Report: Tight end Saunders set for foot surgery
Weslye Saunders' road to the NFL has encountered yet another speed bump with the NFL Network reporting the former South Carolina tight end will undergo surgery to have a pin inserted into his fractured foot Friday.
This type of surgery typically takes six to eight weeks to recover from. Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones turned in a blistering performance at the scouting combine in February despite having a fractured foot, then underwent surgery and is expected to get his walking boot off next week. Saunders went through South Carolina's pro day on Wednesday with the injury.
Saunders was suspended for the entire 2010 season after lying to the NCAA twice regarding details of trips he took to Atlanta and Washington D.C. last summer with friend Marvin Austin, the former North Carolina Tar Heel who was the focal point of an investigation into alleged improper benefits received from agents. Saunders was eventually kicked out of the program by coach Steve Spurrier.
Saunders said he paid his own way, but lied to protect friends, fearing he'd get them in trouble -- although he claimed not to know what for.
"I panicked," Saunders said at the combine. "There's no excuse for lying. I wasn't truthful and forthcoming. I did hold back on information in the first two interviews. The third time I laid everything out on the table.
"It felt like they were investigating a murder. It was in the middle of summer, they put me in a hot room in the Carolina Inn and stuck two tape recorders in front of me for four hours."
Saunders said he hopes he can regain his reputation. As for his draft stock, he's unlikely to get back his preseason status -- he was NFLDraftScout.com's top-ranked tight end in August.
"At the end of the day, I think everyone realizes I made a mistake, I suffered greatly for that mistake," he said. "I never was arrested. I never failed a drug test. I never was on academic probation. I think we'll get a chance to prove ourselves."
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NFL talks take a backward step
NEW ORLEANS — The situation between the NFL and its players union has begun to resemble Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jim Marshall’s 1964 fumble return against the San Francisco 49ers. You’re going in the wrong direction, fellas.
Yesterday, the NFL brought out its legal All-Star team and by the time the five of them were done talking, replacement players were back on the table, sitting down at the table was off the table and the Norris-LaGuardia Act, passed in 1932 to prevent employers from crushing workers’ efforts to unionize, had been transformed into a defense for a management lockout.
Patriots owner Bob Kraft said several weeks ago for a labor deal to get done both sides needed to get the lawyers out of the room. The brief NFL attorneys filed with the 8th Federal District Court in St. Paul, Minn., yesterday forcefully argued his point.
Although league officials repeatedly indicated they have no intention of using scab players to replace the real ones this fall if the labor impasse continued, bombastic Bob Batterman, architect of the 2004-05 NHL lockout strategy, said there was no legal bar to preventing the use of replacement players, thus adding into the mix a new threat from management at a time when the league keeps insisting it just wants to negotiate a fair deal.
Joining Batterman at a press briefing at the annual NFL owners meetings were former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement; David Boies, who represented Al Gore in his failed bid to win the 2000 presidential election in a court challenge of Florida’s ballots; lead attorney Gregg Levy and in-house counsel Jeff Pash. Boies and Levy were the chief authors of a 49-page brief that argued the union’s decertification March 11 was a “sham’’ that carries no legal authority for the court to grant an injunction blocking a lockout now in its 10th day.
One of management’s ploys was to twist the Norris-LaGuardia Act into a defense of a lockout. That act was a depression-era federal law banning management from seeking injunctions to block nonviolent strikes and writing what were called “yellow-dog contracts’’ that required workers to agree not to join a union as a condition of employment. If John Grisham authored this, it would rightly be called fiction.
“We all know what’s really going on here,’’ one attorney said. “I don’t think any one believes them (the players). I don’t think any one of you believe (the NFLPA has permanently renounced itself as a union).”
Perhaps not, but if either the National Labor Relations Board or Judge Susan Nelson do, the lockout will end, and the league then will be exposed to a “Hobbesian choice,” its legal team argued.
If the lockout is lifted and the league is ordered to allow its players to go back to work, the NFL is expected to impose working conditions similar to the 2010 uncapped season until a new CBA is negotiated or a legal settlement is reached in the case of Brady v. NFL.
