NFL Player Protests: Unity, Division and Justification

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First, let me begin with a disclaimer. Like anyone else, I am in no way, shape or form one to decisively draw the line between what is right and what is wrong.

If you are looking for a piece that supports your political affiliation’s agenda, look elsewhere. This article is meant to provide a view of the issue from both sides.

Regardless of your opinion, you will almost certainly disagree with some elements of this article and agree with others.

That’s fine.

One of the many great things about this country is that everyone has rights to be individuals. Everyone has the right to their opinion, and the right to speak out about it, regardless of who agrees or disagrees. Unfortunately, this is not the case in many areas of the world.

Anyways, on the evening of Friday, September 22nd, President Donald Trump addressed the issue of NFL players protesting during the Star Spangled Banner at a rally in Alabama.

“Wouldn’t your just love to see one of these NFL owners, when someone disrespects our flag, say ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired!’” Trump yelled over cheers from the crowd.

As a result, the NFL has responded. Commissioner Roger Goodell made a statement condeming the President’s words, and a record amount of players knelt during Sunday’s games.

In one way, Trump’s words drew the focus of the protests to, depending on one’s individual opinion, may be a more justified cause.

The protests began last season as a way to draw attention to alleged racial discrimination among minorities from American police officers.

An issue which, according to statistics, is blown a bit out of proportion. You see, the media has magnified isolated incidents of police killing unarmed black men (often before getting a large amount of the hard evidence), creating protests, some violent, and division in our communities.

That’s the goal. Divide and capitalize.

And the goal has certainly been met.

Inciting more conflict by creating a false, exaggerated sense of reality is, in the end, beneficial to nobody except the media. More conflict equal more stories, more hits, more money.

If I am losing you at this point, stay with me. The police issue is one for another discussion. Back to the NFL.

In response, some players in the NFL exercised their Constitutional right to protest against what they believe to be injustice.

Regardless of whether you like it or not, it is their right. However, the way in which some protested has seemed to create only more division.

It began with kneeling during the anthem.

Some viewed this as a sign of disrespect towards our flag and the soldiers who fought for our rights; ironically including the right to demonstrate peacefully, which, whether you believe it to be respectful or not, these players were doing.

Respectful? Doesn’t matter. Justified? Opinions may vary.

Within one’s rights? Absolutely.

But divisive? Yes.

Just over 16 years ago, around 3,000 Americans were killed via terrorist attacks orchestrated by al-Qaeda on our own soil.

In the weekends that followed, the NFL was a source of unity. For a few hours every Sunday, Americans could join together and enjoy one of our favorite pastimes.

And at the beginning of each game, players and fans alike, stood and saluted the flag during the National Anthem.

Some helped hold stadium-sized flags across the field. Some had tears streaming down their faces.

Some were black. Some were white. Some were Republicans, some were Democrats.

It didn’t matter.

Flash-forward to the 2016 season. The sense of unity is gone. During the anthem, teams are scattered among their respective sidelines. Some kneeling, some standing, some sitting on the bench while the anthem plays.

Also, some African-American players decide to raise their fists during the anthem, in a display of “black power”.

While being proud of one’s heritage is another value we share in this diverse country, this is obviously an act that creates more division.

Highlighting our differences through our skin color and heritage rather than celebrating unity as Americans.

But now, a new issue has arisen. And if you have reluctantly stayed with me throughout this article, here is your catharsis.

While it is an NFL player’s right to protest peacefully, it is also the President’s right to respond.

Even if it is remarkably childish.

But it is a fact that, regardless of your political beliefs, some of the President’s actions have been, for lack of a better word, unpresidential.

Bragging about groping women, taking an irrational amount of time (especially by his history when it comes to responding to conflict) to respond to actions by white supremacist groups and constantly, almost daily, displaying classic signs of bullying on Twitter are just a few examples of how Donald Trump has set a horrible example for our children and has made American politics somewhat of a laughing stock at the global level.

They tell athletes to “stick to sports”, but the President won’t stick to politics, attacking everything from random athletes to struggling TV programs.

Now, the NFL player protests are straying away from focusing on overblown police violence and instead embracing a more justified cause.

However, many of the protests are still causing a problem. A problem that can be summed up by two words.

Division and unity.

So how do we solve this problem? How do athletes exercise their Constitutional right to peacefully protest by promoting unity rather than causing more division?

Members of two NFL teams have already shown us.

Earlier this season, after a dozen Cleveland Browns players knelt during the anthem, the Cleveland Police Union along with EMS and first responders announced that they would not hold the flag during the anthem at Browns games, as they normally would.

In essence, the police and first responders would protest against the Browns in nearly the same way the Browns were protesting against them.

Then, last week, something magical happened.

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After the Browns showed a video of players talking about the need for unity amongst Americans, the players stood and linked arms with Cleveland police officers for the anthem.

Cornerback Jason McCourty said it best.

“That’s what it’s about,” McCourty told Dan Labbe of cleveland.com. “We talked about protests to do things and protests to do that and what we kind of did before the game of everybody coming together is the point we’re trying to make is equality for everyone. Everyone being it together, pointing to the issues and saying, ‘if we work together, we can fix those things.’ So I think that’s what our video was about and that’s what our message was about and the actions that we did. Hopefully good can come from it and other people can see it and see what is trying to come across.”

Then, this Sunday, unity happened again.

During their game in London, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan went down to the field and linked arms with his players, standing during the anthem.

Khan donated $1 million to Trump’s campaign in 2016.

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Still standing. Still honoring the flag and those who fought for it. But at the same time, promoting unity and togetherness while standing up peacefully for their beliefs.

In the end, the result of these two protests will hopefully set a precedent. All different types of people – blacks, whites, Christians, Muslims, Atheists, players, owners, police, etc. – taught a divided American society a lesson that has dwindled over the past 16 years.

As citizens of the United States of America, no matter what our backgrounds may be, standing united in the face of adversity is what makes our country great.

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2017 NFL Preview and Predictions

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The NFL season is almost upon us again. After a season that featured a unique amount of sloppy games, playoff blowouts and off-field distractions, let’s hope football returns to the game we love in 2017 – the type of game we saw at last year’s Super Bowl, which was one of the most exciting championship bouts of all time.

This article will take a division-by-division, team-by-team look before diving into playoff picks at the end.

For reference, here are all of my preseason Super Bowl picks since I started making them in 2010.

2010-11: Green Bay Packers (10-6, won Super Bowl)
2011-12: San Diego Chargers (8-8, missed playoffs)
2012-13: Green Bay Packers (11-5, lost NFC divisional round)
2013-14: Seattle Seahawks (13-3, won Super Bowl)
2014-15: New Orleans Saints (7-9, missed playoffs)
2015-16: Green Bay Packers (10-6, lost NFC divisional round)
2016-17: Arizona Cardinals (7-8-1, missed playoffs)

So yeah, all over the place. Let’s hope I can make a return to greatness here also.

Some teams are bound to surprise and some are bound to fall flat. The next four months will tell the story, but here’s my best shot.

 

AFC East

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1. New England Patriots (15-1)

The safest bet in sports, the Patriots are basically already a lock to win the East. They are also the favorite to win the Super Bowl by quite a large margin – they did so last year without a healthy Rob Gronkowski down the stretch.

Sure, Julian Edelman is out for the year, but he’s being replaced by Brandin Cooks. And I’m sure Tom Brady and Bill Belichick won’t miss a beat.

Three key games: Week 7 vs. Atlanta, Week 11 vs. Oakland (in Mexico City), Week 15 at Pittsburgh

 

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2. Miami Dolphins (8-8)

The Ryan Tannehill injury hurts, but the Dolphins will be in the mix to make a second-consecutive postseason appearance.

Jay Cutler is brought into a system run by Adam Gase, who he had his best season under in Chicago. He’s not a great quarterback by any means, but he’s got the right coaching staff as well as some decent targets and a solid running game.

The Dolphins are pretty much a guarantee to get second in the East, as they are clearly not at the Patriots’ level but a tier or two above the Bills and Jets.

Three key games: Week 2 at LA Chargers, Week 13 vs, Broncos, Week 16 at Chiefs

 

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3. Buffalo Bills (4-12)

Tyrod Taylor may very well be the most underrated quarterback in the NFL. The problem is that the rest of the team is pretty awful.

LeSean McCoy is still an elite running back, but Taylor will have to deal with a slight downgrade in terms of targets as Sammy Watkins is out in favor of Jordan Matthews.

Also, the defense isn’t what it was a few years ago, so staying in the playoff picture is a bit of a stretch.

The positive? No more Rex Ryan.

Three key games: Week 1 vs. NY Jets, Week 12 vs. New Orleans, Week 14 vs. Indianapolis

 

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4. New York Jets (1-15)

For all of the 0-16 prognostications, the Jets actually don’t have a terrible defense. The offense, however, is so bad that the 0-16 may actually be a possibility. There’s a void at the quarterback position, there’s a void on the offensive line, and pretty much everywhere else.

Matt Forte and Bilal Powell as a running back combo isn’t awful, but they don’t have good blockers and other defenses can focus their attention more on New York’s run game since the passing game is so terrible.

Three key games: Week 4 vs. Jacksonville, Week 5 at Cleveland, Week 9 vs. Buffalo

 

AFC North

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1. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)

One of these years, Ben Roethlisberger is going to run out of steam. But not yet. Not with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell helping him out.

Pittsburgh’s defense still could use some work, but the Steelers boast what has to still be considered the NFL’s most dynamic and explosive offense.

Three key games: Week 4 at Baltimore, Week 12 vs. Green Bay, Week 15 at New England

 

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2. Baltimore Ravens (7-9)

The Ravens are your stereotypical middle-of-the-pack team. If all the dominoes fall in the right direction, we could see them playing postseason football, but it’s not extremely likely.

Baltimore’s linebacker corps is tough, but the rest of the defense is not what it used to be. The offense should be interesting and a bit unpredictable, however, as Joe Flacco has two veteran wideouts to throw to in Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin (if he can stay healthy), as well as two pass-catching backs in Terrance West and Danny Woodhead (if he can stay healthy)…notice a trend?

