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Devils won’t be laughing for long at P.K. Subban’s new moniker




Devils won’t be laughing for long at P.K. Subban’s new moniker

We here at Slap Shots would like to congratulate Mackenzie Blackwood for becoming the first fifth-grader to play in the NHL.

Because the Devils goaltender displayed the mentality of a 10-year-old, and not a very aware one at that, with a verified posted comment on P.K. Subban’s verified Instagram account on Thursday, in which Blackwood referred to the defenseman as, “SLEWBAN.”

He even added a little on-fire emoji to the comment on Subban’s post that pictured the postgame congrats following the Devils’ 3-0 victory over the Flyers on Wednesday.

Blackwood thinks it is funny that Subban has already kicked the feet out from under five opponents, and not been suspended for any of them? Hahaha. Sammy Blais suffered a season-ending torn ACL on one of those plays. Oh, hilarious. Would Blackwood invent a nickname for a player who injured Jack Hughes on a dirty play?

Defenders of the defenseman have insisted straight down the line that Subban’s transgressions do not fall under the definition of slew-footing, which the league insists with a straight face that it takes very seriously.

Now here is Blackwood anointing No. 76, “SLEWBAN.”

You won’t find the comment if you check Subban’s account now. To the Devils’ credit, we are told that once alerted to the posted comment, management immediately addressed the issue with Blackwood. The goaltender soon after deleted the comment.

MacKenzie Blackwood
MacKenzie Blackwood made light of P.K. Subban’s dangerous antics in an Instagram comment.

Still, the next time it happens with Subban, and surely there will be a next and sixth time because the defenseman apparently cannot help himself, the department of player safety might not go into contortions trying to exonerate the man his goaltender calls, “SLEWBAN.”

There is room in the game for both Jacob Trouba’s hits and for the Trevor Zegras-Sonny Milano insane alley-oop play. The first highlights the sport’s essence. The second highlights the remarkable skill and creativity of its young, emerging athletes.

Yes, the NHL should always be looking for ways to make the game safer. But it is dangerous out there. You can’t run out of bounds. You have to keep your head up. That’s the way it is. Players do put themselves at physical risk every time they take a shift. That’s why the canard trotted out during every labor negotiation that owners are the ones taking a risk is so offensive.

The Zegras-Milano adaptation of “The Michigan” in Buffalo on Tuesday has received more than 50 million views on myriad social media platforms. It was jaw-dropping. And guess what? It was done in an environment in which a Sabres player could have drilled Zegras while the puck was on his stick. That is what adds to it.

Anyone who has issues with the alley-oop sounds like a guy babbling nonsense at a bus stop.

MacKenzie Blackwood
MacKenzie Blackwood
Getty Images

You turn around one day and the Flyers are on their sixth coach in nine years, on their way to a sixth playoff miss in 10 years, and in wonderful position to extend their Stanley Cup drought to 47 years.

Only the Maple Leafs, waiting since 1967, and the Sabres and Canucks, who have never won since their entries into the NHL in 1970-71, have longer droughts than the Flyers, who once upon a time were far more fun to pick at.

The Lightning lost their entire third line after the playoffs, Barclay Goodrow, off to the Rangers (and what in the world was he doing with that sneaky trip from behind at the buzzer in Buffalo on Friday?); Blake Coleman, off to Dallas; and Yanni Gourde, off to the Kraken.

They have played without Nikita Kucherov since the middle of October, they are playing without Brayden Point and they don’t for the moment have Anthony Cirelli or Erik Cernak.

But they do have Steven Stamkos. They do have Jon Cooper behind the bench.

And they are 17-6-4.

Is it unfair to have expected more than a little more so far from Mathew Barzal, who is one of my favorite players in the league to watch?

The concussion-spotter in Winnipeg last Sunday who did not spot that Joseph Woll was hit in the head by Pierre-Luc Dubois or that Neal Pionk took a knee to the head from Jason Spezza probably should no longer be a concussion-spotter.

That was the game in which Pionk went knee-to-knee on Rasmus Sandin, a play for which he received a two-game suspension. That was the game in which, seconds later, Spezza responded by driving his knee into the falling Pionk’s head, an act for which he received a six-game suspension (though he is appealing).

Neither play that drew supplementary discipline was penalized by the referee tandem of Brad Meier and Reid Anderson.

But were they suspended? Of course not. They were back at it two nights later, Meier working in Winnipeg and Anderson in Detroit.

Why not?

There is nothing more predictable than Gary Bettman rushing to the defense — all the while, condescending — of whatever latest incarnation of dysfunctional ownership exists in Arizona.

The Coyotes, revealed to have fallen $1.3 million in arrears in state taxes by the estimable Katie Strang’s reporting for The Athletic, are the great Steve Martin’s stand-up act come to life.

You don’t know how to be a millionaire without paying taxes?

Here’s how he tells it and the Coyotes ownership apparently lived it.

“First, get a million dollars. ‘Steve, what do I say to the tax man who comes to the door and says you have never paid taxes?’ ”

“Two simple words in the English language: ‘I forgot.’ ”

Finally, according to Forbes, the Sabres’ valuation has increased by 30 percent over last year to $500 million and Slap Shots is just waiting for the announcement from the Pegula ownership clan that the team can now rehire all those folks in the office who were laid off a year ago because of the pandemic.


Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death




Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence




Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers




Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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