Such conditions would very likely include the college draft and franchise and transition tags that restrict player movement. The problem, as the league’s attorneys see it, is the minute the NFL does, it would be accused of violating antitrust law because most of those activities are illegal unless collectively bargained.
“They want an injunction that forces us to go out and violate the antitrust laws,” one league attorney said. “I would hope the court would craft a decision that whatever we do would not (automatically) be an antitrust violation.”
League officials also made clear the NFL would not follow the sestion of NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, who sent a letter to Levy saying counsel for Brady and nine other players suing the league would be willing to discuss a settlement of that lawsuit.
That is the road that was taken nearly 25 years ago when the players won a similar antitrust suit after first decertifying their union, which led to nearly 20 years of labor peace.
But the league’s lawyers said adamantly they would “not go down that road again,” claiming the NFLPA’s decertification was a sham and that the league would only negotiate for a new CBA with the players union, even though the players now insist they have no union.
Pash repeatedly said the league is willing to follow the urging of ex-Patriots [team stats] linebacker Mike Vrabel for face-to-face negotiations but only if the players first admit the NFLPA is still a union not a trade association, thus effectively dismissing the Brady lawsuit and the players’ claims of rampant antitrust violations.
If this confuses you, you know how Jim Marshall felt 57 years ago when he thought he’d scored a touchdown for the Vikings only to learned he’d run 66 yards in the wrong direction and scored a safety for the not-hotly pursuing 49ers.
Leafs goalie James Reimer keeps it in perspective
How’s this for a foundation? James Reimer grew up on a farm in Morweena, Manitoba, a hamlet in the country about two-and-a-half hours north of Winnipeg. He grew up in a religious, tight-knit family, watching his parents, Harold and Marlene, run their home-based business: Reimer Building Movers.
They moved houses for a living, still do, sliding steel beams underneath them, jacking them up, loading them onto trucks, hauling them away and settling them someplace new. James helped now and then, holding measuring tape, running blocks all over the place, checking this, checking that. He learned hard work and teamwork. He learned precision. He learned the satisfaction of a job well done.
“His job is kind of like his dad’s,” said James’ agent and close friend, Ray Petkau. “If either one of them screws up, everyone knows it.”
James’ job is tending goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The rookie, who turns 23 in a week, is the one expected to stop the puck down the stretch. And if you think the Leafs will have to move mountains to make the playoffs, five points out of eighth place with 16 games to go, think of what Reimer has done already. “I think back to the small community where I came from and all the steps and all the doors that had to be opened, all the little miracles that happened for me to get here,” Reimer said.
This is a guy whose parents didn’t want him to play organized hockey at first, who didn’t join a team until he was 12, who was discovered by accident at 13. This is a guy who started the season in the minors, fourth or fifth on the Leafs’ depth chart, but got a shot because of health and performance issues with the men in front of him. He is 12-5-3 with a 2.45 goals-against average and .924 save percentage and has become a fan favorite in Toronto, not to mention a sort of folk hero in Manitoba.
“I wouldn’t have probably bet a pled nickel that he would be one of our goalies this year, to be honest with you,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “We wanted him to play in the minors and continue to get better and develop and try to stay healthy. Circumstances have allowed him an opportunity. He’s taken advantage of it. He’s much farther along than we thought.”
So what’s harder – moving a house or making the NHL? James thought that one over and smiled. (He often smiles. He never swears.) In the end, he had to point to his father and uncles, because moving a house is a long day’s labor. But he allowed that making the NHL is pretty tough, too.
“It’s kind of a one-in-a-million chance,” James said. “A lot of things have to go right just to get the opportunity.”
* * * *
Reimer and agent Ray Petkau, at a dual high school graduation/NHL draft day celebration on the family farm in the summer of 2006. The Leafs picked Reimer 99th overall.
