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Florida Panthers Pregame: Barkov could join Huberdeau as NHL All-Star

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SUNRISE — For the second time in his 10-year career, Jonathan Huberdeau will represent the Florida Panthers in the NHL All-Star Game.

“Obviously, representing the team is always fun and it’s an honor,” Huberdeau said.

“That means your season is going well and I feel with us, there were a lot of options and there are some guys that should be there, but I’m excited to go there and have fun.”

Huberdeau is currently the fifth-highest scorer in the NHL with 47 points (13 goals, 34 assists) through 36 games this season.

“I’ve been very fortunate coming here and coaching him,” Panthers interim coach Andrew Brunette, who will be joining Huberdeau in Vegas, said.

“From coaching against him to being upstairs and watching him play a lot, and I’ve always loved his game. I think he’s one of the best playmakers in the league and the way he goes about his business, creates plays, and finds space is incredible.”

Huberdeau, who has the most points in Florida’s franchise history with 545 points in 627 games, is going to the All-Star Game for the second consecutive time.

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”I was definitely excited for him,” teammate Sam Bennett said. “It was obviously well-deserved, he’s been unbelievable this year, and he deserves it more than anyone.”

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To many, it may be surprising that Huberdeau only played in two All-Star Games given the caliber of player he is, but the NHL’s set-up limits the number of players per team as every team must have a representative at the event.

While the Atlantic Division’s Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning were among the teams that are set to send multiple players to the All-Star Game, Florida was not as lucky.

Despite having the league’s best record at the time of roster selection, the Panthers will only be sending Huberdeau to Vegas to represent them in the All-Star Game for now.

“I’m disappointed, but also understanding of how the system works,” Brunette said. “It’s probably not fair to these guys, we could’ve had three, four, or five guys if it had expanded rosters.

“A lot of these guys deserve more accolades and we’re an off-the-radar kind of team still, so maybe we don’t get as much respect as we think we deserve.”

Florida still could have one more representative, however.

If voted in, captain Sasha Barkov could join him through the NHL’s Last Men In campaign.

“Not sure how it works, obviously you need a guy from every team,” Huberdeau said. “Barkov should be there every year and hopefully Last Men In can be one of us.”

Despite missing 13 games due to injury, Barkov has 27 points (15 goals, 12 assists) in 23 games so far this season.

When asked to make a pitch for Barkov to land the final All-Star spot in the Atlantic Division, Bennett didn’t need much convincing.

”I don’t think I have to make much of a pitch. All you have to do is watch a game and you’ll see why he deserves to be in the All-Star Game,” Bennett said.

”Every single game, he proves that he’s an all-star and he does something special. He makes it fun to watch, you so don’t have to sell it too much.”

Morning Skate Updates

  • Spencer Knight returned from the Covid-19 protocols list on Friday morning and will be backing up Sergei Bobrovsky, who will get the starter’s crease on Friday against the Stars.
  • Carter Verhaeghe skated after being given a maintenance day, he will be in the lineup alongside Barkov and Sam Reinhart on the first line.
  • Patric Hornqvist returned from Covid protocols and will be in the lineup. Aleksi Heponiemi moved back to the taxi squad to make room for him.
  • Mason Marchment, who re-joined the team from Covid protocols, will remain out on Friday as he continues to work his way back in the lineup. Brunette hopes he will be back either on Saturday or on the upcoming road trip that begins on Tuesday.
  • With Jonas Johansson on Covid protocol, Florida officially signed ECHL Greenville Swamp Rabbits goalie Evan Fitzpatrick to a one-year, two-way contract. Fitzpatrick was placed on the taxi squad.

FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK

DALLAS STARS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS 

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Miami Dolphins: Running backs to consider in 2022 NFL draft

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MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 18: Bubba Bolden #21 of the Miami Hurricanes defends against Kenneth Walker III #9 of the Michigan State Spartans as he runs with the ball on September 18, 2021 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. . (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

MIAMI GARDENS, FL – SEPTEMBER 18: Bubba Bolden #21 of the Miami Hurricanes defends against Kenneth Walker III #9 of the Michigan State Spartans as he runs with the ball on September 18, 2021 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. . (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

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In the last of a three-part series, we look at running back draft options the Miami Dolphins could target during the 2022 NFL draft

The Miami Dolphins are in dire need of a running back and the team could find their answer at the position during the 2022 NFL Draft. Over the past few seasons, the team has been unable to find a consistent and dominant answer at the running back position and fails to support their young quarterback.

The question surrounds the team’s 2021 run game is a two-parter. The first is if it was the lack of talent at the position, or if it was due to the awful offensive line.

In reality, neither response is really wrong. The Dolphins lack game-changing talent at the running back position. Over the past three seasons, the ones that feature former head coach Brain Flores and current general manager Chris Grier, the team has failed to either sign an impact running back or draft one.

Once again let’s look at the names they’ve missed on. In the draft, the team has passed upon Jonathan Taylor, Najee Harris, Antonio Gibson, Clyde Edwards-Heliare, A.J. Dillion, De’Andre Swift, Javonte Williams, and more. In free agency, the team was spurned by Le’Veon Bell mid-season and by Aaron Jones this past offseason for less money to stay with the Green Bay Packers.

To say the team isn’t attempting to get a new running back could be an understatement, considering they chose Noah Igbinoghene over Taylor, Swift, and Edwards-Helaire with their last pick in the first round when they already had Byron Jones and Xavien Howard is nothing short of comedic. The team needs to land a running back that can make life easy for Tua Tagovailoa and take over a game on the ground.

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Miami Marlins: Building the all-time WAR starting lineup

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NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 20: Giancarlo Stanton #27 of the Miami Marlins in action against the New York Mets at Citi Field on August 20, 2017 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Marlins defeated the Mets 6-4. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, NY – AUGUST 20: Giancarlo Stanton #27 of the Miami Marlins in action against the New York Mets at Citi Field on August 20, 2017 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Marlins defeated the Mets 6-4. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

If you were to build the ultimate Miami Marlins starting lineup based on the all-time leaders in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) from the franchise’s history, who would fill the starting nine?

Building the Miami Marlins all-time WAR starting lineup

SP – Josh Johnson

While Dontrelle Willis also ranks within the Top 5 Marlins all-time in WAR at 20.8, the pitcher with the highest combined WAR in franchise history is Johnson, ranking third at 25.7. One of only three players in Marlins history with a 25+ WAR, Johnson spent eight season’s in the organization that included a combined 3.15 ERA, two All-Star appearances, and a NL leading 2.30 ERA in 2010.

C – JT Realmuto

Just outside of the Marlins Top 10 all-time, Realmuto ranks ninth among hitters in the franchise’s history with a combined 13.9 WAR across his five years in Miami. Slashing a combined .279/.327/.442 during that span, Realmuto was also an All-Star and Silver Slugger winner in 2018.

1B – Derrek Lee

Ranking 14th among Marlins hitters all-time with a 9.9 WAR, Lee spent six season’s in the organization from 1998-2003. Included in that span was a Gold Glove in 2003, as well as four consecutive 20+ home run season’s from 2000-03.

2B – Luis Castillo

Despite Dan Uggla also ranking within the Top 10 overall with a 15.7 WAR, Castillo ranks fourth in Marlins history with a 22.4 WAR. Included in Castillo’s 10 years with the Marlins (1996-2005) were three All-Star appearances, three Gold Gloves, and twice leading the major leagues in stolen bases (2000 & 2002).

SS – Hanley Ramirez

Ranking second in franchise history with a 26.9 WAR, Ramirez spent seven years with the Marlins from 2006-12. Included in this span were winning the 2007 NL Rookie of the Year, three All-Star appearances, two Silver Sluggers, and leading the NL with a .342 AVG in 2009.

