The Curious Case of Owen Tippett

Owen Tippett with the Florida Panthers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Owen Tippett, Florida Panthers Oct. 17, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

During this stellar panthers season, very few players would be considered disappointments by most. One player this cannot be said for is Owen Tippett. The fourth year winger was poised to have a top 6 spot secured for the Panthers, but has failed to capture a permanent spot in the lineup thus far.

The former lottery pick was expected to be a big part of this team’s season. His recent play, however, has warranted the healthy scratches he has been receiving. Without a doubt the talent is there, but the production has not been. Poor puck luck has factored into his underwhelming season, but he has also not been himself. Let’s dive into how we got here with Owen Tippett.

How we got here

The Florida Panthers selected Owen Tippett 10th overall in the 2017 NHL draft. Most draft experts agreed that Tippett had the best goal scoring skills of any prospect in the draft. Coming out of juniors, his game had holes –particularly defensively– but little doubt existed as to whether or not he would be an NHL caliber player.

Tippett impressed during his first training camp with the Panthers. So much so that he made the opening night roster, an exceedingly rare feat for a teenager. During his seven games in the NHL in the 2017-2018 season, Tippett only scored a single goal, but his confidence and swagger on the offensive end were evident.

Tippett drove offensive play so impressively that many began thinking that the Panthers got a steal at pick number ten. The Panthers sent Tippett back to juniors after his seven game stint in the show, but most believed his game would be complete enough to be an NHL regular by next season.

Unfortunately for all involved, progression is not always linear

Tippett failed to make the NHL roster in either the 2018-19 or 2019-20 seasons. While he had some impressive stints in the minor and junior leagues, he could never get over the hump into the NHL. Tippett finally became a regular NHLer during the shortened 2020-21 season. It was then when the flashes became more apparent. In the final six games of the regular season, Tippett tallied six points (2g, 4a) and continued that production into the playoffs with four points (2g 2a) in six games.

So Where are we now

Playing on a line with Sam Bennett and Johnathan Huberdeau seemed to have unlocked Tippett’s offensive upside. With an offseason to grow, the Panthers expected big things from Tippett going into this season.

Before the season, Sam Bennett said about Tippett: “When he starts to realize how good he is, he’s going to be even better. I love playing with him, he brings so much to the table. He’s a player that’s going to have a really good year.”

Before the season, I suggested that Tippett was the odd man out of this forward group, and noted that Duclair would be the better linemate for Bennett and Huberdeau. Now at the beginning of this year I was more than ready to eat my words on that one, but as the season progressed and the lines shifted, so did the bigger picture.

Tippett began the season paired with Huberdeau and Bennett as expected, the line put up decent production but nothing earth shattering. Tippett himself put up eight points (3g 5a) in 13 games. When injuries and losing streaks necessitated changes, however, concern for Tippett’s production grew.

When replaced with Reinhart, that line generates an expected goals percentage of 63.1%, compared to 52.1% with Tippett. Replacing Tippett with Duclair gives that line a 57.8% expected goals percentage (Not to mention the insane chemistry between Huberdeau and Duclair that could win Huberdeau a hart trophy, but that is a story for another day.)

Tippett, now playing mostly on a third line centered by Anton Lundell, has managed just one assist in his last sixteen games. His offensive swagger has been nonexistent, and his play driving relies heavily on others.

To his credit, Tippett’s defense has improved dramatically, and he has played reliably in the defensive and neutral zones. What’s missing is his fearless, gutsy, always looking for the goal attitude he was drafted for. Surely that player still exists, but it has been some time since Tippett showed it.

What’s next for Owen Tippett

Has the Panther’s organization stunted his growth by not letting him be himself? Possibly. Could a change of scenery be good for Tippett? Probably. Is this marriage between play and organization unsalvageable? Absolutely not.

Fortunately for Owen Tippett, the team does not need him to live up to his potential right now. Plenty of other offense exists around him while he figures out how to get his killer mentality back.

Of course, if the Panthers are truly committed to bringing back that version of Owen Tippett, it will take some deliberate coaching. Brunette will have to pair him with a pass first playmaker and get him lots of time in the offensive zone (with Lundell he gets mostly defensive zone starts.) It will also mean consistent playing time, which has not been the case recently.

