Coaches nearly come to blows

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Coaches nearly come to blows

From Comcast SportsNet
DETROIT (AP) -- Jim Harbaugh charged across the field, lifting his shirt to expose his belly to attempt a chest bump. He extended his right hand to Jim Schwartz for a shake and slapped him on the back with his left hand. Schwartz didn't like what was done or said -- claiming he heard an expletive -- and went charging after Harbaugh. What an emotion-filled scene following a meeting of turnaround teams that matched pregame hype in San Francisco's 25-19 victory over Detroit on Sunday. The NFC might have a nasty new rivalry no one saw coming. After the 49ers knocked the Lions from the unbeaten ranks on Alex Smith's touchdown pass with 1:51 left, both coaches added some highlights -- or lowlights -- of their own. Harbaugh took the blame in one breath -- and a shot in the next. "That's totally on me," Harbaugh said. "I shook his hand too hard." NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the incident will be reviewed. Harbaugh, a first-year NFL coach who played at Michigan, had to be separated from Schwartz more than once after Schwartz came running and lunging toward him as both teams were going to the tunnel. "I went to congratulate coach Harbaugh and got shoved out of the way," Schwartz said. "I didn't expect an obscenity at that point. Obviously, when you win a game like that, you are excited, but there is a protocol that goes with this league." Players from the 49ers (5-1) and Lions (5-1) gathered and appeared to restore order -- probably because they were worn out from a hard-hitting, penalty-filled game with four lead changes after halftime. "Ironically, I was playing peacemaker," Detroit defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. "But this is an emotional sport." Smith's fourth-down, 6-yard pass to Delanie Walker gave San Francisco the go-ahead touchdown with 1:51 left. The play stood after video review didn't show definitely whether Walker's right knee was down before the ball reached the goal line. David Akers gave San Francisco a six-point lead with 1:02 to go with a 37-yard field goal. Detroit had a chance to drive for a winning TD, but couldn't get a first down against a swarming defense that hit and confused quarterback Matthew Stafford from the start. That last drive started with San Francisco's fifth sack and ended with a catch and lateral -- 69 yards short of the end zone -- to trigger Harbaugh's exuberant celebration. "It fires me up a lot," Harbaugh said. "If that offends you or anybody else, then so be it." San Francisco lost its first five games last season and the five-time championship franchise failed to finish with a winning record for the eighth straight year. Harbaugh has made an instant impact, quickly changing culture with many of the same players. The NFC West-leading 49ers have won five of their first six games for the first time since 1998. "He loves football," Smith said. "He's an emotional guy, and it's showing up on this team." Smith lost a fumble on his first snap and threw an interception late in the third quarter, matching his turnover totals from the first five games in both categories. But the No. 1 pick overall from the 2005 draft made a clutch pass to Walker for the win when Michael Crabtree drew away the defense. "They kind of jumped Crab and left me open in the middle," Walker said. "Alex made a great read and made a perfect throw." Smith was 17 of 32 for 125 yards, going early and often to Crabtree, who matched a career high with nine receptions for 77 yards. Frank Gore ran 15 times for 141 yards, including a season-long 55-yard gain, and scored a TD that pulled the 49ers within three after they were outscored 10-0 in the first quarter. Stafford looked shaky for the first time this season and San Francisco had a lot to do with that. "It's a good defense," he acknowledged. Stafford was 28 of 50 for 293 yards with two TDs. Detroit had won nine straight regular-season games, dating to last season, in what was the league's longest active streak. "We had trouble getting guys free, and when we did, we didn't always make the throws," Schwartz said. "We need to get the running game going so that we don't look quite so one-dimensional." The Lions couldn't move the ball on the ground with either Jahvid Best or Maurice Morris against a sturdy front and perhaps the league's best linebacking corps, allowing the 49ers to hit and harass Stafford. He was sacked once in the end zone, giving the 49ers a safety that cut their deficit to one point midway through the second quarter. Jason Hanson missed a 52-yard field goal that would've given Detroit a four-point lead late in the first half. Akers made a 55-yard kick to match a season high, putting the 49ers ahead 12-10 as time expired in the half. Brandon Pettigrew had eight catches for 42 yards and a score. Calvin Johnson added seven receptions for 113 yards, but didn't score after being the NFL's first player with nine TD receptions in the first five games of a season. Stafford connected with Nate Burleson on a 5-yard pass into the end zone ruled incomplete on the field. It was overturned after video review, giving Detroit a four-point lead early in the fourth quarter. Burleson caught the ball and got both feet down, then lost the ball after tumbling beyond the end zone -- a play similar to Johnson's well-documented catch that was ruled incomplete last year at Chicago. The 49ers overcame 15 penalties, including five false starts at raucous Ford Field, and Detroit drew six flags. "Once you get a couple false starts, it's like throwing gasoline on a fire," Smith said. Notes: San Francisco and Chicago combined for 14 false starts at Detroit, matching Houston's record from 2004 for the most false starts by visiting teams in back-to-back games since 1991, according to STATS LLC. ... The teams met with 9-1 records after being 1-9 at same point last season. ... Harbaugh played for Baltimore in 1998, when Schwartz was a Ravens assistant.

Steve Larmer reflects on Blackhawks days prior to 'One More Shift'

Steve Larmer reflects on Blackhawks days prior to 'One More Shift'

Steve Larmer took the pregame spin, part of the Blackhawks’ “One More Shift” series on Friday night. High above him at the United Center hang several retired Blackhawks numbers.