Three key games: Week 4 vs. Pittsburgh, Week 12 vs. Houston, Week 17 vs. Cincinnati

 

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3. Cincinnati Bengals (7-9)

There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Bengals going into this season.

A.J. Green is healthy, which helps the passing game, but the loss of star tackle Andrew Whitworth may hurt Andy Dalton’s game. Then again, John Ross creates another target for Dalton while Joe Mixon joins Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard to form quite an interesting three-back system.

Also, it’s tough to complain about a defense with Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap up front, but there are still some questions about the secondary.

In the end, Marvin Lewis just hasn’t been able to get over the hump in Cincinnati and it doesn’t look like there’s any reason to believe this year will be different.

Three key games: Week 8 vs. Indianapolis, Week 11 at Denver, Week 17 at Baltimore

 

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4. Cleveland Browns (3-13)

Wow, three wins!

The Browns are going in the right direction after making some solid offseason trades and smart draft picks (other than Jabrill Peppers).

DeShone Kizer has to potential to open some eyes as the new starting quarterback while Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr. can make some noise on the ground.

Also, Myles Garrett is an absolute monster.

This isn’t the year, but better days are not far away on the shores of Lake Erie.

Three key games: Week 4 vs. Jets, Week 8 vs. Vikings (in London), Week 11 vs. Jacksonville

 

AFC South

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1. Tennessee Titans (10-6)

The Titans are a popular pick to win the South for the first time in years, and for good reason.

Marcus Mariota should be expected to only build on his stellar 2016 season after the front office added two pass-catchers in Eric Decker and Corey Davis.

Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry make up a good duo on the ground, the line is good and the defense is respectable. Don’t be surprised if the Titans meet their lofty expectations.

 

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2. Indianapolis Colts (9-7)

Missing Andrew Luck for at least the first game of this season due to injury could come back to bite the Colts. Being in a logjam of average teams in the AFC, every game matters that much more to Indianapolis.

On the plus side, the Colts have the easiest schedule in the league. There aren’t too many tough games on the slate, and the ones that are tough will be played at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Sure, the offensive line and defense are still pretty awful, but Indy focused on its weaknesses in this year’s draft, taking safety Malik Hooker, cornerback Quincy Wilson and defensive end Tarell Basham with its first three picks.

A 9-7 mark is asking for just a one-game improvement from last year. With the schedule in their favor and a defense that should be a little better, the Colts can do it.

Three key games: Week 12 vs. Tennessee, Week 16 at Baltimore, Week 17 vs. Houston

 

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3. Houston Texans (7-9)

Houston finished with the NFL’s best defense last year and was without J.J. Watt for a large chunk of the season. So if you want to know what to expect when the Texans don’t have the ball, there you go.

The problem comes when they do have the ball. Tom Savage is the starter at quarterback as of now, but DeShaun Watson is expected by many to take over at some point this season. But no matter which inexperienced quarterback is under center, his line won’t be that great and he won’t have much to throw to other than DeAndre Hopkins.

The Texans could certainly make it in as a wild card or even as a division winner again, but likely improvements from Tennessee and Indianapolis could leave Houston out of the playoffs.

Three key games: Week 5 vs. Kansas City, Week 12 at Baltimore, Week 17 at Indianapolis

 

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4. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)

What people are saying about the Titans this year is similar to what they were saying about the Jaguars last year. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.

At 3-13, the Jaguars showed us that Blake Bortles wasn’t quite who we thought he was as a quarterback, and he appears to still be the starter this year.

On the plus side, five or six wins is definitely possible this season.

While Bortles isn’t exactly a standout talent, he’s got some good receivers and an exciting rookie running back in Leonard Fournette.

Also, Jacksonville’s defense could be pretty stellar, boasting Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson and Dante Fowler Jr. up front, Paul Posluszny and Myles Jack at linebacker and star corner Jalen Ramsey in the secondary. That’s quite a group.

Three key games: Week 9 vs. Cincinnati, Week 13 vs. Indianapolis, Week 15 vs. Houston

 

AFC West

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1. Oakland Raiders (11-5)

2016 was an incredible year for the Raiders – until Derek Carr went down and, well, that was that.

With Carr healthy, the Raiders are in position to wrap up the AFC West crown. The young, explosive defense has a year of winning under its belt and Oakland’s top two competitors from last year (Kansas City and Denver) may see a decline.

Also, the Raiders have a wild card at running back in Marshawn Lynch. Can he be as explosive as he was before his one-year retirement? If so, look out.

Three key games: Week 1 at Tennessee, Week 11 vs. New England (in Mexico City), Week 14 at Chiefs

 

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2. Kansas City Chiefs (9-7)

The Chiefs are an interesting team. They quietly had a spectacular year in 2016, but lost their first playoff game at home to Pittsburgh after coming up flat on offense.

Not a ton has changed this year, although Kareem Hunt will replace the injured Spencer Ware at running back.

While the offense is still nothing to get too excited about, the defense – particularly the secondary – should again be terrific. Plus, the linebacker corps could get a boost if the newly-acquired Reggie Ragland can meet his potential.

Three key games: Week 5 at Houston, Week 6 vs. Pittsburgh, Week 14 vs. Oakland

 

NFL: San Diego Chargers at Atlanta Falcons

3. Los Angeles Chargers (8-8)

An underrated defense, a blooming running back, an experienced quarterback and a healthy group of receivers has the Chargers looking ready to make a big leap in their first year back in Los Angeles.

There’s still some inexperience, but if (big if) guys like Keenan Allen and Travis Benjamin can stay off the IR this year, the Chargers will be able to put up some points. Playoffs certainly are not out of reach.

Three key games: Week 2 vs. Miami, Week 12 at Dallas, Week 17 vs. Oakland

 

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4. Denver Broncos (6-10)

From Super Bowl champion to division cellar in two years? Unfortunately for the Broncos, it’s about to happen.

The Orange Crush Defense won’t be exactly as dominant as it was two years ago, but it is still one of the best in the NFL.

Offensively, though, the Broncos are a step behind their competitors.

A wild card isn’t totally out of the question (Denver is one of those average AFC teams I mentioned earlier), but it could be a longshot given how competitive the West is.

Three key games: Week 7 at LA Chargers, Week 15 at Indianapolis, Week 17 vs. Kansas City

 

NFC East

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1. New York Giants (10-6)

Sure, the Giants had some ridiculously lucky wins last season. Sure, the running game is a big question mark.

But you know what isn’t a question mark? New York’s defense and it’s receiving trio of Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard, along with rookie tight end Evan Engram.

Any of the four teams in the East can win the division this year, but the Giants have the edge thanks to their top-tier defense and a passing game that should be dynamite.

Three key games: Week 7 vs. Seattle, Week 14 vs. Dallas, Week 16 at Arizona

 

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2. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)

Last year’s 13-3 season was completely unexpected, especially with Dez Bryant missing a handful of games. How will the young Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott & Co. adapt now that the target is on their backs?

Also Elliott’s suspension, regardless of how long it is, will put a lot more pressure on Prescott and his receivers. The offensive line is one of football’s best but is a combination of Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris and Ronnie Hillman good enough to shoulder the load in some tough early games?

Lastly, the defense is prone to giving up the big play, and losing Barry Church and Morris Claiborne could make what was a mediocre secondary even worse.

Still, the offensive line and explosiveness of Dallas’s offense should be good enough to keep the Cowboys in the playoff conversation, even if a repeat of last season’s 13-3 mark is a major stretch.

Three key games: Week 5 vs. Green Bay, Week 10 at Atlanta, Week 14 at NY Giants

 

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T3. Philadelphia Eagles (8-8)

Carson Wentz had some struggles in his rookie season, but tons of dropped passes didn’t help him out.

Management went out and grabbed two proven pass-catchers in Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, and now Wentz seems in position to establish himself as a decent starting QB.

The Eagles appear to be on the way up and Wentz is behind most of it, but the defense needs to hold up its end of the bargain. Exciting rookie Derek Barnett will join veteran Brandon Graham on the end while Tim Jernigan and Fletcher Cox create a fun pair at defensive tackle. Newly-added corner Ronald Darby will join Malcolm Jenkins in the backfield. While the D isn’t elite by any means, it should certainly be improved this year.

Three key games: Week 6 at Carolina, Week 7 at Washington, Week 17 vs. Dallas

 

NFL: NFC Wild Card-Green Bay Packers at Washington Redskins

T3. Washington Redskins (8-8)

It’s a big year for Kirk Cousins, who some think is auditioning for a job in San Francisco in 2018 once his contract is up. Unfortunately for him, DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon are no longer on the roster.

Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson will have to step up and play bigger roles, but the front office acquired Terrelle Pryor Sr. to provide a No. 1 target with Jackson and Garçon missing. Also, Cousins has one of the best tight ends in football in Jordan Reed.

The offense, however, may be one-dimensional as Robert Kelley, Chris Thompson and Samaje Perine make up a lackluster trio of backs.

On defense, rookie Jonathan Allen could be a standout at defensive end and the secondary could challenge New York’s for best in the division, but the Redskins fall in the middle of the pack overall.

Three key games: Week 7 vs. Philadelphia, Week 12 vs. NY Giants, Week 13 at Dallas

 

NFC North

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1. Green Bay Packers (11-5)

Always tough to go against Aaron Rodgers, especially with yet another experienced target in Martellus Bennett joining the squad.

The defense isn’t one of the league’s elite units and it remains to be seen what kind of impact Ty Montgomery will have on the running game, especially without TJ Lang on the line anymore, but as long as the league’s best quarterback is under center, the Packers are the favorite to win the North.

Three key games: Week 2 at Atlanta, Week 12 at Pittsburgh, Week 17 at Detroit

 

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2. Minnesota Vikings (10-6)

Things were looking great for the Vikings after last year’s 5-0 start. Then it quickly became 5-4…then finished at 8-8.

The reason for Minnesota’s start was its defense, which should again be pretty dominant.

The reason for the 3-8 finish was its offense, which should certainly be better.

Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray are an upgrade on last year’s Matt Asiata-injured Adrian Peterson duo, Pat Elflein is a strong rookie center who should make the offensive line much tougher as a whole and Sam Bradford has four legitimate targets to throw to. Expect the Vikes to be right in the wild card hunt and possibly even challenge Green Bay for the division.

