Matthews: NHL Hit Jackpot With Vegas

posted by Bob Matthews -

NHL HIT THE JACKPOT WITH THE VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS

The Vegas Golden Knights beat the host Los Angeles Kings 1-0 Tuesday to complete a four-game sweep in their first-ever Stanley Cup playoffs series.

The Golden Knights must be making many new fans for the National Hockey League.

It’s easy to like the most successful first-year expansion team in the history of North America’s four most-popular pro sports.

Team majority owners Bill Foley (70 percent) and the Maloof family (30 percent) paid $500 million for the NHL’s first expansion team since 2000.

Putting the team in Las Vegas was a gamble. Would residents of Las Vegas pay to watch what figured to be a losing team? Would visitors to Sin City spend time attending hockey games?

On June 21, 2017, the Golden Knights announced the 30 players selected from the existing 30 teams – one per team.

Fourteen of those 30 players participated in the team’s four-game sweep of the Kings. Vegas outscored the Kings 7-3 and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury had two shutouts.

The Golden Knights were a very good hockey team from the very start this season – 8-2 in their first 10 games. 27-9-2 through 38 games.

Skeptics kept waiting for Vegas to collapse. It didn’t happen. The Golden Knights finished the regular season 51-24-7. They had the fifth-best record in the NHL and ranked sixth in goal differential +44 (272-228).

George McPhee should be NHL Executive of the Year and Gerard Gallant should be NHL Coach of the Year. And for the Decade. And maybe for the Century.

The next step for the Golden Knights will be San Jose or Anaheim in the second round.

Most of the NHL’s impartial – including the league’s new ones – figure to be rooting for the discards to extend their incredible season for as long as possible.

HERE’S ANOTHER REASON LAMAR JACKSON WOULD HELP THE BILLS

The more I hear about the possibility of the Buffalo Bills selecting 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson in the first round of the NFL draft April 26, the better I like it.

Pro Football Focus ranked the 32 teams in missed tackles forced by skill-position players last season.

It probably isn’t a big shock to any fan of Buffalo that the Bills ranked 28th in elusiveness – ahead of only Cincinnati, Tampa Bay, Arizona and Houston.

Kansas City had the shiftiest receiver and running backs, forcing 134 missed tackles. The Chiefs were followed by Los Angeles Chargers (122), Miami (121), Oakland (118) and New Orleans (117).

Buffalo forced 68 missed tackles, including 43 (33 on runs plus 10 on catches) by running back LeSean McCoy.

Jackson’s ability to become a full-time successful NFL quarterback is no sure thing, but he undoubtedly has the speed and elusiveness to be bring an instant jolt of electricity to Buffalo’s offense.

Imagine Jackson lining up as a multi-threat in the backfield or on a flank?  He could throw, run or catch. Who wouldn’t like to see that? Other than opposing defensive coordinators, of course.

AARON JUDGE CONTINUES TO AMAZE

New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge set a Major League Baseball record Monday night with his 60th home run in his 197th career game. The fastest to hit 60 HRs before Judge was Mark McGwire in 202 games.

Judge is off to a terrific start this season: .339 batting average (20-for-59), 15 runs, 3 doubles, 4 HRs, 11 RBI, 15 walks, .480 on-base percentage, .593 slugging percentage, 1.073 OPS. No one minds his 18 strikeouts. His walks offset his whiffs and fans enjoys his big swing to hit mammoth HRs.

Judge’s MLB batting line for 198 career games: .276 batting average (189-for-685), 153 runs, 29 doubles, 3 triples, 60 HRs, 135 RBI, 151 walks, 268 strikeouts, 11 stolen bases in 17 attempts, .409 on-base percentage, .590 slugging percentage, .999 OPS.

Of all the players I’ve seen advance through the International League, Judge is the one who has impressed me the most as a major leaguer compared to how he performed in Triple-A. He was decent for Scranton/Wilkes Barre in 2015 and 2016 but did not appear to be a future budding superstar for the New York Yankees: 156 games; .252 batting average (146-for-580); 28 doubles; 1 triple; 27 HRs; 93 RBI; 76 walks; 172 strikeouts.

THE RAW STATS FAVOR THE TORONTO MARLIES FOR THE CALDER CUP

The numbers clearly favor the Toronto Marlies to win the 2018 Calder Cup. They weren’t the 30-team American Hockey League’s wire-to-wire top team in the regular season by accident.