3B – Miguel Cabrera

Sixth in Marlins history with an 18.3 WAR, Cabrera spent the first five years of his MLB career with the-then Florida Marlins (2003-07). Slashing a combined .313/.388/.542 during that span, Cabrera was selected to four All-Star teams, as well as winning two Silver Sluggers.

LF – Christian Yelich

Right behind Cabrera at seventh all-time among Marlins in WAR is Yelich who holds a combined 17.5. Included in his five season’s from 2013-17 were one Silver Slugger and one Gold Glove.

CF – Marcell Ozuna

Ranking tenth all-time among Marlins hitters in WAR is Ozuna who holds a combined 13.8. Across his five years in the organization (2013-17), Ozuna posted three 20+ home run season’s, as well as two All-Star appearances, one Silver Slugger, and a Gold Glove.

RF – Giancarlo Stanton

We conclude with Stanton, the by-far Miami Marlins all-time franchise leader in WAR at 35.7. Spending eight years in the Marlins organization from 2010-17, Stanton’s accolades include the 2017 NL MVP, four All-Star appearances, and two Silver Sluggers, while also leading the NL in SLG% three times, NL in home runs twice, and leading the major leagues in home runs and RBI’s in 2017.

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Miami Heat: The NBA’s most resilient team

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Place yourself back in October of 2021 before the NBA season started. If someone from the future told you that the Miami Heat trio of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Kyle Lowry would only play 14 of the first 41 games together, what would you have predicted the Heat’s record would be?

Whatever you would have predicted, you would be wrong. As it currently stands, the Heat hold a record of 27-16 and sit at 3rd place in the Eastern Conference. They are just one game out of the top seed in the East despite 18 missed games from Jimmy Butler, 25 missed games from Bam Adebayo, and several missed games from every other rotation player. To top it all off, the Heat have also played the most number of road games (25 out of 43) in the NBA through the halfway mark of this season.

Despite this, the Miami Heat are on pace for their first 50+ win season since the Big 3 Era and are the only team in the entire NBA who post a top-6 rating both in offensive and defensive efficiency.

The Heat have gone 14-8 in the last 20 games that Bam Adebayo has missed since tearing his UCL in his right thumb in a game against the Denver Nuggets. Jimmy Butler has missed the majority of those games due to a tailbone injury and an ankle injury but the Heat have still managed to go 11-4 in games where neither Adebayo nor Butler have played. These have included wins over quality teams such as the Milwaukee Bucks, Chicago Bulls, Philadelphia 76ers, and Phoenix Suns.

So how have they managed to not just survive, but thrive in the absence of their two biggest stars?

Miami Heat v LA Clippers

Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Kyle Lowry

Last season, the Heat had an abysmal record of 7-13 in games that Jimmy Butler missed. While Adebayo took massive offensive steps last year, the Heat only went as far as Butler could carry them. If Butler did not play, or if he did play and didn’t put up his usual heroic performance, the Heat simply could not win games. Coming off of an extremely short offseason following the NBA Bubble, this was just not a recipe for success and was something the Heat looked to remedy by going all in for Kyle Lowry.

Lowry deserves his due respect because this move has turned out to pay dividends and then some. His 8.6 assists per game ranks 5th in the NBA and his veteran leadership and experience have kept the Heat afloat throughout this stretch. The job he has done at keeping Miami near the top of the conference with his playmaking, defense, shooting, rim pressure, and overall scoring when needed cannot be overstated. The Miami Heat have played more undrafted players this season than any other team, and Lowry has still found a way to get each of them to carve out a unique role in the offense.

Tyler Herro

The biggest misconception about Tyler Herro’s career is that he had a magical performance in the NBA Bubble and then had a “down year” last season. Herro’s statistics across the board, including his field goal percentage, increased from Year 1 to Year 2 despite facing more defensive attention and without having a real offseason to improve after the bubble. While the Heat certainly had an overall disappointing and bitter end to last season, Herro was the subject of unfair criticism for the entirety of his 2020-2021 campaign .

