for the NBA draft despite having virtually no chance of being selected. 

In two tumultuous seasons at Florida, Walker delivered occasional flashes of athletic potential but never came close to blossoming into an impact player.

The 6-foot-10 forward didn't become eligible until early February as a freshman and played sparingly off the bench for a Final Four-bound Florida team, averaging 1.9 points and 1.3 rebounds per game. He made little impact in the postseason for the senior-laden Gators, scoring only seven points and logging only 18 total minutes in five NCAA tournament games.

The Gators needed Walker to play a bigger role as a sophomore after losing their entire starting frontcourt, but he wasn't up to the task, He frequently looked lost defensively and was constantly a step slow on rotations, which was a major reason he logged only 14.6 minutes per game and averaged a modest 4.7 points and 3.5 rebounds. 

Such numbers represented growth for an average raw young big man, but expectations for Walker were far higher than that when he arrived in Gainesville. This was a kid who was a McDonald's All-American; who chose the Gators over national powers Kansas and Louisville; who was a projected lottery pick before he played his first college game.

Why was Walker such a disappointment? Florida coach Billy Donovan has blamed a combination of a suspect work ethic and overblown expectations.

The immensely gifted Walker dominated in high school because of his mix of explosiveness, athleticism and size. He never spent time developing a low-post or mid-range game because he never saw a need. He could block shots, run the floor and dunk with ease and too many people around him were telling him that was good enough. 

"My biggest challenge and issue with Chris is his consistent work ethic," Donovan told reporters in Gainesville in January. "That's big for him. When you're in high school like he was, sometimes you can dominate a game, block shots and use your athleticism because he's not going against anyone his size. Now at this level, he's going against more guys his size, a lot of guys who are physically stronger. He's having to figure things out.

"He has been really coachable. He's trying to get better. The only thing that is going to continue to hold him back is his work ethic, a consistent work ethic. He's had some days where he is good in that area, and he has had some days where he's been very poor. That's the thing he has to get better at. His work ethic today is better than when he first got here, but it still needs to get better."

Continuing to develop that work ethic under Donovan's tutelage was a potentially good situation for Walker, but the path he is taking now will be much tougher.

He's not listed among DraftExpress.com's top 100 prospects, which means he almost certainly won't be drafted and would be lucky to have the chance to play his way onto an NBA roster in training camp next fall. Instead he'll probably wind up toiling in anonymity in the D-League or overseas, both environments that require incredible self discipline for prospects to develop.  

There are few signs Walker has that level of discipline.

Though he handled his lack of playing time at Florida with more unselfishness and class than many in his shoes would have, it takes more than just a good attitude to make the jump from raw D-League big man to an NBA roster. He'll have to motivate himself to get in the gym and address his shortcomings while playing games in far-away outposts in front of crowds that often number in the hundreds, not the thousands.

If Walker can do that and develop some offensive skill and defensive awareness, perhaps he'll someday tap into the physical tools that once made him a top prospect. Otherwise, the sad tale of a once highly touted player is unlikely to have a happy ending. 

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: April 24, 2015, 8:01 pm

Call WR coach Pierre Ingram (bearinsider.com)A week after Cal recruiting coordinator and wide receivers coach Pierre Ingram was arrested in a prostitution sting, the University announced Friday that his contract will not be renewed.

“As you are aware, Assistant Football Coach Ingram was placed on paid administrative leave following his recent arrest for solicitation. We are not renewing his contract and he will no longer represent or act on behalf of this University in any capacity,” Cal Athletics said in a statement.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, Ingram, 30, was arrested on April 16 for allegedly “soliciting an undercover officer online.” Ingram, who was recently named the Bears’ passing game coordinator, showed up at a Motel 6 in Oakland and was arrested on “suspicion of misdemeanor solicitation of a lewd act.”

Ingram was one of five men arrested in the sting operation. He has a court date scheduled for next month, police said.

The Cal athletic department said in a statement that it became aware of the matter “prior to the spring game,” which was played on April 18.

Pierre Ingram’s attorney, Darryl Stallworth, released a statement on his client’s behalf saying that Ingram is “deeply sorry.”

Here is a statement from Pierre Ingram's attorney, Darryl Stallworth. #Cal pic.twitter.com/5TQzzXMyQs

— Mike Vernon (@M_Vernon) April 20, 2015

Ingram was entering his sixth season as an assistant under head coach Sonny Dykes, including three at Louisiana Tech. After spending the last two seasons as the Bears’ running backs coach, he was moved to wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator before spring practice began.

The Bears finished spring practice last week. 

For more Cal news, visit GoldenBearReport.com.

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Sam Cooper is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Sam Cooper
Posted: April 24, 2015, 7:21 pm

We've got a trio of Game 3s on tap for Friday night, with two series teetering on the brink of the point of no return and one that could absolutely still go either way. Here's a look ahead at what to keep an eye on during this evening's three-game playoff slate.

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***

Houston Rockets at Dallas Mavericks, 7 p.m. ET — Rockets lead, 2-0

Can Dallas plug up enough holes to keep the dam from bursting? There's not a whole lot for the Mavericks to feel good about after the first two games of this series. Yes, they've held MVP candidate James Harden to 9-for-28 shooting thus far, but that's scarcely seemed to matter, as the Rockets have notched double-digit wins behind a deeper-than-many-thought bench and the best version of Dwight Howard we've seen in a long time.

Rick Carlisle has some tough problems to solve. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)The Mavs have hung tight through three quarters in both contests, but couldn't make the final push in either, with big shots by Corey Brewer and Trevor Ariza keeping them at bay in Game 1, and the Josh Smith-Dwight high-low connection blowing their doors off late in Game 2. They've allowed Houston to score 64 fourth-quarter points in two games and put the Rockets on the line 29 times in those 24 minutes, with Harden averaging nearly one free-throw attempt per minute in final frames. They've looked woefully incapable of handling Houston's pick-and-roll game, especially with Smith getting into a groove as a playmaker off the short roll. And — oh, by the way — they're entering Game 3 without Chandler Parsons, who missed Game 2 after aggravating his right knee injury and is now done for the season, and Rajon Rondo, who "suffered" a "back" "injury" early in the second half of Game 2 and isn't expected to return for Dallas — ever — which could very well be a case of addition by subtraction offensively, but also removes from the equation perhaps Dallas' best on-ball option against Harden.

