It seems that the ice has required more maintenance this season.

This week’s Big Question: What’s the ice like around the league compared with two years ago?

James van Riemsdyk, RW, Toronto Maple Leafs: “It’s been awful. I don’t know what it is. Even in our building this year. I thought it was really good [when we came] back for World Cup and right after that for the first little bit. But the last little bit, it’s been so bad. The puck’s all over the place. … I know we have a lot of events in here. I think they’re trying to fix some things and change some things. Both teams are playing on it, so it’s not an excuse [for players] in that regard. But for the sake of the product of the game — we talk about goal scoring and stuff like that — if you have a better ice surface and the puck isn’t bouncing around as much and guys can make plays, you would think that would be as good a reason as any to get more goals in the league. I know they’re working on it and they’re trying, but it hasn’t been good of late.”

The Lakers have inquired about the availability of Pacers star Paul George, right, according to sources, as Magic Johnson and Larry Bird now find themselves competitors in dueling front offices.

Johnson has wasted little time getting busy since he was handed control of basketball operations by Lakers president and co-owner Jeanie Buss, quickly sealing a trade Tuesday afternoon with the Houston Rockets for a future first-round pick and veteran swingman Corey Brewer in exchange for high-scoring guard Lou Williams.

League sources told Stein that the Lakers were also seeking a quality second-round pick from teams interested in veteran shooting guard Nick Young.

Johnson addressed the Lakers’ players and coaches when they reported for Wednesday’s practice at 1 p.m. local time.

Roddy White would have fought Kyle Shanahan for not running the ball in the Super Bowl

Add former Falcons wide receiver Roddy White to the vast number of people who think Atlanta should have just run the dang ball in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LI.

White didn’t pull any punches on the We Never Played the Game podcast hosted by the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Jeff Schultz and Zach Klein of Atlanta’s WSB-TV. He said he would have “literally” fought former Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan over the play calling decisions that led to the loss.

The Falcons led 28-20 in the fourth quarter, and after catches by Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones, Atlanta found itself on the New England 22-yard line. After a run play for a loss of a yard on first down, Shanahan called a pass play. Ryan was sacked on a five-step drop, resulting in a loss of 12 yards and pushing the Falcons out of comfortable field goal range for Matt Bryant.

White said he told Jones that, had he been on the field for that second down, he would have jumped offsides on purpose to keep the play from happening.

“At that point, it’s second-and-16, you know they’re going to run the ball,” White said. “Or they’ll throw quick game (quick pass off a three-step drop). It wouldn’t be anything you can take a sack on.”

White did single out the former offensive coordinator for the play calls, but he also acknowledged that Shanahan shouldn’t bear the blame alone.

“As a coaching staff, you’re on the headset,” White said. “Nobody said, ‘Were going to run the ball three times.’”

There’s a history of conflict between White and Shanahan. White was vocal last season about his dissatisfaction with his role in the Falcons’ offense. His perspective hasn’t changed.

Manuel is all about an aggressive, attacking style

It was a down year for Eli Manning, and while the Giants still believe in him, don’t be surprised if they look for a quarterback in this year’s draft to groom as Eli’s eventual replacement. He’s 36 but likely has a few good years left. The Giants fixed the defense last season but now have to rebuild the offense around Manning and Odell Beckham Jr.

As with the rest of the Falcons, Manuel will enter the 2017 season with a bad taste in his mouth from the Super Bowl LI implosion in which Atlanta blew a 28-3 lead in a crushing, 34-28 overtime loss to the New England Patriots. But at least Manuel knows he’ll have a talented group around him that in 2016 featured NFL sacks leader Vic Beasley Jr., emerging nose tackle Grady Jarrett, rookie standouts Deion Jones and Keanu Neal and Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant, who will return after missing the season’s second half following pectoral surgery.

The improved speed on defense, coupled with the presence of Trufant as a shutdown corner, will allow the Falcons to continue the trend of playing more man-to-man defense, as they did successfully later in the season.

Manuel’s ability to get the best out of his players was evident in the way cornerback Jalen Collins made a dramatic leap in his second season as a replacement for Trufant; in the way cornerback Robert Alford shook off problems with penalties to become a playmaker; in the way Brian Poole went from being undrafted to evolving into a reliable nickelback; and in the way Neal and Allen were able to work in unison at the safety spots.

Again, Manuel is all about an aggressive, attacking style. It’s in his nature as a former NFL strong safety. That’s the mentality and approach you see from him every day in practice. And that’s the look you’ll see in his eyes every game day.