Three key games: Week 6 vs. Green Bay, Week 12 at Detroit, Week 14 at Carolina

 

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3. Detroit Lions (8-8)

Matthew Stafford is the highest-paid man in NFL history, but he still can’t win outside, beat contenders or win a playoff game.

Okay, a lot of that isn’t his fault. A bad offensive line, lack of a running game or an elite receiver and a secondary prone to giving up big plays has hurt the Lions in recent years – or at least forced Stafford to pull weekly rations of magic out of his sleeve in the fourth quarter.

Unfortunately for Stafford and the Lions this year, the schedule finishes up with a brutal stretch of outdoor road games. If you’re not the type of person who thinks what’s been proven time and time again in the past doesn’t mean anything, those problems mentioned above still exist. And the jury is still out as to whether or not Ameer Abdullah is any good if he’s healthy.

I’ve got Detroit at 8-8 – and that’s WITH home wins against Arizona, Atlanta, Carolina and Green Bay.

Three key games:  Week 4 at Minnesota, Week 12 vs. Minnesota (Thanksgiving), Week 17 vs. Green Bay

 

NFL: Chicago Bears at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

4. Chicago Bears (3-13)

The Cameron Meredith injury hurts. Bad.

Okay, even with Meredith the Bears weren’t going to come close to the playoffs, but he was a high-upside receiver that they could’ve used because, well, their quarterback position isn’t exactly ideal.

Jordan Howard will get plenty of carries as one of the league’s better running backs, but the receiving corps now stars unproven youngster Kevin White along with a depth receiver in Markus Wheaton and some washed-up names like Kendall Wright and Victor Cruz.

The defense isn’t awful, but it could’ve been much better with a guy like, oh I don’t know, Solomon Thomas or any of the other players the 49ers picked/will pick with the Bears’ selections they received in this spring’s senseless trade.

Three key games: Week 11 vs. Detroit, Week 13 vs. San Francisco, Week 16 vs. Cleveland

 

NFC South

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1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-4)

Did anyone expect the Cowboys and Falcons to top the standings in the NFC at this time last year? How about the Panthers at this point in 2015? That’s right, it’s Tampa’s turn to catapult to the top of the conference.

Jameis Winston will establish himself as an elite NFL quarterback this season with veteran DeSean Jackson and rookie tight end O.J. Howard joining stud receiver Mike Evans. Jacquizz Rodgers should be able to hold down the fort until Doug Martin returns from suspension in Week 4, making the ground game a bit of a threat as well.

Defensively, the Bucs aren’t perfect, but they’re good enough. Gerald McCoy is still a force to be reckoned with while Vernon Hargreaves and Brent Grimes are a good pair of corners.

Three key games: Week 12 at Atlanta, Week 15 vs. Atlanta, Week 16 at Carolina

 

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2. Carolina Panthers (10-6)

So after their post-Super Bowl letdown last season, the Panthers are trying to right the ship and get back to 2015 form.

Cam Newton, repaired rotator cuff and all, gets a little bit of help as rookie running back Christian McCaffrey hopes to add another dimension to the offense. The line still isn’t good, but the Panthers will have loads of options when in possession along with plenty of the same players that led them to a 15-1 record two years ago.

On defense, Carolina still misses Josh Norman but looks to be a little bit better than middle-of-the-pack in the NFL. A return to the playoffs is a definite possibility.

Three key games: Week 5 at Detroit, Week 9 vs. Atlanta, Week 14 vs. Minnesota

 

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3. Atlanta Falcons (9-7)

Atlanta’s still got all the goods on paper. An above-average quarterback, multiple deep threats, a two-back system headlined by the fantastic Devonta Freeman and a really good defense that improved greatly last year under Dan Quinn.

It seems like the Falcons have all the tools to get back to the Super Bowl this year and maybe not lose this time around.

Except that loss hurt. A lot.

Look how the Seahawks played the season after their heartbreaking Super Bowl loss in 2015. Look how the Panthers played after dropping the Big Game in 2016.

Football is an emotional game, and history has shown that losing the Super Bowl could have ramifications on the next year.

Also, take a look at Julio Jones’ final few games down the stretch last year. Is it possible that he’s starting to decline?

Expect Atlanta to lose a few surprising games this year.

Three key games: Week 7 at New England, Week 13 vs. Minnesota, Week 15 at Tampa Bay

 

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4. New Orleans Saints (6-10)

Some are high on the Saints after the addition of Adrian Peterson, but this is the year it starts to come crashing down.

New Orleans has straddled the line of mediocrity for years now, Drew Brees is another year older, Sean Payton will do pretty much anything to avoid using Mark Ingram, the defense is still one of the league’s worst and star receiver Brandin Cooks is gone.

Not to mention the fact that the Falcons are last year’s defending conference champion and Tampa Bay and Carolina should both be better. Getting out of the basement in the South will be a tough task for the Saints, but it may finally kickstart the rebuild that is about two or three years overdue.

Three key games: Week 10 at Buffalo, Week 11 vs. Washington, Week 13 vs. Carolina

 

NFC West

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1. Seattle Seahawks (12-4)

There are questions about the Thomas Rawls-Eddie Lacy tandem at running back and obviously the offensive line, but this is still one of the top teams in the NFC.

Let’s not forget that the Seahawks, who are practically unbeatable at home and normally mediocre on the road, went to New England last season and came out with a victory.

The line, while still below-average, should be a bit better this year with former No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel coming into the fold and some of the young linemen getting more experience. If Russell Wilson has any time at all (and he will because he knows how to buy some for himself), he’ll find Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham, Paul Richardson or Tyler Lockett.

But the reason Seattle is so good, again, is the defense. Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Earl Thomas, Bobby Wagner and others still make up what may be the best group in the NFL.

Three key games: Week 1 at Green Bay, Week 7 at NY Giants, Week 10 at Arizona

 

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2. Arizona Cardinals (8-8)

Bruce Arians is a great coach, David Johnson is a great running back and Arizona has a great secondary.

The rest of the team, however, is the definition of the word “mediocre”.  The Cardinals went a disappointing 7-8-1 last season after being pegged as one of the top favorites to win the Super Bowl. Johnson had an unforgettable season, but pretty much everything else went wrong for Arizona.

Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald are getting up there in age, and if they become ineffective, opposing defenses can key in on Johnson even more. Also, the defense doesn’t really have a ton of room for improvement either: the Cardinals were second in the NFL in terms of yards-per-game-against (maybe it helped playing four games against the Rams and 49ers) in 2016 and still only won seven games.

Three key games: Week 10 vs. Seattle, Week 15 at Washington, Week 16 vs. NY Giants

 

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3. Los Angeles Rams (6-10)

2016 No. 1 overall draft pick Jared Goff, while unimpressive in his first season, now has a talented receiver in Sammy Watkins and a potential standout rookie to throw to in third-round pick Cooper Kupp.

Also, Goff’s head coach is no longer Jeff Fisher (that’s a plus), he has a ground threat to back him up in Todd Gurley and the addition of Andrew Whitworth gives the Rams the best offensive line in the NFC West (although there isn’t much competition).

All of the tools are in place for Goff to succeed, but it remains to be seen if he is the right man for the job. Still, this team is good enough to win six or seven, maybe even eight games in 2017.

Three key games: Week 5 vs. Seattle, Week 12 vs. New Orleans, Week 14 vs. Philadelphia

 

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4. San Francisco 49ers (2-14)

The aforementioned trade with the Bears puts the 49ers in a good spot for the future, but only after they draft their future QB with a top-five pick next spring.

Simply put, the Niners are rebuilding. Carlos Hyde and Pierre Garçon could have decent personal seasons since they will be relied upon so heavily, but don’t expect more than four wins at the absolute most.

Three key games: Week 3 vs. LA Rams, Week 13 at Chicago, Week 16 vs. Jacksonville

 

Playoff Standings (NOTE: I went through each team’s schedule game-by-game and picked winners for each game. The official tiebreakers were used to determine these seedings.)

AFC
1. New England Patriots (15-1)
2. Oakland Raiders (11-5)
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
4. Tennessee Titans (10-6)
5. Indianapolis Colts (9-7)
6. Kansas City Chiefs (9-7)

NFC
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-4)
2. Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
3. Green Bay Packers (11-5)
4. New York Giants (10-6)
5. Carolina Panthers (10-6)
6. Minnesota Vikings (10-6)

 

AFC Wild Card Round

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The Chiefs get another shot at the team that knocked them out of the divisional round last year, except this time, it’s in hostile territory.

The matchup of Pittsburgh’s offense and Kansas City’s defense is what will draw eyes to the TV in this one, but again, the Steeler offense proves too good in the end.

Steelers 24, Chiefs 16

Indianapolis Colts v Tennessee Titans

In their first playoff game since 2009, the Titans will host divisional foe Indianapolis. While the Colts have the more experienced quarterback in Andrew Luck, Marcus Mariota has a few more weapons at his disposal.

Also, Tennessee’s defense is more capable of stopping Luck than vice-versa.

Titans 31, Colts 21

 

NFC Wild Card Round

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Aaron Rodgers and the high-powered Packers offense will take on division rival Minnesota in the bitter cold once again.

While the Vikings have one of the NFL’s best defensive units, Rodgers has proven time and time again that he can score on anyone. Green Bay wins another January game at Lambeau.

Packers 27, Vikings 20

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In what should be the most unpredictable game of the first round, Cam Newton and the Panthers make their triumphant return to the postseason by taking a trip to a chilly MetLife Stadium.

The weather makes this a game that will be decided mainly on the ground – a turn that heavily favors Carolina. The Panther ground game is much better than New York’s, whose dominant secondary will not come into play as much as it would like to.

Panthers 23, Giants 14

 

AFC Divisional Round

Tom Brady, Karl Klug, Mike Martin

Sure, the Titans are trending up and may someday be the cream of the crop in the AFC, but they’re going to take one on the chin here at Gilette. Chalk it up as a learning experience.

Patriots 35, Titans 14

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Pittsburgh Steelers

The Raiders and Steelers are about as evenly-matched as two teams can get in the AFC. When the talent level is about even, experience takes precedent. Pittsburgh’s defense comes up with a dominant performance while Big Ben & Co. scrape out another big road playoff win.