It's not yet clear exactly how Rick Carlisle intends to juggle his starting lineup for Game 3. He could keep Game 2 starter Richard Jefferson (seven points on 2-for-6 shooting in 23 minutes in Parsons' stead) in place at small forward, or he could opt to elevate live-wire reserve Al-Farouq Aminu, whose rebounding, shot-blocking and defensive energy have made him one of Dallas' few bright spots through two games, into the starting five. With Rondo gone, Carlisle could start one of three veteran ball-handlers — undersized pick-and-roll playmakers J.J. Barea and Raymond Felton, or Devin Harris, perhaps a more well-rounded option who's coming off a toe injury that kept him sidelined for Game 2 — and figures to go with a "point guard by committee" approach favoring whichever triggerman shows a hot hand. (Provided one of them does.)

The unit of Jefferson, Barea, Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler and Monta Ellis (a lineup that hadn't logged a single minute together during the regular season) offered a real offensive spark in Game 2, torching Houston for 27 points in 11 minutes of floor time. It literally gave it all back on the other end, though, allowing 29 points (-2) with the small Ellis-Barea backcourt providing little resistance to Houston's ball-handlers and the steps-slow tandem of Jefferson and Nowitzki creating too many messes for Chandler to credibly clean up.

Nowitzki-Chandler-Jefferson-Ellis-Felton presents roughly the same pros and cons, with the bigger Felton perhaps standing some chance of holding up a bit better defensively while not offering quite as much off-the-bounce quickness or creativity. That lineup logged one appearance this season, outscoring its opposition by one point in 18 minutes. (When you get this deep into the reserve corps, you're dealing with small samples.)

Whichever direction Carlisle chooses to go, Dallas must clean up the pick-and-roll defense that got decimated and dunked all over late in Game 2 to stand a chance. Then again, it's going to be tough to offer demonstrably tighter coverage with Nowitzki manning the four spot against the likes of Smith and Terrence Jones.

Then again, given how much the Mavs have struggled to score without Dirk in this series — 104 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, just 89 points-per-100 without through two games — and Dallas' need to put as much shooting on the court as possible to puncture a Houston defense that ranked sixth in the league in defensive efficiency during the regular season and has looked damn near impenetrable with Howard in the middle so far, it's hard to see a clear path toward meaningful enough improvement for Dallas to deal given the hand Carlisle's been dealt.

“We’ve made some adjustments to some of the things we’ve done,” Carlisle said Friday, according to Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News. “We’re going to have to execute those things and be better."

Much, much better.

***

Toronto Raptors at Washington Wizards, 8 p.m. ET — Wizards lead, 2-0

Can any Raptors guard get going? It's been a nightmarish start to the postseason for 2014 All-Star Kyle Lowry, 2013 All-Star DeMar DeRozan, newly crowned Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams and key backup guard Greivis Vasquez. One (or, ideally, all!) of them has to wake up for the Raptors to regain some semblance of a pulse.

Toronto's top three guards have been unable to locate any offensive rhythm against a Wizards defense that finished fifth in the NBA in points allowed per possession during the regular season, with DeRozan's unsightly 39.5 percent postseason shooting percentage ranking as the trio's top mark through two games. Vasquez has had more offensive success, making six of his 13 shots and three of his eight 3-point tries while dishing eight assists against three turnovers. But he has been absolutely scorched by Washington's backcourt, acting as little more than a slow-moving background actor in the highlights of John Wall and Bradley Beal en route to a team-worst plus-minus mark (-22 in 59 minutes) as Toronto dropped consecutive home games, with the second coming in embarrassing blowout fashion.

Kyle Lowry's Raptors need to pick themselves up off the floor. (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)The Raptors enter Verizon Center desperately needing a win on Friday to avoid the dreaded 0-3 hole out of which no NBA team has ever climbed, and while Dwane Casey has called for increased "swag" from his repeat Atlantic Division champions, it seems likely that the Raptors' salvation lies not solely in confidently acting as if they're the better team, but in implementing actual solutions to the defensive ploys — double-teams in the post, traps on ball-handlers, aggressive ball denial, etc. — that Randy Wittman's club has used to put the clamps on Toronto's playmakers.

With spacing at a premium and shot-making in short supply, Casey could look earlier and more often to reserve Patrick Patterson. The stretch four out of Kentucky shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range during the regular season, has made five of his eight triple tries in this series and is shooting a team-high 71.4 percent from the floor overall. He presents a more credible floor-spreading threat than Tyler Hansbrough, and could give Toronto's guards more room to maneuver, making it harder for the Wizards' bigs to double the ball without consequences.

If Washington continues to roll with the small-ball lineups, featuring Paul Pierce at power forward alongside either Marcin Gortat or Nene, that torched Toronto in Games 1 and 2, the Raps could look to go even smaller, rolling out multi-guard sets that put three of the four playmakers on the court at the same time. In such configurations, it might make sense to give burly swingman James Johnson another crack after a disappointing Game 2 — 0-for-4 from the foul line, -14 in seven minutes — at defending Pierce as a like-for-like small-ball four. Casey doesn't necessarily seem comfortable turning to such a high-variance player in high-stakes situations, but while Johnson's valleys can prove disastrous to his team, his peaks could be just the shot of adrenaline the Raptors need to get back in this series.

More than anything, though, the Raptors need more from All-Star point guard Lowry, who propelled Toronto during its early-season surge but whose shooting numbers have fallen off a cliff in 2015 due to the combination of workload and injuries. It's nearly impossible to envision a scenario in which the Raptors claw back into this series with Lowry continuing to shoot 25 percent from the floor, put up goose-eggs from 3-point range and pick up ticky-tack fouls that take him off the floor; despite his dismal shooting, the Raps have played the Wiz straight up in his 61 minutes on the court, and gotten outscored by 18 points in the 50 minutes he's sat.

It's a lot to ask from a player reportedly dealing with a left shin injury and an illness, but, well, this is the time to ask a lot of the players you make into cornerstones. Washington's All-Star point guard caused an awful lot of trouble when he visited the Raptors' gym. Toronto's has to start returning the favor on Friday.

Lowry on the Raptors being written off: "Let them count us out. At the end of the day, they still have to win two more games."

— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) April 24, 2015

***

Los Angeles Clippers at San Antonio Spurs, 9:30 p.m. ET — Series tied, 1-1

Can San Antonio build on its momentum with Tony Parker hobbled? The Spurs got even on Wednesday thanks to a brilliant performance by Tim Duncan and a monster finish from Patty Mills. They needed both, in large part, because Parker was once again unable to provide much of anything offensively, scoring just one point (albeit with five assists and without a turnover) in 30 minutes of work before bowing out with 5:09 left in regulation due to tightness in his right Achilles tendon.

