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Panthers’ Luongo, Jagr excited for playoff push

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NASHVILLE — When Roberto Luongo accepted a trade from the Vancouver Canucks to the Florida Panthers on March 4, 2014, a lot of people thought he was doing what many people do when they relocate to Florida: Preparing to retire.
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Less than two years later Luongo will play in the 2016 Honda NHL All-Star Game on Sunday (5 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports) with teammates Aaron Ekblad and Jaromir Jagr and his coach Gerard Gallant behind the bench of the Atlantic Division team, a reward for the Panthers entering the break in first place.

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There was no intention on Luongo’s part to go to Florida and wind down his career. The intent was to win.

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“It’s nice to be at the place I envisioned we would be,” Luongo said Friday at All-Star weekend media day. “There’s still a lot of work left to be done, that goes without saying, and we’re not satisfied with anything that we’ve done so far because really we haven’t really done anything. But the growth of our team has been great over the last year-and-a-half and it’s just exciting to think about the future and realizing we have a chance to do something special over the next few years.”

The Panthers have one of the most unique rosters in the NHL.

They have the oldest forward in the League in Jagr, who turns 44 on Feb. 15, the oldest goalie in Luongo, who will be 37 on April 4, and the second youngest defenseman in Ekblad, who turns 20 on Feb. 7 and is already in his second season. The veterans also include defensemen Willie Micthell (38 years old) and Brian Campbell Jerseys (36) and forward Shawn Thornton (38). Then there’s Ekblad, Aleksander Barkov Jerseys (20), Vincent Trochek (22), Jonathan Huberdeau Jerseys (22), Nick Bjugstad Jerseys (23), Alex Petrovic (23), Quinton Howden (24) and Erik Gudbranson Jerseys (24).

“I don’t want to help any GM, but when you think about it, when you’re too old, you appreciate the game and you’re happy and you do everything just to survive the game,” Jagr said. “When you’re too young, you are excited, you’re young, you’re very good but you don’t even know how good you are. But when you’re middle age, I think you become more selfish cheap jerseys online and think about yourself, and we don’t have those kinds of guys, you know what I’m saying?”

Then, with a big laugh, Jagr said, “Don’t sign the middle guys.”

The Panthers youth might have led some to consider them a year away from being competitive this season, but there were already signs this was coming last season when the Panthers made a late push toward the Stanley Cup Playoffs before falling short in the end.

“I think we were one of the better teams in the second half of the season,” Gallant said. “So I don’t think we’re surprising teams. I don’t think anybody would have said we’d be in first place today in our division, but I think a lot of teams knew we would be a good hockey team. We’ve had a good first half, we’ve been pretty healthy for the most part and I think that’s a big part of it, but I think every team in the League knows we’re a good, solid team.”

If they didn’t know it before, a 12-game winning streak from Dec. 15 to Jan. 10 made it very clear. But Jagr pointed to how the team came out of that streak as a better reflection of the Panthers’ growth as a team.

Florida lost four straight games coming off of that streak, leading some to begin doubting the Panthers once again, especially with back-to-back games against last season’s Stanley Cup finalists coming next on the schedule.

Then the Panthers went out and defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 4-0 on Jan. 22 and the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2 on Jan. 23.

“I think in those two games, we proved to anybody that we can play against anybody,” Jagr said.

The Panthers cheap jerseys online still need to prove that over the second half of the season. But after years of stockpiling young talent and building towards tomorrow, it would appear the Panthers have arrived.

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NFL considering changes to scouting combine

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Many, like New England Patriots Jerseys coach Bill Belichick, bemoan incoming rookies training for specific drills performed at the NFL Scouting Combine — like the 40-yard-dash. Could those days be coming to an end?
Participants | Top performers | Workouts
Combine coverage:
Candidates to top Johnson’s 40 mark
Decade’s best combine performances
7 prospects with character concerns
5 questions to be answered at combine
11 potential combine workout freaks
Notable prospects not invited to combine
2016 combine schedule of events
Photos:
Mind-blowing stats for 2016 combine
NFL players not invited to combine
Combine through the years

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Tom Pelissero of USA TODAY repots that National Football Scouting Inc., which runs the combine, is establishing a committee of NFL executives, scouts, coaches, athletic trainers, team physicians, among others, to jerseys for cheap review all phases of the annual event.

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“Our first focus is to look at what we do currently and making sure that that’s relevant,” company president Jeff Foster told USA TODAY Sports. “And if it is, great, we’ll continue to do it, because historical comparison is really important to the evaluation process. But if we believe that there’s something that’s not relevant, then what can we replace it with that will help us evaluate the players?”

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Tinkering with the combine is something that has been considered more earnestly in recent years.

The 2016 NFL Scouting Combine kicks off this week in Indianapolis. Players will participate in the 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, 3 cone drill and shuttle run.

Routinely criticized as “Underwear Olympics,” teams often find more use in the medical examinations and interviews conducted during the Combine than some of the on-field drills.

“We’re continuing to explore everything in an effort to improve,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told Pelissero. “So, if there are ways to tweak, improve, modify anything we do, we’ll explore that (and that includes) the combine. The mantra is, how can we get better?”

As data becomes more accessible and easier for teams, agents and players to parse, the tenor of the combine could adjust, making workouts more useful and informative.

