Taylor Hall, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, is still in his entry-level contract like Nugent-Hopkins but reportedly wasn’t eligible to join the Barons because he was on injured reserve.
Hall wasn’t assigned to Oklahoma City before the lockout. But now there’s speculation once Hall completes his rehabilitation following shoulder surgery he might be eligible to play for the Barons.
“There is a possibility but it hasn’t been discussed with the (Edmonton) organization, yet,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “It could be a possibility. Who knows what’s going to happen? It’s a different situation. We’re just moving forward business as usual. He still has to be cleared.”
Hall, a left winger, has scored 49 goals in 126 games the past two years with Edmonton.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NHL draft, was among 34 players that participated in the Barons’ first practice Sunday morning at the Cox Convention Center.
During the NHL lockout, players with entry-level contracts like Nugent-Hopkins, one of the NHL’s top rookies last season, can play in the American Hockey League.
“It’s good to come down and keep playing and keep building relationships with some guys I played with quite a bit last year (in Edmonton),” said Nugent-Hopkins, who arrived in Oklahoma City Friday night.
“I haven’t seen too much, just been able to walk downtown. Everyone seems really nice. It’s cool having everything pretty close together. This is a great rink. I was almost a little surprised how nice the rink was and how big it was. I’m excited to get the season going.”
Hockey fans in Oklahoma City have a unique situation this season. Due to the NHL lockout a few of the league’s top young players will play in the 30-team American Hockey League.
The Barons, more than any other AHL team, will reap the rewards of having three of the Edmonton Oilers’ top young prospects playing in the Cox Convention Center until the lockout is resolved.
The Oklahoman next week will examine the impact of the NHL lockout on the Barons, a Triple-A franchise entering their third season.
“When we got here a lot of people didn’t know what the Barons were, yet,” said Barons general manager Bill Scott. “They were used to the old team (Blazers) from the Central Hockey League. That name obviously had been branded around here for a number of years.”
Scott said it’s exciting the Barons have developed their own identity after a playoff run reached the Western Conference finals last year.
“People now know who the Barons are and that they had great success on the ice last year,” Scott said. “Our office is doing a good job of branding our team and getting our players out in the community.”
One advantage this season is the Barons won’t go head-to-head as often with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The NBA lockout a year ago restructured the Thunder’s schedule. In February and March nine of the Barons’ 11 home games were nights the Thunder and Barons played on opposite sides of Reno Avenue. This year there will only be eight head-to-head home games the entire season.
“I don’t see anything like that ever happening again,” Scott said. “I truly believe the hockey market in Oklahoma City is going to grow more and more these next three to five years. It’s going to be very exciting. I see everything going in the right direction.”
NFL power rankings after Week 2:
1. San Francisco: There doesn’t appear to be a weakness. Owning the league’s best defense is a solid foundation. Now the offense is showing improvement. Alex Smith and the passing game are contributing. A very impressive start.
2. Houston: The Texans haven’t played a playoff caliber team but have played well. How Houston fares on the road at Denver will provide some insight, especially how the defense fares against Peyton Manning.
3. Green Bay: The Packers rebounded from their opening loss to the 49ers with a never-in-doubt win over the Bears. Green Bay has some concerns but with Aaron Rodgers the Packers have a chance to win any game.
4. Baltimore: The Ravens owned the lead much of the game at Philadelphia. It slipped away at the end. A couple of questionable calls were a factor. This team is solid on both sides of the ball. A showdown with New England will leave one of the top AFC contenders at 1-2 after Week 3.
5. Atlanta: The Falcons are off to a 2-0 start. The offense is one of the most explosive in the league. How the defense plays will determine whether Atlanta is one of the higher seeds in the NFC. New Orleans’ 0-2 start makes the Falcons the overwhelming favorite in the NFC South.
6. New England: The Patriots laid an egg in their home opener against the Cardinals. Arizona has a solid defense but it was strange to see Tom Brady and the offense struggle. A loss to Baltimore would raise even more questions.
7. Philadelphia: The Eagles could just as easily be 0-2 as 2-0. The good news is they’ve found a way to rally for wins despite a rash of turnovers. The bad news is Michael Vick and the Eagles haven’t played well.
8. Denver: Peyton Manning throwing three interceptions the first quarter in a Monday Night loss at Atlanta was shocking. Manning, though, showed in the second half why the Broncos are much improved.