Tony Parker's not feeling quite like himself these days (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)After a day of treatment and a night of rest, Parker was cleared to play in Game 3. But coming off not just the Achilles tightness, but also the rolled left ankle and bruised left thigh he suffered in the Clippers' Game 1 win, it seems reasonable to wonder just how effective the 32-year-old triggerman will be on Friday.

Gregg Popovich does have some options with which to make things work should Parker not be up to snuff. After spending most of the season struggling to regain his shooting stroke and sharpness following offseason shoulder surgery, Mills has started to look a bit more like the game-breaking instant-offense scorer of last year's title run. Manu Ginobili's essentially the second-unit point guard in all but name only anyway, and can be a closing-time facilitator provided he doesn't replicate the late-game turnover and knee-jerk foul that got him disqualified from Game 2. Boris Diaw can generate offense out of the high and low posts, and can present some extra variety and spice as a secondary driver and passer. Cory Joseph doesn't offer anything near the offensive initiation and playmaking that Parker provides, but he's a capable caretaker and a determined defender to whom Pop can turn in a pinch.

Plus, as Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News notes, the Spurs have a few different ways to give Parker a defensive break provided he's not nimble enough to start the game on All-Star Chris Paul, who's averaging 26.5 points and 6.5 assists per game thus far on 60 percent shooting from both 2-point and 3-point range. Pop could sic newly minted Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard or fellow elite perimeter defender Danny Green on CP3 from the get-go, allowing Parker to track small forward Matt Barnes from the opening tip. And hey, if Doc Rivers decides to go hunting the mismatch by letting Barnes post Parker up, that means the Clips aren't working through Paul pick-and-rolls or Blake Griffin-DeAndre Jordan high-lows, which seems like a win for the defense.

Lots of folks (including this guy) picked the Spurs to topple the Clippers due in part to superior depth and variety of options on both ends of the floor, and San Antonio's been able to outlast opponents without Parker in the past. But those were one-game situations, not instances where Parker's been debilitated for the bulk of the series. If these mounting injuries to his wheels render him unable to capably counterpunch when CP3 starts cooking, all that invigorating overtime work to steal home-court advantage could wind up going right out the window faster than you can say "merde."

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Dan Devine
Posted: April 24, 2015, 7:13 pm

Predators defenseman Shea Weber is out for the remainder of the team’s first round series with what the team continues to call a “lower body” injury, after NBC Sports/TSN anchor Gord Miller noted Weber tore his ACL on Thursday night’s Nashville/Chicago broadcast.

The Predators wrote a strongly worded statement that basically bashed “erroneous” reports on Weber’s injury.

From the Perds, I mean Preds:

The Nashville Predators announced Friday that Captain Shea Weber will miss the remainder of the club’s Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Chicago Blackhawks due to a lower-body injury the defenseman suffered in Game Two of the series. However, contrary to erroneous broadcast and media reports over the last 24 hours, he did not suffer an ACL injury. Further updates will be provided as they become available. 

So, he went from ‘day-to-day’ to now being out for the rest of the series – though granted it’s the same thing when there’s only two games left in the entire series. Chicago leads Nashville 3-2. 

And The Tennessean’s John Glennon even went to Miller to ask, basically ‘hey dude, what’s up with that report?’ Such a situation is essentially beat reporter hell. 

Just talked to NBCSN's Gord Miller, who clarified Weber report. He said only that he'd heard local discussion of ACL, not that it was a fact

— John Glennon (@glennonsports) April 24, 2015

It doesn’t really change anything for Nashville. Weber’s injury didn’t look great. If he was anywhere near returning, he’d be doing some sort of skating activity – which at least hasn’t been reported yet by any sources around the team. Also, where there's smoke, there's fire, and Miller wouldn't just throw out a random body part on a national TV broadcast without getting some semblance of fact behind it. The location may be correct, but the details may be off.  

Then again we’ve heard many different conjectures on Weber, between his ankle, his Achilles and his knee. But hey it's the playoffs, so lower body injury will just suffice for now, until the Predators get ousted -- or go all the way -- and then such CIA-level secrets will be revealed. 

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: April 24, 2015, 7:06 pm

File photo of lab assistant looking at urine tests. (AP Photo/Keystone, Fabrice Coffrini)The Texas state legislature will soon vote on whether to keep random drug testing of high school athletes in the state budget. All signs are pointing towards ending the program, according to several reports.

Texas has been testing athletes since 2007. The state has since spent $9 million testing 62,892 athletes. One-hundred-ninety of those tests came back positive, and funding has steadily declined from an annual $3 million to about $650,000 this year. 

Legislators and advocates say the tests deter student athletes from using drugs, out of fear that they will be randomly selected for testing. If the program is discontinued, as expected, they will turn to educational outreach and other approaches to attempt to keep kids away from steroids. 

One of the loudest voices in the conversation has been that of Don Hooton, whose 17-year-old son committed suicide in 2003. Hooton's son had started taking steroids in hopes of making the varsity baseball team, according to his father, who spoke with WBUR's "Only a Game."

Our youngest son Taylor was a high school baseball player. Sixteen-years-old, his coach told him he needed to get bigger to improve his chances of making the varsity team in his senior year. And, unbeknownst to the coach, when Taylor went back to the dugout, half of the boys on Taylor’s baseball team were using anabolic steroids. And the long and short of it is Taylor began injecting himself with two different types of anabolic steroids, and seven months later he died. And as parents, we were shocked — shocked to find out how dangerous these drugs could be, probably even more shocked to find out how many kids across this country are, even today, playing with these drugs.

Hooton and his wife have since started the Taylor Hooton Foundation, dedicated to anti-drug education. He says the schools need to focus on educational programs that teach athletes about the risks associated with steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. 

The percentage of student athletes who tested positive in Texas' random drug tests is far below the estimated national average, according to a study conducted by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Released in the summer of 2014, the study found that about seven percent of U.S. high school students use steroids. That study didn't test for human growth hormone (HGH), according to Hooton. A poll showed that 11 percent of students have used HGH. 

What we need to learn is the only real weapon we have in our arsenal is education. But sadly, 85 percent of our children, nationally, report that they’ve never had an adult — no coach, no teacher, no parent, no one — I mean, we talk to them about heroin, marijuana and alcohol, but we are investing minimal resources in teaching our kids why they need to be staying away from this junk.

