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Tuesday, 30-Aug-2011 16:04 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Luc Robitaille vs. Kansas City’s desire for an NHL team

The 18,000-seat barn (with a smaller capacity for hockey) is managed by Los Angeles Kings owners AEG and will host yet another NHL preseason game on Sept. 27 between the Kings and the Pittsburgh Penguins; and, as is tradition, we'll hear plenty about the attendance for that game with regard to Kansas City's viability as an NHL market. (Whether or not that's a fair gauge.)
NHL Hall of Famer Luc Robitaille is the president of business operations for the Kings, and served as the unofficially sanctioned AEG sparring partner for the Kansas City Star this week in an interview with writer Randy Covitz.
Lucky Luc handled some fastballs in the Q&A, including:
Q. Don't you think Kansas City is getting tired of being used by other franchises to get better arena deals for themselves?
A. "I don't think you're being used. You have the best option. Look at North America. Is there another arena that is better than (the Sprint Center)? A city better than this? You have the best options. It's really hard to move a team. The (New York) Islanders still have to figure out to do their deal … their lease is up in 2015. If that doesn't happen, what city will take the burden to build a new arena and take the risks they did here? There's a reason every concert wants to come here."
They do, which brings us to an interesting twist in the NHL/Kansas City flirtation: Does the Sprint Center actually need an NHL team anymore?
From the KC Star interview with Robitaille:
Q. Do you think AEG even wants a team in this building, which has been so successful bringing in concerts, family shows and college sports?
A. "There is no doubt AEG wants a team coming in here. It makes sense. From a business perspective, you always want a team to represent the city … it's a beautiful building."
Q. Why tie up an arena with 50 dates and have to give away the store to bring in a team at the expense of more profitable events?
A. "Short-term, they keep having concerts … but any building always needs a main tenant. AEG is a company that thinks long term and understands if there is an opportunity, whether it would be NBA or NHL, to get a team."
Read the rest of the contentious chat here.
Fact is that Sprint Center hardly sits vacant without 41 NHL home games on its schedule. From AEG in July 2010:
According to Pollstar Magazine's 2010 Mid-Year Report, Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. has been recognized as America's third busiest arena. The leading concert trade publication, which hits newsstands this week, ranks Sprint Center at No. 6 among worldwide venues.
Sprint Center, Kansas City's award winning arena, was one of three US concert venues listed among the Top 100 Worldwide Arenas -- trailing venues in New York City and Atlanta. Pollstar utilizes an extensive database to collect box office reports from nearly 100 percent of the world's top-level artists, promoters and venues during the 2010 calendar year. The result is a series of eagerly anticipated rankings and industry outlook that are included in the magazine's popular mid-year issue.
So the arena is successful even without a pro sports tenant … but pro sports tenants do produce significant amounts through other revenue streams. (Seat licenses, suite sales, etc.) Concerts and circuses are great; sold out dates with rabid sports fans are even better.
Which brings us back to the essential question: Can Kansas City support an NHL team?
Ben Palosaari at The Pitch addressed that earlier this month when the New York Islanders' lost that vote on a $400 million bond:
Islanders owner Charles Wang has said even though voters rejected the borrowing idea, he still wants to keep the team in Long Island. And even if he's lying, as team owners are known to do, he could just move the team to Brooklyn and hang on to fat New York TV revenue. It will be relatively painless for both the team and the fans.
There are plenty of other bigger and Canadian (cough, Quebec City, cough) cities dying for a hockey team. Hell, in Houston, another team getting some discussion, a minor league team, plays in a 17,800-seat arena. That's bigger than the Sprint Center's hockey capacity. And there's no proof that Kansas City is obsessive enough about hockey to make an NHL team successful. Sure, the Mavericks averaged 5,406 fans in their 6,000-seat arena last year over 33 games. That's impressive, but it's not 17,000 showing up to 41 dates a year for a team that is a long way from contending.
In summary: Kansas City has the building. They may not have the fans. And as for owners, as Robitaille noted, "We need to find a couple people from Kansas City that are interested in buying a team and hopefully get the chance to move them here."
But most of all, it's not Quebec City, who will be getting a team in the next several years even if they don't currently have anything as pretty as Sprint Center on its soil.