9. Dallas: The Cowboys followed an impressive win Week 1 at the Giants with a loss to Seattle, a game the Seahawks controlled with their ground game. Inconsistency has been an issue the past 15 years. Until the Cowboys prove otherwise there will be skeptics.
10. San Diego: The Chargers won two games they were favored to win. The defense has played well. Running back Ryan Matthews is expected back in Week 3. San Diego hosting the Falcons in Week 3 is a good matchup.
11. Chicago: A week after the offense showed signs of putting up big numbers, quarterback Jay Cutler struggled against a mediocre Green Bay defense. The offensive line is a concern but the Bears have a well rounded roster when Cutler plays well.
12. Arizona: The Cardinals escaped the first week against Seattle then duplicated it with a noteworthy win at New England, dodging a bullet (field goal) at the end. The defense is underrated but the offense has issues.
It doesn’t take long to be humbled in the NFL. Week 2, for a lot of teams, revealed high level play isn’t assured week to week. The Dallas Cowboys followed an impressive win in the Meadowlands with a Stinker in Seattle.
Special teams gaffes put the Cowboys in a 10-0 hole. Dallas dominated both sides of the ball much of remainder of the first half but was unable to make a major dent on the scoreboard. In the second half the Seahawks’ running game took the game over while Dallas’ offense never developed a rhythm.
The offensive line was Dallas’ only minor concern in the opener. The 27-7 loss to Seattle raised several questions including the offensive line which remains a focal point.
But there were other areas that sprung leaks.
Nose tackle Jay Ratliff isn’t the impact player as a DeMarcus Ware. But Ratliff sitting out the first two games with a high ankle sprain finally was a factor.
Dallas’ run defense was solid the first six quarters. But in the second half on Sunday Marshawn Lynch ran for 104 of his 122 yards. The Seahawks controlled the trenches. Ratliff would help but run defense might be more of a concern than the secondary which was the issue a year ago.
Quarterback Tony Romo didn’t produce many game-altering plays good or bad. Sitting on the sidelines much of the second half watching Seattle’s ground game control the tempo, Romo never changed the momentum.
A suspect O-line will be under the microscope all season. But DeMarco Murray and the running game and Romo and the passing game with Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Jason Witten must be more productive. Witten still looks rusty.
Special teams were supposed to be a strength with Felix Jones and Dez Bryant. Maybe it will be a one-game aberration but mistakes like blocked punts present unnecessary obstacles.
The Cowboys have some areas of concern but several teams were reminded anything can happen. Arizona, a heavy underdog, winning in New England was exhibit A.
The toughest portion of Dallas’ schedule is Week 6 after the bye week, a brutal five-game stretch with four road games. Realistically the Cowboys need to start the season 3-1 before the tell-tale portion of the schedule arrives.
How the Cowboys arrived at 1-1 was a little surprising, winning in New York and losing in Seattle. But Dallas was one of only two teams to start the season with two road games.
The storyline now shifts to JerryWorld. Dallas will be heavily favored next Sunday against Tampa Bay. It’s the following week, a Monday night home game with Chicago that could define the first quarter of the season.
I must confess I feel like flip-flopping my Super Bowl pick from New England and Green Bay. It is after all a political year.
Normally a Week 1 knee-jerk reaction is a mistake. But there were some revelations that make San Francisco and Baltimore the Super Bowl favorites after Week 1:
NFL power rankings after Week 1:
1. San Francisco: To go into Lambeau Field and play that well defensively the 49ers reminded everyone they were a botched special teams return from playing in last year’s Super Bowl.
2. Baltimore: The Ravens always have had a defense. The defense is aging. But Joe Flacco and an up-tempo offense will contribute more. How much the defense slips and how consistent the offense plays will determine whether this is a Super Bowl season in Baltimore.
3. New England: The Patriots remain the AFC team to beat as long as Tom Brady is the quarterback. New England has so many weapons Wes Welker had only three catches last week and the Pats romped. The defense, though, must prove it’s improved.
4. Green Bay: Don’t toss away the Packers just because Aaron Rodgers and the offense ran into the NFL’s best defense. Yes, Green Bay has some issues. Bad running game. Leaky defense. But the Packers will be a factor.
5. Dallas: The Cowboys posted one of the more impressive Week 1 wins. Dallas played well in nearly every phase. In previous years the inability to follow with another solid win has hampered Dallas. Seattle isn’t an easy place to win. A win Sunday would be huge if the Cowboys start 2-0 with two road wins.