If the state legislature votes to discontinue testing, that will leave Illinois and New Jersey as the only states that run state-wide testing of high school athletes. Florida tested athletes during the 2008-2009 school year, then discontinued the program, according to USA Today High School Sports

The vote will be held within the next few days. The head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has been outspoken about the need to keep the program in place. Instead, the state needs to expand the program and make the testing more thorough.

“The money is there,” Travis Tygart said. “Look at what’s spent on football stadiums, camps, trainers. If you think education alone is going to stop them, it isn’t.”

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Danielle Elliot is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact her at delliot@yahoo-inc.com or find her onTwitter and Facebook.

 

Author: Danielle Elliot
Posted: April 24, 2015, 7:03 pm

The running-back-drafted-in-Round-1 debate is a fascinating one.

The past two drafts have not featured a first-round back, and yet several young runners have had success right away in the NFL. The prevailing thought is that you can wait at that position and still get talent, and why invest in a position where players tend to burn out more quickly?

But when you have special talents at the position, such as Georgia's Todd Gurley and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, the discussion changes. For players such as these, NFL teams might be more willing to make exceptions and break the recent trend.

Will it happen this year? Gurley is roundly expected to go somewhere in Round 1. But what about Gordon?

Gordon, who will be attending the draft in Chicago, spoke with 120 Sports on Friday and admitted that he's nervous about the possibility of sliding out of the first 32 picks, possibly making for a long green room stay.

"You know what? You try to say stuff, ‘I’m going to go first round, I’m not going to worry.’ And like you said, [it has been] two or three years since a running back has been taken in Round 1. You kind of think about that a little bit, you think maybe not, you never know," Gurley said.

(And for the record, what was trimmed out of the video: Gordon said he wasn't sure if he planned to pack two suits for his Chicago trip.)

For Gordon, going in the first round might mean that he helped end a draft trend.

"You kind of think like that, but I really hope I do [go in Round 1]," he said. "I’m in a group [text] message with Todd and some other running backs, and it’s been … you know, we all wanted to me in this position and kind of break that little trend that’s been going on with running backs. Give some young running backs some hope that running backs still can go in the first round.

"It’s a lot different from when I was growing up. Everyone was saying running back, but now it’s corner or receiver. It’s a little different from when I was growing up as a kid, but we just want to give some kids some hope and let them know running backs are still important."

Gordon respects Gurley's game and is friends with him, as they've texted back and forth during the run up to the draft. But Gordon also said he believed he was the better back of the two.

"I feel like Todd is a playmaker, too, but I feel like I am a bigger playmaker," Gordon said. "I’m just explosive, more explosive on the field. I’ve had more big runs, honestly. I’ve had big runs inside, outside, the jet sweeps …

"I feel like we’re both explosive. You can’t go wrong with either back. Like I’ve said before: You can go with red apples or you can go with green apples."

And could Gordon's durability — 549 carries the past two seasons, including 343 in 2014 — be something that separates him from Gurley, considering the Georgia back's injury history?

"I can say that," Gordon said. "Just showing with the amount of carries I am taking, and how durable I’ve been … I guess you can throw that in there, too."

Still, Gordon admitted that he needed work in the passing game and isn't a perfect back. He also said he'd like to join the Green Bay Packers, his home-state team, which likely isn't happening, after previously saying he'd love to run behind the line of the Dallas Cowboys.

One by one, Gordon seems to be campaigning teams, hoping any way he can to land in the first round on April 30.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm

Author: Eric Edholm
Posted: April 24, 2015, 6:53 pm

Here are your Puck Headlines: A glorious collection of news and views collected from the greatest blogosphere in sports and the few, the proud, the mainstream hockey media. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com. 

Getty Images

• Ahh, now we know why Eddie Lack's play was impacted - he was in love. Now this lovely lady tries her black magic on Ryan Miller. [Getty]

• Women's hockey legend Haley Wickenheiser pays tribute to Steve Montador, and brings to light the depression and anxiety experienced by many pro athletes. [The Players Tribune]

• Maple Leafs' former GM Dave Nonis looks back at time with team in first interview after firing. [Toronto Sun]

• Nanny for Pittsburgh Penguins player Chris Kunitz accused of stealing jewelry from home. This lady is a trip. [WPXI]

• Hasso Plattner is not a German delicacy. He's actually the owner of the San Jose Sharks. He wrote a letter to season ticket holders reaffirming his commitment to GM Doug Wilson. [Mercury News]

• Commissioner Bettman believes the Islanders won't return to Nassau anytime soon. [Islanders Point Blank]

• The NWHL officially launched last week. There is cautious optimism around the women's hockey community as to it's viability as it works to live up to lofty goals. [USCHO]

• interview with Doug Cifu (Vice Chairman, Partner & Alternate Governor of the Florida Panthers). Some of the topics discussed: his roots in hockey, the growth of the Florida Panthers, and foreshadowing on future jerseys. [The Sunshine Skate]

• Legal vs. Illegal hits in the NHL - The inconsistency of the Department of Player Safety. [Undisclosed Injury]

• Announcer Ralph Strangis on Thursday announced he will be leaving the Stars organization to pursue new challenges, ending a career that spanned 25 years and more than 2,000 games. [Dallas Morning News]

• Jim Rutherford’s future and 12 final Penguins thoughts. [The Hockey Writers]

• Trick-Fil-A: Forsberg’s three goals keep Predators alive. [Rinkside Report]

•  Flyers coaching search: Dave Tippett's long-view mentality could be perfect fit in Philly. [Broad Street Hockey]

• Patrice Bergeron has 'full confidence' in Bruins' plan. (Milan Lucic on the other hand...) [Boston Herald]

• Jack Eichel's college hockey linemate Evan Rodrigues sees himself fitting in well in Buffalo, after signing a contract with the team earlier this week. [Buffalo Hockey Beat]

• "The Winnipeg Jets and their last dyin’ day" [The Most Basic Cable] 

• Prime Minister Stephen Harper explains his missing Jets jersey. [Globe & Mail]

• A look at "the immaturity of the Minnesota Wild." [Hockey Wilderness]

• One would expect this from an America ad talking about hockey, not a Canadian one: "Scotiabank goofs in 'first goal' ad, putting boy on Belleville Bearcats female team." [Buzzing the Net]

• The Tampa Bay Lightning received support from an unexpected source earlier this week when basketball Hall of Famer Charles Barkley gave the team and head coach Jon Cooper a shout-out during coverage of the NBA playoffs on Tuesday. [TBO]

• Fantasy pro-tip: Expanding dynasty leagues can be a precarious situation. Here's how to do it seamlessly. [Dobber Hockey]

• "The crowd at Wednesday night’s Senators victory gave Russell’s Jonathan Pitre a standing ovation when his image flashed on the scoreboard. Pitre, 14, usually wears a Sens sweater to the game, but on Wednesday he was decked out in a spiffy suit and tie — a gift from Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby." [Ottawa Citizen]

• Finally, the Latvians are at it again. U18 goalie Denijs Romanovskis makes an incredible leaping/diving save against Canada. VIVA LATVIA! [Youtube]

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Jen Neale is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow her on Twitter! Follow @MsJenNeale_PD.

