Posted on: March 2, 2012 10:59 pm
Edited on: March 3, 2012 1:00 am
By: Adam Gretz
There's always a winner and a loser in the NHL, and this is a new nightly look at some of the winners and losers in the biggest games and biggest situations across the league.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Perhaps we gave up on the Tampa Bay Lightning too soon, because after their 4-3 overtime win against the New York Rangers on Friday night they now find themselves in the 10th spot in the Eastern Conference, just four points out of the final playoff spot with two games in hand on the Winnipeg Jets.
Hope is still alive, and, heck, they're even within striking distance of the first place Florida Panthers, trailing them by six points. And with the way that division has played out this season, especially over the past couple of months, anything appears to be possible, no matter how whacky or unbelievable it might seem.
Steven Stamkos also added to his league-leading goal total by scoring his 45th of the season.
[Related: Lightning 4, Rangers 3 -- Playoff Race -- Can Stamkos score 60 this season?]
Zach Parise and the Devils: A little bit of good news, and a little bit of bad news for Zach Parise and the New Jersey Devils on Friday. The good news is that Parise netted a hat trick in a 5-0 dismantling of the Capitals. The bad news, at least as it appeared to be initially, is that he was shaken up after he was sandwiched in a collission involving Brooks Laich and Matt Hendricks.
The Devils say that he's fine, but it still looked bad when it happened.
The win moves them ahead of the Ottawa Senators and into a tie with the Philadelphia Flyers for the No. 5 spot in the east.
[Related: Devils 5, Capitals 0]
Chicago Blackhawks: Perhaps the Blackhawks 2-1 win over the Senators can be the start of another streak. It's certainly been their theme over the past month, winning three, then losing nine, then winning four, then losing three and now winning two. Big challenge on Sunday against the Red Wings, though, but Friday's game was a big two points for a team that's fallen dangerously close to the playoff bubble.
[Related: Blackhawks 2, Senators 1]
Anaheim Ducks: Ryan Getzlaf broke a 2-2 tie with less than a minute to play in the third period to give the Ducks a huge 3-2 win over the Calgary Flames. The Ducks still didn't gain any ground, points-wise, when it comes to catching up to a playoff spot (Dallas, the current team in the No. 8 spot, also won on Friday) but they were able to move ahead of at least one team for the time being, pulling ahead of Minnesota.
[Related Ducks 3, Flames 2]
Minnesota Wild offense: After having the best record in the NHL after 30 games the Wild have been one of the worst teams in the league ever since, and they looked every bit that bad on Friday night during a 6-0 loss in Detroit.
For most of the night it appeared as if there was some sort of invisible force field around the Red Wings end of the ice, preventing Minnesota from entering the zone and establishing any sort of attack time. For the night, the Wild generated just 19 shots on goal, and by my count, only four of them can be considered to be quality scoring chances.
Four of their shots came from beyond the blue line. That's not going to create goals.
By comparison, I have the Red Wings with 17 quality scoring chances. Tough night for the Wild.
[Related: Red Wings 6, Wild 0]
Washington Capitals: As mentinoed above, the Capitals were pretty much crushed in a game they needed -- which can be said for all of their remaining games, most likely -- and at home. And with Tampa Bay's win, the Capitals now have even more company in the playoff race.
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Posted on: February 5, 2012 4:06 pm
Edited on: February 5, 2012 4:16 pm
As big of a loss as that is for the Caps, seeing Brooks Laich go down in the game is as big of a concern as anything for Washington right now.
In the second period, Laich was playing the puck behind the Bruins net when Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg delivered a check into the boards. It looked innocent enough but there was some contact on the play that pinned Laich's knee against the boards. Moments later he was being helped off the ice and down the tunnel toward the locker room without putting any pressure on his leg.
He came out during a television time out to test the knee but he couldn't go on. He left the arena with a brace on his knee and with the help of crutches.
"I’m not a doctor, but with these things sometimes there’s some swelling ... But I don’t think it’s anything serious," Laich said after the game. "I'll get some ice on it and see how I feel when I wake up."
"He's day to day right now," Caps coach Dale Hunter said after the game. "We're just going to wait and see."
