Thursday, August 2, 2018

2018 NFL Hall of Fame Game Recap

Ravens and Bears show off D, Baltimore wins 17-16

The Ravens and Bears honored their great linebackers Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher with some defense to make them proud in the Hall of Fame game that opened the NFL's preseason Thursday night.
Oh, there was a little spark of offense, some provided by Baltimore's first-round draft pick Lamar Jackson in the second half of a 17-16 victory. His 7-yard touchdown pass to fellow first-rounder Hayden Hurst came after the Ravens' defense recovered a fumble.
Chicago put together its best drive in the final minutes and journeyman Tyler Bray connected with Tanner Gentry for a 10-yard score to cap a 92-yard march. But the 2-point conversion pass fell incomplete.
Otherwise, D was the letter of the day: there were six turnovers in all, and 12 sacks, eight by the Bears.
The teams exchanged tipped interceptions on the first two possessions of the preseason.
Chicago moved swiftly downfield only to have Chase Daniel's pass to Josh Bellamy deflected to safety Chuck Clark at the Baltimore 6. He returned it 15 yards, then the Ravens replicated the turnover.
Robert Griffin III, attempting a comeback after sitting out 2017, had his pinpoint throw go off the hands of receiver Breshad Perriman, then off rookie cornerback Michael Joseph. DeAndre Houston-Carson dived to make the pick at the Ravens 34.
The Bears soon converted when Michael Burton caught a 4-yard scoring pass from Daniel.
Baltimore tied it, sparked by two big gainers by undrafted rookie running back Gus Edwards. Griffin found Maxx Williams for a 4-yard score.
Then Lewis' old unit thrilled him. On the next play from scrimmage, linebacker Kamalei Correa sped 19 yards with an interception to the Chicago 9. But Urlacher's former defense made him smile, sacking Griffin on third down to hold Baltimore to a 31-yard field goal by Kaare Vedvik.
Generally, it was a sloppy affair marred by a slew of dropped passes, poor protection for the quarterbacks, and misthrows by those QBs.
But something Lewis and Urlacher would approve, the defenses hit hard and tackled well.
Matt Nagy, of late the offensive coordinator in Kansas City, made his head coaching debut with the Bears. He has said his new offense is in the early steps of development, and it looked that way all night.
Of course, with backups playing it's nearly impossible to gauge progress.
Each of the seven inductees to the hall who were on hand - Terrell Owens is a well-publicized no-show - received a rousing ovation when they were introduced before the game. Lewis replicated his patented warmup dance for a few seconds, and Urlacher slapped hand with every Bears player lined up on the 45-yard line.
Also walking along midfield between the lines of Ravens and Bears were Randy Moss, Brian Dawkins, Jerry Kramer, Robert Brazile and Bobby Beathard.
Owens did make it onto the cover of the Hall of Fame enshrinement magazine, however.
At halftime, Hall of Famers Ozzie Newsome, the general manager of the Ravens, and Dan Fouts received their "Rings of Excellence" from David Baker, the hall's president.
The first application of the NFL's enhanced enforcement of penalties for players lowering their helmet to make a tackle occurred early. Ravens linebacker Patrick Onwuasor was flagged for his hit on Benny Cunningham, earning a 15-yard penalty that helped set up Chicago's first touchdown.
Correa got nailed for the same violation in the third quarter, but he also had a sack that forced a fumble in that period, and three sacks overall.
Bears: At Cincinnati next Thursday night.
Ravens: Host Los Angeles Rams next Thursday night.

Arizona Coyotes fantasy preview for 2018-19

Clayton Keller, C/LW/RW ( rank 84) -- The 20-year-old finished second among NHL rookies with 65 points (23 goals, 42 assists) in 82 games last season, behind Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders (85). He finished among the top 100 in Yahoo (97th) and has an even higher ceiling this season with the additions of forwards Vinnie Hinostroza and Alex Galchenyuk, who are likely to crack the top six. Keller has added value with strong category coverage (20 PPP; 212 shots on goal) and is worth reaching for in middle rounds.

