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Ibanez, Cash, Wakamatsu finalists to manage Rays

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) Raul Ibanez, Kevin Cash and Don Wakamatsu are the finalists to replace Joe Maddon as manager of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Dave Martinez, the Rays' bench coach for the past seven seasons, was among seven candidates dropped Friday. Also cut were Barry Larkin, Doug Glanville, Manny Acta, Craig Counsell, Charlie Montoyo and Ron Wotus.

Tampa Bay said interviews with the finalists will be scheduled for the week of Dec. 1. Maddon left the Rays after nine seasons to manage the Chicago Cubs.

"The decision on Dave Martinez was especially difficult," Rays President of Baseball Operations Matt Silverman said in a statement. "He's played a key role in our organization's evolution, and he's done all he can to put himself in position to be a manager. In the end, we determined that our clubhouse would best benefit from a new voice that will add to our already strong and cohesive culture."

Ibanez, 42, has spent 19 seasons in the major leagues with Seattle, Kansas City, Philadelphia, the Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels and has 305 homers and 2,034 hits. He helped the Royals win this year's AL pennant.

The 36-year-old Cash played for Tampa Northside in the 1989 Little League World Series and was a big league catcher for eight seasons with Toronto, Tampa Bay, Boston, the New York Yankees and Houston from 2002-10. He was a major league advance scout for Toronto in 2012 and Cleveland's bullpen coach in 2013-14.

Wakamatsu, 51, was the first Asian-American manager in major league history and led Seattle to a 127-147 record in 2009-10. He played in the minor leagues from 1985-96, reaching the major leagues for 18 games with the Chicago White Sox in 1991. Wakamatsu has been bench coach of Texas (2003-06), Oakland (2008), Toronto (2011-12) and Kansas City (2014), and was the Rangers' third-base coach in 2007.

Fri, 21 Nov 2014 23:09:00 +0000
Dallas Stars sign Spezza to $30M, 4-year deal

FRISCO, Texas (AP) Two-time NHL All-Star center Jason Spezza signed a $30 million, four-year contract extension Friday with the Dallas Stars.

The deal came nearly five months after the Stars acquired Spezza from Ottawa just before the start of free agency, and keeps the 31-year-old center from becoming an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Spezza has 18 points in his first 20 games in Dallas, with his 14 assists tops among the Stars and ninth in the NHL. He has 705 points (255 goals, 450 assists) in 706 career games since being the second overall pick in the 2001 NHL draft by Ottawa.

"Jason is a world-class player and his commitment to the organization is a reflection of what we are building in Dallas," Stars general manager Jim Nill said. "The professionalism and production he brings to our group is key for our success moving forward and we value the leadership he brings to our team."

The Stars acquired Spezza on July 1 in exchange for right wing Alex Chiasson, left wings Nick Paul and Alex Guptill and a second-round selection in the 2015 NHL Draft. Spezza is in the final season of a $49 million, seven-year contract, so his new deal with the Stars is through the 2018-19 season.

In 11 seasons with the Senators, Spezza had at least 65 points in a season six times, and three other seasons with at least 50 points. He was sent to the Stars only a few days after using his no-trade clause to turn down a possible deal to Nashville.

Fri, 21 Nov 2014 20:22:00 +0000
NHL teams slowly embracing advance statistics

Far removed from punishing hits on the ice, the real crunching in the NHL these days is being done in front offices around the league with the numbers involved in the complex, lengthy calculations of analytics.

The "Moneyball" approach popularized in baseball has slowly become as much a part of the NHL as the breakaway. More and more teams are turning to the same kind of analytics that have taken over Major League Baseball when they assess talent, players and performance.

Never heard of Corsi and Fenwick statistics? And you call yourself a fan?

It's a new era in the NHL and - much like in baseball - there's a still a divide between the new school thinkers and the hockey lifers stewing at the thought that newfangled stats could ever replace gut feel in building a Stanley Cup championship roster.

Take Philadelphia, for example.

The franchise known for decades as the Broad Street Bullies now has more use for an extra set of pocket protectors than rough-and-tumble goons.

"Analytics is where we're going," general manager Ron Hextall said. "You can't overvalue it, but in my mind it's going to become more and more and more valuable, I think in all sports. It's another tool. Why not use every tool available? You still need eyes on hockey players. You need that. I don't think that will ever change, but the analytics, I wouldn't say it's a huge part, but it's going to get bigger and bigger."