6. Houston: The Texans are a trendy Super Bowl pick out of the AFC. Houston, featuring a solid offense and stout defense, has much to prove to join the elite but they Texans definitely a team on the rise.
7. Atlanta: The Falcons once again look like a regular season powerhouse. It’s the playoffs that have been a disappointment for Matty Ice and the Falcons.
8. Denver: Peyton Manning didn’t look like a quarterback who had sat out a year. The future Hall of Famer was sharp. The defense is pretty good. The Broncos are the team to beat in the AFC West.
9. Chicago: Stop the presses. The Bears have an offense. Quarterback Jay Cutler’s and wide receiver Brandon Marshall’s reunion, combined with Matt Forte and a decent defense, makes the Bears a formidable team.
10. New York Giants: The running game didn’t look sharp in the opener. The defense can be inconsistent. The Giants can be frustrating. But they’ve proven you can never take them lightly. They’re capable of beating anyone anywhere.
11. San Diego: Quarterback Phillip Rivers vows to make safer/wise choices to cut down on his interceptions. The defense has some question marks but is passable. When running back Ryan Matthews returns the offense will find another gear.
12. Washington: Robert Griffin III had a smashing debut. The defense was pretty good last season. The Redskins winning their opener in New Orleans was a statement win. Whether Griffin and the Redskins are a surprise team will play out week to week.
With the Dallas Cowboys off Sunday, I had an opportunity to watch bits and pieces of several NFL games. Observations on some Okies from Sunday’s Week 1 games:
Adrian Peterson: Some questioned whether it was wise to play Peterson in the opener since he suffered a torn ACL late in the season. Peterson showed why he’s unique. Still not 100 percent, Peterson still made a huge impact in the Vikings’ win. A month from now Peterson once again could be a beast.
Wes Welker: A rare sub-par stat outing (three catches, 14 yards). The Patriots have so many weapons there will be games like this. But Welker remains one of Tom Brady top targets in an offense that should compile huge stats. Welker plays in an offense that literally will be a pick-your-poison dilemma for defenses every time Brady drops back to pass.
Brandon Pettigrew: The Oklahoma State product is emerging as an upper tier tight end, one of many options for quarterback Matthew Stafford. Pettigrew can run over defenders and slide around them to get open. Pettigrew has evolved into a difference-maker.
Sam Bradford: Making progress his third season, the former Heisman winner made enough plays the Rams were on the brink of posting a noteworthy road upset at Detroit. St. Louis didn’t close it out but it was an encouraging start for the Rams in coach Jeff Fisher’s debut.
Kevin Williams: The six-time Pro Bowler is on the backside of his career but remains a disruptive force in the trenches. The Vikings most likely aren’t a playoff threat but Williams will provide show-youngsters-how-its-done leadership.
Gerald McCoy: Sidelined several games his first two seasons, McCoy can develop into a Pro Bowl caliber defensive tackle. McCoy still has a lot to prove, especially durability-wise. But McCoy has the talent to be an anchor in a Tampa Bay defense that had a solid showing in an upset win over Carolina’s Cam Newton.
Kendall Hunter: Mr. dependable as Frank Gore’s understudy. Hunter does all the right things. He can dart for move-the-chains runs and is a receiving threat. A change-of-pace back, Hunter should play meaningful snaps in Jim Harbaugh’s underrated offense.
Perrish Cox: San Francisco probably has the NFL’s best defense. After a year layoff, Perrish Cox will play a key role in the 49ers nickel package but once again showed why it’s pivotal for Cox to contain his emotions.
Brandon Weeden: The rookie quarterback had an inauspicious debut. Four interceptions and a dreadful quarterback rating were a forgettable start. The Browns defense played well enough to upset Philadelphia but Weeden and the Cleveland offense didn’t contribute enough. Some of Weeden’s decisions were puzzling.
Antonio Smith: Recording a half of sack and a quarterback hit, Smith plays on a Houston defense that could be among the top units in the AFC, one reason why some say the Texans are a viable Super Bowl contender.
Russell Okung: The No. 4 overall pick three years ago had a couple of false start penalties and limped off the field. Okung needs to stay healthy to eventually reach his potential.
Ryan Broyles: He won’t see the field much as long as the Lions top three receivers stay healthy.
A win, any kind of win, especially a division win, is cherished in the NFL.
The Dallas Cowboys’ 24-17 win over the New York Giants, their nemesis that had won five of the six previous meetings, is only one win. But it’s a statement win stocked full of positives.