As of now, Larmer’s No. 28 isn’t among them, but he’s OK with that.

“I think that really is reserved for very special people,” Larmer said.

OK, but isn’t he one of those in the Blackhawks’ history?

“Thank you, but I think that Bobby Hull and Tony Esposito and Denis Savard and Keith Magnuson and Pierre Pilote are kind of in a league of their own,” he said.

Many would say the same about Larmer, who ranks fourth in Blackhawks history with 923 points, third in goals (406) and fifth in assists (517). Over his entire NHL career Larmer played in 1,006 regular-season games, recording 1,012 points. But whether or not his number is retired by the Blackhawks, coming back for events, including Friday’s, is a treat.

“It’s nerve-wracking and it’s going to be fun,” Larmer said prior to his spin on the ice. “It’s really quite an honor and a surprise to me to be able to do this and I just, it’s a great organization and they’ve always been great to me. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Larmer put together a stellar career. Many believe it deserves a retired number here – and maybe more. Blackhawks play-by-play man Pat Foley, when accepting the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Foster Hewitt Memorial Award in November of 2014, spoke immediately on how Larmer should be in the hall, too.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

“I’ve been fortunate enough to call Blackhawks hockey for over a third of the games they’ve ever played and I’ve never seen a better two-way player come through here,” Foley said that day about Larmer. “When Steve Larmer left Chicago and went to New York, it’s no coincidence that shortly thereafter, they won the Stanley Cup.”

Larmer laughed when reminded of Foley’s speech.

“Well, Pat’s a good friend,” Larmer said with a smile. “He’s always been a good friend. For the last 35 years, since the early 1980s when he was doing radio and TV back then and we all traveled together and hung out together and it was one good group. It’s fun. I mean, Pat’s always been a big supporter and a really good friend.”

Larmer would’ve loved to have hoisted the Stanley Cup during his time with the Blackhawks. Coming as close as they did in 1992 stayed with him for a bit – and it hurt.

“That stung deeply. Because you’re starting to get older and you’re thinking, ‘oh my God, that was it, that was the chance and it’s freaking gone,’ right? It’s never going to happen again,” Larmer recalled. “I’m not one of those guys who happened along and all of a sudden you’re on a team and you win like the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s. We lost out to the team that always won, right? It was disappointing that way. But when you get to that point and you have that run, then we lost to Pittsburgh, that stuck with me for a year in a half. I couldn’t let it go. It was always in the back of my mind. You’re out there playing and you’re sitting on the bench and still thinking about that.”

So when Larmer got another chance with the New York Rangers – he was dealt there in a three-way deal involving the Rangers, Blackhawks and Hartford Whalers – it meant everything.

“The neat thing about going to New York is it gave me another chance to play with some great players and have that opportunity to win and finally get over that hump,” he said. “It was a neat city to win in and to be able to play with guys like Mark Messier and Leach and all those players was a lot of fun.”

Larmer put up fantastic numbers in his career. He got to hoist a Cup near the end of his career. His number should be in the rafters to commemorate that great career.

What a flat salary cap in 2017-18 could mean for Blackhawks

What a flat salary cap in 2017-18 could mean for Blackhawks

For the first time since the 2009-10 season, the NHL's salary cap could stay flat next year, reports ESPN's Craig Custance.

Commissioner Gary Bettman revealed at the latest NHL's Board of Governors meeting that the projected ceiling for the 2017-18 campaign could be an increase between zero and $2 million, which isn't exactly encouraging considering the projection at this time of year is normally an optimistic one.

That means the salary cap may be closer to — or at — the $73 million it's at right now.

In the last four years, the cap has increased by $4.3 million in 2013-14, $4.7 million in 2014-15, $2.4 million in 2015-16 and $1.6 million in 2016-17. The number continues to descend, and it affects big-budget teams like the Blackhawks the most.

It makes it especially difficult for the Blackhawks to navigate because they own two of the highest paid players in the league in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, both of whom carry a $10.5 million cap hit through 2022-23. It's a great problem to have, though.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

According to capfriendly.com, Chicago currently has $60.6 million tied up to 14 players — eight forwards, five defensemen and one goaltender — next season. If the cap stays the same, that means the Blackhawks must fill out the rest of their roster with fewer than $13 million to work with and still have to sign Artemi Panarin to a long-term extension.

And they may need to move salary to do it, with the potential cap overages crunching things even more.

On the open market, Panarin would probably be able to earn Vladimir Tarasenko money — a seven-year deal that carries a $7.5 million cap hit — but if he prefers to remain in Chicago, the contract would likely be in the range of Johnny Gaudreau's six-year deal with an annual average value of $6.75 million.

With the expansion draft looming, the Blackhawks know they're going to lose a player to Las Vegas in the offseason. The two likely candidates, as it stands, are Marcus Kruger and Trevor van Riemsdyk, and the former would free up $3 million in cap space while the latter $825,000.

If that won't get the job done, the Blackhawks may be forced to part ways with a core player such as Brent Seabrook and his eight-year, $55 million contract, although he has a full no-movement clause until 2021-22 and it would be very hard to imagine since you're trying to maximize your current championship window.

Anything is possible, however, after seeing promising young guys like Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw shipped out of Chicago due to a tight budget.

It's a challenge general manager Stan Bowman has certainly already been thinking about, and a stagnant salary cap doesn't make things any easier.