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PHT Power Rankings: NHL teams under pressure to win this season

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In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we turn our focus to 10 teams that should be facing a lot of pressure for success during the 2019-20 season.

“Success” can mean different things for different teams and fanbases, and largely depends on what your expectations are for them. For some teams that are more established success is measured by winning it all right now. For others, it’s simply about making progress and getting closer to contender status.

We picked out 10 teams that are facing both types of pressure. Which teams are they?

To the rankings!

Pressure to compete for (or win) a championship

1. Tampa Bay Lightning. On paper this is the best, most complete team in hockey. The roster is loaded with stars in the prime of their career that have done everything in the NHL except win the Stanley Cup. Until they get it there is always going to be the “yeah, but…” that follows them around, especially now as they come off one of the most stunning postseason exits in NHL history. “Championship or bust” is usually an unfair mentality because it only sets you up for the inevitable disappointment that 30 teams will end their season with, but if it ever fairly applied to a team this would be the one.

2. Toronto Maple Leafs. The most hyped team in the league managed to get even stronger this offseason with the addition of Tyson Barrie to its blue line. It is time, though, for all of that potential to finally turn into something because right now this current core has nothing but a bunch of third-place finishes and first-round exits to show for all of its talent.

3. Winnipeg Jets. The Jets entered the 2018-19 season as a Stanley Cup favorite but faded in the second half, went out quietly in Round 1, and still have to sign Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor to new contracts, a pair of deals that will quickly eat up their remaining salary cap space. They also lost a lot of minutes off of their blue line this summer and did not really do much to replace them.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins. Coming off of a Round 1 sweep against the New York Islanders, the Penguins traded a popular, productive player for a lesser player, signed another depth player to a long-term contract, and didn’t really do anything to improve a team that has its share of flaws and has drifted away from the recipe it found success with. They only have a few more years of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang and need to do everything they can to maximize them. Have they done that?

5. San Jose Sharks. Losing Joe Pavelski will be a big blow to the offense in the short-term, but this is still a Stanley Cup caliber team, and as long as Joe Thornton keeps returning (we are assuming he will again for at least one year) there is going to be pressure to finally get him a championship. They have everything they need to get there, except for maybe the goaltending, a position they still have not addressed.

Pressure to simply get better … right now

6. Chicago Blackhawks. I don’t know that expectations are necessarily high for the Blackhawks after back-to-back non-playoff seasons, but general manager Stan Bowman has put a lot of pressure on himself for the team to win. His offseason plan has focussed on the short-term and looks like a GM that think he still has a chance to win with his current core. If he is wrong, he is probably the next one to go.

7.  Edmonton Oilers. They changed the general manager and the head coach and both will have a little bit of a leash to turn this thing around. But they have already wasted three of Connor McDavid‘s first four seasons in the NHL by not even being close to competitive, and that is just something that can not continue. Getting a player like that is a gift and the Oilers are wasting it.

8. Buffalo Sabres. The Eastern Conference version of the Oilers, only worse. The Sabres haven’t made the playoffs since the 2010-11 season while the scorched earth rebuild that was supposed to turn things around has produced … nothing. Sabres fans have been ridiculously loyal and deserve a better product than they have been handed over the past decade.

9. New York Rangers. They had an incredible offseason with the additions of Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba, Adam Fox, and No. 2 overall pick Kaapo Kakko. It has absolutely accelerated the rebuild, but has it increased expectations too quickly? This is still a team with several holes and probably isn’t ready to compete just yet. But the pressure will be there, especially as the team still tries to compete in the final years of Henrik Lundqvist‘s career.

10. New Jersey Devils. The additions of top pick Jack Hughes, forwards Nikita Gusev and Wayne Simmonds, and defender P.K. Subban have quickly helped transform the Devils into a team worth watching, especially with the return of a healthy Taylor Hall. Even with all of those additions there is still a big question mark in net and they HAVE to show they can win and compete if they have any chance of re-signing Hall. He is a star that has spent his entire career playing on losing teams and is one year away from being able to pick his next spot. Winning would go a long way toward convincing him to stay.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL training camps, day 2: Pastrnak not at practice; Golden Knights goalie battle?