The defense is much improved: Landing two new cornerbacks was the key off-season makeover. It certainly was a noticeable upgrade in the opener. Holding Eli Manning and the Giants to 17 points and sub-300 total yards was a strong opening statement after a strong showing in preseason.
Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr and the nickel and dime defenses did a vastly better job against Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, who consistently burned the secondary last season.
Capping off a solid defensive performance was the D-line stuffed the run game. The Giants rushed for only 82 yards, averaging 4.3 a carry which helped Dallas own a 34-26 edge in time of possession.
Defensive pressure: Led by All-Pro linebacker DeMarcus Ware the Cowboys sacked Manning three times. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan isn’t shy on bringing pressure. If the secondary plays close to this level all season Ryan will devise schemes to harass a lot of quarterbacks.
Tony Romo: The much criticized Cowboys quarterback has compiled fantasy worthy stats but needs more big wins on his resume, especially late in the season. It’s only one game. It’s a long season. Sixteen games will provide a more accurate barometer. But Romo outplayed Manning on a night several offensive line penalties put Romo and the offense in some tough situations.
Close out a game: These are the type of big games the Cowboys often times have had difficulty closing out. The Giants scored two TDs in the final five minutes last year to rally for a win in Dallas, the pivotal game in the NFC East race. This time Romo and the offense converted a game-ending first down to squash any potential last-minute Manning drama. Murray’s tough runs and Romo’s clutch passes might have been the most positive development.
Murray is back to form: The former OU star was on his way to 1,000-yard-plus rushing yards his rookie season before suffering a fractured ankle in December. Durability will always be a question. But Murray’s never-give-up 48-yard scamper and 131-yard effort was a sign he’s fully recovered from the ankle injury. Murray picks up blitzes. He could rush for 1,300-plus yards if he stays healthy. He’s turning out to be a third-round steal.
Ogletree is an option: Kevin Ogletree never caught a touchdown pass his first three seasons with the Cowboys. In the season opener he caught eight passes for 114 yards and two scores. The Giants’ banged up secondary concentrated on Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. Romo and Ogletree took advantage with what some might label the “third” option. It was a potent No. 1 option because of the matchup. Ogletree, if nothing else, will force defensive coordinators to game plan for all three. It’s noteworthy Bryant and Austin also combined for eight catches for 158 yards.
Offensive line plays OK: This is the biggest concern. There were way too many false start and O-line penalties. If it was a regular officiating crew instead of substitutes there may have been a few more holding calls. And they had a few that were called. But the O-line still gets a passing grade. Despite losing their starting center, plugging in a player who had been with the team for just one week, the O-line fared OK. The run blocking and protection for Romo were average. But against the Giants’ ultra talented D-line any kind of passing grade is a plus.
Witten less than 100 percent: Jason Witten was more of a liability than a plus. Witten struggled at times blocking, dropped a couple of balls and never got much separation on routes. He was rusty after being sidelined by a lacerated spleen. But getting Witten back Week 1 means in a couple of weeks the offense will only be more versatile, especially when a revamped O-line has more time to develop some chemistry.
Key NFC East win: Every division win is invaluable for tiebreaker advantages late in the season. This win has value when it’s 100 degrees in Texas. It will still have value when it gets near freezing in Green Bay in December.
Big road win: The Cowboys face one of the league’s more difficult road schedules. Earning a statement road win in Week 1 will be a reminder they can win just about anywhere if they play well. It wasn’t Dallas’ A game. But a B+ showing was more than enough to get the season off to a 1-0 start stocked with positives.
NFL predictions for the upcoming season:
The NFC has at least nine playoff caliber teams while it’s difficult to find six AFC teams you’re confident will go 10-6 or better.
NFC East: Philadelphia 10-6, Dallas 10-6, NY Giants 9-7, Washington 6-10: The Eagles are the team to beat but they always lay an egg or two and Michael Vick’s health is a factor. The Cowboys looked good enough in the opener to be a contender. The Giants won’t make the playoffs. Redskins a year away but getting closer.
NFC South: Atlanta 10-6, New Orleans 10-6, Carolina 6-10, Tampa Bay 5-11: The Saints’ coaching situation is a mess because of Bountygate but Drew Brees and the offense are simply too explosive. Falcons should be explosive, too. Carolina is improved but not enough. Bucs could go either way.
NFC North: Green Bay 12-4, Detroit 10-6, Chicago 10-6, Minnesota 4-12: The Packers were the best team in the league last year. Should be again. But can they win it all? Lions and Bears are quality teams capable of playoff runs. Vikings have too many questions.