Steelers 20, Raiders 10

 

NFC Divisional Round

USP NFL: TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS AT CAROLINA PANTHERS S FBN USA NC

Warmer weather in Tampa means that the Panthers will have to be ready for one of the league’s top aerial attacks. Both teams should have each other figured out a bit by this point as it will be their third meeting of the year, making for an exciting cat-and-mouse game.

The Buccaneers don’t disappoint in their first playoff game since 2008, taking down their division rivals and moving one win away from the Super Bowl.

Buccaneers 28, Panthers 17

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The captivating Seattle-Green Bay rivalry will add another chapter in January 2018 with a trip to the NFC Championship on the line.

On a neutral field, Green Bay may have the upper hand. However, winning on the road at CenturyLink Field at any time of the year, especially the playoffs, is one of the toughest tasks in sports.

Seahawks 31, Packers 28

 

AFC Championship

NFL: AFC Championship-Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots

A rematch of last year’s AFC Championship goes the same way. While the Steelers are talented, the Patriots are just too good to drop this game, especially at home.

Patriots 31, Steelers 23

 

NFC Championship

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A raucous crowd shows up to hopefully watch their Buccaneers punch their ticket to the Super Bowl. Standing in the way are the Legion of Boom and Russell Wilson’s offense.

The LOB delivers, smothering Winston and his receivers, allowing Wilson to put up just enough points to send Seattle to a Super Bowl 49 rematch.

Seahawks 23, Buccaneers 15

 

Super Bowl LII

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Determined to shake off the bad taste left in their mouths after choking away the Super Bowl three years ago, the Seahawks come out of the gates and nab an early 10-0 lead.

However, the lead quickly evaporates and the Patriots find their niche again. Brady and Gronk hook up for a pair of touchdowns while the defense is able to stop Wilson in his tracks. New England wins its sixth Super Bowl since the 2001-02 season.

Patriots 28, Seahawks 16

Top Ten Linkin Park Songs

The music community was dealt another devastating blow this week, as Linkin Park vocalist Chester Bennington was found dead of an apparent suicide Thursday morning in his home. He was 41.

In honor of Bennington’s impact on a countless amount of people, one-of-a-kind talent and the mark he left on my childhood in particular, here are the 10 greatest songs from Linkin Park’s nearly two decades of music.

 

10. New Divide (2009)

Linkin Park wrote “New Divide” specifically to serve as the theme for the 2009 film Transformers 2: Revenge of The Fallen.

It did its job, mixing in some elements of sci-fi and action along with a hint of pop, and fusing them with the signature alternative rock/metal sound that led to Linkin Park’s popularity.

“New Divide” also enjoyed quite a bit of success outside of just being part of a movie soundtrack. It received plenty of air time in the summer of 2009 around the globe, and for good reason.

 

9. Papercut (2000)

One of Bennington’s favorite songs, “Papercut” is the opening track on Linkin Park’s breakthrough album Hybrid Theory.

“Papercut” is an intense 3:05 of Mike Shinoda rapping verses with Bennington belting out the chorus, par for the course for much of the band’s earliest work, along with a glorious bridge that shifts a bit from the rest of the song’s style before mixing everything together at the end.

 

8. Somewhere I Belong (2003)

Like Hybrid Theory, 2003’s Meteora featured lots of the rap-rock style that Linkin Park fans fell in love with.

“Somewhere I Belong”, however, shows a bit of evolution in the band’s sound. Shinoda’s verses are a bit deeper and more relaxed while Bennington’s vocals take on more of a grunge-type sound.

 

7. Bleed It Out (2007)

Even critics of Linkin Park’s 2007 album Minutes to Midnight were happy with “Bleed It Out”, which was a perfect throwback to the band’s earlier, harder work.

While it is less than three minutes long, “Bleed It Out” combines intense rapping from Shinoda and a hard chorus from Bennington with an overarching theme of frustration, quenching the thirst of fans who were waiting for something reminiscent of Hybrid Theory or Meteora.

 

6. One Step Closer (2000)

The song that put Linkin Park on the map. The band introduced its unique style by taking a typical early-2000’s alternative feel and turning it up a few notches by adding both heavy metal and hip-hop elements.

Each verse begins quiet and simple before growing in intensity and exploding into a classic Bennington chorus.

 

5. Crawling (2000)

Another song that truly showcases Bennington’s ridiculous vocal ability, “Crawling” has withstood the test of time and remains a fan favorite to this day.

Bennington often had trouble performing the song live because of its emotional background, as it was written to illustrate his earlier struggles with substance abuse.

 

4. Heavy (2016)

Speaking of emotional songs, there may not be a tougher one to listen to given Bennington’s death than “Heavy”.

Unpopular among many fans because of its departure from Linkin Park’s earlier, harder work, “Heavy” featured Bennington and pop artist Kiiara singing about depression and personal struggles.

Already a moving song with a deep backstory, the lyrics from “Heavy” take on a whole new significance given the tragic end to Bennington’s life.

 

3. What I’ve Done (2007)

It may have been the theme song to 2007’s Transformers, but “What I’ve Done” became much more than just that.

A hit about Linkin Park’s maturation and openness to newer and more meaningful material, “What I’ve Done” showcases Bennington’s vocals with powerful lyrics about making a significant change.

 

2. Numb (2003)

A song that still received plenty of air time 14 years after its release, it’s not hard to see what makes “Numb” such a great tune.

Like many of Linkin Park’s other hits, “Numb” features excellent vocals from Bennington and contains lyrics about some sort of struggle. It resonated with all types of music fans – ones who were looking for a hard, somewhat angry track to rock out to as well as fans who enjoy songs with deeper meanings.

“Numb” was remixed with Jay-Z’s “Encore” in 2004 – an excellent collaboration that was well-received by many in the music community.

 

1. In The End (2000)

Still the most recognizable Linkin Park song to this day, and it doesn’t take much to see why.

“In The End” combines one of Shinoda’s best rapping performances along with more terrific vocals by Bennington as they overlay a dramatic, haunting piano riff that brings in the tune and closes it out.

The song states that “in the end, it doesn’t even matter”, but in reality, it did. Bennington made a positive impact on so many people in the music community and beyond, and will be remembered as not only an extremely talented musician, but one of the most likable human beings in rock history.

Thriving, Endangered, Extinct: Diagnosing what killed the Detroit Tigers

The goal was simple: win at all costs.

But they didn’t.

After years of division titles, MVP awards, Cy Youngs, and countless All Star Game selections, the Detroit Tigers are, right on cue, feeling the repercussions of going all-in to win a title for aging owner Mike Ilitch.

Now that the core of the team that won four straight division titles from 2011 through 2014 has been broken up, the Tigers are on the inevitable downslide that was expected to happen after years of winning.

Except they didn’t win.

Well, they won, but never achieved the ultimate goal. Ilitch’s death in January punctuated an era that, in the long run, will be considered a failure.

Now, we are left with a carcass of a baseball team, wondering what could have been.

The four division titles, five playoff appearances and two American League pennants since 2006 look nice, and provided some fun memories for Tigers fans along the way, but there will always be an empty feeling for Detroiters looking back at these years.

When did the downfall begin? Tough to say.

It’s easy to look back on an October night in Boston, where one Joaquin Benoit changeup to David Ortiz reversed Detroit’s path from likely World Series winner to dead meat in 2013.

From there, the Tigers went on to win just one more playoff game, losing to the Red Sox in six and getting swept by the Orioles the following year before tumbling all the way to the division’s cellar in 2015.

It was a quick death, but it was far from painless.

Heading into the 2013 offseason, Detroit still had assembled a team that looked capable of winning a ring the following year. But after veteran manager Jim Leyland hung up his cleats, the Tigers went in a completely new direction.

They hired a manager with zero coaching experience in professional baseball. Not just in the Major Leagues. Not just zero managerial experience.

Zero. Coaching. Experience.

Unless you want to count managing Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic.

Sure, Brad Ausmus was a successful big league catcher like most managers, but right off the bat, his hiring raised plenty of question marks.

For an organization apparently set on winning now at all costs, hiring an inexperienced manager made little sense. But did this hiring signal a change in direction? Were the Tigers finally going to give a little thought to the future instead of throwing all of their eggs into the basket of the present?

Well, not exactly. They made a highly-criticized trade soon after, sending starting pitcher Doug Fister to Washington for Steve Lombardozzi, Robbie Ray and Ian Krol.

Sending away Fister left a void that is, in a sense, still waiting to be filled. Detroit got some good young talent in return, but any thoughts of prepping for the future were wiped away when Lombardozzi was flipped for ancient shortstop Alex Gonzalez…who was released almost immediately after.

Also before the 2014 season, the Tigers locked up slugger Miguel Cabrera for 10 more years – a contract which will pay Cabrera $32 million in his age 40 season.

Not exactly setting up a great future.

The Tigers needed some bullpen help (surprise!), so they traded highly-regarded prospects Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel for Joakim Soria – a steady closer whose best days were clearly behind him.

Knebel is now an All Star closer himself, for what it’s worth.

Soon after, at the 2014 trade deadline in the heat of a pennant race, the Tigers went for it again.

Detroit dished out two everyday players in center fielder Austin Jackson and young starter Drew Smyly, along with top prospect Willy Adames, for 2012 Cy Young winner David Price.

Price was, and is to this day, a guy who puts up impressive numbers but disappoints when it matters. He has never won a postseason start and holds a 5.54 ERA in October.

Well, it didn’t work out in Detroit and he was dealt away for a modest prospect package a year later.

But let’s back it up a bit.

After the 2014 season, the Tigers elected to let ace pitcher Max Scherzer pack his bags.

Unlike Price, Scherzer had experienced postseason success in his career and showed no signs of slowing down any time soon. He’s arguably the best pitcher in baseball today, in the midst of his third Cy Young-caliber season with the Washington Nationals.

But the “win-at-all costs” Tigers couldn’t afford him. Not after inking Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Victor Martinez and others to absolutely ludicrous deals.

Then again, they didn’t have an issue signing Jordan Zimmermann, who is clearly a tier or two lower than Scherzer as far as starting pitchers go, to a contract worth about $22 million per year just one offseason later.