The Panthers could also opt to trade him, but his trade value is likely much lower than the Panthers view it as. As of this moment, a trade (persumably for a defenseman) would not help the team as much as many think.

Regardless, a change would help all parties involved. Tippett is only 22 years old and has all the talent in the world. The coaching staff and the front office must decide if they prefer to work to reenergize the winger, or look for a new home for him. His talent is too big to be wasted.

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Patriots Dolphins Preview: 5 Areas to Watch

FOXBOROUGH, MA – SEPTEMBER 12: Miami Dolphins defensive lineman Adam Butler (70) catches New England Patriots running back Damien Harris (37) during a game between the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins on September 12, 2021, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Fast Start/Play from Ahead

The Patriots are getting ready for their first-ever week 18 game against the Miami Dolphins. Against the Jaguars last week, it was the first time since their bye week that they quickly gained the advantage and held it throughout the game. The buildup of the team makes it important they get a lead; they’re built to run the ball offensively and rush the passer defensively.

It’s no secret opponents want to put the game in Mac Jones’ hands. Before playing the Jaguars, Mac had thrown four interceptions in the two games prior. While he did enough to put the team in striking range in both games, he was also part of the reason the Pats were in holes to begin with.

Compare that with the effort he put together against Jacksonville and he begins to appear as a snowball passer. When things are rolling in his favor, he plays confidently and more aggressively, often leading to better final stat lines and overall team outcomes for the Patriots.

Against the Dolphins, the Patriots must do to Tua what previous opponents have done to Mac. Both teams are built similarly and Miami would love to play with a lead and their impressive secondary. However, when the pressure is on Tua he has wilted of late. If the Pats can jump out to a quick lead and force Tua to beat them, the game shifts in their favor.

Health

The Patriots already ruled out starters Kyle Dugger and Dont’a Hightower, while Damien Harris is still nursing a hamstring injury. A win is still important for the Patriots as they have an outside chance of winning the division, but that starts with a win in Miami.

Despite the desire to win, the Patriots also must keep an eye on the future as they will potentially be suiting up again in the Wildcard round next week. This shouldn’t be a game where the starters are pulled unless the outcome is virtually guaranteed, meaning the Patriots must come out of it without any additional injuries to monitor going forward.

Nelson Agholor will be making his return from concussion protocol against Miami. His departure from the Colts demonstrated how severely limited the passing game is for New England. While Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers are competent receivers, they struggle to separate against man coverage. Agholor adds a speed element that opposing defenses must respect. Any injury to a starter for the Pats may provide fatal for their hopes in the playoffs.

Miami Weirdness

You probably don’t need a reminder that Miami is a house of horrors for the Patriots. Outside of Michael Floyd destroying a guy and a Wes Welker full field touchdown, there haven’t been many highlights for New England in South Florida.

This will be Mac Jones’ first trip to Miami. His teammates are sure to have made him aware of the multiple disasters that have happened here if he was oblivious. If this game is close late, the Patriots need to refrain from putting any tight ends on defense and do whatever is needed to secure the win.

N’Keal Harry

The Patriots elevated Kristian Wilkerson ahead of last week’s game and he responded with his first two career touchdowns. As mentioned in that game summary, N’Keal Harry’s career high is two touchdown receptions in a SEASON. Despite this, the Patriots did not elevate Wilkerson ahead of the deadline for Sunday’s game.

The return of Agholor may mean the value of Harry’s blocking is more important to the Patriots offensive gameplan than adding a very real fourth receiving threat.

Or perhaps the coaching staff is giving one final gasp at keeping his roster spot. While his physical style and ability as a blocker are impressive, defenses will start matching up with him as a second or third tight end, negating any possible advantage the Pats once had with him on the field. One thing that should be able to put to rest is Harry will not be returning punts against Miami.

The Scoreboard

Not their own, necessarily. But the Patriots and their fans should be watching the outcomes for other games as well. As of this writing, the Chiefs managed to escape a very game Broncos squad, erasing any chance the Patriots had to get the number one seed. However, they can still win the division.