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Day two of NHL training camps took place on Tuesday, and with all of that, also news and speculation. (Click here to read about day one of NHL training camps.)

Keep in mind that these round-ups aren’t necessarily comprehensive, what with there being 24 NHL teams undergoing training camps.

Oh, and It’s probably fair to say that a more detailed schedule for the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers is the biggest hockey news for Tuesday. So check that out if you want to plan your viewing habits in late July and early August.

Bruins’ Pastrnak not yet practicing; others miss day two (or more) of NHL training camps

Look, it’s important to remember that NHL teams are keeping things unclear. They probably will up until the point that the 2020 Stanley Cup (ideally, safely,) gets awarded. So please keep that in mind anytime we note absences and players not fully participating.

With that out of the way (for now), a few notes:

  • For the second training camp day in a row, David Pastrnak didn’t practice with the Bruins. NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty reports that it seems like Pastrnak, as well as others like Ondrej Kase, are still going through the quarantine process after coming back from overseas. Pastrnak may not get to skate with the full Bruins group until Thursday.

“ … I don’t think they will be too far behind. I think some European players were in countries where they were free to skate earlier, so they might have had the benefit of skating while guys couldn’t here,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said of Pastrnak, via Haggerty.

  • In some cases, players are still self-isolating. Sometimes players aren’t skating with full groups, for what could be a variety of reasons. There was some rumbling about Shea Weber missing portions of Canadiens practice time, and skating by himself. Such hand-wringing might end up overblown.

As always, these situations can change.

  • Naturally, illnesses and injuries sabotage plans. There’s at least one planned absence, though: Capitals forward Lars Eller. ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski reports that Eller will leave the Toronto bubble for the birth of his child. The Ellers expect the child to be born around Aug. 8, which would fall around the Round Robin for Seeding as part of the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. (Again, you can check out that schedule here.)
  • The Maple Leafs removed Timothy Liljegren from their return-to-play roster. Quite a bummer, as Liljegren could become an important part of their defensive future as the team braces for a cap crunch.

Golden Knights set for goalie battle? (And other bits)

Perhaps coach Peter DeBoer is merely being tight-lipped to the point of near-trolling, as seems to be the NHL way. Or maybe he really doesn’t know if the Golden Knights will tab Marc-Andre Fleury or Robin Lehner as their No. 1 goalie.

If you’re weighing loyalty most heavily, then the Golden Knights would go with Fleury. His strong play ranked as a big reason they appeared in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

But if you look at recent play, Lehner’s ranked among the NHL’s best goalies since 2018-19. Meanwhile, “The Flower” wilted a bit lately. Also, DeBoer is still-new to the Golden Knights, and thus might not feel the same obligation to Fleury that, say, Gerard Gallant might have.

So we’ll see. There are plenty of goalie training camp battles to watch, but others feel more like battles of lesser evils than the interesting opportunities Vegas has.

  • It’s dangerous to read too much into line combination experiments as early as day two of NHL training camps. That said, it can be entertaining to picture how they’d work.

In the case of Dallas Stars, we’re talking about extremes. The good: experimenting with a line that would combine Tyler Seguin, Roope Hintz, and Denis GurianovThe not-so-good: having Corey Perry (2020 Corey Perry) on the second line, while Alex Radulov and Joe Pavelski fester on the fourth. Seems like these Stars always titillate and frustrate, though.

  • Signings continue to trickle in. That includes the excellently named Jack Rathbone signing with the Canucks, and the Ducks landing an extension with Troy Terry (granted, you may disqualify the Ducks from this post since they aren’t among the 24 teams involved in the return to play).