The Flyers, Toronto, Buffalo, Columbus, the Los Angeles Kings and others are leading the charge in using a new lens at scoping out the way players are judged. The key thought is, there are other ways to scout a player than the traditional means of goals, saves, plus/minus ratio and puck possession time.

Here are some of the stats that are becoming part of the lexicon:

- Fenwick Percentage: The percentage of unblocked shots (on goal or missed) taken by the player's team; also known as FF%.

- Corsi: Named for former Buffalo Sabres goaltending coach Jim Corsi, this stat tracks shot attempts for and against taken by a team or player. It's the sum of a team or player's goals, shots on net, shots that miss the net and shots that are blocked.

- League-Wide Success Rate: The league-wide shooting percentage from that area of the ice in the time frame selected.

- PDO: The sum of a player's on-ice shooting percentage and on-ice save percentage.

Sam Ventura, a 26-year-old Ph.D candidate at Carnegie Mellon, co-founded the analytics blog War On Ice. Ventura has become such a fan of NHL math, he has tinkered with creating his own advanced stats, working on a metric called zone transition times.

He used zone information (which zone a hit or shot may come from) and measured how long it took for each team to transition between zones.

"Over the long run, we should see the better teams holding the puck in the offensive zones longer and getting the puck out of their defensive zones faster," he said. "That's sort of what I found. The metric I created correlates pretty highly with the number of points in the standings."

Ventura's stat could become the next big thing in the NHL. Or it could take years for some teams to adapt.

"Hockey's such a free-flowing game that it's hard to determine automatically where each player is at each point of the game," he said. "It's not surprising that hockey has been slower in adopting analytics."

The hard-liners agree that fancy math should go the way of Fox's glowing puck.

"There are guys that leave people on the ice in bad situations and don't get punished for it in terms of the numbers," Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "What analytics doesn't show for me is when the game's on the line, when games or important situations happen, it doesn't show me who's going to win them."

The Sabres were at the forefront of analytics with stats developed by Corsi. He has moved on to St. Louis, leaving the heavy lifting in the front office to Jason Nightingale. The Pittsburgh Penguins hired Jason Karmanos as vice president of hockey operations in June to be their analytics guru. The Blue Jackets turned to Josh Flynn. The Capitals hired Tim Barnes. The Flyers use Ian Anderson. The Maple Leafs hired Kyle Dubas, a twentysomething former player' agent without any previous NHL experience.

Teams have largely refused to make the analytics experts available to the media for fear they'll expose classified ideas.

Most advanced stats debunk the idea that the oldest stats are still the most reliable. Ventura said he found in his research that hits and blocked shots - bread and butter for many NHL general managers - tend to be overrated.

"If you hit someone, that means you didn't have the puck before. Not having the puck is bad," Ventura said.

And blocked shots?

"Not that it's bad to block shots, but if you have a lot of blocked shots, it means your team rarely has the puck when you're on the ice," he said.

There's really no stopping the movement. The Stanley Cup champion Kings serve as a blueprint for finding undervalued players and consistently ranking among the league leaders in FenClose (the percentage of unblocked shot attempts a team takes in a game when the score is within one goal or tied).

It's up to a team's stats whiz to convey what's important in clear terms to the guys on the bench.

"If I cross the blue line with possession of the puck, I don't need to be a math major to know that the percentage of shots that I get are going to be higher," Trotz said. "Every coach in the league wants to enter the zone with possession of the puck, they really do. And for us, when it gets thrown in a coach's face, you go, `Yeah, I get that."'

Fri, 21 Nov 2014 22:21:00 +0000
Peterson says 'fresh start' might be best

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Adrian Peterson says he realizes moving on from the Minnesota Vikings might be best for both him and the team.

In an interview published Thursday by USA Today, Peterson said he believes the coaches and players on the team are fully behind him but that feelings in the organization toward him are mixed after he was charged with felony child abuse in Texas for using a wooden switch to discipline his 4-year-old son. He pleaded no contest Nov. 4 to misdemeanor reckless assault.

"I know who loves me. The coaches and the players, it's not going to be a problem. I've felt so much support from those guys. The organization, I know there's people in the organization that support me and there's people that I know internally that has not been supporting me," Peterson told the newspaper. He said he has given a lot of thought to the idea that "maybe it's best for me to get a fresh start somewhere else."

"I would love to go back and play in Minnesota to get a feel and just see if my family still feels comfortable there," he told USA Today (http://usat.ly/1F6vQN7). "But if there's word out that, hey, they might release me, then so be it. I would feel good knowing that I've given everything I had in me."