Here is how the 16 playoff teams rank in point percentage, goals per game, fewest goal allowed per game, goal differential, power-play percentage and penalty-killing percentage. The lower the total, the better:

Toronto: 1-3-1-1-8-1 = Total 15

Charlotte: 6-1-8-2-2-13 = 32

Manitoba: 10-4-5-3-1-10 = 33

Tucson: 3-7-4-4-6-12 = 36

Chicago: 7-6-6-8-5-7 = 39

Syracuse: 4-11-3-5-14-3 = 40

Grand Rapids – 9-9-7-10-3-4 = 42

Providence: 7-12-2-6-13-9 = 49

Lehigh Valley: 2-12-10-7-12-8 = 51

Rochester: 11-10-12-11-7-5 = 56. The Amerks appear to be peaking. They have balanced scoring and a goalie capable of carrying the team in Linus Ullmark. They’re relatively healthy and benefit from reinforcements from Buffalo. The players also know that some of them are playing for future contracts. The Sabres brass has put a high priority on Rochester performing well in these playoffs.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton: 5-5-12-9-16-10 = 57

Utica: 14-15-8-14-9-2 = 62

Ontario: 13-13-9-12-4-14 = 65

San Jose: 16-16-13-16-13-6 = 80

Rockford: 14-8-16-13-15-16 = 82

Texas: 12-14-15-15-11-15 = 82.

DUKE THE NEW CHAMPS OF ONE-AND-DONE

Duke basketball freshman big man Wendell Carter has declared for the 2018 NBA college draft. He joins fellow frosh Marvin Bagley Jr., Gary Trent Jr., and Trevor Duval, and senior Grayson Allen as the five starters for the Blue Devils who’ll likely be first-round picks this year.

But don’t feel spry for Coach K., the new king of the one-and-done college basketball coaches. Incoming McDonald’s All-Americans R.J. Barrett. Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish will step right in.

SHORT SHOTS

I’m dismissing all speculation that Buffalo Bills might be interested in free agent Dez Bryant. But I do believe that the Bills would one of the few teams in the NFL that he would immediately become the No. 1 wide receiver on the depth chart.

Cito Culver, the former Irondequoit High School star who was the first-round pick (No. 32 overall) of the New York Yankees in 2010, is hitting .150 (3-for-20) this season with the New Orleans Baby Cakes of the Pacific Coast League. He played eight seasons in the Yankees’ organization and hit .223 with 12 HRs and 40 RBI in 103 games with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (International League) last year. Miami signed him as a free agent in January. He’s 25.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO...

Wednesday, April 18

Bojan Bogdanovic (29)...C.J. Miles (31)...Billy Butler (32)...Miguel Cabrera (35)...Scott Hartnell (36)...Haile Gberselassie (45)...Derrick Brooks (45)...Willie Roaf (48)...Valeri Kamensky (52)...Wilber Marshall (56)...Jim Eisenreich (59)...Geoff Bodine (59)...Nate Archibald (70)...Steve Blass (76). Kourtney Kardashian (39), Conan O’Brien (55), Rick Moranis (65) and James Woods (71) are invited to the birthday party.

Thursday, April 19

Patrick Laine (20)...Kelly Olynyk (27)...Jackie Bradley Jr. (28)...Maria Sharapova (31)...Candace Parker (32)...Joe Mauer (35)...Zack Duke (35)...Troy Polamalu (37)...Martin Havlat (37)...Robin Regehr (38)...Joe Beimel (41)...Willis Otanez (45)...Keith McCants (50)...Al Unser Jr. (56)...Frank Viola (56)...John Schweiez (58)...Randy Carlyle (62). Kate Hudson (39), Ashley Judd (50) and Surge Knight (53) are invited to the birthday party.

ON THIS DATE IN SPORTS...

April 18

73 years ago (1945), one-armed outfielder Pete Gray was 1-for-4 in his Major League Baseball debut with the St. Louis Browns...68 years ago (1950), the New York Yankees beat the Boston Red Sox 15-10 after trailing 9-0 in the sixth inning...52 years ago (1966), Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics became the first African-American coach in NBA history...41 years ago (1977), Eddie Murray hit his first major-league home run...37 years ago (1981), the Rochester Red Wings and the Pawtucket Red Sox began the longest game in pro baseball history – 33 innings...20 years ago (1998), Tennessee’s Peyton Manning was the first overall pick in the NFL college draft...19 years ago (1999), Wayne Gretzky played in his final NHL game.

April 19

121 years ago (1897), John J. McDermott won the first Boston Marathon...71 years ago (1947), Montreal’s Maurice Richard was chosen NHL MVP after a 45-goal season...64 years ago (1954), seven-time Boston Marathon winner Clarence Demar finished 78th in his final Boston Marathon at age 65...58 years ago (1960), baseball uniforms began displaying players’ names on their backs...36 years ago (1982), Boston Marathon cheater Rosie Ruiz was arrested for forgery...27 years ago (1991), Evander Holyfield beat George Foreman in 12 for the world heavyweight title...22 years ago (1996), the Texas Rangers scored 16 runs in the eighth inning against Baltimore.

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