While the Patriots are playing, the results of Tennessee/Houston and Cincinnati/Cleveland will have been decided in the earlier time slot. With those in hand, the Patriots will know if they are playing for a very real possibility of the number two seed.

Regardless of that scenario, the Jets will be taking on the Bills while the Patriots take on the Dolphins. If the Bills win, they win the division. If the Jets somehow beat the Bills, a Patriots victory gives them the AFC East title. Depending on the outcomes of the game today and on Sunday, the Patriots are in play for anything from the number 2 to number 6 seeds in the AFC.

Prediction

In the first match up, I predicted a close game that the Patriots snuck out in the end. A similar outcome is the most likely in the rematch. The Dolphins did not look good last week against the Titans. The Patriots defense, despite their injuries, will have a chance to again stifle the Miami attack. The Patriots offense will have its hands full with the Miami defense. A couple takeaways may blow this one open in favor of the Patriots. That probably doesn’t happen in Miami as the Pats sweat one out 20-17.

New York Jets Week 17 Observations

new york jets week 17
Credit: Last Word on Sports

We thought Tom Brady leaving New England for Tampa Bay would end the winter heartbreaks and soul-crushing fourth-quarter drives. It merely delayed the inevitable. In Week 17, the New York Jets fell to the NFC South-leading Buccaneers, 28-24. From promising rookies to glimpses at the deepest parts of the depth chart, let’s take a look at what went down.

Zach Wilson

Zach Wilson’s best day as a pro was overshadowed by the 4th down blunder late in the game, but it shouldn’t take away from his performance. Wilson, against a talented Tampa Bay defense, totaled 234 yards through the air and didn’t turn the ball over. He repeatedly threw receivers open, dazzled in tight windows, and showcased the twitchiness that got him to New York.

For the second week in a row, Wilson will be tasked with building on a strong performance. Using this final stretch as a springboard for 2022 will be paramount in his, and the team’s, development.

Running Backs

Michael Carter looked good in his few snaps, grabbing nine receiving yards and a 55-yard rush. He’d leave with a concussion soon after. If his rookie campaign is indeed over, he can sit tight knowing he’s locked up a significant role in the future of this offense. 

As for the rest of the backs, it was nice to see Austin Walter get a couple dozen snaps in. The production wasn’t impressive (14 carries, 49 yards) but the workload in relief was promising. Ty Johnson saw the rest of the carries and a decent amount of third-down work (three catches on four targets). Frankly, Johnson has disappointed since an intriguing start to the year. He has struggled to produce with any sort of consistency and could be deemed expendable this offseason.

Moreover, it’s time Nick Bawden sees some recognition. New York’s first real fullback since Tommy Bohanon, Bawden has excelled as a versatile blocker in his short stint.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Without Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, and Jamison Crowder, expectations were tempered for the receiving room heading into Sunday; and rightfully so.

Keelan Cole only caught two of five targets, despite Wilson’s impressive efforts. It was a step back from the better performances he’s showcased in 2021. Jeff Smith hauled in a singular 13-yard catch. Denzel Mims did not play in the loss.

Where the conversation turns, however, is with Braxton Berrios. An upcoming free agent, Berrios has emerged as a “must re-sign” candidate. His ability to contribute on special teams, on the ground, and through the air has made him the leading candidate for New York’s fourth wide receiver. A slow offseason could see Berrios start in the slot come 2022.

 In Week 17, Berrios was the only New York Jets receiver to make any sizeable impact. Between two carries and eight catches, he racked up 77 yards and two touchdowns. Wilson’s fourth-down sneak would rob him of a chance at a hat trick.

At tight end, Kenny Yeboah and Daniel Brown held down the fort. Wilson was successful in targeting the duo, posting a 100% completion percentage and 65 yards on a quartet of passes. Yeboah may have flashed enough to earn a depth spot next season, but it was a fairly uneventful day for the position group.

Offensive Line

The New York Jets offensive line had been dismantled by injuries well before Week 17. Surprisingly, they managed to put together a strong game against a very good Buccaneer front.