Mizzou’s Shane Ray, Utah’s Nate Orchard and LSU’s Danielle Hunter come to mind.

This is playing things close to the vest when it comes to “need” and helping opposing teams project their needs, of course. Adding to that, the line between a 3-4 standup outside linebacker and a 4-3 edge rusher have somewhat blurred over the years.

You can have teams evaluate 4-3 ends as 3-4 backers, and visa versa, and it makes it tough to pinpoint scheme archetypes.

“A lot of times it opens it up for you,” said Pace. “Because there are a lot of undersized defensive ends in college who can stand up and play outside linebacker in the 3-4. So it’s exciting to me. I’ve been in both systems in New Orleans. We’ve been 4-3 and 3-4. So I think it opens up more players. Because there are undersized ends who can play that stand-up position and rush the quarterback from a two-point stance.”

Mizzou’s Shane Ray, Utah’s Nate Orchard and LSU’s Danielle Hunter come to mind.

As Pace pointed out, there’s some flexibility with what you can do at the traditional nose tackle position in a 3-4 as well.

“I think there’s a couple guys who can do it,” he said. “One of them’s done it before in Dallas. It doesn’t have to be this big, 350-pound space-eater. You can use him in a variety of ways.”

The Rams found their own version of DHB, albeit about six inches shorter. St. Louis traded up to the eighth spot in the draft in 2013 to get glorified punt returner Tavon Austin. Cornerback Brandon McGee, a fifth-round pick in 2013, has been reduced to a bit role and spent most of last year on IR. Chris Givens, a forth-round pick in 2012, had a promising rookie season, but quickly faded away in the Rams’ confused offense.

The award for most Davis-like picks goes to the Jets, who picked up a disappointing Stephen Hill in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. A year later they spent a first-round pick on the disappointing Milliner. A sixth-round pick last year, the Jets cut Brandon Dixon before the season started. The good news for the Jets is that they have a brand new coach and general manager making the picks this year.

Las Vegas mayor says Chargers are in play for possible relocation

If the team gathers the appropriate amount of signatures, then San Diegans will get to vote on the new stadium. If the initiative passes, San Diego’s hotel room tax would jump up four percent, which would help pay for the $1.8 billion stadium/convention center project.

If the initiative were to fail, then the Chargers would likely to move to Los Angeles, unless everything mentioned above also miraculously happened, then the team would have the option of Las Vegas.

One more thing to keep in mind for Chargers fans: Goodman as already said that she thinks the Raiders will end up in Vegas.

In Vegas terms, a Chargers move to Sin City is probably something you shouldn’t bet on.

Government research into a group of retired NFL players showed they had a lower suicide rate than men in the general population. The study also noted it contained significant shortcomings.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health studied a group of retired players who played for a minimum of five years from 1959 to 1988, according to ESPN. The research found that there were 12 suicides out of 3,439 former players between 1979 and 2013. As ESPN wrote, “Suicide rates in the general population suggest 25 suicides would have been expected for men of comparable age.”

Marshall told the New York Post on Tuesday that the Jets will “be OK” with Smith orBryce Petty under center.

“Just seeing Bryce and Geno grow so much the last year is really encouraging, and I’m just proud of those guys,” Marshall said. “We’ll be OK.”

So, let’s state the obvious: Neither Smith nor Petty project as above-average quarterbacks. When Smith’s been handed a chance (29 starts, 31 appearances), he’s flopped (72.3 passer rating). And Petty is nothing more than a developmental prospect who’s never played in a real game.

The plan in question is a $1.33 billion project headed up by the Las Vegas Sands corporation. The potential stadium could be just blocks from the Vegas strip, but the real important piece of information are the multiple teams the city wants to bring in.

From the interview with Goodman:

Goodman said the site under consideration could host the NFL, MLS and UNLV football. She said she is confident that Las Vegas would get an MLS franchise.

One of those “other considerations” that Jones is referring to happens to be gambling. Although the NFL has made it clear that it’s staunchly against gambling, Jones thinks the league would be willing to overlook that because Vegas’ “entertainment value” overshadows the gambling.

14 things to know about the Chicago Cubs’ hot and historic start to the season

Related to all of this is the Cubs’ incredible run differential of +110. Scaled to a full season their run differential would be +509. The all-time record belongs to those ’39 Yankees, who outscored their opponents by 411 runs. Obviously, the Cubs have some room to decline/regress and still break that record. This one bears monitoring.