Monday, 22-Aug-2011 09:15 Email | Share | | Bookmark
No stars? No problem for Saints

The New Orleans Saints are proof that being a successful NFL franchise has little to do with stars and a lot to do with chemistry and teamwork.

Besides Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who is one of the most well-known players in the NFL, even knowledgeable football fans would have a hard time naming many of the starters on the Saints roster.

Despite the lack of household names, the Saints arrive in Oxnard for the final week of the 2011 training camp as one of the favorites to represent the NFC in the 2012 Super Bowl in Indianapolis.

Since head coach Sean Payton's arrival in 2006, the Saints have posted a 49-31 regular-season record and have a 4-2 postseason mark, including winning the 2010 Super Bowl. Payton's winning percentage of .613 is best in franchise history and also the best winning percentage in the NFC and fourth best overall during his tenure.

Payton's most important decision since taking the job was convincing Brees to sign with the team as a free agent. From the moment the former San Diego Charger arrived in New Orleans, he became not only the acknowledged team leader, but also the face of the franchise.

Brees, the club's all-time passing yardage leader, threw for more than 4,000 yards for the fifth consecutive season in 2010, passing for 4,620. He added 33 touchdown passes (tied for second in NFL) while leading the league's sixth-ranked offense.

During the NFL lockout, Brees took it upon himself to organize player workouts that replicated workouts they would normally get during offseason mini-camps and organized team activities (OTAs).

"The whole purpose of that was so we wouldn't skip a beat," Brees said. "We wanted to come into camp prepared physically and mentally having talked about the offense and the defense. We installed it all to the young guys. We worked on some of the nuances of what we do on both sides of the ball. We knew even if we started camp on time, we were only going to have 15 days 'til we were playing that first preseason game.

"Little did we know how the free-agent situation would be and we didn't even know that those guys couldn't practice 'til a week later. It was a quick turnaround but I feel what we did was great, not only for our veterans, but the rookies for what to expect in camp and to have a leg up so it wasn't totally foreign. We felt like we hit the ground running (at the start of camp)."

One of Brees' best attributes is getting multiple players involved in the Saints offense.

While Marques Colston is probably the most well-known of the Saints receiving corps, Devery Henderson, Lance Moore and Robert Meachem make an equal number of big catches.

The Saints follow a similar pattern with their running backs. While Reggie Bush has departed for Miami, the ground game has plenty of weapons. Pierre Thomas figures to be the starter early, but rookie Mark Ingram, Chris Ivory (the Saints' leading rusher last season) and ex-Charger Darren Sproles all offer plenty of firepower.

"It's a formidable backfield," Brees said. "We feel like each one of these guys can do some special things. He (Ingram) has been impressive with how smart he is and how well he has picked up our offensive system because we do a lot of formations and personal groups. And his physical running style, which has been pretty evident in practice. You strap the pads on him and he is going to lower his shoulder on anybody, which we love."

Linebacker Jonathan Vilma is the Saints leader on defense. While they lack star power, they are a group that plays well together and are usually close to the top of the league in takeaways.

Former USC standout Sedrick Ellis anchors the line at nose tackle. Payton loves having the former Trojan clogging up the middle of the line.

"He provides a lot of what you look for in a defensive tackle," Payton said. "Sedrick is very active and has great balance, allowing him to excel down there (in the middle). I think last year was his best season."

In their last week of training camp, Payton is looking to get his team ready for its Sept. 8 opener against the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers.

"The most important thing is that we are ready to play our best football on Sept. 8 when we travel to Green Bay," Brees said. "Between now and then, we have a structure and a process for our installation, how much we are going to play each preseason game and what we want to get accomplished."

Saturday, 20-Aug-2011 08:22 Email | Share | | Bookmark

The Raiders snapped their string of seven straight seasons with 11 or more losses last year and finished 8–8, sweeping the AFC West and avoiding a losing record for the first time since reaching the Super Bowl in 2002. But they didn’t make the playoffs, and that failure along with some off-field controversies cost coach Tom Cable his job.

Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was promoted by team owner Al Davis to replace Cable. He’s the Raiders’ sixth coach since 2002, when Bill Callahan took over for Jon Gruden. Like Gruden, Jackson is a passionate, high-energy coach. He got the Raiders’ offense back on track last year, but now he faces the much bigger job of leading the entire team and ending its playoff drought.
With Jackson as their new coordinator last season, the Raiders made huge strides on offense, scoring 410 points compared to just 197 in 2009, but there’s still plenty of work left to do. The Raiders averaged 25.6 points per game despite getting little production from their young receiving corps. Tight end Zach Miller (since departed via free agency) and running back Darren McFadden were the team’s top two pass-catchers. That’s not the vertical attack that Davis and Jackson want, and it will be up to wide receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey, Louis Murphy and Jacoby Ford, among others, to put some fear into opposing defensive backs. Heyward-Bey has blazing speed but caught only 26 passes, far too few for a receiver who went seventh overall in 2009. By the end of the year, Ford, another speedster, was the team’s most productive and dangerous receiver, and his role should become even bigger this season as Jackson and offensive coordinator Al Saunders find new ways to get him the ball. Tight end Kevin Boss, a former Giant, was signed to replace Miller as a pass-catching tight end.

After surviving a tumultuous first year in Oakland, quarterback Jason Campbell returns as the undisputed starter. Last year he was benched after halftime in Week 2 against St. Louis in favor of Bruce Gradkowski. Injuries to Gradkowski gave Campbell a chance to redeem himself, and he played well enough to earn another chance this season. Campbell has never carried a team, but his strong arm fits Oakland’s deep passing game, and he could be poised for a breakout year now that he has been in Jackson’s offensive system for a season.

McFadden is coming off a career year, rushing for 1,157 yards and leading a running attack that ranked No. 2 in the NFL. He thrived in a scheme that emphasized more straight-ahead power blocking and downhill running under Jackson and less of the zone blocking that Cable favored. Fullback Marcel Reece, a converted college wide receiver, gives Jackson another dangerous weapon to exploit in the passing game.
The offense’s biggest concern is the line, despite the return of both starting tackles. Jared Veldheer returns on the left side after earning the starting job early in his impressive rookie campaign, and Khalif Barnes was re-signed to play right tackle.

Rookie Stefen Wisniewski was all but anointed the starting center on the day he was drafted. Guard Bruce Campbell, a second-year pro and Davis favorite, could move into the starting lineup. If the kids aren’t ready to play, then the Raiders will have to turn to some veterans.

The Raiders return most of their starters from a group that ranked 11th in total defense last year and is positioned to make even bigger strides in 2011, despite the loss of Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha to free agency. Davis gave Pro Bowl defensive tackle Richard Seymour and cornerback Stanford Routt huge contract extensions and made outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley the team’s franchise player.

The entire front seven returns intact, and the front four of tackles Seymour and Tommy Kelly and ends Lamarr Houston and Matt Shaughnessy has the potential to be a true force. That foursome combined for 24.5 sacks. After losing weight and reporting to camp in the best shape of his career, Kelly had seven sacks and finally justified the huge contract Davis game him after the 2007 season. In Shaughnessy and Houston, the Raiders have two young, high-energy players with decided mean streaks, exactly what Jackson likes as he tries to “build a bully” in Oakland. Wimbley, who came to the Raiders last year from Cleveland for a third-round draft pick, exceeded expectations.

He had a team-high nine sacks and showed his athleticism and versatility, playing as a standup linebacker in the base defense then moving to defensive end in the nickel. For all their apparent talent up front, the Raiders still failed to solve their longstanding problems against the run, ranking 29th in the league. It’s incumbent upon middle linebacker Rolando McClain, who had a solid if unspectacular rookie season, to become a more disruptive force in the middle.

The Raiders’ No. 1 job will be to replace Asomugha on the right side. Veteran Chris Johnson appears in line for the first shot, but the Raiders drafted two cornerbacks last year (Walter McFadden and Jeremy Ware) and two more this year, taking DeMarcus Van Dyke in the third round and Chimdi Chekwa in the fourth.