“You can get in on a really granular level and analyze these systems — even overlays of some of the stuff they do,” Dr. Marcus Elliott said. “They measure vertical jump, but there’s a lot of ways for two guys to both jump 38 inches. There’s potential for this thing to get so much smarter.”

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Mariners address Hisashi Iwakuma, free agency

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It’s officially the Hot Stove season, which means it’s the perfect time to renew our Inbox series.

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What are the chances of retaining Hisashi Iwakuma? — Megan D., Yakima, Wash.

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Submit a question to the Inbox

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My gut says Iwakuma will return to the Mariners, though it’s certainly not a sure thing. They’ll likely make him a $15.8 million qualifying offer by Friday’s 2 p.m. PT deadline, and he’ll likely turn it down, given he’d prefer a multi-year deal. At that point, the 34-year-old will become a free agent, and you never know if another club might come in and blow his socks off. But Iwakuma likes Seattle, he’s a family man who enjoys the community and schools his kids are in, and the Mariners value his veteran presence in the middle of their rotation. Usually, when both sides cheap youth jerseys are amenable, a deal can be done.

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Does another frontline starter make sense for the Mariners? Say David Price? — Shawn K., Bremerton, Wash.

Let’s be realistic here. The Mariners have spent big money to get and keep some big-time stars in the past few years. Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez Jerseys are two of the top 10 highest-paid players in baseball and combine to make $49 million a year. Unless you’re the Dodgers or Yankees with a mammoth payroll, it’s difficult to field a quality 25-man roster if you’ve got three guys making $25 million apiece. And Price is probably going to get something close to $30 million a year from some team this winter. Top free agents of 2016 Price, Greinke highlight a strong free agent classMLB.com takes a look at the top free agents entering the offseason, including David Price, Zack Greinke Jerseys, Johnny Cueto Jerseys and Yoenis Cespedes Jerseys

So, no, I don’t see Seattle jumping in after Price or Johnny Cueto Jerseys or Zack Greinke Jerseys or any of the top-shelf arms. With five players already under multi-year contracts, four more who’ll get raises in arbitration and the likelihood of re-signing Iwakuma to a healthy increase, they’re already looking at more than $105 million for 10 returning players. Even if they increase last year’s $125 million payroll, as expected, it would seem wise to spread the available money around to add a couple solid players to fill several different roles rather than sink it all in one superstar and make their payroll even more top-heavy than it was in 2015.

If the Mariners do go for another starter, I’d like to see them try to bring Doug Fister back, as he’ll be more affordable and looking to bounce back from a tough year with the Nats. And he’s a guy who likes pitching at Safeco Field.

Do you think the Mariners will make a serious push for outfielders Yoenis Cespedes Jerseys or Jason Heyward? — Brady K., Port Angeles, Wash.

Again, I don’t see new general manager Jerry Dipoto putting all his chips on one high-priced player this winter. And Cespedes and Heyward will be among the priciest of the free agents. There really are good players out there who won’t cost $20 million a year. The key is finding and developing them. Justice on Mariners’ offseason Justice talks Mariners’ offseason plans for 2016Richard Justice breaks down the Mariners’ offseason plans including pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma and how they plan to address the bullpen

Will Dipoto make a big trade/signing this offseason or keep it small in his first year on the job? — Ray R., Erie, PA

I expect Dipoto to be creative on the trade market and to look for value in free agency in order to bring in a veteran catcher, help in the bullpen, a center fielder and perhaps another rotation candidate. As I’ve said, I don’t expect to see a blockbuster free-agent signing, but I’m very curious to see what trades might pop up, as he definitely seems like a guy with specific ideas about what he wants and isn’t afraid to try things. Dipoto on building the Mariners New GM Dipoto’s approach to building the MarinersNew Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto discusses his plans for the organization

What do you predict will be the biggest culture change implemented by Scott Servais? — Lowell T., Bangkok, Thailand

I’m told Servais is an ultra-organized guy who loves to practice, and I suspect the Mariners will work hard on situational baseball. Every manager talks about fundamentals, but the Mariners want to be a more athletic team that gets on base, creates opportunities and pressures opposing pitchers more and that will be a focus of Dipoto’s roster construction as well. Mariners introduce Servais Servais introduced as new Mariners managerJerry Dipoto and the Mariners introduce Scott Servais as the team’s new manager and share their excitement for the future

I read that Dan Wilson interviewed for the bullpen coaching job. Any word on how that is going? — Scott C., Edgewood, Wash.

The Mariners’ Hall of Fame catcher has talked to Servais and Dipoto about a position, but it sounds like he’s still not sure if he’s ready to be a full-time coach. Wilson worked last year as a Minor League roving instructor and could stay in that role, which allows him to spend more time with his family while also working with the young catchers in the system. Being a Major League coach is an enormous time commitment, with all the travel and games, which is why Edgar Martinez waited until his kids were older before signing back on as hitting coach. Servais is still looking to add a third-base coach and bullpen coach and those hires should be announced soon.

What are the chances of Roenis Elias Jerseys and Mike Montgomery being in the rotation next year? — Kieran F., Manchester, United Kingdom

If we’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that pitching depth is essential, as injuries and unexpected struggles are inevitable. I would expect both youngsters to challenge for the fifth-starter spot next spring, but we need to find out if Iwakuma is returning, whether any other veterans are added, if any trades are made and how healthy Hernandez, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton stay in Spring Training before piecing together a rotation.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. Share This Email Print + Hide Comments