Antti Raanta, G (87) -- The 29-year-old goaltender is set to take on his biggest opportunity yet to establish himself as one of the top goalies in the NHL. Raanta battled a series of injuries early in 2017-18 but was one of the most sought-after waiver wire additions in fantasy in the second half of the season, when he was 16-6-4 and led NHL goalies who played at least 12 games in that span in goals-against average (1.84) and save percentage (.942). Raanta will likely fall in drafts because of concerns about the Coyotes, but he could finish among the top-ranked goalies.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D (94) -- Despite having 42 points (14 goals, 28 assists) in 82 games last season and leading the Coyotes in average ice time (23:41 per game), Ekman-Larsson fell shy of fantasy expectations because of a minus-28 rating, in part the result of a slow start and injuries to Raanta and defenseman Jakob Chychrun. With each healthy, the durable Ekman-Larsson (he has played all but 12 games during the past seven seasons) could have the highest upside of defensemen available in the middle rounds.

Alex Galchenyuk, C/LW (145) -- The 24-year-old should benefit from a change of scenery with the Coyotes. Galchenyuk ranked second on the Montreal Canadiens behind Max Pacioretty in goals (86), assists (111), points (197) and power-play goals (27) over the past four seasons. He was first in power-play points (67) over that span and should boost a Coyotes unit that ranked 26th in the NHL last season (16.9 percent).

Derek Stepan, C (177) -- Stepan reached the 50-point mark for the fifth straight season with 14 goals and 42 assists (NHL career high) in 82 games. He has added value with Galchenyuk joining the top power-play unit. The 28-year-old finished one point shy of tying an NHL career high (57) set in 2013-14 despite the Coyotes scoring the second-fewest goals in the NHL (206), ahead of only the Buffalo Sabres (198). Stepan, like many of his teammates, has sneaky upside in later rounds.
Other players with fantasy upside in late rounds or off waiver wire: Dylan Strome, C/LW; Jakob Chychrun, D**; Richard Panik, RW*; Brendan Perlini, LW**
RFA - Current restricted free agent
*Potential 2019 unrestricted free agent
**Potential 2019 restricted free agent
INJ. - Injury concern entering 2018-19

Three questions facing Arizona Coyotes

1. Can Arizona build off its strong finish?
The Coyotes started to establish a winning culture in the last two months of last season. They were 17-9-3 in their last 29 games after going 12-32-9 in their first 53.
Arizona was second in goals allowed (69) and Antti Raanta was first in the NHL with a .950 save percentage and 1.67 goals-against average (among goalies with at least 10 games) from Feb. 8 to the end of the season.
2. Will Alex Galchenyuk show he's a full-time center?
The 24-year-old spent six seasons toggled between wing and center with the Montreal Canadiens and it might have stunted his development.
Arizona is ready to make Galchenyuk a full-time center, likely on one of its top two lines. If he produces, there's little question that the trade that cost forward Max Domi will look like a win for the Coyotes no matter how the Canadiens view it from their end.
Galchenyuk had 51 points (19 goals, 32 assists) last season and scored an NHL career-high 30 goals and 56 points in 2015-16. Rookie Clayton Keller led the Coyotes with 23 goals, and they finished 30th in the NHL with 206 goals.
3. Will Dylan Strome make an impact?
Strome is the only one of the top 10 picks in the 2015 NHL Draft who hasn't established himself as a full-time NHL player. The No. 3 pick said he's confident he will this season.
Strome's belief stems from the impact he made in the final 10 games last season after being recalled from Tucson of the American Hockey League. He had eight points (three goals, five assists) for the Coyotes and was first on pucks a lot, which is important because speed was (and still might be) a concern.
The next step is to become an everyday NHL player, even if it means playing wing. If he can do that, he'll silence critics who are wondering if he's a draft bust and would give the Coyotes another playmaker and goal-scorer.