More: Catch up on day one of NHL training camps.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Stanley Cup schedule: League adds times, exhibition games to 2020 qualifiers

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Hockey fans got a decent idea of how they’ll get their playoff fix (COVID-19 permitting) when the NHL shared an outline of a schedule for the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. The NHL shared more specifics regarding dates and times for the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers on Tuesday, though, and also the exhibition schedule.  NHL schedule Stanley Cup

You can now plan your NHL playoff viewing schedule accordingly from July 28 – Aug. 5, with other game times to be determined starting on Aug. 6.

Speaking of to-be-determined, broadcast information will come later.

NHL return-to-play exhibition schedule

As you can see, the NHL exhibition schedule begins on Tuesday, July 28 and runs through Thursday, July 30:

NHL exhibition game schedule 2020 Stanley Cup
via the NHL

Dates, times, NHL playoff schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers

Check out the most updated schedule information for each series involved in the NHL’s 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, via the NHL:

STANLEY CUP QUALIFIERS BY SERIES

EASTERN CONFERENCE (all games at Scotiabank Arena, Toronto)

(All times, TV information will be announced at a later date; home team listed second)

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens

Saturday, Aug. 1: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 8 p.m. ET
Monday, Aug. 3: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 8 p.m. ET
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET
Friday, Aug. 7: Penguins vs. Canadiens*
Saturday, Aug. 8: Canadiens vs. Penguins*

(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers

Saturday, Aug. 1: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET
Monday, Aug. 3: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Hurricanes vs. Rangers, 8 p.m. ET
Thursday, Aug. 6: Hurricanes vs. Rangers*
Saturday, Aug. 8: Rangers vs. Hurricanes*

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers

Saturday, Aug. 1: Panthers vs. Islanders, 4 p.m. ET
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Panthers vs. Islanders, 12 p.m. ET
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Islanders vs. Panthers, 12 p.m. ET
Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders vs. Panthers*
Sunday, Aug. 9: Panthers vs. Islanders*

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets

Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 8 p.m. ET
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 4 p.m. ET
Thursday, Aug. 6: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, TBD
Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs*, TBD

Round-robin

Sunday, Aug. 2: Flyers vs. Bruins, 3 p.m. ET
Monday, Aug. 3: Capitals vs. Lightning, 4 p.m. ET
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Lightning vs. Bruins, 4 p.m. ET
Thursday, Aug. 6: Capitals vs. Flyers, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Flyers vs. Lightning, TBD

WESTERN CONFERENCE (all games at Rogers Place, Edmonton)

(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks

Saturday, Aug. 1: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 3 p.m. ET
Monday, Aug. 3: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 10:30 p.m. ET
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 10:30 p.m. ET
Friday, Aug. 7: Oilers vs. Blackhawks*, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Blackhawks vs. Oilers*, TBD

(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes

Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2 p.m. ET
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2:30 p.m. ET
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET
Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators*, TBD

(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild

Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:30 p.m. ET
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:45 p.m. ET
Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks vs. Wild, TBD
Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks vs. Wild*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Wild vs. Canucks*, TBD

(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets

Saturday, Aug. 1: Jets vs. Flames, 10:30 p.m. ET
Monday, Aug. 3: Jets vs. Flames, 2:30 p.m. ET
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Flames vs. Jets, 4:45 p.m. ET
Thursday, Aug. 6: Flames vs. Jets*, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Jets vs. Flames*, TBD

Round-robin

Sunday, Aug. 2: Blues vs. Avalanche, 6:30 p.m. ET
Monday, Aug. 3: Stars vs. Golden Knights, 6:30 p.m. ET
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Avalanche vs. Stars, 6:30 p.m. ET
Thursday, Aug. 6: Golden Knights vs. Blues, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Golden Knights vs. Avalanche, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Stars vs. Blues, TBD

* – if necessary

Day-by-day version of playoff schedule for NHL’s 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers

Prefer a day-by-day format instead? Want both? The NHL also shared that version, if it works better for you:

STANLEY CUP QUALIFIERS DAY-BY-DAY SCHEDULE

(All times ET; TV information will be announced at a later date; home team listed second)