They better hope so. It's no secret that this season the Caps are in a dog fight just to make the playoffs. With the loss today, they remain out of the playoff seedings in the East at the moment. If they are going to sans Laich for any length of time, that makes things even tougher.
The Capitals already have a weakness up the middle with Nicklas Backstrom still on the sidelines since he was hit in the head by Rene Bourque. They can't afford to lose another center like Laich, who is one of their more consistent players and is a big piece for a team that hasn't been scoring much.
The good news for Washington is that despite the loss, they actually outshot an opponent on Sunday afternoon. They had 36 shots to the Bruins' 30, so there's that. Their pace of shooting has been way too low for well over a month now so that's a step in the right direction.
But they need to keep their fingers crossed Laich will be OK. He's a very underrated player for the Capitals, a solid two-way guy that probably every team in the NHL would like to have on their side.
With a win over the Canadiens on Saturday, normally you'd say a weekend split isn't bad. But depending on how Laich comes out of this, it could be.
Hit of the weekend
I'm not sure it's 25 feet as the Penguins announcers says. I have a hunch they might have been dabbling in the art of hyperbole, something I do myself from time to time. But that still is probably the greatest hit in the history of hockey hits.
In this day and age you're not used to seeing the Bruins players acting as the ragdolls, they're usually the ones doing the pushing.
The Colorado Avalanche are historically good when it comes to the shootout. They just don't lose in the "skills competition." That was until Saturday.
On the season the Avs were 7-0 in shootouts. Go back to last season and the streak was 10 consecutive shootouts. For an event that is statistically close to a tossup, that's pretty remarkable.
Of course, all good things must come to an end. The Avalanche finally lost a shootout this Saturday to the division rival Vancouver Canucks, failing to score in their three attempts.
Their shootout success has been a big reason why the Avs are as close in the playoff picture as they are. Those are crucial points to be picking up. And while losing the extra point to the Canucks doesn't seem like the biggest thing in the world considering they likely aren't catching the reigning Western Conference champs in the Northwest, it is obviously critical in the hunt for that eighth spot.
What a game
Speaking of shootouts, the only other team this season who had yet to fall in a shootout also suffered the fate on Saturday.
Of course Sam Gagner played a huge part in the Oilers effort. He scored a point on each of the Oilers' eight goals against the Blackhawks in Edmonton's last game and then he was in on each of the Edmonton's first three goals against Detroit.
While he didn't get in on the game-tying goal in the final minute for the Oilers to snap his streak, Gagner did tally a score in the shootout, helping the Oilers eventually prevail thanks to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' shootout goal in his first game back, giving the Red Wings their first shootout defeat.
It was one of the better games of the season, a very entertaining, back-and-forth game. Minus the shootout, it had everything most every hockey fan likes to see.
Hit of the weekend Part II
I'm not sure this can compete with the Orpik-on-Paille hit, but it's still worth watching. I mean, who doesn't love guys being dumped over the boards?
The Wild and Stars got together for a crucial game for the West playoff picture and at least this hit showed how big it was. Watch Jake Dowell get dumped over the boards and into the camera well by Jed Ortmeyer of the Wild.
I'd say that's as good as time as any for a line change.
Quote of the weekend
“It was a party. It’s always fun. It keeps you in the game. Who knows, though? The next game I might get 15 to 20 shots, and you have to be ready for that, too.” -- Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators goalie on facing 43 shots against the Blues. (from the Tennessean).
Only a goalie could think his team facing 43 shots in one game could be considered a party.
Then again, when you beat a division rival 2-1 and move second place in the ultra-competitive Central, well then it might feel pretty good.
Tags: Boston Bruins, Brian Stubits, Brooks Laich, Brooks Orpik, Colorado Avalanche, Dale Hunter, Dallas Stars, Daniel Paille, Dennis Seidenberg, Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, Jake Dowell, Jed Ortmeyer, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, Nicklas Backstron, Pekka Rinne, Pittsburgh Penguins, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sam Gagner, St. Louis Blues, Todd Bertuzzi, Vancouver Canucks, Washington Capitals, Weekend Wrap
Posted on: December 10, 2011 12:03 pm
Edited on: December 10, 2011 12:08 pm
By: Adam Gretz
During the Washington Capitals 4-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night it appeared that defenseman Dennis Wideman had recorded his first career hat trick with three power play goals, resulting in the traditional shower of hats on the Verizon Center ice and what would have been one of the most unexpected hat tricks of the season.