Sure enough, after having his first full offseason to work on his skillset, Herro’s game has taken a leap this year. He is putting up averages of 20.7 points per game (career high), 5.1 rebounds per game (career high), and 4.1 assists per game (career high) on a team contending for the top spot in the conference. Even more impressive than his statistical improvement is the manner in which he has gotten there. While he has had his shooting slumps throughout the year with increased defensive attention on him due to the absences of Butler/Adebayo, Herro has learned how to impact the game positively through his playmaking chops and defensive reads.

He is far and away the favorite to run away with the NBA’s 6 Man of the Year award and his case will only get stronger as the Heat get healthier and he has more freedom to grow.

Milwaukee Bucks v Miami Heat

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Unexpected Players Stepping Up

Heading into the season, one of the biggest criticisms surrounding the Heat was their lack of bench depth. Many were concerned that if the Heat were to face any significant injuries to Butler, Adebayo, or Lowry, their lack of bench production outside of Tyler Herro would be exposed. Unfortunately for Miami, the need for depth off of the bench became essential very quickly. Fortunately for Miami, however, is that it turns out they had much more than they realized.

The Heat scouting department is notorious for finding gems off of the undrafted free agency market and turning them into solid rotation players, and it appears that they have struck gold again.

The production that they have gotten off the bench from the likes of Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, Omer Yurtseven, and Caleb Martin is something that even the Heat could not have seen coming. The rotation has gotten so thin that even Udonis Haslem has been asked to step in to play key minutes at various points of the season (with all due respect to the King of Miami).

Each of these players have been forced to play vital roles in the Heat rotation and have been tasked with more heavy lifting than they may not have expected themselves coming into the season. As it turns out, the Miami depth which once seemed like a valid concern has now turned into perhaps their greatest strength.

Utah Jazz v Miami Heat

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Erik Spoelstra

Ultimately it’s up to the Heat players to execute on the court, but none of what Miami does is possible without the mastermind behind it all, Coach Erik Spoelstra. Spoelstra has long been regarded as one of, if not the, best coaches in the league. And yet, somehow he still remains criminally underrated (doesn’t have a single Coach of the Year award to his name but that’s another article for another day).

His ability to maximize any roster available to him is second to none and he has proved this time and time again.

Coach Spo has had several outstanding coaching seasons to his name. His championship runs in the Big 3 Era, his seasons keeping the Heat competitive without any all-stars in the post-Wade era, and his recent run to the finals in the 2019-2020 season are some that come to mind immediately. Despite his long list of highlights, this season just might be the best showcasing of coaching in his career to date given the expectations and the success he’s seen so far.

To put it in perspective, there is a chance that neither Jimmy Butler nor Bam Adebayo will make an all-star team this season due to having missed such a big portion of the year. And as amazing have Kyle Lowry and Tyler Herro have been for Miami, it is likely that neither of them will make an all-star team either due to the fact that the guard position in the East is simply just too talented and they.

In other words, by the time the all-star break rolls around, Coach Spo just may have coached this Heat team to the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference without any all-star players this season.

Miami Heat v Los Angeles Lakers

Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images

The Heat have certainly faced their fair share of adversity this season, but this adversity has turned out to be a blessing in disguise and has shown what Heat Culture is about. While many teams could have folded under the circumstances that Miami has been forced to deal with this season, the Heat have responded stronger than even the most optimistic of fans could hope for and brighter days lie ahead.

They will enter the second half of this NBA season one game out of the top of the East without heavy minutes logged by their top two stars. Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Victor Oladipo, and Markieff Morris (hopefully) will return fresher and more motivated than ever. The Heat have become one of the deepest teams in the league seemingly out of nowhere. They will play the majority of their remaining games at home. And when all else fails, they have the best coach in the game running the show.

In the wise words of ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins, “them goons from Dade County” are back.

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