Hurricanes Announce 2017 Exhibition Schedule

The National Hockey League‘s Carolina Hurricanes today announced the team’s 2017 exhibition schedule. Carolina will play seven exhibition games prior to opening the 2017-18 regular season, including two games at PNC Arena. Ticket onsale information will be announced in the near future.

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The Hurricanes will open their 2017 preseason schedule at Buffalo on Sept. 18. The following night, Carolina will square off against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena in Tampa before returning to Raleigh to host the Lightning at PNC Arena on Sept. 20. After a road game at Washington on Sept. 23, the Hurricanes travel to Edmonton to open a two-game set against the Oilers. The first game will be at the Oilers’ home arena, Rogers Place, on Sept. 25, while the second will be a neutral site game between the clubs at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon, Sask. Carolina wraps up its exhibition schedule with a home game against the Capitals on Sept. 29.

Andreychuk’s Hockey Hall of Fame credentials are lengthy and significant. He’s the National Hockey League all-time leader for career power-play goals with 274 during his 23 seasons. He’s the league’s 14th-leading goal scorer with 640 tallies.

On the NHL’s scoring list, Andreychuk is tied with Denis Savard for 29th place (1,338 points). And his 1,639 games played are seventh-most in league history.

“It didn’t matter to me whether (the wait to enter the Hall) was one year or 10 years, I don’t think it really matters,” Andreychuk said. “The numbers and what I had done, there’s not much you can do but sit and wait. You think about this day that’s going to happen, you think you’re prepared for it and you’re really not…I’m extremely happy for everybody that’s around me, my inner circle that have been with me through thick and thin. It’s going to be a great weekend with all the fellow inductees.”

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Lightning #9 Tyler Johnson Blue USA Flag Fashion 2015 Stanley Cup Stitched NHL Jersey
Lightning #9 Tyler Johnson Blue USA Flag Fashion 2015 Stanley Cup Stitched NHL Jersey

Andreychuk is no stranger to waiting in hockey. It was 22 seasons before he finally got the lift the Stanley Cup as captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004, that signature moment of Andreychuk lifting the Cup over his hiad immortalized by a bronze statue that greets Bolts fans entering Ford Thunder Alley on their way to AMALIE Arena.

Now, fans will pass the statues of two Hockey Hall of Famers before Lightning games: Andreychuk and Lightning founder Phil Esposito.

“When you wait that long, you understand the value and how hard it is to achieve,” Andreychuk said. “I guess that’s kind of the same thing here. I look back on my career and you think about, nobody starts their career thinking they’re going to be a Hall of Famer. You just want to stay in the league. You just want to help your team win. After it’s all done and you look at your numbers and you think that maybe there’s a chance and people start to talk about it, but at the same time, it’s really out of your hands. I’m thankful this day came along for me, for my family.”

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A former first round pick (16th overall) of the Buffalo Sabres at the 1982 NHL Draft, Andreychuk played the majority of his career in Buffalo with stops in Toronto, New Jersey, Boston and Colorado before finishing his career with Tampa Bay. Andreychuk played four seasons for the Lightning, was captain for the final three of those, and accumulated 68 goals and 61 assists in 278 regular season games for the Bolts.

In a press conference on Thursday afternoon inside AMALIE Arena’s Firestick Grill, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan and Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, formally addressed the prestegious event, which will be held Jan. 26 through 28 in Tampa.

It will be the second time in franchise history the Lightning has hosted the All-Star Game, and first since 1999 when AMALIE Arena was known as the Ice Palace.

Here is a look at Thursday’s event through the lens of Lightning photographer Scott Audette.

Atlanta Falcons will NOT suffer Super Bowl hangover in 2017

The Super Bowl hangover isn’t a myth. It’s real. History and the eyeball test in the salary cap era tell you it is the truth: Losing on the game’s biggest stage can have repercussions that last long after Super Sunday.

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Since 2000, half of the Super Bowl losers failed to even make the postseason in the following campaign. Just two got back to the conference title game — none returned to the Super Bowl.

The most recent hangover victim? Carolina. The Panthers went from an NFL-best 15-1 in 2015 to 6-10 and dead last in the NFC South last fall. Cam Newton followed up his league MVP campaign with the worst statistical season of his professional life.

So, given this preamble, it’s easy to foresee Atlanta suffering a Super Bowl hangover of epic proportions, right? After all, this team blew a 25-point, second-half lead in Super Bowl LI, handing the Patriots their fifth Lombardi Trophy. Can you imagine the figurative pounding headache that comes from that kind of choke job?

But here’s the thing: I believe in the 2017 Falcons. I think Atlanta’s only gotten better this offseason. I think February’s unthinkable heartbreak is going to fuel this prideful bunch. I think the experience has only made these Falcons stronger.

I can easily see Atlanta getting right back to the Super Bowl in Minneapolis next February.

These Falcons, under general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn, are spectacularly built. The roster oozes talent, starting on the offensive side of the ball.