James always loved hockey. He played on outdoor rinks as a kid. Probably because his big brother, Mark, needed someone to shoot on, he strapped on street hockey pads to face real rubber. He begged to play in real games. But his parents said no.
They let him play soccer and baseball. But those sports were in the summer, and hockey season conflicted with the busy season for their business, late fall, and a hockey team would require hours of driving to practices and games.
That, and the Reimers had heard horror stories. “Some of the hockey stuff is rough and wild, and so we weren’t too sure that that’s the environment we wanted our kids to get into,” Marlene said. Said James: “They just didn’t want me to get into the lifestyle and not be prepared to take it on or make right decisions.”
But when James was 12, a local team was looking for a goalie. A parent of one of the players called the Reimers and asked if they would let James play. They said they weren’t interested. Then the coach called. Then the coach called again. The Reimers were starting to relent, but they didn’t say yes until James overheard his mother on the phone with the coach.
“He said, ‘Mom, please, I really, really, really, really want to play hockey. Please, can I play just one year?’ ” Marlene said. “And so we decided, ‘Sure, we’ll try one year and see where it goes from there.’ And that year has turned into a career for him.”
Petkau discovered James when he was 13, playing in a 14-and-older recreational hockey tournament in Steinbach, Manitoba, just south of Winnipeg. Petkau was a young agent just starting out. The only reason he was at the tournament was because a friend had asked him to play at the last minute. The only reason James was at the tournament was because his church team needed a goalie and the organizers made an exception, thinking a 13-year-old goalie couldn’t do any harm.
The thing was, the 13-year-old goalie didn’t look 13. He played so well that Petkau thought he was 17, 18 or 19. When Petkau found out how young James was and how he had been playing for only a year, he recognized that he had a raw talent on his hands. “He was rough around the edges, but he just had a knack for stopping the puck,” Petkau said.
Petkau approached James and asked if he wanted to play – as in play. “I was a shy little kid, and I said, ‘Sure,’ ” James said. “I didn’t really know what it meant.” Petkau approached the Reimers and talked to them about developing their son’s talent. “They were kind of shocked, like, ‘Our boy?’ ” Petkau said.
Reimer describes his rise to the NHL as "kind of a million-to-one-chance."
Yep. Their boy. After experiencing organized hockey for the first time, the Reimers had seen the good side – a way for kids to learn things like discipline and how to play with others. They had seen their son’s desire and potential. So they decided to sacrifice and support him, driving 45 minutes to practices, three or four hours to some games. They didn’t allow James to play summer hockey, thinking it was just too much, but they took him to top goalie schools from Alberta to Saskatchewan, and that might have helped keep him hungry.
Junior scouts doubted James. But the Western Hockey League’s Red Deer Rebels took a chance on him after watching him play only one game, and he spent three seasons with them.
NHL scouts doubted James. But the Leafs drafted him 99th overall in 2006 – on a day when he was four-wheeling in the countryside. The Leafs sent his hat and sweater to Petkau, who presented them to him at what became a high school graduation/NHL draft party on the family farm.
“It’s a crazy story, really,” James said. “When you’re a kid, you dream about it. I remember my kindergarten yearbook. What do you want to be when you grow up? A hockey player, right?”
* * * * *
October 2009. James, a second-year pro, had made the Toronto Marlies, the Leafs’ American Hockey League affiliate. He came home from practice one day with a big grin for his mother, who had flown out to help set up his apartment.
“Well, Mom, you want to go to a game tonight?”
Even in the heat of battle, a smile is never far from Reimer's face.
(Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)
“Sure,” Marlene said, thinking James had gotten tickets. “Let’s go.”
“Well, you’ll be watching, but I’ll be playing.”
Recalled Marlene: “That was the first time I realized, ‘This guy’s getting a chance. Maybe this is all going to be for real.’ My heart was just going. I knew he was just backing up, but just to dress as a Maple Leaf was amazing.”
