Happy Monday! Welcome back to the grind after a pretty eventful sports weekend, for better and for worse. My fellow hockey fans are probably still trying to process the NHL's chaotic spectacle that went down at Lake Tahoe over the past couple of days, and I'm going to give my thoughts on that here shortly (spoiler: It was a mess but I absolutely loved it.)
Before we get to that, we're going to talk a bit about some of the unexpected big-name veterans that could be joining the NFL free agency class. Also, we've got some potential movement on the Panthers' interest in Deshaun Watson.
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Hope you enjoyed your weekend, but now it's time to get back to business. Wipe away those sleepies and come get comfortable with me in these trenches. We've got another big week ahead of us, so let's get it started in proper fashion.
📰 What you need to know
1. NHL has a wild, chaotic stay at Lake Tahoe 🏒
Even during a bumpy pandemic-shortened season, the NHL still found time to bring its product outdoors this past weekend. The league had to cancel its annual marquee Winter Classic event this year but the NHL did (semi) successfully hold two outdoor games sans fans at Lake Tahoe this weekend to make up for it, and it was quite an eventful ... and chaotic ... couple of days in scenic Nevada.
- Saturday's game between the Avalanche and Golden Knights, which began at 3 p.m. ET, had a nearly nine-hour delay because the sun created unsafe ice conditions
- The game resumed at midnight (ET) after the sun went down and the ice could be fixed. The Avalanche went on to win 3-2
- Sunday's Bruins-Flyers game was pushed back to a 7:30 p.m. (ET) start in order to avoid ice issues. David Pastrnak scored three goals as the Bruins routed the Flyers 7-3
It wasn't quite the smoothest or most well-executed event the NHL has ever held, but ultimately it was a very cool and unique weekend of hockey. Yeah, sure, we see plenty of outdoor games now and you can say that they've become too gimmicky or watered down, but this one was unlike any of the previous offerings from the league.
Was that nine-hour delay on Saturday a horrible look for the league during a marquee event? Absolutely, but ultimately it provided the opportunity for us to experience outdoor hockey after midnight, and it was completely weird and unforgettable experience I can get behind. And honestly, I didn't miss the fans at all over the weekend, either.
While it's hard to imagine the NHL passing up on the fan revenue that comes from these outdoor games during a normal year, it'd be very cool if they did more "retreat" type events like this one. Several teams involved over the course of a weekend ... play games during the day and at night ... make the experience campy. It would be awesome. All things considered -- the beautiful scenery, the chaos, the uniqueness -- this may have been my favorite outdoor event yet.
2. Brace yourself for 2021 NFL free agency 🏈
We've already had some craziness across the NFL already this offseason, but you better believe that things are going to get a whole lot weirder and crazier the closer we get to free agency. There's a good chance we start seeing some increased action in the coming weeks considering NFL teams can place franchise tags on players starting tomorrow until March 9 (last year, 14 franchise tags and 1 transition tag were placed on players.)
But because this is the NFL and the salary cap always brings casualties every offseason, we also may see teams electing to part ways with expensive veterans. There are a number of big-name veterans that could find themselves unexpectedly entering the free agent pool this offseason, including several quarterbacks:
- Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers: The 49ers don't seem like they're in love with Jimmy G and they may explore upgrading at the QB position this offseason. If they can do it, we may see them outright cut Garoppolo to clear $23.6 million from their books
- Teddy Bridgewater, Panthers: Carolina is only one year deep with Bridgewater under center, but their owner apparently wants to get more aggressive and bold at QB. Cutting Bridgewater would only save them $2.9 million this year, but would clear more than $20 million in 2022
- Alex Smith, Washington: Smith won Comeback Player of the Year -- which was more about the story and less about his performance. They've inked Taylor Heinicke to an extension and it seems like there's a strong chance that the WFT will elect to save $14.7 million in order to move on from Smith
Of course, it's not JUST quarterbacks who could be packing their bags, so you can find the rest of Cody Benjamin's cost-cutting list right here. We all know that the NFL can be a cruel business sometimes, even when it comes to guys who have been around for a while and have done a lot of great things in the league. This is often the time of year where we're reminded of that when some popular names get cut loose.