What’s helping that run differential is how the Cubs have fared in blowout games. This season, when the game is decided by a margin of five runs or more the Cubs are 15-2.

Are the Cubs getting lucky? No, not especially. Based on runs scored and runs allowed, their record should be 28-7. Based on the more granular, batted-ball level data available at FanGraphs, their record should be 27-8. In other words, the Cubs aren’t out-performing any of their more fundamental indicators.

For a time, the knock was the the Cubs hadn’t played a tough schedule. However, their 2016 opponents to date have an average winning percentage of .502. They’ve also gone 13-1 against the Cardinals, Pirates, and Nationals, and they’re 13-3 in road games.

Need proof that baseball’s still beautifully weird? The Cubs this season are 3-5 against the Braves, Rockies, and Padres and 24-3 against everyone else.

Of course, the Cubs’ 2016 regular season excellence is all in the service of winning the World Series for the first time since 1908. On that point, there’s some discouraging news. Since 1995, when the playoffs expanded to three rounds, the team with the best record in the regular season has gone on to win the World Series just 19 percent of the time. In the playoffs, the small sample size of games and the randomness therein tend to hold sway. Just ask those 1906 Cubs and 2001 Mariners and their 116 wins apiece, for instance.

The 2016 Cubs — so far, so very, very good. Of course, there’s much more to come.

Duke University held commencement exercises over the weekend, which means life is about to get demonstrably worse for any number of young people. Life, however, is not going to get worse for Blue Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman, in large part because he’s a major-league ballplayer.

Why inject Mr. Stroman into this discussion? We do so because Mr. Stroman was among those who was graduated from Duke on Sunday. Stroman was drafted out of Duke in 2012, and last year while rehabbing his knee injury he worked toward finishing his degree. As you’re about to see, that work paid off on Sunday …

Sheepskin received! And here’s Marcus demonstrating his delivery while wearing the robes of the occasion …

A few weeks back, Heath Cummings said he was ready to move Altuve into his top-three players overall. Ahead of the likes of Paul Goldschmidt, Josh Donaldson, Nolan Arenado and Carlos Correa among others; I didn’t even have Altuve in my top five.

As Altuve continues to clobber the ball all over the field and shows no signs of slowing down, that is becoming harder to justify. Altuve is the No. 1 hitter in both Rotisserie and H2H scoring formats, and he is 21 percent ahead of the No. 2 scorer in points leagues.

Altuve almost certainly can’t keep this pace up moving forward, but it would be foolish to just write off this quick start and assume he is the same player he has been in the past. It has been 11 days since Altuve’s last homer, but he hasn’t slowed down in that span; he is still hitting .368/.468/.447 over his last 10 games.

Jason Day leads wire-to-wire in winning Players Championship

Two 15-foot birdies over the next three holes restored his margin and sent him on his way. The last hurdle was finding land on the island-green 17th, and he cleared the water with about 10 feet to spare.

Day’s seven victories dating to the Canadian Open include the PGA Championship, The Players, a World Golf Championship and a pair of FedEx Cup events, all some of the strongest fields in golf. Day became the first wire-to-wire winner in 16 years at Sawgrass, and he joined Tiger Woods, Johnny Miller and Tom Watson as the only players to go wire-to-wire twice in the same season, dating to 1970.

Day finished at 15-under 273 and earned $1.89 million, the richest payoff in golf.

Kevin Chappell, who finished one shot behind Day at Bay Hill, was 5 under over his final 10 holes for a 69. He picked up a consolation check of $1,134,000 and moves just outside the top 30 in the world, which gives him a spot in the next two majors.

“That’s getting a little old,” Chappell said of his two runner-up finishes to Day. “I’m not sure what Jason’s scrambling stats were, but they were much better than mine on the week.”

Day got up-and-down 85 percent of the time this week, the best at Sawgrass. He now has won 10 times on the PGA Tour. Only Rory McIlroy, with 11, has won more among players in their 20s.

“It’s no coincidence he’s No. 1 in the world,” Justin Thomas said after closing with a Sunday-best 65 to tie for third. “He drives it extremely far, extremely straight. He hits it to the moon, so he can access pins that most people can’t. His short game is ridiculous. I think I’ve pretty much covered it all there when it comes to the golf.”

Day is the third No. 1 player to win The Players Championship, joining Greg Norman (1994) and Woods (2001 and 2013).

Thomas, who started 11 shots behind, stuck around Sawgrass to see if 10-under 278 would have a chance. He wound up tied for third with Matt Kuchar (68), Colt Knost (69) and Ken Duke (72).