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Nike Falcons #2 Matt Ryan Red Team Color Men’s Stitched NFL Vapor Untouchable Limited Jersey

Matt Ryan is a star and now has an MVP trophy to prove it. Having just turned 32, Ryan’s squarely in his prime, fresh off a season where he put up some crazy numbers, including a 69.9 percent completion rate, a 9.3 yards-per-attempt figure and a 117.1 quarterback rating. Now, Ryan did lose his offensive coordinator when Kyle Shanahan took the head-coaching gig in San Francisco. That’s a blow, no doubt. But I loved the Steve Sarkisian hiring. And Ryan still has quite a set of toys at his disposal.

Julio Jones might be the best receiver in the game today. The guy’s an absolute beast who can single-handedly take over a game. (Just ask the Packers.) And Atlanta boasts strong pass-catching depth beyond Jones. Mohamed Sanu’s a quintessential professional, while Taylor Gabriel’s a speed merchant last seen embarrassing Pats stud Malcolm Butler. Tight end Austin Hooper showed plenty of promise in his rookie season, bringing some more speed up the seam.

The Falcons’ $1.4 billion new home, which is set to open August 26, will rise to 30 stories high, feature a retractable roof that can open and close in seven minutes and many amazing views of Atlanta’s skyline.

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However, all of that will be overshadowed — figuratively and possibly literally — by this gigantic stainless steel bird. The statue is 41.5 feet tall and weighs 73,000 pounds. It was created by Gabor Miklos Szoke, who has a thing for nightmarish birds, having constructed the largest bird monument in Europe for the Hungarian football club FTC.

One Twitter user noticed its resemblance to another intimidating bird figure here in the U.S.

The man with the self-proclaimed “best motor” in the 2017 NFL Draft class now has a contract.

The Atlanta Falcons announced Thursday they have agreed to terms with first-round pick Takkarist McKinley, who was selected No. 26 overall last month.

A two-year starter at UCLA, McKinley logged 99 total tackles, 28 tackles for loss, 16 sacks, six forced fumbles and 10 passes defensed in his three years in Westwood. Atlanta traded up five spots to select him last month.

The Falcons also announced Thursday they have agreed to terms with three other draft picks: linebacker Duke Riley, running back Brian Hill and tight end Eric Saubert.

Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes victim of aggravated robbery

Kansas City Chiefs first-round pick Patrick Mahomes got out of a sticky situation unscathed.

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The Chiefs quarterback and three others were robbed Friday night in Tyler, Texas, the Smith County Sheriff’s Office confirmed to NFL Media.

Sgt. Darrell Coslin with the Smith County Sheriff’s Office said Mahomes and three friends returned home after attending a baseball game. Upon pulling into the driveway, another car blocked them in. A robber got out of his vehicle and approached Mahomes and the others, acting as if he had a gun in his cheap jerseys and waistband. The robber demanded the victims’ goods, who complied.

Per police, the robbery was random and Mahomes, who is from Tyler, was not targeted.

After getting a description of the vehicle, police found the car in the area a short time later. The stolen property was found in the car. No gun was seen during the robbery and no gun was recovered, police said.

Police arrested Michael Pinkerton and Billy Ray Johnson. Pinkerton confessed to the robbery during an interview with deputies, according to police. He is charged with felony aggravated robbery and being held on bond. According to police, it’s unclear if Johnson was in the car when the robbery took place. He is charged with felony tampering with evidence (he was found with some items) and possession of narcotics.

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General manager John Dorsey and head coach Andy Reid moved up 17 spots to select Mahomes 10th overall because they saw a rare talent with a skill set that reminded them of Brett Favre. They also gave up two picks (a first-rounder next April and a third-rounder last Friday) because they believe in the environment they are plopping him into for the next couple of years. Dorsey and Reid understand that talent isn’t the only thing that makes quarterbacks succeed in the NFL. The right fit has plenty to do with that happening, as well.

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Nike Chiefs #92 Tanoh Kpassagnon Black Men’s Stitched NFL Limited Rush Jersey

This is why we’ve heard so much about Dorsey being a part of the Green Bay front office when the Packers selected Aaron Rodgers in the first round of the 2005 draft, despite having Favre still in his prime. It’s why Reid’s well-documented history of developing quarterbacks is so noteworthy, as is the way current starter Alex Smith goes about his business. Yes, Mahomes has the type of cannon that is best described as a gift from the heavens. More importantly, he has three men around him who understand that arm strength won’t be the biggest reason why he becomes an effective signal-caller at the next level.

In fact, when a reporter asked Reid — who also served as Favre’s position coach with the Packers in 1997 and ’98 — for a reasonable timetable for Mahomes to become a starter, the coach said, “I don’t know. We’ll get in and see how it goes. The one nice thing is, we have a good quarterback here. You look at what Dorsey went through with Aaron Rodgers. It took time. (Rodgers spent three seasons sitting behind Favre.) We’re OK. I’m just glad we got him. It’s kind of a neat deal. It’s a positive thing. It gives an opportunity for Kansas City to have that position in pretty good hands for a long period of time.”

It’s critical for Reid to soften expectations as to when Mahomes will play, because he knows the outcry will come quickly. The first time Smith endures a bad game — or even throws one too many check-downs — the fans in that town will be clamoring for the rookie who was videotaped throwing a football 80 yards in the air. The future can’t come soon enough for those who support the Chiefs. The reality is that Mahomes will require delicate care and ample time to become the player the Chiefs envision.