Oh, and then $13.5 million more to Mike Pelfrey and Mark Lowe.

Basically, it comes down to inconsistency. Not the inconsistency that the offense or back end of the pitching rotation has experienced in recent years, but inconsistency in the front office to pick a direction and stick with it.

Inconsistency and, to quote the charming but historically inaccurate baseball flick Moneyball, “an imperfect understanding of where wins come from”.

Take a look at the past five World Series champs: 2012 Giants, 2013 Red Sox, 2014 Giants, 2015 Royals, 2016 Cubs.

A few things they all had in common: role players, unsung heroes, ridiculously strong bullpens and, perhaps most importantly, ridiculously strong bonds in the clubhouse.

Everyone in the big leagues can play baseball. Not everyone can play together. Watch some of this year’s contenders like Houston, Cleveland or Los Angeles. Hell, try to remember what it was like in the Tigers’ clubhouse five years ago.

High fives, special handshakes, pranks, jokes, smiles, dancing. Everywhere you look.

It doesn’t take 20/20 vision to see that the atmosphere in the Detroit dugout has taken a complete 180.

Jose Iglesias is there thinking to himself about what flashy play he’s going to make next inning.

Miguel Cabrera has a dejected look on his face as he hobbles back after a disappointing at-bat.

Victor Martinez is angry about Comerica Park “robbing” him of what he thought should have been a home run.

The front office has neglected to acknowledge the importance of two of these essential elements of winning teams in recent years: clubhouse chemistry and clutch performers.

Here are a couple of examples.

 

Cameron Maybin

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Maybin was brought back last season to fill a hole in center field. He missed the first month and a half of the season due to injury while Detroit hovered around the .500 mark.

However, his return provided a fresh breath of life into a team desperately in need of a spark. He was the perfect medicine to Detroit’s ailment, getting timely hits while also lightening up the clubhouse atmosphere.

Maybin’s bright smile was visible from all around the ballpark and his antics during exciting moments amped his teammates up.

Thanks in major part to Maybin’s contributions, the Tigers remained in the playoff race up until the season’s final week.

He was dealt to the Angels in the offseason because the Tigers were not willing to pay him $9 million. He currently leads the American League in stolen bases and the Angels are surprisingly hanging around in the playoff picture, even without slugger Mike Trout in the lineup.

 

Torii Hunter

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Everyone in baseball knows how great of a guy Torii Hunter is, and Tigers fans got a brief taste in 2013 and 2014.

Hunter led some of the team’s victory dances and champagne celebrations and also chipped in on the field, racking up a numerous amount of late-inning hits in close games despite being near the end of his career.

Detroit did not re-sign Hunter for the 2015, as he finished up his career where it began in Minnesota. The Tigers dropped from first to last in the division while the Twins enjoyed a 13-game improvement (and then dropped off the face of the earth the following year after Hunter’s retirement).

The Tigers instead opted to replace Hunter in the outfield with Anthony Gose, who was acquired in exchange for current Blue Jays starting second baseman Devon Travis.

Gose did not exactly have the positive impact Hunter did, eventually getting sent to Double-A due to his poor performance, alienating reporters due to his negativity, and converting to a pitcher in a last-ditch attempt to salvage his career.

 

Delmon Young

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Maybe Delmon Young isn’t as likable of a human being as Maybin and Hunter, but he was unfairly tossed to the curb after providing two years of October magic in the Motor City.

Young mashed five home runs for the Tigers in the 2011 postseason, including three in a five-game series win over the Yankees in the ALDS.

He followed up by winning the ALCS MVP award in 2012, batting .353 and driving in six runs during Detroit’s four-game sweep of the Yankees en route to another World Series appearance. Despite muteness from pretty much the rest of the lineup in the fall classic, Young made up for his below-average defense by hitting a .357 clip against the Giants.

With no room left on the roster the following year as Young’s glove would likely relegate him to a DH spot already occupied by Victor Martinez, he was let go.

Young suited up for Tampa Bay in the 2013 playoffs, unsurprisingly lifting a solo homer in the Rays’ Wild Card Game win over the Indians.

In 2014, the Tigers looked primed to tie their ALDS series against the Baltimore Orioles, taking a 6-3 lead into the bottom of the eighth.

The Orioles made it 6-4 and then took the lead for good on a three-run double later in the inning. The batter? Delmon Young.

 

An imperfect understanding of where wins come from.

 

Overspending on players who fill up the stats sheet has been proven time and time again to fail. Building through the system, trusting the process, and bringing in core pieces who gel together neatly and contribute when called upon is the way to create champions.

If the Tigers were so focused on winning at all costs, why did they hire Brad Ausmus and say goodbye to Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Cameron Maybin, Torii Hunter and Delmon Young, among others?

If they made those moves with the future in mind, why did they make the David Price trade? Why did they make the overreaches of the century in the Alfredo Simon and Joakim Soria trades, among others?

Now all that’s left is a carcass. And what do you do with a carcass on your lawn? Let it rot? Nope.

Move it.

The trade deadline is July 31.

My 2017 MLB All Star Rosters

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With voting ending last night, let’s take a look at what Sunday night’s roster reveal SHOULD (but probably won’t) look like.

Each team will consist of 13 pitchers and 21 position players, giving each team 34 players.

Remember, some players still may be snubbed because of the league’s rule that requires at least one player from each club to make the team.

Also, injured players who will still be on the disabled list, like Mike Trout and Trea Turner, will not be included.

 

American League

Starters

C Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals
1B Justin Smoak, Toronto Blue Jays
2B Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
3B Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians
SS Carlos Correa, Houston Astros
OF Aaron Judge, New York Yankees
OF George Springer, Houston Astros
OF Avisail Garcia, Chicago White Sox
DH Corey Dickerson, Tampa Bay Rays

Reserves

C Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees
C Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers
1B Logan Morrison, Tampa Bay Rays
1B Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
2B Starlin Castro, New York Yankees
2B Robinson Canó, Seattle Mariners
2B Jonathan Schoop, Baltimore Orioles
3B Miguel Sanó, Minnesota Twins
3B Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals
SS Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers
OF Khris Davis, Oakland Athletics
OF Aaron Hicks, New York Yankees

Pitchers

SP Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox
SP Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians
SP Lance McCullers Jr., Houston Astros
SP Ervin Santana, Minnesota Twins
SP Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers
SP Luis Severino, New York Yankees
SP Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians
SP Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays
SP Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers
RP Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox
RP Andrew Miller, Cleveland Indians
RP Blake Parker, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
RP Chris Devenski, Houston Astros

 

National League

Starters

C Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
1B Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
2B Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals
3B Jake Lamb, Arizona Diamondbacks
SS Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
OF Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
OF Marcell Ozuna, Miami Marlins
OF Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
DH Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

Reserves

C Tyler Flowers, Atlanta Braves
C J.T. Realmuto, Miami Marlins
1B Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals
1B Mark Reynolds, Colorado Rockies
2B Yangervis Solarte, San Diego Padres
3B Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals
3B Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
3B Travis Shaw, Milwaukee Brewers
SS Zack Cozart, Cincinnati Reds
OF Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies
OF Jay Bruce, New York Mets
OF Aaron Altherr, Philadelphia Phillies

Pitchers

SP Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
SP Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
SP Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals
SP Robbie Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks
SP Ivan Nova, Pittsburgh Pirates
SP Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks
SP Alex Wood, Los Angeles Dodgers
RP Wade Davis, Chicago Cubs
RP Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
RP Cory Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers
RP Felipe Rivero, Pittsburgh Pirates
RP Greg Holland, Colorado Rockies
RP Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks

2017 NHL Draft: Ranking each team’s draft

With the 2017 NHL Entry Draft now complete, we will have to wait a few years to really see how each team’s selections pan out. However, it’s always fun to look at first impressions.

There are a few ways to rank drafts. One could take each team’s draft position into account, giving all clubs an equal chance of getting a good mark regardless of how many picks they own and which round the picks are in, or one could look at the overall quality of players acquired.

For the purposes of this article, both will be taken into account. The most important question to be answered will be: which teams most improved their future chances over the weekend?

 

Everett Silvertips vs Portland Winterhawks
EVERETT, WASHINGTON – SEPTEMBER 18: (Photo by Christopher Mast/Everett Silvertips)

1. Vegas Golden Knights

C Cody Glass (6), C Nick Suzuki (13), D Erik Brannstrom (15), D Nic Hague (34), C Jake Leschyshyn (62), RW Jonas Rondbjerg (65), G Maksim Zhukov (96), C Lucas Elvenes (127), LW Jonathan Dugan (142), C Nick Campoli (142), G Jiri Patera (161), C Ben Jones (189)

Hockey’s newest team went with both quantity AND quality, absolutely nailing their three first-round selections and following up with solid picks throughout the draft. Suzuki and Brannstrom both could have gone in the top 10, Nic Hague could have certainly been a first-rounder and Jake Leschyshyn showed a lot of promise in Regina this season. This is the right way to start off an expansion franchise.

 

Brandon Wheat Kings v Kelowna Rockets
KELOWNA, CANADA – OCTOBER 25: Nolan Patrick #19 of Brandon Wheat Kings shoots on net during warm up against the Kelowna Rockets on October 25, 2014 at Prospera Place in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

2. Philadelphia Flyers

C Nolan Patrick (2), C Morgan Frost (27), LW Isaac Ratcliffe (35), G Kirill Ustimenko (80), LW Matthew Strome (106), RW Maksim Sushko (107), LW Noah Cates (137), RW Olle Lycksell (168), D Wyatt Kalynuk (196)

Philadelphia had the easiest pick in this year’s draft as the New Jersey Devils left Nolan Patrick on the board for the Flyers at No. 2. Patrick will make an immediate impact in a Flyers uniform, but Frost and the big, physical Ratcliffe brighten the future quite a bit as well. Add in a potential first-rounder Matthew Strome dropping all the way to round four and some good late scoops in Maksim Sushko and Noah Cates, and there is plenty of reason to be optimistic in the City of Brotherly Love.