On the interior, Dan Feeney and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif outperformed expectations. Alijah Vera-Tucker continued his awesome rookie year, too. The three combined to play a major role in New York’s rushing attack. Tampa Bay’s interior defensive line had a uniquely quiet Sunday.

At tackle, George Fant exited early with a knee injury. His season is over, but like Carter, he’s played himself into 2022 plans for the Jets. His ability to play both tackle spots may become necessary when Mekhi Becton returns. Chuma Edoga would replace him on Sunday. Morgan Moses played well in the loss, though the tackles were outshined by their interior counterparts.

Defensive Line and Edge Rushers

It was a quiet day for New York’s defensive line, an unsurprising development given the talent the Buccaneers possess. Still, a few flash plays slipped through the cracks. Foley Fatukasi racked up two tackles for loss in what was one of the best games of his season. Nathan Shepherd and Sheldon Rankins had some disruptions, too, though they failed to find the stat sheet.

As a whole, the Jets held Tampa Bay to three yards per carry. Given the challenge in the trenches and their propensity to fold against any rushing attack, the defense’s performance against the run was very encouraging. 

Much like Week 15’s game against the Miami Dolphins, New York edge rushers were never going to have an impact on this game. And that’s okay! Brady getting the ball out quick is clockwork, so don’t be disappointed in the edge group’s lack of success. 

Ronald Blair III would replace Huff, another member of the Injured Reserve (IR) club. Playing 77% of the snaps, I felt he jumped off the screen a couple of times. For a guy whose first snaps of the season came in Week 10, he’s adjusted well.

Linebackers

C.J. Mosley and Quincy Williams share many similarities. Being better against the run than the pass is one of them, and it sure looked like it against the Buccaneer’s talented crop of targets. Brady and company did a good job of attacking the middle of the field and putting the two in a bind on more than one occasion.

The other side of the coin, of course, was found in their run defense. Both consistently held down their assignments and played fast, downhill football to complement the front four.

Cornerbacks

Perhaps the most interesting position group from Sunday’s defeat was the cornerbacks. In Week 17, the New York Jets, for the first time all year, saw Bryce Hall play worse than Brandin Echols and Michael Carter II. That isn’t to say he was bad, but Mike Evans and Antonio Brown both had their fair share of wins against him.

Echols had another strong performance, intercepting Brady on a fade route to Evans. He had his best game since returning from injury in Week 14 and he rose to the occasion against possibly the best team on their schedule. 

On the inside Carter showcased an important part of his skillset, blitzing for New York’s only sack. He too had a pretty good day at the office. Of course, the entire defense got shredded in the game’s final minute, but Brady in the clutch is football’s version of divine intervention… maybe we should grant them a pass.

Safeties

The star of the show in the safety room this week was Jason Pinnock. The rookie corner started at safety and had his best game to date. He was quiet but effective. Most importantly, he epitomized Robert Saleh’s vision of an athletic, versatile defense. There’s a reason Hamsah Nasirildeen and Jamien Sherwood were handpicked by the rookie head coach. Versatility will be a key for the future of this defense, and Saleh may have picked up his first true win in that regard.

Ashtyn Davis was out-snapped by Pinnock but wasn’t a detriment to the defense. Elsewhere, Elijah Riley played with a ton of energy, and though he was a step slow on the game-winning touchdown pass, he was quick physically and mentally throughout the contest.

Special Teams Units

It was smooth sailing for the New York Jets special teamers in Week 17. This might as well be another segment on Berrios. He’s been a sparkplug time and time again and averaged 27.5 yards per return. When teams intentionally kick around you, chances are you’re doing something right.

No major miscues elsewhere is a moral victory New York will gladly take. No missed extra points, no penalties-turned-to-missed field goals. There weren’t any poorly executed fakes, either! 

Outlook

Sunday may have played host to the most irrelevant soul-crushing loss in recent memory. To play so well only to fall apart at the end in such disastrous fashion was such a “same old Jets” moment. Ultimately, it was the most painful route to the best-case scenario. Wilson played well, as did many other young players, and they kept their pick safe within the top five, at least for now.