NFC West: San Francisco 11-5, Seattle 8-8, Arizona 5-11, St. Louis 5-11: ’Niners won going away last year and should coast again. Seattle could surprise but will be hard with a rookie QB. Arizona has same ole problems (QB and O-line questions). Rams will be improved but still have a ways to go.
AFC East: New England 12-4, Buffalo 10-6, NY Jets 7-9, Miami 3-13: The Patriots are the favorites in the AFC. Buffalo upgraded its defense and could grab a wild-card berth. At least the Jets will be in the news. Miami could end up with No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
AFC North: Baltimore 12-4, Pittsburgh 9-7, Cincinnati 7-9, Cleveland 5-11: The Ravens, always a Super Bowl threat, always seem to fall short. The Steelers are slipping a little. Cincinnati comes back down to earth. Cleveland will be improved but still has a ways to go.
AFC South: Houston 11-5, Tennessee 7-9, Indianapolis 5-11, Jacksonville 4-12: The Texans could reach the Super Bowl for the first time and should romp in this division. The other three teams can call it a successful year if they get to .500.
AFC West: San Diego, 9-7, Kansas City 9-7, Denver 9-7, Oakland 7-9: Most balanced division without a dominant team. Any of the four could win it. San Diego underachieves, Peyton Manning has slipped a little, the Chiefs have potential but questions. The Raiders always to find a way to blow it.
Wild-card games: San Francisco over Dallas, Atlanta over New Orleans, Houston over Kansas City, San Diego over Buffalo.
Conference semifinals: Green Bay over San Francisco, Philadelphia over Atlanta, Houston over Baltimore, New England over Pittsburgh.
Conference title games: Green Bay over Philadelphia, Houston over New England
Super Bowl: Green Bay over Houston.
Winning five of the past six meetings, highlighted by season series sweeps last year and 2009, the New York Giants, more than any other team, have become the Dallas’ Cowboys’ biggest hurdle. Mentally as much as personnel matchups.
There’s a reason owner Jerry Jones tried to fire up a training camp crowd in California a month ago: “Come watch us kick the Giants butts.” Jones is tired of losing to the Giants.
What will it take for Dallas to reverse the trend and post an upset Wednesday night in a game that kicks off the NFL season? Here are five things to watch for:
1. Can Dallas protect Tony Romo? The Giants sacked Romo nine times in the two games last season. Romo could have success against a young Giants’ secondary but he must have time to go through his reads.
For all the criticism Romo gets for late-season meltdowns he’s actually played well against the Giants during the 1-5 slump the past three years. Romo has completed 67 percent of his passes, throwing for 12 touchdowns and only three interceptions the past three years against the Giants.
A footnote: Romo was sidelined by a broken collarbone the only game Dallas has defeated the Giants the past three years. Romo hasn’t beaten the Giants since 2008.
2. How much of an impact will it be if Jason Witten doesn’t play much? Last minute word is Witten will play. How effective he’ll be remains to be seen.
Witten’s impact goes beyond being Romo’s security blanket on key third-down pass plays. He’s also a solid blocker in the running game.
3. Can the Cowboys establish their running game? Even if Witten doesn’t play, the Cowboys must be balanced offensively to slow down the Giants’ pass rush. After taking over for Felix Jones early last season, DeMarco Murray, the former OU star, was a difference maker. The Cowboys were 5-0 in games Murray had 20 or more carries.
An unsung addition in Dallas was former Nebraska/Oakland Raiders coach Bill Callahan, brought in to coach the offensive line. Viewed as one of the top O-line coaches in football, the Cowboys’ revamped offensive line, which includes two new starters, could control the pace of the game if the ground game is productive.
4. Was the defense’s preseason showing legit? We’ll find out. Dallas’ defensive starters didn’t allow a defensive touchdown in preseason in the equivalent of playing one full game.
Brandon Carr and rookie Morris Claiborne are upgrades at cornerback but they’ll be tested by Giants quarterback Eli Manning and receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. Manning threw for 746 yards and five TDs in the two wins last year. Nicks and Cruz combined for 25 catches, 491 receiving yards and two TDs.
5. Can the Cowboys finish strong? The Giants scored two touchdowns the final four minutes to rally for a 37-34 win in Dallas last year and then won a win-or-go-home regular season finale in the Meadowlands by dominating the final seven minutes.
If it comes down to the fourth quarter once again, the Giants, at home, have to like their chances.