On Saturday, the hat trick was erased from the books as Wideman's third goal (shown above) has now been credited to Capitals forward Brooks Laich. Wideman still gets credit for an assist, and finished the game with four points (two goals, two assists).
According to Katie Carrera of the Washington Post, Wideman asked the NHL to review the goal after the game and insisted that it was Laich's goal from the start. It was reviewed, and ultimately changed.
“If you get one you want it to be honest,” said Wideman.
No matter who scored the goal, it was a huge night for the Capitals power play, which had been struggling in recent weeks, as it converted on four of its six chances.
Posted on: November 2, 2011 10:38 am
Edited on: November 2, 2011 12:59 pm
WASHINGTON -- When it came crunch time on Tuesday night for the Washington Capitals, trailing by one with less than a minute to go, Bruce Boudreau put his best line on the ice. That did not include putting Alexander Ovechkin in the game. And wouldn't you know it, Nicklas Backstrom scored on a big rebound to send the game to overtime.
But back to that end of regulation. Coming out of a timeout, Boudreau had just diagrammed a play and pulled his goalie Tomas Vokoun. That's when Ovechkin was ready to jump on the ice, only to be told to take a seat.
As you can see from the video, Ovechkin was saying the right things afterward. But at the time? Well he didn't seem too pleased with the benching, now did he?
The obvious answer is why wouldn't he? Of course he wanted to play and be on the ice in the final minute. If he weren't angry and wanting to play, just taking a benching with disinterest, wouldn't THAT be cause for concern? So he muttered something to himself. Big deal.
Boudreau explained -- quite well, if you ask me -- why Ovechkin wasn't on the ice. Was it due to poor performance?
"You tell me," Boudreau responded. "I got to put out the guys that I think are going to score the goal. Ninety-nine percent of the time Alex is the guy I think is going to score the goal. I just didn't think he was going to score the goal at that time tonight."
Ovechkin responded on Wednesday, explaining he was, indeed frustrated, but supports Boudreau's system of accountability. (Quotes from Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post.)
"I was pissed off. Of course I want to be in that situation on the ice. It was just a little bit frustrating because I’m a leader in the team and I want that kind of responsibility."
As to what he said that was caught on TV?
"It doesn’t matter who I said it, and what I said. It looked funny on TV."
The funny thing is that Boudreau is making a heck of a lot of calls this year, brave ones. He started Michal Neuvirth over Vokoun on opening night. He specifically said Ovechkin needed to be better ... after Game 2 of the season. He split up his stud defensive pairing of Karl Alzner and John Carlson so they could extend their versatility. Mike Knuble? He's been pushed down to the fourth line. Ol' Bruce has been pushing a lot of buttons, and a lot of them have been the right ones. After all, the Caps are 8-2-0.
Is there big trouble in little China Town, aka Washington (see, Verizon Center is located in D.C.'s China To ... ah forget it)?
Not at all. Feelings might be a little hurt, but that's about it. Boudreau was right, the third line of Jason Chimera, Joel Ward and Brooks Laich was excellent not only on Tuesday, but all season long. Oh, and Washington scored the goal. Doesn't that vindicate Boudreau a little bit?
Fact of the matter is that Ovechkin isn't playing the same way that we're used to seeing. Check that. He IS playing the same way we're used to seeing and everybody in the league seems to know what he's going to do before he does. But we aren't seeing him produce the same way. He isn't producing the goals that make you say "wow." He has scored five goals and has five more assists in 10 games, but you can see it isn't coming as easily. The up-ice rushes are shut down nearly every time now with defenders expecting that cutback to center ice and then the shot flying.
That's why this is being blown a bit out of proportion.
If it happens in the next game, then there might be some more there. As of now, Boudreau had a hunch, and his hunch was right.
Posted on: October 29, 2011 10:22 pm
Edited on: October 29, 2011 10:25 pm
By: Adam Gretz
Chris Pronger addressed the media on Saturday night for the first time since suffering an eye injury last week that will sideline him for the next couple of weeks. His right eye looked every bit as mangled as one would expect after taking a stick to the face during a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the defenseman said he has no idea on a timetable for his return to the lineup.