January 2011. James had been called up again. But this time, he wasn’t just backing up. Less than two weeks after his NHL debut, a relief appearance against Atlanta, he made his first NHL start. Wilson kept it quiet in the media, but Petkau and the family found out in time to fly out for the game in Ottawa on New Year’s Day. In front of Petkau and some of his family – his parents; his wife, April; his sister Christy – James beat the Senators.
“We kept saying, ‘Is this really happening?’ ” Marlene said.
It was. Still is. James went 4-2-0 before returning to the minors. Since coming back up, he has gone 8-3-3 and been one of the main reasons the Leafs have climbed into playoff contention.
“He had done his work in the minors, and he was ready for the challenge,” veteran Leafs goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere said. “When he was asked to play, he wasn’t nervous because he knew he was ready technically and physically.”
Not everything has been perfect. James was pulled from his last start Saturday night against the Chicago Blackhawks, allowing five goals on 19 shots through two periods of a 5-3 loss. And there are doubters again: Is he vulnerable to the glove side? Can he keep this up game after game? Will the NHL lifestyle change him?
But his mother and agent are confident. James was a good student because he couldn’t stand to make mistakes. He would figure out what went wrong and correct it, and it’s the same with goaltending. Hard work. Precision. But perspective, too.
“He puts that pressure on himself, yet it doesn’t get to him,” Petkau said. “He’s still smiling if he allows a bad goal.”
Petkau said there is “not a chance” James will change. James, a pending restricted free agent, has a $555,000 NHL salary and $62,500 AHL salary, plus bonuses. He’s in line for a raise and daydreams of helping charities for sick kids. On the back of his helmet is a yellow heart with the words “Ramona’s courage,” in honor of his cousin’s wife – and Petkau’s niece – who died of cancer 14 months ago in her mid-20s.
“It’s not about buying a BMW or a house on the lake or things like that,” Petkau said. “He’s pretty modest. None of this has gotten to him so far. He’s still the same kid.”
During the all-star break, a time when most NHLers jet off somewhere warm to get away from the game, James Reimer went back home to Morweena, Manitoba. He did what he has always done during midwinter breaks for Christmas or whatever else. He played on an outdoor rink with family and friends until 3, 4 or even 6 in the morning.
Well, one thing has changed. He no longer straps on the street-hockey pads to play goal like he once did. Now when he plays shinny, he tries to score.
“I don’t understand it,” Marlene said, laughing, “but he loves his hockey.”
Slumping Stars bounce back to beat Red Wings 4-1
DETROIT—Mike Ribeiro, Loui Eriksson, Krystofer Barch and Jamie Langenbrunner scored goals to help the Dallas Stars beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 Thursday night.
Dallas had lost five straight and was in a 2-10-1 slump, falling from one of the top spots in the Western Conference to a tie for last place in its division entering the game.
Tomas Holmstrom scored a power-play goal with 3:31 left, allowing Detroit to avoid getting shut out for the third time this month.
Dallas' Kari Lehtonen had 38 saves and Detroit's Jimmy Howard had 21.
The Central Division-leading Red Wings have lost consecutive games, both at home, after winning five straight.
Dallas got a boost from the return of Barch and Adam Burish after both missed the previous eight games with facial injuries.
The Red Wings had a lackluster start and the Stars took advantage, scoring twice late in the first—including Eriksson's short-handed goal with 23 seconds left in the period—and took a 3-0 lead midway through the game.
After Holmstrom scored, Detroit pulled Howard to add an extra skater and that led to Langenbrunner's goal into an empty net.
NOTES: Dallas scratched D Nicklas Grossman (hip) and C Brad Richards (concussion). ... The Red Wings honored Todd Bertuzzi for playing in his 1,000th game earlier this month, giving him a Rolex watch. ... Dallas, which has won four of its past six games in Detroit and eight of the past 12 overall, won the
season series 3-1 against the Red Wings. ... Eriksson had two goals and five points in the previous three games against Detroit this season. ... Dallas is 24-3-2 when scoring first this season. ... The Red Wings expect to have Mike Modano (wrist) back Saturday at Buffalo and hope Valtteri Filppula (knee) can return in that game.