3. Are the Panthers preparing a push for Deshaun Watson? 🏈
Remember last week when our Jason La Canfora told you that the Carolina Panthers were going to be a sleeper in the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes? Well, I hope you're not still sleeping on them because it appears as though Carolina is preparing to make a run at the Texans' disgruntled QB.
- They released Kawann Short (clearing $9.822 million in cap room), Tre Boston ($3.5 million) and several others
- Carolina also converted a portion of center Matt Paradis' base salary into a signing bonus, adding nearly $4.7 million in cap space
- The Panthers have cleared an additional $25.7 million in cap space over the past week alone. They now have nearly $40 million in room under the cap to work with this offseason
All of this doesn't necessarily guarantee that the Panthers are going to land Watson, but it does pretty clearly indicate that they're up to something ... and it could be something big. For anyone that likes to connect the dots:
- Watson has asked for a trade out of Houston
- The Panthers were reportedly involved in talks to acquire Matthew Stafford earlier this offseason
- It's been widely speculated that they're ready to move on from Teddy Bridgewater ... and Bridgewater unfollowed the team on social media on Saturday amid these cost-cutting moves
- Panthers owner David Tepper is reportedly "consumed" by the idea of trading for Watson
Hmmm ... draw your own conclusions there, I suppose. If they're not preparing to make a serious run for Deshaun, they're doing one heck of a job of throwing out red herrings and playing with our emotions.
4. Max Homa outlasts Tony Finau in playoff at Riviera 🏌
If you didn't catch the end of the 2021 Genesis Invitational at Riviera yesterday, you missed out on one wild ride. Max Homa took home the win (the second of his career) but he had an absolutely roller coaster experience to get there. Here's what happened:
- After crushing his tee shot on the 18th hole, Homa hit a beautiful baby draw that came to rest about 40 inches away from the cup
- Homa just needed to sink the short putt to win the event but his putt lipped out and he headed to a playoff with Tony Finau
- On the first playoff hole, Homa's tee shot came to rest right against a tree. He then hit a miraculous chip and somehow made a 4 to force a second playoff hole
- Finau bogeyed the second playoff hole and Homa won with a par
It was an excruciating and riveting final couple of holes and it's probably safe to say that a whole lot of people let out a sigh of relief when Homa ultimately took home the W after his brutal finish to 18. Seeing him recover and hang on was pretty satisfying, especially when he broke down and got emotional during the post-win interview. It clearly meant a ton to him, so congratulations on the big day -- even if it was a bit unnecessarily dramatic.
📝 Odds & Ends
- The Timberwolves fired coach Ryan Saunders and are expected to hire Chris Finch away from the Raptors as his replacement
- Novak Djokovic dominated Daniil Medvedev to earn his ninth title (and second three-peat) at the Australian Open
- In a leaked video, Mariners president Kevin Mather admitted that the team practiced service-time manipulation
- Deion Sanders won his Jackson State coaching debut but it was overshadowed by some postgame confusion
📺 What to watch tonight
🏀 Grizzlies vs. Magic, 8:30 p.m. | DAL -196 | TV: League Pass
🏀 No. 15 Texas Tech vs. Oklahoma State, 9 p.m. | OKS +3 | TV: ESPN
🏒 Golden Knights vs. Avalanche, 9 p.m. | COL -135 | TV: ESPN+
🏀 Oregon vs. No. 17 USC, 9 p.m. | USC -4 | TV: FS1
🥇 The best thing I saw yesterday
Before yesterday's Bruins-Flyers game at Lake Tahoe, Boston players showed up to the rink in full '90s outfits -- including neon snowsuits, fanny packs, nostalgic accessories and more. It was tremendous.