He also said that he's experiencing some blurred vision, and when asked if he feels lucky that the injury wasn't worse, he admitted it could have easily been a lot worse but also added that you never feel lucky after getting hit. Flyers beat writer Anthony SanFilippo has the video of the entire media scrum which lasts about three-and-a-half minutes.
It's been reported that Pronger will not be cleared to return to the Flyers' lineup without wearing a visor, and when asked if the injury has changed his opinion on wearing one he simply said "You don't want to know my stance, that's for another day."
And with that, the debate rolls on. While Pronger was addressing the Philadelphia media, the folks on CBC Hotstove were debating whether or not the NHL should make visors mandatory and, predictably, former NHL player and New York Islanders general manager Mike Milbury was completely against the idea and the very suggestion of it, arguing that it would change the game and be a major step toward the elimination of fighting, while also claiming that he likes seeing players bloodied because it's a badge or honor and courage.
Leaving aside the argument as to whether or not fighting should or should not be eliminated (which is another, more difficult discussion for another day) the flaw in that argument, of course (the fighting part, anyway), as pointed out by TSN's Bob McKenzie via Twitter, is that the American Hockey League has made visors mandatory and fighting still takes place.
As I pointed out last week there are still are a good number of NHL players that view wearing a visor as their own personal choice because it's only putting themselves at risk for injury. And while that's true, that they're the only person that has to deal with the pain and injury that could come from not wearing a visor, they are putting their teams at risk -- as well as the large financial investments of their front office -- by potentially missing games due to what could be an easily preventable injury. And as far as increasing player safety is concerned, this is one change that would not, contary to Milbury's howls for blood, have a major impact on the game, unlike some other potential changes (like, for example, no-touch icing).
You're not going to completely eliminate injuries no matter what changes you make to the way the game is played or the equipment players are forced to wear. Playing the game will always carry a certain amount of risk. But the issue isn't whether or not visors can completely eliminate the potential for injury, it's about whether or not (and how much) it can reduce the risk of preventable ones.
Meanwhile, Washington Capitals forward Brooks Laich addressed the subject on Saturday, and according to Katie Carrera of the Washington Post, he feels the NHL is within five to 10 years of making visors mandatory.
Said Laich, via the Post:
“I think eventually visors will be mandatory for players coming into the league,” said Laich, who is Washington’s NHLPA representative. “If they do institute that rule I’d like to be grandfathered where [those already in the NHL] have a choice. I almost wish I wore a visor because incidents that can happen. Last night, you take the ear and maybe that’s two inches and it’s in your eye.”My only question: five to 10 years? Why so long?
Posted on: October 14, 2011 3:46 pm
Edited on: October 14, 2011 3:50 pm
There are a few ongoing hot topics in the NHL these days, one of them is the concussion debate. It was already a big conversation before Sidney Crosby was sidelined with one, but since the superstar has been out for 10 months and counting, it has seemed to be an even bigger deal.
The whole idea of the concussion movement, for lack of a better term, is to protect the players. We're talking about something that has proven to be a very serious danger. Paul Kariya went on a bit of a tirade concerning concussions when announcing his retirement. After all, they shortened his career. In football, there have been high school players who died from concussions.
It isn't hyperbole when you hear people say this is life and death discussion. It truly can be.
Teammate Mike Green, who missed a good portion of last season because of a concussion, basically echoed Laich's standpoint.
“You've got to make that call. I think at times the protocol for testing for concussions -- they're just tests, they're not exactly how you feel,” Green said.
I'm one of the first people to support people's rights to do something, even if they are endangering themselves. Ever see the shots from the beach during a hurricane where they show a couple of people surfing while the reporter begs people to stay away from the beach? I say go right ahead. The police shouldn't arrest them. Warn them they are putting their lives at risk and if they still want to do it, that's their right.
So in that way, I support what Laich has to say. I agree that a player should be able to make this decision on his own. But not the day of. A player in the moment probably isn't wise enough to make a rational decision on the matter. It's like a criminal trying to enter a plea when they are deemed incompetant. A court won't take it until the person is aware of what they are being charged with.