As for next week, they’ll head to Buffalo as heavy underdogs. It won’t mean much for their place in the standings, but a promising week could answer a lot of questions as they cross the finish line. For Saleh and his young coaching staff, these next four quarters could be monumental.

Patriots vs Jaguars Recap: Playoffs?? Playoffs!

New England Patriots Playoffs
Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images

The Patriots got back to winning on Sunday, blowing out the Jaguars 50-10. The win snapped a two-game skid and punched a ticket to the postseason. The win was a much-needed remedy for a team that seemed to be getting caught up in the headlines. From the get-go, it was a “get right” game for New England. The Patriots played the part.

If you’ve been following along on Twitter (@patriots_atb), I put together a list of five things to watch for in the game. Putting together the usual “who has the advantage when…” game preview didn’t seem like a time-worthy endeavor, as New England would’ve had a clean sweep in all departments. Instead, a short list of what the team needed to do to get back on track was a more prudent exercise.

The areas to watch I identified were the Patriots getting out to a fast start, making it appear as if only one rookie quarterback had taken the field Sunday, playing complementary football, staying healthy, and figuring out what the hell N’Keal Harry is to this team. The Patriots answered all five on Sunday.

Patriots Must Get Out to a Fast Start

The last two weeks the Patriots have dug themselves a hole to climb out of for the rest of the game. While they’ve gotten close both times, they had been unable to get on the right side of it either time.

The easiest way to remedy this problem?

Don’t give yourself a hole to climb out of.

The Patriots won the toss and deferred to the Jaguars. To get off to a fast start the Pats would need to make a stand on defense to open the game. They did just that. The Jags gained 7 yards on first down before Dont’a Hightower came bursting through the line to drop rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence for a sack and 9 yard loss.

The Patriots would tackle Jaguars wide receiver Laquon Treadwell well short of the sticks to force a three and out on the first defensive series of the game.

The Patriots offense would match the defense fast start by marching 70 yards on eleven plays to open the scoring. The drive featured an efficient mix of run and pass, ultimately being capped off by the first of two Damien Harris touchdowns.

The Pats offense stayed hot, scoring touchdowns on their next four drives before finally being forced to punt. A week after struggling to move the ball consistently, New England was nearly impossible to stop.

Make it Appear Only Rookie QB is on the Field

The success Belichick has against rookie signal callers is well known in these parts. On Sunday, the Patriots needed to make it apparent Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence was a rookie while also making it look like Mac was a seasoned vet. The box score tells the story on this one.

Lawrence: 17/27 for 193 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT, 2 sacks

Jones: 22/30 for 227 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 0 sacks

Mac consistently took what the defense gave him and kept the ball out of harm’s way. He put his team in a position to succeed and sprinkled in some splash plays while leading an efficient attack. Mac and the offense have greater success when he is well protected, as he was Sunday. He was his normal safe and consistent self while also showing some wow throws.

Lawrence looked unsure of himself throughout the game. The Patriots didn’t show many exotic looks pre-snap, but did a good job of rotating coverages after. This led to Lawrence holding the ball a tick longer, which allowed defensive players to break on the throw with ease.

The Patriots probably won’t see another rookie quarterback this year. Getting a feel-good game on defense may get them rolling in the most important month of the calendar: January.

Play Complementary Football

This was the most complete game the Patriots have played in over a month. The defense consistently put the offense in good spots. The offense didn’t turn the ball over and maintained a 36:46 to 23:14 advantage in time of possession.

Often the best way to measure complementary football is in third down success. Is the defense getting stops when possible? Is the offense converting and keeping the ball? The past two weeks the Pats simply have not been getting the job done on the “money down.” Against the Jaguars, the Patriots converted 8 of 10 third down attempts on offense while holding the visitors to 3 of 9. Maintaining this level of success will go a long way in winning games in the playoffs.

Stay Healthy

Damien Harris and Adrian Phillips did not finish the game, but both were available for post-game press conferences, a sign their injuries were minor. The feeling here is both would’ve finished the game had it been a closer affair. The NFL season has long been a battle of attrition, and with a 17th game added it has never been more true. Maintaining health down the stretch is often the most important factor to a team’s championship aspirations.