 

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3. Vancouver Canucks

C Elias Pettersson (5), RW Kole Lind (33), LW Jonah Gadjovich (55), G Michael DiPietro (64), D Jack Rathbone (95), D Kristoffer Gunnarsson (135), RW Petrus Palmu (181), D Matt Brassard (188)

Vancouver has some rough yeas coming up in the near future, but the Canucks built a solid base for rebuilding in this year’s draft. Each of their first five picks have quite a bit of upside, particularly Kole Lind, who looks like a steal in the second round.

 

 

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4. Los Angeles Kings

C Gabriel Vilardi (11), C Jaret Anderson-Dolan (41), G Matt Villalta (72), D Mikey Anderson (103), D Markus Phillips (118), D Cole Hults (134), C Drake Rymsha (138)

Hardly anyone would’ve believed that Vilardi, a potential top-three pick, would’ve been on the board for the Kings at pick No. 11. Nevertheless, he dropped (probably due to his skating ability) and Los Angeles didn’t miss its chance to snare a potential star. The Kings followed up with a great second-round pick in Jaret Anderson-Dolan, two solid late defensemen in Anderson and Phillips and a potential late-round steal in the talented Drake Rymsha.

 

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5. Montreal Canadiens

C Ryan Poehling (25), D Josh Brook (56), C Joni Ikonen (58), D Scott Walford (68), D Cale Fleury (87), D Jarret Tyszka (149), G Cayden Primeau (199)

The Habs picked a potential No. 1 center late in the first round in Ryan Poehling and followed up with two solid second-round selections in underrated defenseman Josh Brook and center Joni Ikonen. Fleury and Tyszka were also two high-value selections for the blue line late in the draft.

 

 

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6. Arizona Coyotes

D P.O. Joseph (23), D Filip Westerlund (44), RW Mackenzie Entwistle (69), C Nate Schnarr (75), D Cameron Crotty (82), D Noel Hoefenmayer (108), D Michael Karow (126), C Tyler Steenbergen (128), RW Erik Walli Walterholm (190)

It’s been a weird few days for the Coyotes. Firing a few important staff members, including coach Dave Tippett, while trading for Derek Stepan and Niklas Hjalmarsson, raised some eyebrows for a team in a rebuild. Still, it was a pretty solid draft for the Yotes. Lots of their selections (notably Joseph, Entwistle, Crotty and Hoefenmayer) have extremely high ceilings even if they do come with a bit of risk. Steenbergen was a late-round steal while Westerlund and Schnarr could play big roles in the future as well.

 

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7. Carolina Hurricanes

C Martin Necas (12), C Eetu Luostarinen (42), D Luke Martin (52), C Morgan Geekie (67), RW Stelio Mattheos (73), G Eetu Makiniemi (104), D Brendan De Jong (166), D Ville Rasanen (197)

This has to be the first time a team has drafted two Eetus, right?

Luostarinen may have been a reach in the second round, but Martin Necas may end up being one of the best players in the draft. He will take some work, but he’s a legitimate top five talent and a ridiculously smart hockey player. Also, Martin, Geekie and Mattheos were outstanding selections.

 

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8. Florida Panthers

RW Owen Tippett (10), C Aleksi Heponiemi (40), D Max Gildon (66), D Tyler Inamoto (133), RW Sebastian Repo (184)

Tippett, who could’ve easily been a top-five pick, may turn out to be the best pick of the draft. The Panthers, who severely lack youth and skill on the right wing side, were gifted a dream scenario when the ultra-talented Mississauga Steelhead was still on the board at No. 10. To follow up, Florida selected a good center in Heponiemi and made some interesting late defensive picks, taking both Gildon and Inamoto from the USA NTDP.

 

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9. Dallas Stars

D Miro Heiskanen (3), G Jake Oettinger (26), LW Jason Robertson (39), C Liam Hawel (101), C Jacob Peterson (132), RW Brett Davis (163), G Dylan Ferguson (194)

Heiskanen could be the best defenseman to come out of this year’s draft, and Oettinger definitely looks like the best goaltender. That’s the right way to navigate the first round.

 

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10. New York Rangers

C Lias Andersson (7), C Filip Chytil (21), D Brandon Crawley (123), D Calle Sjalin (145), C Dominik Lakatos (157), C Morgan Barron (174), C Patrik Virta (207)

Andersson may have been a slight reach at No. 7, but he’s still an outstanding player that will be a top-six center if everything plays out right. So will Chytil, who looks like he could have what it takes to be an even better player than Andersson.

 

11. Nashville Predators

RW Eeli Tolvanen (30), LW Grant Mismash (61), D David Farrance (92), G Tomas Vomacka (154), C Pavel Koltygin (176), D Jacob Paquette (216)

Nashville fans who miss Shea Weber’s shot will absolutely love Tolvanen, who was expected to go as high as the top 10 yet inexplicably fell all the way to pick No. 30. The Preds followed up with another steal in the second round by nabbing Mismash from the USA NTDP, and then picked his talented defensive teammate David Farrance in the third.

 

12. Colorado Avalanche

D Cale Makar (4), D Conor Timmins (32), RW Nick Henry (94), G Petr Kvaca (114), C Igor Shvyrev (125), RW Denis Smirnov (156), D Nick Lievermann (187)

The Makar pick was an interesting one, as he won’t make an impact in Denver any time soon while making the long transition from the AJHL to the NHL, but he still has a ton of upside. The Avs opted for another defenseman in Timmins and then selected Nick Henry, a high-scoring winger from the Regina Pats.

 

13. Anaheim Ducks

LW Maxime Comtois (50), C Antoine Morand (60), C Jack Badini (91), RW Kyle Olson (122), G Olle Eriksson Ek (153)

For not having a first round pick, the Ducks hit it out of the park. Comtois looked like a lottery pick before struggling this season, but the potential is still there if developed correctly. Morand’s smarts and skills could have pushed him into the first round, but he was still on the board for Anaheim late in the second. Olson and Eriksson Ek could also become good value picks if their development goes as planned.

 

14. Calgary Flames

D Juuso Valimaki (16), C Adam Ruzicka (109), RW Zack Fischer (140), RW D’Artagnan Joly (171), LW Filip Sveningsson (202)

Valimaki was a great pick as a two-way defenseman who could see NHL action pretty soon. The Flames also added another defenseman, Travis Hamonic, via a trade with the New York Islanders. Hamonic was well worth waiting until the fourth round to pick again, and the Flames made the most out of their selection by taking Sarnia’s Adam Ruzicka.

 

15. St. Louis Blues

C Robert Thomas (20), LW Klim Kostin (31), RW Alexey Toropchenko (113), D David Noel (130), D Trenton Bourque (175), D Anton Andersson (206)

The Blues made the most of their two first-round picks by taking Thomas and Kostin. Thomas has incredible hockey sense and Kostin, who dropped because of injury issues this season and concerns about maybe staying in Russia, is a potential top-10 talent. St. Louis also was able to add an established winger, trading for Brayden Schenn from Philadelphia.

 

16. New Jersey Devils

C Nico Hischier (1), C Jesper Boqvist (36), LW Fabian Zetterlund (63), D Reilly Walsh (81), LW Nikita A. Popugaev (98), G Gilles Senn (129), RW Marian Studenic (143), C Aarne Talvitie (160), D Jocktan Chainey (191), D Yegor Zaitsev (205), D Matthew Hellickson (214)

Time will tell if New Jersey made the right pick by taking Hischier over Nolan Patrick, but as of now, it certainly looks like a safe pick. Popugaev was a nice high-ceiling addition as well, falling all the way to the fourth round despite being projected to be a potential first-rounder.

 

17. Minnesota Wild

RW Ivan Lodnia (85), C Mason Shaw (97), C Bryce Misley (116), D Jacob Golden (147), C Andrei Svetlakov (178), RW Nick Swaney (209)

Minnesota didn’t pick until the final third of the third round, but made two great selections with Ivan Lodnia at No. 85 and Mason Shaw in the fourth round. Talk about doing a lot with a little.

 

18. Tampa Bay Lightning

D Callan Foote (14), RW Alexander Volkov (48), C Alexei Lipanov (76), D Nicklaus Perbix (D), C Cole Guttman (180), C Samuel Walker (200)

Callan Foote is mature beyond his years in terms of hockey IQ and ability, and he will become one of the top defensemen out of this year’s class. Steve Yzerman made another nice pick in the third round, taking talented Russian goal-scorer Alexei Lipanov.

 

19. Buffalo Sabres

C Casey Mittelstadt (8), C Marcus Davidsson (37), G Ukko-Pekka Luukonen (54), D Oskari Laaksonen (89), D Jacob Bryson (99), LW Linus Weissbach (192)

Mittelstadt’s work ethic questions may wind up haunting the Sabres after using the No. 8 overall pick on him, but he still has a ton of potential to tap into. Davidsson has the potential to someday be a middle-six center and was a solid second-round choice, and Luukkonen gives Buffalo’s system another young stud between the pipes.

 

20. Detroit Red Wings

C Michael Rasmussen (9), D Gustav Lindstrom (38), D Kasper Kotkansalo (71), RW Lane Zablocki (79), C Zach Gallant (83), G Keith Petruzzelli (88), D Malte Setkov (100), D Cole Fraser (131), RW John Adams (162), D Reilly Webb (164), C Brady Gilmour (193)

The Rasmussen pick may not have been Detroit’s best move with Martin Necas and Gabriel Vilardi still on the board, and Gustav Lindstrom seems like a major reach in the second round, but time will tell if Ken Holland & Co. made the right decisions. Detroit made a handful of good picks in the third round, taking playmaker Zach Gallant as well as adding Keith Petruzzelli to a system a bit devoid of keepers.

 

21. Ottawa Senators

C Shane Bowers (28), LW Alex Formenton (47), C Drake Batherson (121), G Jordan Hollett (183)

The Senators only had four picks in this year’s draft, but they were able to get quality despite the lack of quantity. Bowers is a low-risk player with a good hockey mind, and Formenton has a ton of potential.

 

22. Chicago Blackhawks

D Henri Jokiharju (29), D Ian Mitchell (57), RW Andrei Altybarmakyan (70), C Evan Barratt (90), C Tim Soderlund (112), D Roope Laavainen (119), LW Parker Foo (144), D Jakub Galvas (150), D Joshua Ess (215)

This year’s draft host had a ton of storylines surrounding it as the Blackhawks traded away Niklas Hjalmarsson and Artemi Panarin and re-acquired Brandon Saad. As far as the draft went, Chicago did fairly well. Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell are two talented young defensemen while centers Barratt and Soderlund have some upside as well.