But where Laich loses me is not caring about awareness stuff, the discussion and quiet rooms. It's an important conversation and players need to be aware of the dangers and procedures. You know the old saying keep your friends close and your enemies closer? This is sort of the same idea. You need to know the ins and outs of concussions before you can make a truly informed decision on the matter, on your own health.
Hockey is a tough game, a sport filled with machismo. We know that. Guys still fight bare knuckles and tough out injuries all the time. It's not a sport where showing any perceived weakness is something a player wants to do. So I get where this is coming from.
I feel that what Laich and other players want to do with the information at their disposal is up to them. But the conversation is too important to tune out.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: July 6, 2011 8:42 pm
Edited on: July 7, 2011 9:09 am
By: Adam Gretz
The Washington Capitals made a strong effort to become a better defensive team during the 2010-11 season, allowing just 197 goals (a 36-goal improvement from the previous year), the fourth-best mark in the NHL. Based on their moves this summer, they could be an even tougher team to score against in 2011. Not only did they re-sign Brooks Laich, a strong defensive presence up front, to go along with the free agency additions of Roman Hamrlik and Tomas Vokoun, they also added one of the best shutdown forwards in the NHL in 30-year-old Joel Ward, formerly of the Nashville Predators. He was signed to a four-year contract on July 1.
A player who can easily be described as a "late bloomer," Ward has never been one to light up the scoreboard with huge goal or point totals, but he has been counted on to play some of the toughest minutes in the NHL against the toughest competition in the toughest situations.
He was kind enough to spend a few minutes on the phone with me on Wednesday evening to discuss the free agency process, his role on the ice and his long journey to the NHL.
Adam Gretz: What was the July 1 free agency process like for you? Did you have a list of teams that you had in your mind that you wanted to play for, did you simply wait for your agent's phone to ring at 12:01 and sort through the offers, or was it a combination of the two?
Joel Ward: I'd say it was a little bit of both. I had a couple of teams in mind that I thought I'd like to pursue and Washington was definitely up there, so I was pretty excited when they contacted my agent. I was hoping to land a spot there if I could and things worked out so I'm pretty excited about the new opportunity.
Gretz: What was it about Washington that attracted you? The organization, the staff, the style … perhaps it was watching them on 24/7 last year?
Ward: (laughs) It was a combination of all of those things. I definitely watched 24/7 and I liked the makeup of the team, and I thought that was a really good program to get an outsiders perspective. But again, I just liked the makeup of the team. It's a very high powered offense and at times more of a defensive style, and it's a bit of a different look than what I was used to in Nashville. I thought making the playoffs every year and giving themselves an opportunity was always going to be a fun spot to be in to try and hoist the Stanley Cup.
Gretz: Whenever a player signs a contract, whether it be re-signing with a team or signing a deal in free agency, the first thing we always do is say, OK, this guy scored this many goals last year and now he's making this much money. If you were to do that with a player like yourself, you kind of miss what your real value is. In Nashville you were always playing against the other teams top line, starting in the defensive zone. You were playing tough minutes. You're not out there to score 40 goals. Your job is to stop the other teams 40 goal scorer from scoring.
Ward: That's exactly it. We did it a little different in Nashville with a very defensive style. I would ask people if they could guess who our leading goal-scorer was and a lot of people would be a little confused by it (it was Sergei Kostitsyn), but it's just a different mix.
We had a different collection of guys that stepped up in different situations, and that's the way we did it there. My game is just to be defensively sound, pay attention to detail and get the puck up the ice. I was very excited to get that opportunity in Nashville. I take pride in playing at both ends of the rink and to be good at every position. You don't have to be good at one spot, just try to do everything well and hope that keeps up and creates more ice-time for yourself.
Last year I started learning face-offs and doing a little bit of that and working in the defensive zone and different areas in coverage, and it kind of helped a lot. It was definitely a learning curve, but I think I became better as the year went on with my responsibilities in my own end. And again, offensively if you can get the puck out of the zone, which I take pride in along the boards, it creates opportunities for your linemates for offensive chances.
Gretz: Is that something you learn early on that, OK, as much as I want to I'm probably not going to score 50 goals, so I better make sure I can contribute in as many other areas as I can?