Arizona Coyotes key statistics

1. Opportunity for growth
The Arizona Coyotes missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a sixth straight season, but their youth gives them an opportunity for a quick improvement.
Of the eight Coyotes to score at least 30 points last season, five were 22 or younger as of Feb, 1, 2018. That includes 20-year-old forward Clayton Keller, who led the Coyotes with 65 points (23 goals, 42 assists) in 82 games. It also includes Max Domi, who scored 45 points (nine goals, 36 assists) and was traded to the Montreal Canadiens on June 15 for Alex Galchenyuk, who scored 51 points (19 goals, 32 assists).
The Coyotes had a combined 252 points from players 22 and under, second to the Colorado Avalanche (270), more than double the NHL average of 120. The 252 points were an NHL high 45.6 percent of the 553 points scored by Arizona players.
2. Improved 5-on-5 play
The Coyotes have struggled at 5-on-5 but are trending in the right direction.
Over the past three seasons, the Coyotes have been outshot 11,900-10,414 in 5-on-5 shot attempts for a SAT of minus-1,486, and an SAT percentage of 46.67 percent, each last in the NHL. This disadvantage is confirmed by their offensive zone start percentage of 45.88 percent, which also ranks last.
Arizona addressed this by phasing out the players with the worst results. Of the six Coyotes with the lowest individual SAT over this time span, only defenseman Alex Goligoski (minus-491) remains. Consequently, the Coyotes improved their SAT from an NHL-worst minus-750 in 2016-17 to minus-298 in 2017-18, which ranked 23rd.
3. Struggling on special teams
Over the past three seasons, the Coyotes have a power-play percentage of 17.0 percent and a penalty-killing percentage of 77.9 percent, which adds up to a special teams index of 94.9 percent. In each regard, the Coyotes are 30th behind the Ottawa Senators at 16.5 percent, 77.2 percent and 93.7 percent.
The Coyotes have scored 146 goals on special teams (132 on the power play, 14 shorthanded) and allowed 205 (174 on the power and 31 shorthanded), for a net differential of minus-59 goals.
In 2017-18, they ranked 23rd with a special teams index of 96.3 percent, and a net differential of minus-13 that was tied for 25th. With the addition of forward Michael Grabner this offseason, the Coyotes may improve even more. Over the past three seasons, he has taken an NHL leading 66 shots while shorthanded and ranks third among forwards with 540:08 killing penalties.

Top prospects for Arizona Coyotes

1. Dylan Strome, F
How acquired: Selected with No. 3 pick in 2015 NHL Draft
Last season: Arizona: 21 GP, 4-5-9; Tucson (AHL): 50 GP, 22-31-53
Strome was the leading scorer for Tucson in the American Hockey League in his first full professional season. The 21-year-old was recalled by Arizona on March 20 and had eight points (three goals, five assists) in the final 10 games of the NHL season.
Expectations have been high since Strome was picked after Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid(No. 1) and Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (No. 2) in the 2015 draft. Arizona general manager John Chayka said Strome is still a can't-miss prospect because of his production last season, his size (6-foot-3, 200 pounds), and his age. The Coyotes want to see him have a strong training camp so he can start the season in a top-nine role, even if it's on the wing.
Projected NHL arrival: This season
2. Barrett Hayton, F
How acquired: Selected with No. 5 pick in 2018 NHL Draft
Last season: Sault Ste. Marie (OHL): 63 GP, 21-39-60
Hayton is a 200-foot center with high character, a high IQ (he won the Bobby Smith Trophy as the 2018 Ontario Hockey League Scholastic Player of the Year) and leadership ability. The 18-year-old said he tries to pattern his game after Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron and Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews because of their two-way play and leadership.
The Coyotes didn't rule out Hayton (6-foot-1, 190) making the NHL this season. If he doesn't, or if he does and is eventually returned to his junior team, Sault Ste. Marie plans to use Hayton in a leadership role and projects him to score 90-100 points.
Projected NHL arrival: Next season
3. Pierre-Olivier Joseph, D
How acquired: Selected with No. 23 pick in 2017 NHL Draft
Last season: Charlottetown (QMJHL): 63 GP, 13-33-46
The Charlottetown captain was tied for sixth among defensemen in the QMJHL in goals and was 15th in points. Chayka said the 19-year-old is "just scratching the surface still." The Coyotes project him to be a defenseman who can play against anybody and in any situation.
Joseph (6-foot-2, 168) needs to mature physically but projects to eventually be a big part of Arizona's defense. It will be tough for him to make it this season because of their depth.
Projected NHL arrival: 2020-21 season
4. Adin Hill, G
How acquired: Selected with No. 76 pick in 2015 NHL Draft
Last season: Arizona: 4 GP, 1-3-0, 3.49 GAA, .891 SV%; Tucson (AHL): 36 GP, 19-11-4, 2.28 GAA, .914 SV%
Hill, 22, got his first NHL win by making 34 saves against the Los Angeles Kings on March 13. He allowed 11 goals in three NHL starts from Oct. 17-26.
The Coyotes view Hill (6-foot-6, 202) as their No. 1 goalie of the future. Arizona has time to let him develop in Tucson because their top two goalies, Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper, are signed for multiple seasons.
Projected NHL arrival: 2020-21 season
5. Filip Westerlund, D
How acquired: Selected with No. 44 pick in 2017 NHL Draft
Last season: Frolunda (SHL): 22 GP, 0-2-2
The 19-year-old will return to Frolunda, where last season he occasionally paired with Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.
Westerlund (5-foot-11, 181) could play for Sweden at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship. The Coyotes like his skill and how he has grown physically.
Projected NHL arrival: 2020-21 season