Saturday, Aug. 1

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

New York Rangers vs. Carolina Hurricanes, Game 1, 12 p.m. ET
Florida Panthers vs. New York Islanders, Game 1, 4 p.m. ET
Montreal Canadiens vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, Game 1, 8 p.m. ET

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Edmonton Oilers, Game 1, 3 p.m. ET
Winnipeg Jets vs. Calgary Flames, Game 1, 10:30 p.m. ET

Sunday, Aug. 2

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Round-robin

Philadelphia Flyers vs. Boston Bruins, 3 p.m. ET

Best-of-5 series

Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Toronto Maple Leafs, Game 1, 8 p.m. ET

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Arizona Coyotes vs, Nashville Predators, Game 1, 2 p.m. ET

Round-robin

St. Louis Blues vs. Colorado Avalanche, 6:30 p.m. ET

Best-of-5 series

Minnesota Wild vs. Vancouver Canucks, Game 1, 10:30 p.m. ET

Monday, Aug. 3

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

New York Rangers vs. Carolina Hurricanes, Game 2, 12 p.m. ET

Round-robin

Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, 4 p.m. ET

Best-of-5 series

Montreal Canadiens vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, Game 2, 8 p.m. ET

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Winnipeg Jets vs. Calgary Flames, Game 2, 2:30 p.m. ET

Round-robin

Dallas Stars vs. Vegas Golden Knights, 6:30 p.m. ET

Best-of-5 series

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Edmonton Oilers, Game 2, 10:30 p.m. ET

Tuesday, Aug. 4

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Florida Panthers vs. New York Islanders, Game 2, 12 p.m. ET
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Toronto Maple Leafs, Game 2, 4 p.m. ET
Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Rangers, Game 3, 8 p.m. ET

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators, Game 2, 2:30 p.m. ET
Calgary Flames vs. Winnipeg Jets, Game 3, 6:45 p.m. ET
Minnesota Wild vs. Vancouver Canucks, Game 2, 10:45 p.m. ET

Wednesday, Aug. 5

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

New York Islanders vs. Florida Panthers, Game 3, 12 p.m. ET

Round-robin

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Boston Bruins, 4 p.m. ET

Best-of-5 series

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens, Game 3, 8 p.m. ET

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Nashville Predators vs. Arizona Coyotes, Game 3, 2:30 p.m. ET

Round-robin

Colorado Avalanche vs. Dallas Stars, 6:30 p.m. ET

Best-of-5 series

Edmonton Oilers vs. Chicago Blackhawks, Game 3, 10:30 p.m. ET

Thursday, Aug. 6

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Game 3, TBD
Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Rangers, Game 4*, TBD

Round-robin

Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers, TBD

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Vancouver Canucks vs. Minnesota Wild, Game 3, TBD
Calgary Flames vs. Winnipeg Jets, Game 4*, TBD

Round-robin

Vegas Golden Knights vs. St. Louis Blues, TBD

Friday, Aug. 7

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

New York Islanders vs. Florida Panthers, Game 4*, TBD
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens, Game 4*, TBD
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Game 4*, TBD

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Nashville Predators vs. Arizona Coyotes, Game 4*, TBD
Vancouver Canucks vs. Minnesota Wild, Game 4*, TBD
Edmonton Oilers vs. Chicago Blackhawks, Game 4*, TBD

Saturday, Aug. 8

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

New York Rangers vs. Carolina Hurricanes, Game 5*, TBD
Montreal Canadiens vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, Game 5*, TBD

Round-robin

Boston Bruins vs. Washington Capitals, TBD

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Winnipeg Jets vs. Calgary Flames, Game 5*, TBD
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Edmonton Oilers, Game 5*, TBD

Round-robin

Vegas Golden Knights vs. Colorado Avalanche, TBD

Sunday, Aug. 9

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Florida Panthers vs. New York Islanders, Game 5*, TBD
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Toronto Maple Leafs, Game 5*, TBD

Round-robin

Philadelphia Flyers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, TBD

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Best-of-5 series

Minnesota Wild vs. Vancouver Canucks, Game 5*, TBD
Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators, Game 5*, TBD

Round-robin

Dallas Stars vs. St. Louis Blues, TBD

* – if necessary

More on NHL return to play, CBA extension, COVID-19:

Islanders sign goalie Sorokin to $2M deal for next season

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The New York Islanders on Tuesday signed goaltender of the future Ilya Sorokin to a $2 million contract for next season.