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Author: Jen Neale
Posted: April 24, 2015, 6:52 pm

Michael Phelps talks with coach Bob Bowman prior to competing in the men's 100 meter butterfly preliminary, Thursday, April 16, 2015, at the Arena Pro Swim Series in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)Michael Phelps' long-time coach, Bob Bowman, just accepted the job as head coach of the Arizona State swimming team, Swimming World reports.

It's exciting news for the ASU swimmers, considering Bowman is the man who helped prep Phelps for his 22 Olympic-medal-winning performances, including 18 golds.

It also means Phelps will most likely be moving to Tempe, Ariz., to train for the Rio Olympics, just as he moved to Michigan to train while Bowman was the head coach at Michigan State between the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.

For the majority of their partnership, Bowman has coached Phelps and others, including five-time Olympic medalist Allison Schmitt near, Phelps' hometown of Baltimore, Maryland. 

Phelps has continued to train with Bowman throughout the swimmer's six-month suspension from USA Swimming. He was suspended in October for violating the organization's code of conduct for being pulled over while driving under the influence. At the time, he agreed to enter a six-week treatment program.

The suspension ended on April 6, allowing Phelps to return to international competition with plenty of time to prep for Rio. He made a triumphant return on April 18, defeating rival Ryan Lochte in the 100-meter butterfly and the 100-meter free at the Arena Pro Swim Series event in Mesa, Ariz. 

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Danielle Elliot is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact her at delliot@yahoo-inc.com or find her onTwitter and Facebook.

Author: Danielle Elliot
Posted: April 24, 2015, 6:47 pm

Six months before he coaches his first game at Mississippi State, Ben Howland has already achieved a meaningful victory.

The first-year coach landed a commitment Friday from elite scoring guard Malik Newman, Rivals.com's No. 8 prospect in the class of 2015. The son of former Mississippi State forward Horatio Webster chose the Bulldogs over a long list of more high-profile programs including Kentucky, Kansas, LSU and North Carolina State.

That Howland was able to land Newman is especially impressive considering he took over at Mississippi State less than a month ago. The hire forced Newman to more strongly consider staying home as a result of Howland's history of success at UCLA and Pittsburgh and his track record of producing successful NBA players like Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison and Arron Afflalo.

The arrival of Newman gives Howland a real chance to contend for a postseason bid in his debut season in Starkville. Mississippi State returns five of its top six scorers from a 13-19 team that lost nine games by six or fewer points under former coach Rick Ray.

Newman and senior Craig Sword will form one of the SEC's better backcourt duos. Newman is renowned for his ability to create space for himself and score in bunches and Sword led the Bulldogs in scoring both of the past two seasons. Veterans Fred Thomas and I.J. Ready and Rivals 150 guard Quinndary Weatherspoon should also contribute on the perimeter.

Gavin Ware, Mississippi State's second-leading scorer and leading rebounder last season, should anchor the frontcourt. The 6-foot-9 rising senior will also be joined by incoming power forward Joe Strugg and rising sophomore Demetrius Houston.

While Newman isn't likely to stay at Mississippi State for more than one season, his presence for even just next year will help the Bulldogs. 

It's a credibility boost for the program and an opportunity for the Bulldogs to enjoy success in Howland's first season, which should only help him recruit for the all-important class of 2016.

Rivals.com video of Malik Newman:

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: April 24, 2015, 6:33 pm

For those of us who like massive trainwreck disaster shows, then Randy Carlyle receiving permission from Toronto to talk to the Sharks about their vacant head coaching job is maybe the greatest thing ever. 

For those who are Sharks fans and want to see their team win hockey games? Goo …

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported Carlyle had indeed received permission to talk to the Sharks. San Jose and Todd McLellan “mutually” agreed to part ways Monday.

As Fear the Fin notes, this would be just flat out horrible:

Under Carlyle, the Leafs literally set records for defensive futility. He routinely coached his defensemen to passively cede the blueline at even-strength, was clueless on how to execute an effective breakout with control of the puck and employed a comical positioning scheme in the defensive zone. For a GM who publicly stated just four days ago that he's looking to build a puck possession team, Wilson even giving Carlyle an interview for the head coaching job just doesn't make sense.

But the story also says Wilson interviewed over 20 candidates for the head coaching job in 2008, that eventually landed McLellan – who was an excellent coach during his tenure with the Sharks. So maybe this is smoke and mirrors by Wilson to head people off while he interviews the Sharks’ “real” head coaching candidate.

Could this be Wilson’s version of Dean Lombardi hiring Darryl Sutter in spite of some saying “no, no, don’t do it” and then laughing away a Stanley Cup championship?

There are worse candidates than guys who have won Cups before, but as Fear the Fin points out again, a blueline with Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger was Carlyle’s end-all-be-all in Anaheim in 2007. Think of him like Eric Spoelstra with the early 'Big Three' in Miami. Put me out there with LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and only an unconscious Dirk Nowitzki could beat us. 

You look really good as a coach when you have the right type of personnel. Unless you're Barry Trotz and can milk 99 points out of a first line that included Martin Erat and Sergei Kostitsyn -- another story for another time though. 

After he was fired by the Ducks, Anaheim has made the playoffs three straight full seasons under Bruce Boudreau and won two division titles. A lot of the main players are similar to what Carlyle had by the end of his time with the Ducks. 

Plus, some players seem to chafe under Carlyle. If you thought Joe Thornton vs. McLellan vs. Wilson was rough, try replacing McLellan with the no-nonsense Carlyle. Oye. We'd go from "Highlander" to the battle for Middle Earth real fast. 