Peterson said he spoke last week with his son for the first time in five months. He told the newspaper he "won't ever use a switch again," that he has been seeing a therapist and meeting a pastor certified in counseling near his Houston-area home, and has learned other ways to discipline his children.

On paid leave from the Vikings for more than two months, Peterson was informed this week by the NFL he will be suspended without pay for at least the rest of the season. The NFL Players Association has appealed the punishment on his behalf, and Peterson will continue to draw his salary on the exempt list until the appeal is resolved.

Regardless of which team he plays for next year, assuming he's reinstated by the league, Peterson said his focus has been on family - restoring his relationship with the boy and becoming a better parent. Peterson has fathered six children by six different women. He was married July 19.

"No one knows how I felt when I turned my child around after spanking him and seeing what I had left on his leg," Peterson said. "No one knows that Dad sat there and apologized to him, hugged him and told him that I didn't mean to do this to you and how sorry I was."

Peterson said he declined to meet with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last week because of unanswered questions he and the union had about the process.

"I didn't want to go into a situation blind. I didn't know what to expect. Who's going to be there? Who will I be meeting with? What details are we going to get into?" he said.

Peterson also said he was upset by Goodell's accusation in the letter about the suspension that he showed "no meaningful remorse" about injuring the boy.

"Ultimately, I know I'll have my opportunity to sit down with Roger face to face, and I'll be able to say a lot of the same things that I've said to you," Peterson told the newspaper. "Don't say that I'm not remorseful, because in my statement, I showed that I was remorseful. I regretted everything that took place. I love my child, more than anyone could ever imagine."

Fri, 21 Nov 2014 07:42:00 +0000
LA Kings' Voynov charged with domestic violence

LOS ANGELES (AP) Kings defenseman Slava Voynov was charged with felony domestic violence on Thursday by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

Voynov faces one felony count of corporal injury to a spouse with great bodily injury. In a statement providing the first public details of the incident, the district attorney's office said Voynov "caused his wife to suffer injuries to her eyebrow, cheek and neck" during an argument at their home, several hours after the Kings won an afternoon game.

The 24-year-old Russian Olympian has been suspended since his arrest early Oct. 20 at a hospital in Torrance, California. He had taken his wife to the hospital for treatment of injuries from their home in nearby Redondo Beach.

Craig Renetzky, Voynov's attorney, has repeatedly said his client didn't hit his wife. Renetzky also said Voynov shouldn't have been arrested, blaming a misunderstanding between police and Voynov's wife, who speaks even less English than her husband.

"Mr. Voynov is extremely disappointed that the district attorney's office elected to file charges," Renetzky said in a statement. "Mr. Voynov maintains his innocence and looks forward to clearing his name in court. We remain confident."

Voynov was suspended indefinitely by the NHL before he even posted bail on the morning of his arrest. The Kings have wholeheartedly supported the league's disciplinary actions, and they affirmed that position in a statement issued by the team after Voynov was charged.

"We are aware of the actions taken today in California, which we will review and evaluate before making any decisions," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. "Until further notice, the current terms of Mr. Voynov's suspension remain in place."

The NHL's position means the Kings will not receive salary cap relief in the absence of Voynov, who is still being paid his $3 million salary during his suspension. With Voynov still counting against the cap, Los Angeles was forced to play with five defensemen earlier this month while unable to recall anyone from the minors to fill in for an injured player.

"As an organization we will continue to closely monitor the developments of the legal proceedings and work in partnership with the NHL to determine the proper course of action in the future," the Kings said in their statement.

Voynov isn't allowed to practice or play for the team, but he has been skating at the Kings' training complex after their practices, sometimes under the supervision of an assistant coach.

Voynov will be arraigned Dec. 1 in Torrance. The charge carries a maximum penalty of nine years in prison, and Voynov also could face deportation.

Voynov is a two-time Stanley Cup champion who also played for Russia at the Sochi Olympics. He will miss his 14th straight game Thursday night when the Kings host Carolina.

Through her own attorney, Voynov's wife previously said she didn't want charges filed against the defenseman, but California authorities aren't required to consider such wishes when deciding to file charges.

Voynov and his wife got married during the summer. They are still living together and raising her child from a prior relationship.

Voynov earned a spot in the Kings' lineup as a rookie during their run to their first Stanley Cup title in 2011-12. He scored a career-best 34 points last season, and he has two assists in six games this year.

The Kings signed Voynov to a six-year, $25 million contract extension in June 2013.

Thu, 20 Nov 2014 23:54:00 +0000

 

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