The deal includes $1 million in salary and a $1 million bonus. A day earlier, the Islanders signed Sorokin to an entry-level deal for the remainder of this season even though he’s not eligible to play.

Sorokin, 24, is considered one of the top prospects at any position not currently in the NHL. A third-round pick of the Islanders in 2014, he was among the Kontinental Hockey League’s best goalies this past season with a 1.50 goals-against average and .935 save percentage.

Two other teams signed Russian prospects Monday who can’t compete in the resumption of this season. The Montreal Canadiens signed defenseman Alexander Romanov for three years, and the Minnesota Wild signed forward Kirill Kaprizov for two years.

All three players are burning a year by signing for this season, a way of getting to more lucrative contracts sooner in the future.

The Islanders are one of several teams going into the NHL’s expanded 24-team playoffs with a goaltending competition. Coach Barry Trotz said he’ll let it play out between Russian Semyon Varlamov and German Thomas Greiss to determine who might start Game 1 of the qualifying round against the Florida Panthers on Aug. 1.

While Varlamov is under contract for three more seasons — perhaps in later years to mentor Sorokin — Greiss is a pending free agent. Sorkin backed up for the gold medal-winning Olympic Athletes from Russia at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games and showed his NHL potential over several KHL seasons and world championships.

Draisaitl, MacKinnon, Panarin are 2019-20 Ted Lindsay Award finalists

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Leon Draisaitl of the Oilers, Nathan MacKinnon of the Avalanche, and Artemi Panarin of the Rangers have been announced as the finalists for the 2019-20 Ted Lindsay Award, which is given “to the most outstanding player in the NHL.”

The is voted on by fellow members of the NHL Players’ Association. Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov won the award last season.

Draisaitl and Panarin are first-time finalists, while this is the second time that MacKinnon is up for the award. The winner will be announced at some point during the conference finals.

[2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule]

The case for Leon Draisaitl: The 2019-20 Art Ross Trophy winner, Draisaitl led the NHL with 110 points and finished third in the league with 43 goals. He played every game for the Oilers this season and was first in points per game (1.55), assists (67), and power play points (44). He was second in power play goals (16) behind David Pastrnak and second in even strength points (66) behind Panarin. A win would mark the third time the Oilers have taken home the award in the last four seasons. Connor McDavid was voted the TLA winner in 2016-17 and 2017-18.

The case for Nathan MacKinnon: After missing only one game for the Avalanche this season, MacKinnon finished fourth with 93 points and led his team in scoring by 43 points. He was also seventh in goals (35), third overall in even strength points 962), fourth in power play points (31), and fifth in points per game (1.35). The 2019-20 season was the third straight year he finished with at least 35 goals and 90 points. It was also the third consecutive season he finished with exactly 58 assists. He would become only the second player in franchise history to win the award following Joe Sakic in 2000-01.

The case for Artemi Panarin: The Bread Man’s first year on Broadway was nothing short of spectacular. He set career highs in goals (32), assists (63), and points (95), led the NHL in even strength points (71), and was third in points per game (1.38). Prolific in production, he recorded points streaks of 12 and 13 games this season. He would become the second Ranger to win the award joining Jaromir Jagr (2005-06).

NHL AWARD FINALISTS ANNOUNCEMENT DATES
• Wednesday, July 15: Jack Adams Award, Calder Trophy
• Thursday, July 16: Lady Byng Trophy, Masterton Trophy
• Friday, July 17: Willie O’Ree Award, Vezina Trophy
• Monday, July 20: Norris Trophy, Selke Trophy
• Tuesday, July 21: Hart Trophy

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.