 

23. San Jose Sharks

C Josh Norris (19), D Mario Ferraro (49), C Scott Reedy (102), RW Jacob McGrew (159), C Sasha Chmelevski (185), LW Ivan Checkhovich (212)

Norris could’ve been a slight reach at No. 19, but his USA NTDP teammate Scott Reedy was a bargain at 102. Chmelevski was also a good offensive-minded pick while Ferraro, the only defenseman selected by the Sharks, is a smart player who with a great attitude who can be a leader off the ice.

 

24. Edmonton Oilers

RW Kailer Yamamoto (22), G Stuart Skinner (78), D Dmitri Samorukov (84), RW Ostap Safin (115), RW Kirill Maksimov (146), C Skyler Brind’Amour (177), D Philip Kemp (208)

Yamamoto could be the league’s next Johnny Gaudreau or Tyler Johnson: a little guy with huge offensive upside. Skinner was a smart pick as the Oilers could use another goalie in the system, and Safin has quite a high ceiling for a fourth-rounder.

 

25. Boston Bruins

D Urho Vaakanainen (18), C Jack Studnicka (53), G Jeremy Swayman (111), C Cedric Pare (173), D Victor Berglund (195), D Daniel Bukac (204)

Vaakanainen will look good on Boston’s blue line next to Charlie McAvoy someday, and Jack Studnicka was a smart pick in the middle of the second round. But, other than their early picks, the Bruins did not open a ton of eyes in the draft this year.

 

26. Winnipeg Jets

LW Kristian Vesalainen (24), D Dylan Samberg (43), D Johnathan Kovacevic (74), C Santeri Virtanen (105), D Leon Gawanke (136), G Arvid Holm (167), LW Skyler McKenzie (198), D Croix Evingson (211)

There’s a lot to like about the Vesalainen pick, but Samberg is a huge risk given his low level of competition at Hermantown High School.

 

27. Toronto Maple Leafs

D Timothy Liljegren (17), D Eemli Rasanen (59), G Ian Scott (110), LW Vladislav Kara (124), D Fedor Gordeev (141), C Ryan McGregor (172), D Ryan O’Connell (203)

If Liljegren shows that he is the player he was last season, the Leafs move up at least 10 spots on this list. He was the right pick at No. 17 given his high lottery-pick ceiling, but a young team like Toronto may have been better off had a player with a higher floor like Juuso Valimaki been available. The rest of the Leafs’ draft leaves a lot to be desired, although Rasanen has the ability to grow into a fine NHL defenseman as well.

 

28. New York Islanders

D Robin Salo (46), D Benjamin Miragaes (77), D Sebastian Aho (139), LW Arnaud Durandeau (165), LW Logan Cockerill (201)

Salo wasn’t a terrible pick, but the story of the Islanders’ draft centered around trades, not draft choices. They lost their first pick after cutting a deal with the Vegas Golden Knights (which worked out as losing Mikhail Grabovski shouldn’t hurt too badly), acquired Jordan Eberle straight up for Ryan Strome and then netted a plethora of future picks in return for Travis Hamonic.

 

29. Columbus Blue Jackets

C Alexandre Texier (45), G Daniil Tarasov (86), C Emil Bemstrom (117), LW Kale Howarth (148), RW Jonathan Davidsson (170), RW Carson Meyer (179), D Robbie Stucker (210)

Lots of analysts like French center Texier, but like the Islanders, Columbus’s draft day was highlighted by a trade. Artemi Panarin is now a Blue Jacket, which should make Ohioans pretty excited.

 

30. Pittsburgh Penguins

D Zachary Lauzon (51), D Clayton Phillips (93), LW Jan Drozg (152), C Linus Oland (155), D Antti Palojarvi (186), D William Reilly (217)

If anyone could afford to have a lackluster draft, it was Pittsburgh. The defending back-to-back champs didn’t make any eye-opening selections despite having some big names still on the board at No. 51 and No. 93.

 

31. Washington Capitals

D Tobias Geisser (120), D Sebastian Walfridsson (151), D Benton Maass (182), LW Kristian Roykas Marthinsen (213)

When a team has only four picks, the first of which coming in the fourth round, it’s tough to to anything notable. The Capitals did, however, draft some players with interesting names. So there’s that.

2017 NHL Mock Draft: Part Four

Friday night’s shocking draft lottery results give us a much clearer – yet much different – picture of what will happen at June’s NHL Entry Draft.

This will be my first draft with the authentic draft order (through the lottery teams), and I will be acting as if I am each team’s GM at the time of the pick.

Also, the end of the round will be based on what I see happening throughout the rest of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

And one final catch – for the first time in my mock drafts, this will be a two-rounder. Let’s get to it!

 

Brandon Wheat Kings v Kelowna Rockets
KELOWNA, CANADA – OCTOBER 25: Nolan Patrick #19 of Brandon Wheat Kings shoots on net during warm up against the Kelowna Rockets on October 25, 2014 at Prospera Place in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

1. New Jersey Devils – Nolan Patrick, C, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)

After winning the lottery, the Devils will choose between Patrick and Halifax center Nico Hischier. Patrick is a slightly bigger and better player at this point, so if I were GM Ray Shero, this is the way I would go.

 

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2. Philadelphia Flyers – Nico Hischier, C, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)

The Flyers jumped up a whopping 11 spots thanks to the draft lottery, and get the easiest pick to make. With Patrick off the board, Hischier is the easy choice here.

 

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3. Dallas Stars – Miro Heiskanen, D, HIFK (Finland)

Taking a center here would create too much of a logjam for Dallas up the middle, so going with a defenseman would be the best choice. The Stars will have their choice among Heiskanen, Timothy Liljegren, Cale Makar and others, but Heiskanen has the most upside.

 

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4. Colorado Avalanche – Gabriel Vilardi, C, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)

Colorado finished with the NHL’s worst record since the 2000 Atlanta Thrashers, and things got worse when the Avs didn’t get a top-three pick. Trading down for more assets could be smart for a team in turmoil, but if they stay at No. 4, Vilardi is the right pick. He’s a big center who plays a strong, complete game.

 

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5. Vancouver Canucks – Casey Mittlestadt, C, Eden Prarie HS (Minnesota)

The Canucks could go in a variety of directions here, but taking a big-time center would build a solid 1-2 punch up the middle with Bo Horvat. Mittlestadt is the best center available at this point.

 

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6. Vegas Golden Knights – Owen Tippett, RW, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)

Tippett gives the Golden Knights a flashy goal-scoring machine who will make all sorts of highlight reels. A good way to bring some spice to an expansion team.

 

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7. Arizona Coyotes – Martin Necas, C, Brno (Czech Republic)

Arizona is deep as can be on the wings and also has a pretty solid group of defensemen in the pipeline. An impact center would be the perfect fit, and Necas is certainly the way to go. He is a skilled two-way force who is excellent in the faceoff dot and can help out anywhere on the ice.

 

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8. Buffalo Sabres – Timothy Liljegren, D, Rogle BK (Sweden)

The Sabres could go in a variety of directions with this pick, but an aging blue line seems like it needs to be addressed. Liljegren’s offensive game has all sorts of upside, which would fit in well in Buffalo.

 

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EVERETT, WASHINGTON – SEPTEMBER 18: (Photo by Christopher Mast/Everett Silvertips)

9. Detroit Red Wings – Cody Glass, C, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)

A high-octane center like Glass is what Detroit could use most right now. If he is still on the board, the Red Wings should take a flyer on this goal-scoring machine, as they do not have much depth at the center position in their pipeline.

 

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10. Florida Panthers – Eeli Tolvanen, RW, Sioux City Musketeers (USHL)

This seems like a perfect fit. Tolvanen is an incredible finisher and the Panthers need a right wing – any right wing – in their system.

 

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11. Los Angeles Kings – Nick Suzuki, C, Owen Sound Attack (OHL)

There are some good centers on the board here, and Los Angeles should go with the one who can be the biggest game-breaker in Suzuki. He can also slide over to the wing if needed.

 

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12. Carolina Hurricanes – Kailer Yamamoto, RW, Spokane Chiefs (WHL)

Sure he may only be 5’7, but Yamamoto gives the Hurricanes a dynamic offensive weapon off the wing. With some young depth at center and on the blue line, this seems like the right direction for Carolina to go.

 

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13. Winnipeg Jets – Cale Makar, D, Brooks Bandits (AJHL)

With so much talent up front, the Jets should take a defenseman. If Makar falls this far, he is a perfect fit, as he can generate all sorts of offense. In the Alberta Junior Hockey League this season, Makar is well-above a point-per-game player.

 

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14. Tampa Bay Lightning – Callan Foote, D, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)

There aren’t any glaring needs for the Lightning, but getting a good young defenseman would be a boost to the system. Foote has tremendous hockey sense, and is probably the best defenseman (possibly the best player) on the board at this point.

 

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15. New York Islanders – Michael Rasmussen, C, Tri-City Americans (WHL)

Rasmussen is a big, strong centerman with an offensive touch. He’s the best player on the board and also fits New York’s needs.

 

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16. Calgary Flames – Klim Kostin, LW, Dynamo Moscow (Russia)

Kostin has dropped a bit because of his injury issues this year, but he is a big body with a scoring touch that can play both wings.

 

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17. Toronto Maple Leafs – Juuso Valimaki, D, Tri-City Americans (WHL)

The perfect fit for Toronto. Valimaki is a defensive-minded rearguard that is excellent in his own zone.

 

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18. Boston Bruins – Lias Andersson, C, HV 71 (Sweden)

Andersson plays with an edge and has performed well with pros in Sweden. The best-available strategy is never a bad choice, especially for a team with a fair amount of youth like Boston.

 

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19. San Jose Sharks – Jason Robertson, LW, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)

Robertson is a points-producing machine lately, and he could certainly draw the attention from a Sharks team that needs some young scorers on the left wing side.

 

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20. St. Louis Blues – Elias Pettersson, C, Timra IK (Sweden) 

Pettersson knows how to create plays and can contribute in a number of ways offensively. He would be a nice addition up the middle during the Blues’ reboot on the fly.

