From Comcast SportsNetNHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's vision of a bigger footprint for hockey is finally coming into focus.But it's not just the skyrocketing TV ratings for these playoffs in markets both traditional, like Philly, Boston and Chicago, and those traditionally slow to come around, like Los Angeles, Miami and Phoenix. It's the tire marks on the backs of the jerseys of some of the league's best players. The game has never been more popular, nor seemed so out of control.The latest to get run over was the Blackhawks' Marian Hossa, who was taken off the ice in Chicago on a stretcher and briefly hospitalized after absorbing a blow to the head from a shoulder hit launched by Phoenix's Raffi Torres. Everybody in the building saw it -- including apparently Bettman himself, who was in attendance -- except the four officials whose job it is to police that kind of mayhem. And because they didn't see it, according to a league statement issued after the game, they didn't call a penalty, despite the fact that Torres left his skates to deliver the blow."First off, I hope he's all right," Torres, a serial offender as cheap shots go, said after the game. "But as far as the hit goes, I felt like it was a hockey play. I was just trying to finish my hit out there, and, as I said, I hope he's all right."Chicago coach Joel Quenneville was so mad after the game that he was sputtering."It was a brutal hit. You can have a multiple-choice question, it's All of the above.' I saw exactly what happened, it was right in front of me, and all four guys missed it."The refereeing tonight," he added, "was a disgrace."It was. But even the best officiating crews are helpless against the tide of fights, cross-checks, hits to the head and sneak attacks that is overwhelming some otherwise very entertaining hockey. They aren't getting much help, either, from league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, whose decisions grow more bizarre with each incident that reaches his desk. Shanahan began by letting Nashville's Shea Weber off with a 2,500 fine -- roughly the cost of one shift -- after the All-Star purposely smashed the head of Detroit forward Henrik Zetterberg into the glass at the end of Game 1 of their series. Then he suspended Chicago's Andrew Shaw and New York's Carl Hagelin for three games each after both hit opponents without obvious intent during the run of play.Cross-checking, hair-pulling, instigating fights -- Shanahan has handed out punishments for all those violations, too, with differing results. As a former player of some stature, he took the job determined to bring some predictability to the punishment his office doles out and even explained his decisions with accompanying video evidence. But lately those explanations have been all over the map. Players no longer know whether the line is being drawn at intent or result -- injuring another player -- or even the star power of the violator who winds up in the dock. So everybody, from Sidney Crosby to repeat offenders like Torres are getting in on the action.After winning 3-2 in overtime Tuesday night, Phoenix goalie Mike Smith was asked about the different sentences being handed out and whether he trusted the NHL front office to get each one right. In Game 2, the Blackhawks' Shaw ran over Smith, who has a history of concussions, behind his net and got the three-game sentence, even though the goalkeeper hasn't missed a minute of playing time. Even more maddening -- as far as the Blackhawks were concerned -- was that the length of Shaw's suspension wasn't announced until Tuesday afternoon, once it was determined Smith would play in Game 3. Had he been unable to go, presumably Shaw's suspension would have been even longer."I don't know if it's a trust factor. It's a tough job. Whether it's blatant, on purpose, or not. It's tough to get that read up there," Smith said. "Obviously, the head hits have to be cut down. It's people's livelihoods, not hockey ... people have families and kids at home and wives, and when we're getting into head and concussion issues around the whole league, I think we need to put a stop to it."But the NHL's commitment to limit concussions is either full-time, as it has been for the past few seasons and most of this one, or it's not. The league knows the difference, but it also knows that pandemonium on the ice is a lot easier for plenty of viewers to follow than a puck. Sold-out arenas and through-the-roof TV ratings across the board, including towns like Phoenix -- whose Coyotes may well be playing in another city next season -- are a testament to that.Back in January, even as the league was touting the fact that fights-per-game had dropped to low levels not seen since the mid-70s, Toronto general manager Brian Burke groused out loud about having to send his enforcer, Colton Orr, down to the Leafs' American Hockey League affiliate.Burke, who once held Shanahan's job, said his team was barely able to use Orr -- he appeared in just five of Toronto's 39 games -- because hardly anyone wanted to fight him. He predicted that abandoning the code that governed who fought and when would result in more players taking cheap shots and seeking revenge in even more dangerous ways."I wonder where we're going with it, that's the only lament I have on this," he said at the time. "The fear that if we don't have guys looking after each other, that the rats will take this game over."Too late. They already have.
We're living in a bizarre age of fantasy football.
Each week we're questioning whether or not we should start players such as DeAndre Hopkins and Todd Gurley. At the same time, we're making room in our lineups for Jacquizz Rodgers, Ty Montgomery and Terrelle Pryor.
Down is up and up is down.
