Stanley Cup Final presents an unlikely matchup

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Stanley Cup Final presents an unlikely matchup

From Comcast SportsNet
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- Roughly two years ago, the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils were the finalists in the free-agent market battle for Ilya Kovalchuk. The Devils won the right to keep the high-scoring Russian with a bid of 102 million. Wednesday night, the teams will start fighting for a much bigger prize, the Stanley Cup. In this contest, skill, heart and desire will decide the outcome. Nothing else. And it doesn't matter that the Devils and Kings aren't the two teams most experts expected to be left standing after three rounds of the playoffs. "You hear it every year, but it doesn't get old: Once you make it in, you have a chance to get here," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "I think that's one thing that the prognosticators don't consider. I always put it this way, when the playoffs start, the clocks should be reset. Because everyone's starting over, and all 16 teams have a shot to win it all. "I think both teams would agree with that this year." Led by Kovalchuk and a 40-year-old Martin Brodeur, the Devils are just the second No. 6 seed to reach the finals. The 2004 Calgary Flames, coached by Sutter, were the other. Riding the goaltending of Jonathan Quick, the Kings overcame even bigger obstacles. They are only the second No. 8 seed to make it since the conference-based NHL playoff format was introduced in 1993-94. The Edmonton Oilers were the first in 2006. "It's all about winning here, and eliminating distractions and doing what it takes to be successful," said Brodeur, who led the Devils to Cups in 1995, 2000 and 2003. "That's worked for us this year, and really my entire career. For me, to be a part of that is great. To come to the rink every day during my career, knowing we had a chance to win every night is something special. "I've had that my whole career here, and that's been a great ride." While this isn't a glamour series that boasts the likes of a Sidney Crosby, a Steven Stamkos or even a Henrik Lundqvist, it has elements that should help the NHL, and prove entertaining on the ice. To start, this is an East-West series featuring two of the nation's biggest media markets: Los Angeles and the New York metropolitan area. The Kings and Devils also present great story lines. Los Angeles, which heavily courted Kovalchuk in free agency, is making only its second appearance in the Cup finals, having lost in 1993 to Montreal. The Kings are back after a midseason shake-up that saw Sutter replace Terry Murray just before Christmas and a late trade that added skilled scorer Jeff Carter to the lineup. Still, they didn't clinch a playoff berth until the final week of the season. The Kings have been virtually unstoppable since then. They have posted a 12-2 record in the playoffs and knocked off the three top seeds in the Western Conference -- Vancouver, St. Louis and Phoenix. They have never trailed in a series, winning the first three games in each round. "Everybody's just clicking," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "People are used to playing with their linemates now. The lines have been the same from the last part of the season. D pairings are the same. It's just getting used to them. Everyone is playing with confidence. Once you start clicking like that, pucks start going in the net for you." The Devils' story is just as good. They missed the playoffs last season despite retaining Kovalchuk with a 102 million contract that the league said violated its letter of the law. Few expected them to recover this quickly, especially with Brodeur seemingly on his last legs after a sub-par season, and captain Zach Parise returning from a major knee injury. When top center Travis Zajac blew out an Achilles tendon before training camp, the chances of Devils making the finals seemed slim. Guess again. New Jersey won its final six games in the regular season, rallied from 3-2 deficit in the opening round of the playoffs with two overtime wins against Florida, and then eliminated the Flyers and Rangers, their two biggest rivals, in five and six games, respectively. "Last year was tough," said Kovalchuk, who said there was never a doubt in his mind that he would stay in New Jersey. "But we made sure it paid off. We have a great coaching staff, great players here, great group of guys, very close to each other. I think that makes a big difference." The other thing that should be great is the goaltending. The 26-year-old Quick leads playoff netminders in goals-against average (1.54) and save percentage (.946). He has eight road wins in as many starts, posting a 1.55 goals-against average and .948 save percentage in those games. Brodeur is a four-time Vezina Trophy winner. He has played in 24 career Stanley Cup finals games, posting a 15-9 record with a 1.91 goals-against, losing only a series to Colorado in seven games in 2001. The Montreal native is set to become the fifth goaltender in NHL history and first since Jacques Plante in 1970 to appear in the Stanley Cup finals after his 40th birthday: "Well, everyone knows what he's meant to the league and this team, and where he stands in history," Quick said of the NHL's winningest goaltender. "For me, it's not about me against him. It's about the Kings and the Devils." The Devils and Kings are very similar in their approaches. Both want to establish the forecheck, create pressure and have it lead to offense. The Kings, who posted a 25-13-11 regular-season record after Sutter took over, are definitely a little bigger than the Rangers, and they certainly have more depth. Devils defenseman Peter Harrold played five seasons with the Kings before signing with New Jersey this year. He spent the majority of this season at Albany of the AHL, before being inserted into the Devils' postseason rotation. He said both organizations stress team first. "Everything is about the collective, not the individuals," said Harrold, who says this series will be good for hockey. "It's two really big stages. "That's what you want to grow the game."