 

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21. New York Rangers – Nicolas Hague, D, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)

Hague is a big, physical defenseman who likes to throw the body in his zone and also has been working on his scoring game.

 

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22. Montreal Canadiens -Ryan Poehling, C, St. Cloud State (NCAA)

A scoring center would fit nicely with the Canadiens, and if Pettersson is still on the board, this pick shouldn’t take much thinking.

 

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23. Anaheim Ducks – Jaret Anderson-Dolan, C, Spokane Chiefs (WHL)

Anaheim just misses out on the next tier of centers with Petterson and Poehling coming off of the board, but Anderson-Dolan is a scoring machine and a decent consolation prize.

 

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24. Arizona Coyotes (from Minnesota) – Conor Timmins, D, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)

Arizona’s most pressing need is goaltending, but with four top goaltenders in this draft and no clear No. 1, the Coyotes can wait to pick a keeper until the next round. Instead, they should deepen their defensive group with the cool and composed Timmins.

 

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25. Columbus Blue Jackets – Isaac Ratcliffe, LW, Guelph Storm (OHL)

This pick just keeps seeming like it’s meant to happen. Ratcliffe is a physical left winger who stands nearly 6’6 – exactly what the Blue Jackets need.

 

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26. Chicago Blackhawks – Henri Jokiharju, D, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)

Most of Chicago’s youth is up front, so going with defense is a smart move for the Blackhawks. Jokiharju gets to the puck in his own zone and excels at starting rushes with his breakout passes.

 

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27. St. Louis Blues (from Washington) – Kole Lind, C, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)

The Blues go with another center here, and a high-scoring one at that. He can also slide over to the wing if need be.

 

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28. Ottawa Senators – Maxime Comtois, LW, Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL)

Comtois’s production showed an alarming drop this year, but as a big, physical player who can skate smoothly, he still has quite a bit of projection.

 

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29. Edmonton Oilers – Urho Vaakanainen, D, JYK (Finland)

As the Oilers transform into one of the league’s better teams, a shutdown defenseman is still needed. Vaakanainen won’t produce a ton of offense, but he is as good as anyone in this draft in his own zone.

 

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30. Nashville Predators – Shane Bowers, C, Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL)

Bowers is a high-floor center who could slot in nicely in the middle six of Nashville’s forward group some day.

 

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31. Pittsburgh Penguins – Pierre-Olivier Joseph, D, Charlottetown PEI Islanders (QMJHL)

The Penguins have some aging going on back on defense, and Joseph is a young spark plug who they could use in the near future.

 

END OF ROUND ONE

 

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32. Colorado Avalanche – Kristian Vesalainen, LW, HPK (Sweden)

Vesalainen’s stock has dropped a little in the past few months, but he could be NHL-ready by next season since he’s been skating with pros in Sweden. He should be able to make Colorado’s roster given its extreme lack of depth everywhere.

 

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33. Vancouver Canucks – Erik Brannstrom, D, HV71 (Sweden)

After going center in the first round, the Canucks take the best defenseman available in Brannstrom. He is a good skater who is solid in his own zone, and his offensive game should improve given his hockey IQ.

 

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34. Vegas Golden Knights – Matthew Strome, LW, Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)

The Golden Knights go with a guy from a hockey family who can add a bit of sandpaper to go along with his scoring ability. Strome should pair nicely on a line with Owen Tippett in the future.

 

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35. Arizona Coyotes – Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, G, HPK (Finland)

The Coyotes get their goalie here. Luukkonen has faced pro talent in Finland and has a slight edge over Michael Dipietro and Jake Oettinger as the best keeper in this draft.

 

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36. New Jersey Devils – Mason Shaw, C, Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)

New Jersey goes all-out on offense after taking Patrick in the first round. Shaw is undersized, but he puts up points like it’s nobody’s business. Size isn’t stopping players like Johnny Gaudreau, Mitch Marner or Tyler Johnson. Why should it stop Shaw?

 

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37. Buffalo Sabres – Alexei Lipanov, C, Balashikha (Russia)

Lipanov may come off the board before this, but if he’s available, Buffalo has to scoop him up. Sure, the Sabres could use some more depth on the wings, but Lipanov’s offensive versatility is too good to pass up.

 

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38. Detroit Red Wings – Morgan Geekie, C, Tri-City Americans (WHL)

Geekie is big and physical but also has a scoring touch, putting up 90 points in 72 games with Tri-City in the WHL this year. He’s a great fit with Detroit.

 

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39. Dallas Stars – Jake Oettinger, G, Boston University (NCAA)

The Stars’ goaltending issues have been long-documented, and drafting a goaltender won’t solve them right now, but there is no top keeper in the system. The Stars should take a flyer on the big Oettinger, who put up impressive numbers at Boston University this year.

 

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40. Florida Panthers – Nick Henry, RW, Regina Pats (WHL)

Florida has to go right wing again, and here they take an offensive juggernaut in Henry. He averaged more than a point per game in the WHL this season.

 

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41. Los Angeles Kings – Nikita A. Popugaev, LW, Prince George Cougars (WHL)

The Kings would love to take a player like Popugaev here. He’s big, standing at nearly 6’6, but he moves incredibly well for his size.

 

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42. Carolina Hurricanes – Aleksei Heponiemi, C, Swift Current Broncos (WHL)

Size is the knock on Heponiemi, who stands at about 5’9, but he’s the best center on the board for Carolina. The Hurricanes are deep throughout their pipeline, but the center position could use some help. Heponiemi is a high-octane player who can create plays and finish them.

 

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43. Winnipeg Jets – Lukas Elvenes, RW, Rogle BK (Finland)

Winnipeg could shore up its right wing position, and Elvenes would be a nice fit. He has silky smooth hands and good skating ability.

 

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44. Philadelphia Flyers – Jonah Gadjovich, LW, Owen Sound Attack (OHL)

Gadjovich’s numbers may have benefitted a bit from Nick Suzuki’s offensive talent, but Gadjovich is still well over a point-per-game player this year. Philadelphia would like a wing to go with Nico Hischier, and Gadjovich is the best one available.

 

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45. Tampa Bay Lightning – Alex Formenton, LW, London Knights (OHL)

Formenton is a speedy left winger who would throws a little bit of sandpaper into his game.

 

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46. New York Islanders – MacKenzie Entwistle, RW, Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)

Grabbing Entwistle here is a reach, so trading down may be a good option, but the Islanders could use a strong right winger like him.

 

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47. Ottawa Senators (from Calgary) – Antoine Morand, C, Acadia-Bathurst (QMJHL)

Morand is a finisher, and he racked up a ton of points around the net in the QMJHL this year.

 

Sudbury Wolves v London Knights
LONDON, ON – OCTOBER 9: of the Sudbury Wolves skates against the London Knights during an OHL game at Budweiser Gardens on October 9, 2015 in London, Ontario, Canada. The Knights defeated the Wolves 6-2. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***

48. Tampa Bay Lightning (from Toronto) – Robert Thomas, C, London Knights (OHL)

If the Bolts just took Formenton three picks ago, why not go for his pass-first teammate Robert Thomas? There could already be some good built-in chemistry.

 

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49. New Jersey Devils (from Boston) – Markus Phillips, D, Owen Sound Attack (OHL)

Now the Devils should go for a defenseman with Patrick and Shaw coming in. Phillips is arguably the best one available, and he can create some offense from the blue line as well.

 

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50. Toronto Maple Leafs (from San Jose) – Luke Martin, D, Michigan (NCAA)

Martin is a sizable defenseman who is smart and physical in his own zone.

 

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51. St. Louis Blues – David Farrance, D, USA NTDP

Farrance is small, but he has quite a bit of offensive awareness and will be able to hone his craft at Boston University next year.

 

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52. Carolina Hurricanes (from NYR) – Adam Ruzicka, C, Sarnia Sting (OHL)

After taking two small forwards, the Hurricanes go for a bigger one with Ruzicka.

 

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53. Montreal Canadiens – Morgan Frost, C, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)

Frost is a two-way forward who can make an impact no matter where he is on the ice.

 

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54. Dallas Stars (from Anaheim) – Antoine Crete-Belzile, D, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (QMJHL)

A defenseman with offensive upside, Crete-Belzile scored goals in more than half of his QMJHL games this season.

 

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55. Buffalo Sabres (from Minnesota) – Tyler Steenbergen, LW, Swift Current Broncos (WHL)

Steenbergen is one of the WHL’s top scorers and can be a good third-line finisher if put next to good enough playmakers.

 

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56. Columbus Blue Jackets – Dylan Samberg, D, Hermantown HS (Minnesota)

Samberg is the top defenseman from the Minnesota high school ranks, and he can play a two-way game that he will work on next year at the University of Minnesota at Duluth.

 

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57. Chicago Blackhawks – Ivan Lodnia, LW, Erie Otters (OHL)

Lodnia’s Erie teammate and Blackhawks prospect Alex DeBrincat has torn up the OHL this season. It may not be a bad choice for the Blackhawks to try to work the two Otters in together through their system.

 

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58. Montreal Canadiens (from Washington) – Ostap Safin, RW, Praha HC Sparta (Czech Republic)

Safin is a huge 6’4 winger who skates well. He fits the new Montreal profile of size and physicality well.

 

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59. Anaheim Ducks (from Ottawa) – Michael Dipietro, G, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)

Dipietro could be the top goalie in this class, but I have him just a cut behind Luukkonen and Oettinger. Another goaltending prospect could benefit the Ducks.

 

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60. Boston Bruins (from Edmonton) – Josh Norris, C, USA NTDP

Norris could use some fine-tuning to his game, but he is a big, physical center that fits Boston’s profile.

 

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61. Nashville Predators – Stelio Mattheos, C, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)

Nolan Patrick’s teammate possesses tremendous offensive upside and could be a steal if taken this late in the draft.

 

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62. Carolina Hurricanes (from Pittsburgh) – Noel Hoefenmayer, D, Ottawa 67’s (OHL)

Hoefenmayer has a lot of offensive skill, but needs some work in his own zone. He is a great fit with Carolina because the Canes’ depth on the blue line can allow him to marinate in the system as long as he needs.