Add the fact that his systems aren't exactly favorable to puck possession and, yeah I'm calling a bluff here. There are lots of qualified candidates for San Jose like say that Dan Bylsma guy. Carlyle will end up somewhere in some capacity. He's a hockey lifer, and still scouts games for Toronto. he was at Games 1 and 2 of Anaheim's first round series against Winnipeg. But again, this smells like something to throw people off Wilson's scent. I wonder what that smells like. 

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: April 24, 2015, 6:25 pm

LISTEN HERE! [And if that doesn't work, try here.]

It's a Friday edition of Marek vs. Wyshynski beginning at 2:00 p.m. ET/11:00 a.m. PT, and we're talking about the following and more:

Special Guest Star: Eliotte Friedman of Sportsnet!

• The Stanley Cup Playoffs! 

• The Calder!

• Game Show Friday!

• Hockey News and Views

Question of the Day: Ask us anything. Email puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or hit us on Twitter with the hashtag #MvsW to @wyshynski or @jeffmarekClick here for the Sportsnet live stream or click the play button above!

Click here to download podcasts from the show each day. Subscribe to the podcast viaiTunes or Feedburner.

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Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: April 24, 2015, 6:04 pm

Is David Ragan going to drive for another Toyota team in 2015?

According to the Charlotte Observer, Ragan is expected to take over the No. 55 car for Michael Waltrip Racing starting at Kansas Speedway on May 9. The Associated Press first reported MWR's interest in Ragan.

Ragan is currently subbing for Kyle Busch at Joe Gibbs Racing following Busch's injuries in the Feburary Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway. Ragan has driven for JGR since the second race of the season and would vacate the car after Talladega for Erik Jones. NBC Sports first reported the possibility of Jones taking over at Kansas.

Jones, 18, got his first Xfinity Series win at Texas Motor Speedway earlier in April and made a hasty Sprint Cup Series debut at Bristol, even if it doesn't officially count in the box score. Denny Hamlin had an issue with a neck muscle in the opening laps at Bristol and Jones flew in from Charlotte during a rain delay to take over for Hamlin.

According to the Observer, Ragan would be driving the No. 55 for the rest of the season, meaning Brian Vickers won't be returning to the Cup Series in 2015. Vickers, who missed the first two races of the season after heart surgery, is out because of a recurrence of blood clots.

Here's what Ragan said to USA Today about the report:

"I know I'm going to be in the 18 car for a little while," Ragan said. "This week and Talladega are obviously two very important weeks we're looking forward to. I'm focused on that and I just don't really have any comment."

If Ragan moves to the no. 55 for the rest of the year, Front Row Motorsports would need to find replacement drivers. When Vickers returned to the Cup Series briefly this year, his current replacement driver, Brett Moffitt, drove the No. 34. With Moffitt in the No. 55, Chris Buescher has served as the team's main driver, though he's not participating at Richmond.

Waltrip is scheduled to drive the No. 55 next week at Talladega. Busch is expected to return to Cup Series action at some point this season but no timeline has been established for his return.

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of From The Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: April 24, 2015, 5:51 pm

Sample size can be a dangerous thing. Most analysts will caution against reading into early season stats due to sample size. Any player can perform well, or poorly, over 50 at-bats. Any pitcher can look fantastic, or awful, over three starts.

That makes it incredibly difficult to make a judgment during the season's first month. Is Jake Odorizzi really an ace now? Has Mike Moustakas finally put it all together? We can look at the numbers, but we won't truly know until we have more data.

[There's still time to sign up for Yahoo Sports Fantasy Baseball!]

There are some stats that stabilize early, however. Baseball Prospectus' Russell Carleton has done research on the subject, and concluded that strikeout rates for pitchers tend to stabilize around 70 batters faced.

Many pitchers have already reached that threshold, and those who are performing way above their established strikeout rates could be in line for a breakout.

Name2014 K%2015 K%Dif
Brandon McCarthy 20.900% 34.700% 13.80%
Trevor Bauer 21.600% 34.700% 13.10%
Clay Buchholz 17.900% 28.700% 10.80%
Miguel Gonzalez 16.600% 27.400% 10.80%
Chris Archer 21.100% 30.900% 9.80%
Joe Kelly 15.900% 25.00% 9.10%
Scott Kazmir 21.100% 29.900% 8.80%
James Shields 19.200% 27.900% 8.70%
Lance Lynn 20.900% 28.600% 7.70%
Francisco Liriano 25.300% 32.900% 7.60%
Andrew Cashner 18.400% 25.300% 6.90%
Michael Pineda 20.300% 26.700% 6.40%
Jimmy Nelson 18.600% 25.00% 6.40%
Travis Wood 18.700% 25.00% 6.30%
Kyle Hendricks 14.600% 20.600% 6.00%
Anibal Sanchez 20.0% 25.800% 5.80%
Bartolo Colon 17.900% 23.00% 5.10%

The above chart shows the 17 pitchers who have posted strikeout rates that are 5 percent better than their rates last season.

It's worth noting that strikeouts aren't everything. Despite leading the list, Brandon McCarthy has an unspectacular 4.50 ERA. That's mainly due to the fact that 35 percent of his fly balls have left the park. That should regress, and McCarthy's numbers should be in for a solid correction.

Brandon McCarthy (Getty Images)

Still, it's possible to strike out a fair amount of hitters and still be an iffy pitcher. A.J. Burnett posted a nice strikeout rate last season, but his walks prevented him from being an ace again. At the same time, there's a reason guys who strike out a ton of batters routinely contend for the Cy Young Award. Strikeouts are a sign that a pitcher is dominating.

So, what about the pitchers in our chart? Should we consider all of them breakout candidates? Yes and no. A few of the pitchers who look like solid cases are McCarthy, Bauer, Buchholz, Joe Kelly and Jimmy Nelson.

Be warned: These numbers can still change quite a bit if a guy goes out and throws seven innings with no strikeouts. There's also a chance these pitchers were on for one game, and that's why their strikeout figures are elevated so early in the year.

In order to determine which players are more likely to keep this up, we can try and figure out if they've altered their approach or repertoire on the mound. Finding those things can give us some evidence to back up these early surges. 

The best resource for this is BrooksBaseball.net. The site uses PITCHf/x data to categorize and sort pitches. You can find basically anything on the site, from situation stats to whiff rate for each pitch. It's a tremendous asset.