Let's get right into the Week 8 Start/Sit and as always, Liam Neeson has a message for you:
Devontae Booker, RB, DEN (vs. SD) - With the news that C.J. Anderson is likely done for the season with a torn meniscus, Booker has turned into a must-own/must-start running back. The rookie out of Utah is averaging an impressive 4.8 yards per carry in limited time, and now moves into the starting role in Gary Kubiak's running back friendly offense which ranks seventh in the NFL in rushing attempts per game. Booker is a no-brainer this weekend against a Chargers defense which has allowed the fourth-most rushing touchdowns in 2016. (Scott Krinch)
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, NYJ (@ CLE) - I'll get criticism for this prediction, but Fitzpatrick should be a firm QB1 in Week 8. The Browns are always on the fantasy radar as a friendly opponent for quarterbacks, which is the team Fitzpatrick draws on Sunday. Cleveland hasn't allowed less than two passing touchdowns in any game this season, and have given up three scores to opposing signal callers four out of the last five weeks. This is a layup for Fitzpatrick owners. (Krinch)
Ty Montgomery, WR/RB, GB (@ ATL) - Fantasy players were given an early stocking stuffer when Montgomery was granted running back eligibility in the majority of leagues. It doesn't matter which position you want to insert Montgomery in, he just needs to be in your lineup at all costs. With 20 receptions on 25 targets and 12 carries for 66 yards in his last two games, Montgomery is turning into one of the league's most valuable fantasy commodities. The Packers opponent this weekend, the Falcons, have allowed the second-most receptions to running backs. Look for Montgomery to take advantage in that area. (Krinch)
[SHOP BEARS: Get your Bears gear here]
Alshon Jeffery, WR, CHI (vs. MIN) - Jay Cutler's thumb has mysteriously healed and it's time for Jeffery to become a Top 10 wide receiver, right? Not exactly. I like Jeffery's outlook for the remainder of the season, but for this week and this week only, I'm staying clear of him. The Vikings defense presents a major mismatch for the Bears offense, and Jeffery will be in for a long night against a Vikings which ranks No. 2 against opposing wide receivers. (Krinch)
Matthew Stafford, QB, DET (@ HOU) - Stafford is having an MVP-caliber season and in the midst of one of the best stretches of his career so I know I'll get a lot of flack for benching him. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big Stafford fan and think he's one of the best fantasy bargains in 2016. I just expect him to be more of a game manager against a stingy Texans secondary. Look for Stafford to keep the turnovers at a minimum and for the Lions to establish a ground attack, limiting Stafford's fantasy value for this week. (Krinch)
Jonathan Stewart, RB, CAR (vs. ARI) - The forgotten man in most fantasy circles — despite routinely finishing each season as a Top 20 running back — is going to keep that label this weekend. The Cardinals front seven has been a nightmare for opposing running backs, and I expect it to be no different on Sunday. If the Cardinals get up big — a very good possibility — it's going to be a game of catch-up for the Panthers offense which will limit Stewart's touches. (Krinch)
Anytime Nikola Mirotic is on an island defensively in a crucial moment of a game, there’s a general sense of nervousness and doubt that’s palpable inside the United Center.
So imagine everyone’s surprise when Mirotic defended Boston Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown well enough to force a travel in the final minute of the Bulls’ 105-99 win Thursday night.
With the Celtics down two, Brown started his drive from the top of the key and pivoted back to his right. When he rose up for a jumper or pass, Mirotic was right in his face and Brown, a talented rookie playing in his second NBA game, didn’t know where to go.
He came back down with the ball still in his hands for a traveling violation, and the stage was set for Dwyane Wade’s closing heroics.
Wade, the closer was set up by Mirotic, the stopper—well, let’s not go that far just yet.
“I tried just to play good defense, to make him drive the ball because we want him to shoot a contested shot,” Mirotic said. “It was big-time defense. We needed that one. After that, Dwyane Wade has huge stop and made that 3. It’s a team job, team defense. I was just trying to be a part of that. I’m very happy about the game.”
In all fairness, Brown is a rookie and the Bulls would rather not see Mirotic in a one-on-one situation late in games defensively. But it appears as if Fred Hoiberg will give him the opportunities to close games so Mirotic will find himself in instances where he’ll have to make plays on both ends.
Hoiberg called it the defensive play of the game, and agreed with the assessment of Mirotic being an underrated defensive rebounder despite his struggles on that end of the floor.
[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]
“It just goes to show you even when your shot isn’t falling, you can still have a positive impact,” Hoiberg said. “I loved his attack. He was getting in the paint and got some offensive rebound tip-ins as well so just overall solid game.”
Although Hoiberg had to make the decision to insert Taj Gibson as a starter at power forward over Mirotic, it’s not hard to see scenarios like Thursday where both are together to close games—Mirotic will be needed to spread the floor for Wade and Jimmy Butler to create shots in one-on-one situations.
Mirotic missed five of his six 3-point shots but was flawless inside the line, scoring 15 with nine rebounds.
“To be honest, I didn’t feel very comfortable with my 3-point shot,” said Mirotic, although Hoiberg said Mirotic’s attempts were good looks. “I tried to find a way to score, make an impact on the game---rebound the ball, play unselfish. My goal was to play good defense because I know that’s the next step.”
Getting over the idea of losing a starting job many believed would’ve been his given the composition of the roster seems to be behind Mirotic, who was a starter last season before acute appendicitis forced him out of action before the All-Star break.
“It doesn’t feel right to be honest. But no disappointment. It is what it is,” Mirotic said. “I want to not think and be focused and play my game. Now that I come from the bench, it’s like, ‘All right, figure out how you’re going to do that, how you’re going to help your team and play well.’”
Gibson and Mirotic were the only Bulls to shoot over 50 percent, as Gibson’s strong preseason play carried over to the opener. Make no mistake, if the Bulls are to exceed modest expectations, Mirotic will have to step up, as his production is no longer a luxury.
“It’s going to be a long season. But I told Fred it’s no problem,” Mirotic said. “I respect your decision. Taj is an amazing player. He’s playing so good. He’s in great shape. He deserves to be the starter. He has played a lot of years here. So I respect that. I’m cool with that. What I want to do is play my game, improve this year, make my team win more games. That’s all I can do.”