Which teams have the best odds to sign Kevin Durant?

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Which teams have the best odds to sign Kevin Durant?

Now that Oklahoma City has become the 10th team to blow a 3-1 lead in a playoff series, the clock has officially started on Kevin Durant’s upcoming free agency. With the salary cap jumping to about $92 million this summer, almost half the league will be able to offer Durant a maximum contract at 11 p.m. on June 30th.

So, which teams have the best chance to sign one of the league’s top-three players? Here’s a look at the early odds.

Oklahoma City Thunder: 2-1. For financial and competitive reasons, Durant’s best move is to stay in Oklahoma City. With the cap jumping $20 million this summer and another $15 million in 2017, Durant can make an extra $40 million by signing a one-and-one contract with the Thunder in July, then opt out and sign a long-term deal in 2017. Plus, after taking the defending-champion Warriors to seven games in the Western Conference Finals, Durant has an excellent chance to win a championship with the Thunder next season. And, by signing for one year, he can align his free agency with Russell Westbrook’s in 2017. That way, if Westbrook decides to abandon Oklahoma City for a big-market team in Los Angeles or New York, Durant can bail from a sinking ship at the same time.

San Antonio Spurs: 10-1. Durant has a world of respect for the dynasty Gregg Popovich has built, and he would make the Spurs an instant title favorite if he made the move to San Antonio. The Spurs would have to jettison some contracts and nudge Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili into retirement to create cap room, but the thought of Durant joining Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge in San Antonio is pretty intriguing.

Miami Heat: 15-1. Never underestimate Pat Riley’s ability to sell a free agent on the ability to win championships by joining the franchise he runs. Riley worked his salary-cap magic to add LeBron James and Chris Bosh in 2010, and he even got a meeting with Aldridge last summer even though the Heat didn’t have the cap room to sign him. If Durant wants to get away from the top-heavy Western Conference for a better chance to get to the Finals, what better place to go than South Beach? The biggest problem in this scenario is Miami doesn’t have a lot of cap flexibility and would probably have to sacrifice the chance to re-sign free agent center Hassan Whiteside to make a run at Durant.

Golden State Warriors: 25-1. We’ve read the media speculation about the Warriors being the biggest threat to take Durant away from Oklahoma City, but if Golden State is able to win a second straight championship, do they really want to mess up team chemistry by adding a star player who would expect to get 20 to 25 shots a game? Sure, the triumvirate of Durant, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson would be something to behold, but would it make the Warriors a better all-around team or just a nightly All-Star exhibition? The Warriors would have to let restricted free agents Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli go plus make some other roster moves to create the cap room for a competitive offer.

Los Angeles Clippers: 30-1. The Clippers won’t have the cap room to sign Durant, but Doc Rivers could propose an intriguing sign-and-trade deal sending Blake Griffin back to Oklahoma, where he starred as a collegian. The trio of Durant, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan could do some serious damage in the West, and Griffin might be a popular addition in Oklahoma City, though not quite the same franchise-altering talent as Durant.

Los Angeles Lakers: 40-1. Would Durant be willing to leave a championship contender in Oklahoma City and give up an extra $40 million to join a rebuilding Lakers team? Probably not, though the lure of Tinseltown can be appealing for a lot of athletes. Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant would give their best recruiting pitches, but the answer is most likely no.

Boston Celtics/Washington Wizards: 50-1. Danny Ainge is still searching for that elusive superstar to elevate the Celtics to contending status, and Durant grew up in the Washington, D.C. area, but neither franchise is exactly what Durant is looking for. As we mentioned with Miami, moving to the East would give Durant an easier path to the Finals, but he’s already gone on record saying he doesn’t want the pressure of playing in his hometown, so the Wizards are probably out. Boston might be a long-shot team to watch if Ainge can make a trade to bring in another star to pair with Durant.