It should come as no surprise that the top three players in the chart, McCarthy, Trevor Bauer and Clay Buchholz have introduced altered repertoires thus far. McCarthy has opted to use his four-seam fastball quite a bit more this season. After seeing a solid spike in velocity with the pitch last year, McCarthy has been able to retain that thus far. 

Clay Buchholz (Getty Images)

Buchholz has gone the other way, relying on his sinker more than his four-seamer. That's not the reason for his elevated strikeout rate, but it helps explain why he's been able to post a 55.6 percent ground ball rate this year. 

In Bauer's case, he toned down his repertoire. Bauer is somewhat notorious for throwing seven or eight different pitches. This year, he seems to be more focused on five. For Bauer, the development of his slider has been huge. He's not only using the pitch a lot more, but he's getting whiffs 26.92 percent of the time with it. 

Those are just a few ways to evaluate these pitchers early in the season. You're looking for things like altered repertoires, increases in velocity or new-found dominance with a specific pitch. 

So, why don't you give it a shot? Head on over to BrooksBaseball.net and see whether Chris Archer is showing new skills, or if Joe Kelly has really figured it out.

[Check out Big League Stew on Tumblr for even more baseball awesomeness.]

It might be early, but we've already reached a point where some numbers are starting to become significant. Strikeout rate not only stabilizes quickly, but it's also one of the best ways to determine how dominant a pitcher has performed. 

McCarthy's traditional numbers may not reflect it just yet, but his strikeout rate tells us he may have taken things to another level this season. It's not too early to get on the bandwagon.

More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: April 24, 2015, 5:50 pm

Washington Redskins fans, you might not want to hear this.

University at Buffalo engineers, who have done a study on imbalances in the NFL schedule and presented it at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference earlier this year, have studied the 2015 NFL schedule that was released this week. One of the main imbalances they look at is which teams get the most games against "rested" opponents those coming off Thursday night games or bye weeks.

Yep, Washington got the shortest stick in that area.

Washington plays five games against opponents with extra rest this year, the UB engineers said. That's the most in the NFL. The Redskins have three games against teams coming off bye weeks and two games against teams coming off a Thursday game. That's a very high number; it's almost one-third of Washington's schedule.

Other teams shouldn't be too happy either. The Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks each have four games against opponents with extra rest. The New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills (who have frequently gotten imbalanced schedules the past few years), San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs are next at three each.

"We had a detailed look at the 2015, and we see again the imbalances are significant," said Murat Kurt, PhD, an assistant professor in UB’s Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.

Some teams should be much happier with their draw. The Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals don't play any games against teams coming off a bye or a Thursday night game.

This all might not seem like much, but it is a disadvantage. In a 16-game season in which playoff spots are almost always determined by just one game or tiebreakers, it's worth noting. When the engineers studied the issue they found that from 2009-13 a team's average winning percentage decreased by 3.77 percent against rested teams. In 2013 it was a decrease of about seven percent. 

Rested opponents aren't the only factor UB engineers note. A cluster of divisional games in a row can be inequitable. The Green Bay Packers are the big losers there. From Nov. 15 to Dec. 3 the Packers play four divisional games in a row, something that is very rare.

"Playing four back-to-back divisional games – which are often your toughest because those opponents know you best, they're playing hard and it means the most – is difficult," said Mark Karwan, PhD, Praxair Professor of Operations Research and SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor. "They should be spread out." 

Another scheduling inequity the Buffalo engineers focused on was at least three road games in a row. Buffalo, Miami, Jacksonville and Atlanta got three road games in a row this season. The Bills have five road games in six weeks, a particularly tough stretch.

Travel itself can be unbalanced. Kurt provided the examples of Baltimore and Tennessee. The Ravens have back-to-back trips out west twice during the season; Weeks 1 and 2 at Denver and Oakland and Weeks 6 and 7 at San Francisco and Arizona. Compare that to the Titans. Their first two trips aren't too bad (at Tampa Bay and Cleveland) and then they have a five-week stretch in which they won't leave Nashville. From Week 3 to Week 7 they have four home games and a bye week. 

"They don’t leave their home for 5 weeks," Kurt said. "That’s kind of easy."

Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Seattle all have a four-week stretch that includes three home games and a bye.

The schedule will never be entirely fair, but the UB crew of Kurt, Karwan, Niraj Pandey (a PhD candidate in UB’s Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering), and Kyle Cunningham (earned a bachelor of science degree from UB in 2014), tried to figure out a solution. They came up with the study Alleviating Competitive Imbalances in NFL Schedules: An Integer-Programming Approach,” and created a mathematical model called a mixed-integer linear program to produce the most fair schedule possible. They're Bills fans, and part of the reason for the study was that the Bills complained about playing many rested opponents. Sure enough, the engineers found that the Bills played more games against rested opponents (26) than any other team from 2002-2014. (For those curious the Bengals have been the most fortunate team in that regard; their 12 games against rested opponents are three fewer than any other NFL team.)

But the NFL has other considerations when making the schedule, most notably television partners and conflicts at stadiums. Even in the UB model, they're unable to eliminate all inequities; Karwan said their model will still have issues like three road games in a row. It's tough to fit a 256-piece puzzle together.

"There will be inequities due to the TV considerations and stadium availability and special requests by teams," Karwan said. "But what they may be able to do is think about these competitive imbalances – and I’m sure they do because I’m sure everybody thinks they’re against them – but they can spread them out over the years." 

The NFL generates thousands of versions of the schedule through its computers to come up with the best one to satisfy everyone's desires. But in the end, there will always be a few teams that have a complaint.

"Eventually they have to come out with the schedule," Karwan said. "It’s a mathematical impossibility to make everyone happy." 

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: April 24, 2015, 5:04 pm
(Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)

The NHL has a “Katy Perry” problem.

Well, at least now they do. When Winnipeg Jets fans serenaded Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks with a “Katy Perry” chant during Game 3 of their playoff series, it was treated by some as another comedic gem by the previously infallible crowd, and by others as a more problematic trend in the NHL and the way the League, the media and fans alienate women.

So Jesse Spector of The Sporting News asked Bettman about that problematic trend at a meeting of Associated Press Sports Editors on Friday, and Bettman’s response was unsatisfactory to the point of rage-inducing:

From the Wall Street Journal:

A reporter asked Bettman whether he feared chants of “Katy Perry” directed at Anaheim Ducks star Corey Perry might be off putting to female fans.

Incredulous, Bettman fired back: “You think that’s sexist? Taunting chants aren’t intended to be sexist.”