Ward: You're right. It's no secret, I'm not going out there to score 50, but then again, who is? Not many guys are doing that. In order to succeed in this league you just have to go out there every night and consistently try to work on the skills you do have. I've kind of learned playing the defensive side of things it can create offensive chances. I just take pride on the walls and trying to get open for my d-man for that outlet pass and try to make plays off the wall as opposed to just shooting it out. It's something I've been doing for a while now, and it's something I want to bring to Washington and try to win over the fans and say, 'Hey, I'm here to win games and I'm here to compete.'
Gretz: You've developed a reputation as being a "big-game" player, a guy that raises his level of play in the playoffs. That's a pretty good reputation to have in this league -- especially when it comes to free agency -- because every team wants a guy who plays his best in the biggest situations.
Ward: It's playoff hockey. It's a fun time of year. You get in the playoffs, and it's a fresh start, and regardless of who you're playing against you just try to stay in the moment as best you can. I mean, who wouldn't want to win the Stanley Cup? That's my attitude, I just want to win, and I'm sure everybody else does, and you just go out there and try to execute and work hard and hope positive things happen.
I'm just really excited about the opportunity here in Washington, and the team they have here, and hopefully I can bring a little bit more to help out. It's just a fun time of year to be in the playoffs. You watch the Boston-Vancouver series, you kind of wish you were there. I remember just kind of staring at the TV watching as Boston was skating around with the cup, and you wish that can be you, and I think I gave myself a better opportunity to do that here in Washington.
Gretz: Washington really seemed to shift its style last year and became a lot more defensive. They scored fewer goals and allowed a lot fewer as well. Obviously, you're a shutdown type of guy up front, so it would appear that your skill set would really fit in well with what they're doing there.
Ward: Definitely. That's what we did down in Nashville the past couple of years; we were a tight defensive group and tried to feast on turnovers and opportunities. Playing in a system like that definitely benefits, and I'm ready to learn whatever system I have to play. I'll definitely know my role when I'm out there and try to provide the best opportunity for my linemates to create chances. You know, defensive hockey isn't just staying in your own zone and defending. If you're playing in the oppositions side of the ice, hey, that's less time you have to play in your zone. More attack zone is the way I look at it defensively. Just try to keep the puck in the other team's end cycling and creating more opportunities.
Gretz: Your journey to the NHL is pretty fascinating. You were undrafted, you've played roller hockey, you've played college hockey in Canada, various minor leagues … and here you are now. I think there's a lesson in there that goes beyond hockey, kind of, whatever you want to do, keep going, keep doing it, keep working at it .. a never give up type of thing. When you were going through all of that, did you ever imagine that you would be in a position where NHL teams would be lining up to try and sign you on the first day of free agency?
Ward:It's funny you say that. I will always tell everyone I think I've played every type of hockey there is on the face of the planet. I think it kind of made me humble, playing in the different leagues. I went to a Canadian University and graduated with my sociology degree, so it's definitely been a long road, but I've always wanted to play in the National Hockey League. Growing up in Toronto, you're always watching the Maple Leafs, so as a kid in this area, you're always looking for an opportunity. It's been a long road for myself and my family to this point, but the next step now is to try and go deep in the playoffs and try to do some damage.
Posted on: June 28, 2011 10:22 am
Edited on: June 28, 2011 11:03 am
There was concern among the Caps faithful that Laich would be on his way out of town, considering he was set to become an unrestricted free agent Friday.
"It wasn't very stressful at all," said Laich of the negotiating process. "Washington was easily my first choice. I gave my agent instructions that I fully intended to return to Washington and that was my only choice. I wasn't looking to test the market."
Keeping Laich was important to the Capitals. He's a solid, two-way player who contributed 16 goals and 32 assists last season for the Caps after a career-high 25 goals and 59 points the season before.
"He's really important to this team," Capitals GM George McPhee said. "This guy is committed. I think lots of other teams were going after him. This is an important guy for us."
"My intent the whole time was to return," Laich said. "That was the only option. We got to a point where it got very close to the draft and I really wanted to get the deal done so I knew for sure I’d be going back to Washington. You never know (what) could happen at the draft; they could have made trades or gone in another direction. I didn’t want to lose Washington."
It might have taken a couple of days longer, but the only thing anybody is losing is the free-agent market, down one of the better players that would have been available.
-- Brian Stubits
Photo: Getty Images