Chicago Bulls: 500-1. Given the current state of the franchise, it’s hard to imagine Durant agreeing to a meeting with the Bulls, much less choosing to sign here. Sure, he knows Derrick Rose from playing together on a couple of U.S. national teams, and the Bulls could probably create the cap room by trading off the contracts of Mike Dunleavy or Taj Gibson. But Durant and the other top free agents will have better options to choose from when the market opens for business.

If the Bulls don’t re-sign Joakim Noah, look for the front office to shop for a center and wing shooter from the second tier: names like Zaza Pachulia, Timofey Mozgov, Festus Ezeli, Marreese Speights, Courtney Lee, Arron Afflalo, Gerald Henderson, Jerryd Bayless — you know, the usual suspects. And, if they don’t draft a point guard, backup options in free agency include Shaun Livingston, Brandon Jennings, D.J. Augustin, Jeremy Lin, Mario Chalmers, Ty Lawson and Norris Cole.

The Bulls will also be impacted in free agency by the fact that unless they renounce their rights to Pau Gasol and Noah, they’ll have to wait until those players make their decisions before going out into the marketplace, since the cap holds based on last year’s salaries put them over the cap. That makes a serious run at one of the top-tier free agents even more unlikely.

So, unless the front office is able to pull off a major trade, it’s hard to imagine the Bulls significantly upgrading the roster for Year 2 under Fred Hoiberg. The Bulls will be banking on fewer injuries and internal improvement from the likes of Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott, Justin Holiday, Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio. A return to the playoffs is possible, but the championship window for this core group is closed.

Could ex-Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian replace Peyton Manning?

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Could ex-Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian replace Peyton Manning?

The starting quarterback for the reigning Super Bowl champs?

It might be a Northwestern alum.

Trevor Siemian, who was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the seventh round of last year's NFL Draft, is very much in the mix to succeed Peyton Manning as the Broncos' starting quarterback, according to the Denver Post's Troy Renck.

The Broncos' quarterback situation has been a hot topic during this NFL offseason. Manning rode into the sunset, retiring after winning his second Super Bowl in February, and backup Brock Osweiler signed a free-agent deal with the Houston Texans.

And while Denver brought in former USC star Mark Sanchez as a free agent and used a first-round draft pick on Memphis' Paxton Lynch, head coach Gary Kubiak is telling reporters he "wouldn't sleep on" Siemian to beat out both for the starting job.

"I think Trevor has a maturity to him. He’s kind of the sleeper, I would say. Trevor knows the offense. He’s very comfortable and can throw the ball too," Kubiak said, quoted in Renck's story. "We’ve also seen him make big plays in the preseason games under the lights. I wouldn’t sleep on Trevor to win the job, either."

Siemian didn't throw a pass during his rookie season, but if he were to beat out Sanchez and Lynch for the Broncos' starting gig, he'd be the first Northwestern product to start an NFL game at quarterback in the 21st century. Two others — Brett Basanez and Mike Kafka — threw a combined 27 passes in five NFL games during the 2006 and 2011 seasons.

Tom Izzo lauds 'bona fide 4-man' Ben Carter as Spartans announce addition

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Tom Izzo lauds 'bona fide 4-man' Ben Carter as Spartans announce addition

Early this month, UNLV transfer Ben Carter announced he'd be playing his final season of NCAA eligibility at Michigan State.

Tuesday, the Spartans officially announced Carter's addition, and head coach Tom Izzo — who was in need of some front-court help — welcomed a player he called a "bona fide 4-man."

"What struck me about Ben from the very first time I talked to him was that the most important thing to him was winning and being a part of a championship team," Izzo said in the team's announcement. "(Former UNLV interim) coach (Todd) Simon felt Ben was one of the keys to their team last season before he was injured in January. He's going to give us a bona fide 4-man, but once again, it's his passion for winning that most impressed me. After meeting with him and his family on their visit, I'm excited to say that we are adding a good player and a great kid."

Carter should give Izzo and the Spartans a good deal of assistance. Before that aforementioned season-ending ACL tear in January, Carter was averaging 8.6 points and 6.0 rebounds a game in 24 minutes a game for the Runnin' Rebels.

A total of five forwards — including two members of Michigan State's starting five — from last season's team departed this offseason. Matt Costello and Colby Wollenman graduated, Deyonta Davis is off to the NBA Draft and Javon Bess and Marvin Clark Jr. both transferred.

Carter joins a front court that returns Gavin Schilling and welcomes in incoming freshman Nick Ward.