[Ed Note: Bettman? Incredulous? THE DEVIL YOU SAY.]

Bettman said the NHL has a track record of “diversity, inclusiveness and doing the right thing.” He noted the league has a bigger female fan base compared to other professional leagues.

He likened the “Katy Perry” insult to calling a goalie a “sieve.”

Another reporter, a woman, noted that “sieves don’t have feelings.”

“You don’t see how taunting a player by calling them a woman could be sexist?,” she said.

“I see the point but I don’t think it’s overly literal. Short of gagging everyone who comes to a game I’m not sure we can stifle that,” he said.

And the price of ball-gags grows forever higher! What is the League to do?!

Here’s an idea: Acknowledge the problem.

Look, I was in public relations. I know the last thing you want to do is actually acknowledge that calling Corey Perry “Katy Perry” might be offensive to a large portion of your paying consumer base. Because then you validate those concerns about sexism in the NHL; and once you validate the concerns, then the heavy lifting starts, which is trying to find ways to assuage them.

It didn't offend me in the least -- I thought it was commentary on facile celebrity rather than challenging Perry's "manhood." But when you toss on the pile with everything else ... 

What Bettman and the NHL don’t understand is that this joke doesn’t exist in isolation. Maybe if it did, it’s as frivolous as the rest of the Jets’ taunts.  But it doesn’t.

This exists in a landscape of the Sedin Sisters and Cindy Crosby, of ice girls and cheerleaders eye candy but no male counterparts, of players apologizing for sexist gaffes, of ridiculous items sold at the NHL Store allegedly with women in mind, of Slava Voynov and Semyon Varlamov, of abuse at arenas that’s met with apathy from team and facility employees. 

It exists in a landscape of the media’s making. Of Mike Milbury calling the Swedish twins “Thelma and Louise”, of this recent idiocy from CBS Detroit that ranked the Detroit Red Wings’ girlfriends (stalker much?), of the Chicago Tribune’s “Chrissy Pronger” poster. Of generally making the “men strong, women weak” thing as much a sports cliché as “giving 110%.” Of having white, male on-air presences as commonplace on broadcasts as corny theme music.  

It mostly, and most sadly, exists among fans that don’t stick up for each other when someone’s being treated like crap because of their gender or sexual identity, or when that person might feel alienated because the rube next to you is asking Claude Giroux where his purse is. We all pick and choose our spots, and we all need to be better with it. (Especially when it comes to making fans new to hockey feel like they’re not invited to the party.)

So “Katy Perry” does not exist in a vacuum. Although if she did, it would no doubt be a vacuum that shoots whipped cream, looks like an episode of “Yo Gabba Gabba” and that worked better when Sara Bareilles existed there first …

(See, Katy Perry can be funny, within context!)

You know who Bettman should speak to?

Ken King of the Calgary Flames.

The Calgary Flames have a Red Mile problem. That’s the 17th Ave. party that rages during Flames games, and that has become infamous for debauchery, mostly because of the topless women that have been an part of that tradition in previous postseasons.

(To wit, there have been posters seen that read “Show Your Cans for Monahan” this season.)

So the Flames got proactive this week, with King and team president Brian Burke asked Calgarians to knock it off:

“Our view is that if you’re a true Flames fan, you are not engaging in this kind of behaviour,” CEO King told the Herald Thursday just before leaving for Vancouver for Game 5 in the playoff series.

“We want to make it clear, do not do this stuff, ever. And for goodness sake don’t do it in our name because that’s not our culture, that’s not our organization." 

Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke added: “This kind of behaviour has nothing to do with us, nothing to do with hockey. This is no way to treat women. I ask that everyone keeps their red on, and treat each other with respect.”

I don’t know how the Flames were able to make this plea for their fans to stop being misogynistic, harassing creeps without the use of official NHL fan gags, but somehow they pulled it off.

Unlike the Flames, perhaps Bettman feels all of this is systemic in society, and not an NHL problem. That it’s not his place to step up and say anything about it. 

Look, I agree Bettman: It’s impossible for the NHL to police everything said or done by fans, be it in arenas or online.

But I also don’t think anyone’s asking for that. 

I guess what we’re asking for is that the face of the League be as quick to sympathize with women who see the “Katy Perry” thing as another tire on the fire as he is when, say, an owner cries poverty. That the guy running the NHL take a step back and understand the bigger picture here for his female fan base rather than doing what he always does, which is dismiss valid criticisms of the League as being inconsequential.

Like, you know, the last time he was asked about sexism. 

Bettman can be a reasonable guy, and he certainly takes action when it makes the NHL look good (see: Voynov, Sean Avery).

Maybe we can start with baby steps, and no longer equate the comparison of Corey Perry to a woman with a goalie to an inanimate object.

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Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: April 24, 2015, 5:00 pm

How high expectations will be for Oklahoma next season always largely depended on whether Buddy Hield returned to school.

The Sooners still could have contended for an NCAA tournament bid had Hield turned pro, but they have a chance to accomplish something far more memorable now that the reigning Big 12 player of the year has announced he'll be back for his senior season.

Oklahoma will likely begin next season in the top 10 in the polls thanks to the return of four starters from last season's 24-win Sweet 16 team. The Sooners also figure to be squarely in the Big 12 title chase along with perennial favorite Kansas and potential preseason top 5 Iowa State.

The catalyst for Oklahoma will be Hield, one of the highest-scoring guards in the Big 12 both of the past two seasons. The 6-foot-4 native of the Bahamas averaged 17.4 points and 5.4 rebounds as a junior, impressing NBA scouts enough that he had a chance to be a late first-round pick had he opted to enter the draft.

Hield will be the centerpiece of an experienced backcourt that also includes returning starters Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins. The Sooners will have to replace graduating senior Tashawn Thomas in their frontcourt, but double-double threat Ryan Spangler returns and returning forward Khadeem Lattin has a chance to take a bigger role.

Bolstering Oklahoma's depth is a recruiting class that includes Rivals 150 guard Rashard Odomes, fellow guard Christian James and 7-foot junior college transfer Akolda Manyang. The Sooners will also have key reserve Dinjiyl Walker and Dante Buford, a four-star signee from 2013 who redshirted last season.

Last year's Sweet 16 appearance marked Oklahoma's deepest NCAA tournament run since Blake Griffin's final season in 2009. With as much talent as the Sooners return, they have a great chance to get even further next March.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: April 24, 2015, 4:56 pm

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