Hideki Matsuyama, playing in the final group with Day, was 3 over after three holes and quickly out of the mix.

The pressure didn’t come from anyone else. Day brought it on himself. He hit only three greens on the front nine and let evil thoughts of blowing the lead creep into his head until he steadied himself with the bogey putt on No. 9 and two birdies on the 10th and 12th holes.

In the world rankings, Day now has a large lead over Jordan Spieth, who missed the cut, and McIlroy at No. 3, who was never a factor on Sunday at Sawgrass. Dating to his 81 to miss the cut last year at The Players, Day has finished out of the top 10 only seven times in his past 20 starts.

Adam Scott referred to his run as “Tiger-esque.”

“That’s one of the hardest things to do: when you are hot like that, to keep pushing,” Scott said. “But he has a very strong desire to achieve so much, and I think probably his goals are changing throughout this period, and he’s expecting more and more of himself. He’s got that ability to push himself and accomplish.”

Toronto fans chanted, ‘We want Cleveland!’ in the final seconds. They got it.

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points, DeMar DeRozan had 28, and the Raptors beat the Miami Heat 116-89 in Game 7 on Sunday to advance to the conference finals for the first time in franchise history.

Bismack Biyombo added 17 points and 16 rebounds for the Raptors. They’ll open the Eastern Conference finals in Cleveland against LeBron James and the Cavaliers on Tuesday.

“It’s great to hear the home crowd,” DeRozan said. “This organization deserves it, this country deserves it — to see them get to the next step, somewhere they haven’t been. But we’re not done yet.”

Strong San Jose Sharks’ effort trumped by St. Louis Blues’ scoring depth in Game 1

ST. LOUIS — It is a matchup the St. Louis Blues will take over seven games, and this thing sure has the look of seven: Jori Lehtera’s winner Sunday night coming with the San Jose Sharks’ third line on the ice.

No offense to Chris Tierney’s unit for the Sharks, which played well the previous round against the Nashville Predators, but if the Blues can get Lehtera’s unit — with Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz out there, or any of their top three lines — matched up against San Jose’s third line, this is an area St. Louis can exploit throughout the Western Conference finals.

This is a series pitting two evenly matched teams. Games will be won by a hair, the way it was Sunday with the Blues prevailing 2-1 in Game 1 and the Sharks perhaps unlucky after outshooting the hosts 32-23 and owning the larger share of Grade A looks.

GERRIT COLE OUTDUELS JON LESTER, SHUTS DOWN CUBS

“It was a well-pitched game on both sides,” Lester said. “Cole probably didn’t pitch the way he wanted to the last time he faced us and came back with a little bit of vengance there. He really threw the ball well today.

“It sucks sometimes. The old cliche of, ‘tip your hat to the other guy,’ but when you don’t allow any, it gives you a chance to win that ballgame. He did that today and sometimes you have to tip your hat on the other side. The other guy threw the ball better than I did today.”

Kang later added a solo homer in the ninth inning off Cubs closer Hector Rondon.

The Cubs mounted a rally in the ninth when Fowler walked and Jason Heyward singled to lead off the inning. After Kris Bryant popped out to shallow center, Anthony Rizzo drove home Fowler with a sacrifice fly to right field.

But Zobrist grounded into the shift in shallow right field to end the threat and the game.

The Cubs are off Monday before hitting the road for 10 days beginning Tuesday night in Milwaukee.

NEW YORK — After playing record-breaking defense for a dozen games, the White Sox defense made its first error of the month on Sunday.

Ironically, it came back to hurt them.

Second baseman Brett Lawrie’s throw on a sixth-inning Jacoby Ellsbury grounder pulled Jose Abreu off the base and snapped a 12-game stretch — the longest in club history, according to Elias Sports — in which the White Sox defense didn’t commit an error.

Two batters later, Carlos Beltran gave the New York Yankees a one-run lead in a game they ultimately won, 7-5. Beltran’s two-run homer, the 400th of his career, off reliever Zach Duke put New York up 5-4 on the White Sox.

If he continues to put together weeks similar to the last, Triple-A shortstop Tim Anderson should reach the majors this season.

As it is, general manager Rick Hahn said in spring training he wouldn’t be surprised if Anderson, the team’s top prospect according to Baseball America, contributed to the big league club this season. However, Hahn also stressed patience with Anderson, 22, who is in his third full professional season, given how inexperienced he was when they drafted him out of community college in 2013.