What’s up With N’Keal?

Before inactives were announced, it was expected Harry would be in line for another complete game of work. Harry had played a career high 61 snaps last week against the Bills and finished with two catches for 15 yards. Harry was listed on the injury report throughout the week with a hip condition, but was removed Friday, meaning his inactive status comes as a true healthy scratch. Harry’s replacement was practice squad call-up Kristian Wilkerson.

Unfortunately for Harry, Wilkerson made himself quite an introduction to the NFL. Wilkerson had four receptions for 42 yards and two touchdowns. Harry’s career high for touchdown catches in a season is two. In a time when confidence has been waning in the former first rounder, Sunday may prove to be the nail in the coffin for his Patriots career.

Harry has often mixed incredible playmaking ability with an incredible ability to completely disappear on the playing field. Wilkerson probably isn’t the next Davante Adams but the early returns say he is a very viable number 3 or 4 receiver. It isn’t tough to see where Belichick may go with that one.

With the outcomes of Sunday’s games, the Patriots locked up their 18th playoff appearance under Belichick. For context on how incredible this is; the Lions have made the playoffs 17 times since 1934. The Patriots would come along 26 years later. Whether this season ends with a 7th Lombardi being hoisted by the franchise or not, the Belichick era is one that may never be matched.

Panthers vs Rangers postgame thoughts: finally healthy and it shows

Panthers vs Rangers
Photo credit: AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

When the NHL season paused over a week ago, few teams needed that break more than the Panthers. Between injuries and a COVID breakout, the team played a lineup consisting mostly of AHL regulars. The subsequent three game skid had some fans begging for a pause or postponement of games.

The fans got their wish, and after almost two weeks off, the Panthers resumed their season Wednesday against the Rangers. The Panthers vs Rangers game gave Cats fans a reminder of what they were missing, and how much fun this season has been.

Panthers vs Rangers game recap

Even with their full team playing for the first time in almost a month, the Panthers faced as difficult of a challenge as their is in this league. The Rangers have been one of the best teams in the league all season, and their speed presented problems for the Cats in their last meeting on November 8.

The first period looked like more of the same. Artemi Panarin beat Bobrovsky five-hole after a beautiful deke on Aaron Ekblad. Whether it was strong defense or rust, the Panthers struggled to generate chances early on, and the first period ended with the Panthers trailing 1-0.

In the second period, Anton Lundell tied the game after Ryan Lomberg used his speed to create a chance. The Rangers responded shortly after with Panarin making a great defensive play to set up Mika Zibanejad for the goal. The Panthers finished that period with only seven shots on goal. A concerningly low total for a team trailing, and going into the third, it seemed like the Ranger Defense had their number.

In the third period, the Panthers began to play their brand of hockey. Three unanswered goals and overall dominance sealed it for the Cats. Weegar’s first goal of the season tied it up. Verhaghe’s snipe took the lead. Duclair’s great defense resulted in a much needed insurance marker.

That period showed what the team is capable of even against the best teams in the league. When the playoffs begin, the team will need to play that way for the full 60 minutes. For now, the team should enjoy being healthy and showing out against a great Rangers team

Panthers vs Rangers Takeaways

  • While this game was far from perfect for the Cats, this game showed that this team has the talent to beat anyone. If the team can maintain health, they can overcome most of their shortcomings through offensive firepower.
  • Special teams remains an issue for the Cats. The power play failed to generate much of anything in their two tries, while the Rangers generated lots of great looks. I still maintain hope that they can figure it out, but the later in the season it gets the more concerning it is.
  • Two preseason regulars were healthy scratches today: Frank Vatrano and Owen Tippett. Both have talent beyond a doubt, but have not delivered this year. Based on today, the team looks better with them on the outs. Look for them to be trade bait at the deadline.
  • Bobrovsky let in a soft one early on, but looked sharp the rest of the game, making key saves in the third period. That rough patch he had may have just been fatigue. His minutes should be managed until the playoffs begin.

Looking Ahead

The Panthers play against their rivals from the north on Thursday, as the Lightning come to town. That game will be must see TV and a great test for the Cats as the season ramps up again.

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