As a rookie kick returner last year, Ford turned out to be a record-setting weapon. He used his dazzling speed to return three kickoffs for touchdowns, setting Raider single-season and career records. Jackson has said he’ll consider having Ford return punts this year, too, although that could depend on how big Ford’s role as a wide receiver becomes after his impressive rookie season.

Punter Shane Lechler made his sixth trip to the Pro Bowl last year and continued to be huge factor in the field position game. He averaged 47 yards per punt with a net average of 40.8, leading the AFC in both categories. Placekicker Sebastian Janikowski didn’t make the Pro Bowl, but he had one of his best seasons since coming to the Raiders as a first-round pick in 2000. Janikowski made 33-of-41 field goal attempts, but three of his misses came during a Week 3 nightmare against Arizona, and five of his misses came in the first three games. Over the final 13 games, he was 25-for-28, with makes from 50, 51 and 59 yards. Janikowski was also a force on kickoffs with 29 touchbacks, second-most in the NFL.

The Raiders made major strides last year, and they should be even better this year with most of their key players back and the aggressive Jackson in charge. But there’s no guarantee that they’ll end their eight-year playoff drought in the rugged AFC, especially given the fact that they face a tougher schedule this year than they did in 2010. For the Raiders to reach the playoffs, they’ll need a career year from Campbell as well as improved play on the offensive line.

Outside the Huddle

Flag Football
The Raiders lived up to their bad boy image last year with 148 penalties for a team single-season record 1,276 penalty yards, leading the league in both categories. The league averages were 96.9 penalties and 814.2 penalty yards. The old team mark for penalty yards was 1,274 set in 1969. Of course that was in a 14-game season.

Catching On
At 6'3", 240 pounds, Marcel Reece is built like a fullback, the position he now plays, but he spent his entire college career at Washington as a wide receiver. He had a 98-yard touchdown catch against Arizona for the Huskies, setting a school record. He showed off his receiving skills last year with 25 catches for 333 yards and three scores.

Secret Weapon
If the Raiders ever run out of healthy quarterbacks, they know they can turn to punter Shane Lechler. He passed for nearly 5,000 yards during his career at East Bernard (Texas) High School. As a senior he completed 86.1 percent of his passes for 1,640 yards and 11 TDs. Lechler keeps his QB skills sharp by throwing passes during warm-ups before practice. It could be time for Lechler to fake a punt and throw his first NFL pass.

Let’s Make a Deal
The Raiders traded their 2011 first-round pick to New England in 2009 for defensive tackle Richard Seymour. The Patriots used that pick, No. 17 overall, to take Colorado offensive tackle Nate Solder. Seymour and Solder face off in Week 4 when the Patriots and Raiders meet in Oakland.

Class of 2010 Shines
Al Davis has received plenty of criticism for past draft mistakes, a list that includes quarterback JaMarcus Russell, arguably the biggest draft bust in NFL history. But Davis deserves credit for a solid 2010 draft. All nine players drafted made the team, and the top three picks — linebacker Rolando McClain, defensive end Lamarr Houston and offensive tackle Jared Veldheer — started as rookies. Jacoby Ford made a big impact, too, as a wide receiver and kick returner.

Local Product
After the Raiders drafted Eastern Washington running back Taiwan Jones in the fourth round, they didn’t have to buy him a plane ticket to the Bay Area. He drove to team headquarters from his home in Antioch, some 40 miles east of Oakland. “This is a home team for me,” said Jones, a product of Deer Valley High School. “I’ve been in this backyard for awhile, and it’s good to be a Raider.”

Familiar Faces
Former Raiders know where to apply if they want to get into coaching. Four ex-Raiders are on the 2011 coaching staff. Greg Biekert is the linebackers coach this year after serving as an assistant last season. Hall of Famer Rod Woodson joined the staff this year as cornerbacks coach, and Steve Wisniewski was hired as assistant offensive line coach. Willie Brown, another Hall of Famer, is in charge of squad development.

Gruden Connection
New head coach Hue Jackson and former Raiders coach Jon Gruden were on the same college coaching staff at the University of the Pacific in 1989. “The person that really shaped me in football is Jon Gruden,” Jackson said at his introductory press conference. “We were both young, aspiring coaches. We shared an office together, and Jon Gruden … used to put me on the (chalk) board at nighttime for three months straight, and we would talk football. That’s where my start happened.”