Inside look at Arizona Coyotes

The Arizona Coyotes feel they're ready to be in the race to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs after falling short the past six seasons.
"That is the next step," Coyotes general manager John Chayka said. "The mindset shifts now."
It's a massive change from a season ago, when uncertainty about coaching, leadership, youth and direction hung like a dark cloud over the desert during monsoon season.
Under new coach Rick Tocchet, Arizona lost its first 11 games (0-10-1) and was 2-15-3 after 20. The Coyotes were 9-27-5 on Jan. 1 and 12-32-9 after losing to the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 6.
"It was ugly," Tocchet said.
It got prettier, which is what's fueling the optimism now.
The Coyotes were 17-9-3 in their last 29 games, including 7-5-1 against teams that made the playoffs.
"We started to build our core and our foundation," forward Derek Stepan said.
They made enough progress to convince defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson to sign an eight-year contract extension July 1. To Chayka, that validated what the Coyotes have been doing to build themselves into a playoff contender.
"It's a huge step for our organization," Chayka said, "a huge moment."
Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson signed a two-year extension July 1, and goalie Antti Raanta earlier gave up the chance to become an unrestricted free agent by signing a three-year contract April 6.
The Coyotes acquired center Alex Galchenyuk in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens for forward Max Domi on June 15, and forward Vinnie Hinostroza and defenseman Jordan Oesterle in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks that included forward Marian Hossa on July 12.
Center Brad Richardson and defenseman Kevin Connauton each re-signed with a two-year contract, and free agent forward Michael Grabner signed a three-year contract July 1.
Galchenyuk scored an NHL career-high 30 goals and 56 points in 2015-16 and had 51 points (19 goals, 32 assists) last season but never established himself as a full-time center for Montreal. He'll get a chance to do it in Arizona.
"The conversations I've had with him, I've noticed his enthusiasm level is off the roof," Tocchet said. "The first time I talked to him I joked with him that it was like fake, that he was acting, but he's not acting. He's excited. He point-blank asked if he could play center and I want to give him that opportunity."
Stepan, Christian Dvorak and Richardson are expected to be Arizona's other three centers, but rookie Dylan Strome, the No. 3 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, could take one of those spots.
Strome had 53 points (22 goals, 31 assists) in 50 games with Tucson of the American Hockey League last season and had eight points (three goals, five assists) in the Coyotes' last 10 games.
"He turned the corner last year and I want to see him get away from the corner now," Tocchet said. "I want to see him get a straightaway and separate himself."
Arizona was third in the NHL with 106 goals allowed from Jan. 1 to the end of last season. A lot of that had to do with Raanta, who led the NHL with a .942 save percentage and 1.84 goals-against average (among goalies with at least 20 games) in that stretch.
"He took it to a different level," Tocchet said. "We've got some solid goaltending. You have to have it or you've got no chance."