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For all of Mahomes’ upside, there are plenty of analysts who have criticized his noticeable flaws: the penchant for taking too many chances with the football, the raw footwork, the lack of time under center and the fact that he didn’t have to call plays in the huddle for a college team that won just 13 of the 29 games he started. It’s no secret that quarterbacks who come from spread offenses in college have to learn plenty about playing quarterback in the NFL. It’s also well-known that signal-callers who thrive in the “air raid” system that spawned Mahomes have an even tougher mountain to climb.

“Listen, Alex Smith, his four years here, has the fourth-winningest record in the National Football League since he’s been here. That guy understands — this is his team. And the young guy understands — he’s going to learn and develop these certain traits that it takes to be a quarterback in this league.”

We’re now firmly in tightrope-walking season. If the Chiefs were so amazed by Smith’s sports jerseys for cheap record, why would they be looking to move on in the first place? Is Smith actually thrilled, or is he simply smarter now having gone through this in San Francisco with Colin Kaepernick? Also, does Patrick Mahomes really plan on sitting for two seasons?

Kansas City is one of the few markets that might be able to handle a baton-passing scenario, though none of them seem to go according to plan. Chiefs fans are well aware of the team’s veteran-laden roster and possess some high expectations for 2017. Would they hesitate for a moment to boo Smith if he wasn’t maximizing the talent around him?

At least for now, the Chiefs are doing the right thing by trying to keep everyone happy. A true test of their plan will be how long this honeymoon period lasts.

Broncos HC Vance Joseph welcomes RB competition

New Denver Broncos head coach Vance Joseph will let summer competition determine the team’s pecking order at running back.

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“Absolutely. I mean, every position on our football team is going to be competitive and that’s the way you want it every year,” Joseph told Troy Renck of KMGH-TV in Denver. “You want guys to come in and compete for jobs every year. Obviously the guys who win the jobs win but the guys who don’t can be capable backups. Every spot on the football team is going to be up for competition.

“The running back position — you need two or three guys who are going to carry the load. There’s no longer a one-guy position. So I’m excited to have Jamaal, Book, C.J. and even DeAngelo in the mix there. It’s a good group, it’s going to be competitive and that’s the way it should be.”

Joseph was referring to former Chiefs star Jamaal Charles, C.J. Anderson, Devontae Booker and 2017 sixth-round pick De’Angelo Henderson. Booker led the team last year with 612 yards — less than 200 yards more than Anderson, who played in just seven games (knee).

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And in each instance, they have placed more faith and trust in Derek Wolfe, a player wonderfully described by Broncos longtime beat man Mike Klis as both “brutish” and “unvarnished.”

That is not to say Wolfe, now 27 and in the middle of a four-year, $36.7 million deal, hasn’t learned a thing or two about himself over the years. Maybe leadership suits him better now than ever.

“When I see guys not doing the right thing, I’m going to tell them,” Wolfe told 9News in Denver. “I’m not going to sit back and let that (stuff) slide. Me, it’s either confrontation fist-fight or say nothing. I’m learning how to not fight people if that makes sense.”

While the Broncos can expect a yearly, out-of-this-world performance from Von Miller, Wolfe is in the mix to ensure they get the same from Shane Ray, 2017 second-round pick DeMarcus Walker and 2016 second-round pick Adam Gotsis. General manager John Elway is toeing the line between rebuilding project and last-chance playoff contender, with a roster that could easily slide in either direction this year. The continued success of their defensive line under imaginative head coach Vance Joseph could tip the team in either direction.

Where does that leave the Broncos, less than 16 months removed from their Super Bowl title, but without a known franchise quarterback or consistent offensive line play? Could Denver, by virtue of elimination, be locked into fourth place in the AFC West? (The Around the NFL podcast crew sure thinks so.)

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Nike Broncos #28 Jamaal Charles White Men’s Stitched NFL New Elite Jersey

New coach Vance Joseph has a more optimistic outlook.

“I’ve said, coming in, really looking at this team, looking at every game — which I did several times — it isn’t broken,” Joseph told reporters Friday. “Yes, there are things we could, and must, do better, places where we need to improve. But this team won nine games last season. But I also understand the expectations here. It’s why it’s a great job; it’s why I can’t wait.”

Let’s take a look through Joseph’s rose-colored visor. Though it struggled in the ground game down the stretch, Denver’s defense remains a top-five unit in the league, thanks to a lock-down secondary and an improving defensive line that boasts Derek Wolfe and Adam Gotsis. The Broncos’ linebacking corps, led by Von Miller and Shane Ray on the outside, is a game-changing force. The addition of a healthy Jamaal Charles to the running back room is a potentially disruptive complement to C.J. Anderson.

There’s plenty to like about the Broncos’ roster in a vacuum. It’s only when you compare them to their improving division rivals that it’s fair to wonder whether Denver is destined for the cellar.

The team may not be broken, as Joseph insists, but it won’t be able to dominate the division the same way it did two or three seasons prior.