Saturday, 20-Aug-2011 07:06 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Three things revisited: Cardinals-Packers

1. Pass-rush inflation: The Cardinals did get pressure on Aaron Rodgers at times, but not from their outside linebackers. Darnell Dockett was active and dominant, appearing healthier than he was last season. Fellow defensive end Calais Campbell also got pressure. O'Brien Schofield repeatedly pressured Matt Flynn once the backups were in the game. That was a good sign for Arizona, but also a reflection of that inflation referenced in the lead-in to this item. Green Bay allowed five sacks in its first preseason game. This one offered more of the same. I'd be interested in seeing Schofield work with the first-team defense in the next preseason game. Joey Porter and Clark Haggans don't need the work as much at this point in their careers.

2. Running back ball security: Ball security was the least of the Cardinals' worries at running back once rookie second-round choice Ryan Williams left the game on a motorized cart. Williams suffered an injured right knee after a Packers player landed on him. The Cardinals quickly announced that Williams would not return. They'll know more upon receiving MRI results. Arizona's ground game was generally strong against Green Bay. Beanie Wells ran hard and protected the ball through some hard collisions. It's looking like the Cardinals might need a lot more of that after Williams' injury. Tim Hightower, traded to Washington after the team drafted Williams, had a 58-yard run and a 1-yard touchdown run for the Redskins on Friday night.

3. Kevin Kolb affirmations: The Cardinals' new quarterback wisely kept throwing the ball to Larry Fitzgerald, covered or not. The diving one-handed catch Fitzgerald made wasn't even a one-handed catch. He caught the ball between his forearm and shoulder pad. Kolb: "They had a drop-eight situation where the back was getting out underneath him, so I just tried to get it to a spot where he couldn’t get it and I knew Larry was going to try to do something special, and he did. I didn’t mean to put it out that far, but it is nice to have somebody on your side that can make those kinds of plays. Playmaking is not a problem for us. For us it is about cleaning up the details." There were times when Kolb held the ball too long, inviting pressure a couple of times and throwing too late for an open Fitzgerald another time. I thought Kolb's offensive line generally held up well in protection. Having Clay Matthews watching from the sideline had to help. The Cardinals sustained two long drives with Kolb in the lineup, but they settled for field goals on both of them. Penalties were a problem.

Thursday, 5-May-2011 06:47 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Pistons' Charlie Villanueva suspended five games by NBA for figh

The swift hand of justice has landed hard on Detroit Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva.

The NBA suspended Villanueva five games for his role in an altercation with the Cleveland Cavaliers' Ryan Hollins in the Pistons’ 110-101 loss Monday night at the Palace. Hollins was not suspended.

The suspension means Villanueva will not be available for tonight’s season finale against the Philadelphia 76ers nor the first four games next season. The suspension will cost Villanueva roughly $450,000.

The main issue appears to be how long Villanueva took to leave the floor — although coach John Kuester pointed out that with the Cavaliers’ bench between Detroit’s bench and its locker room, the Pistons were forced to wait until Hollins left the bench.

“Charlie is a very mild-mannered person, and it takes a lot to get him going, and he was very upset,” Kuester said. “I know they can always say something — that it wasn’t in a timely manner. You also have to look at the character of the person, and Charlie’s got high character.

With 5:47 left in Monday's game, Villanueva and Hollins started wrestling after Villanueva set a pick. After both players were ejected, Villanueva sprinted across the Palace floor toward the Cavs' locker room. Rodney Stuckey and Pistons head of security Jerry Hendon grabbed Villanueva, but he broke loose and then had to be restrained by Palace security. He was escorted to the Pistons' locker room but tried to get to the Cavs' locker room and again had to be restrained by Auburn Hills police.

Cleveland coach Byron Scott was asked whether he felt the suspension was appropriate.

“How much does he make?” Scott said before the Cavs played Washington in their season finale tonight. “It might be a pretty good little chunk. I didn’t know it was going to be that many games. But the fact that you’re running toward the locker room and going into the locker room of the opposing team, obviously they are gong to hit you pretty hard. I still don’t understand what he was doing. Only Charlie knows.”

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