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The NHL playoff bandwagon guide to all the teams you could root for, and also Vegas

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The NHL playoff bandwagon guide to all the teams you could root for, and also Vegas

The playoffs are almost here, and while we’re still waiting on a couple of matchups, we know the 16 teams. If you root for one of them, you’re not reading this because you’re curled up in a little ball, twitching and sweating and trying not to puke. Playoffs, baby!

That leaves the rest of you, the fans of the 16 teams that spent the season being big losers strategically retooling for a brighter future. You’ve got to figure out who to root for over the coming weeks and months. You could skip that part entirely, of course, and just enjoy the playoffs as a neutral observer. You could hate-watch your team’s rivals. Or you could pick and choose, dropping in and out of whichever series looks good and cheering on whoever feels like the right choice in the moment.

Those are all valid options. But there’s another, and it’s a somewhat controversial one: You could pick a bandwagon team to ride with all spring. It’s good practice for the real thing, after all, giving you a taste of the ups and downs of following one team for as long as it can last. And when your team gets knocked out, you can feel bad for 10 minutes before shrugging and moving on to someone else.

If you’re considering a bandwagon team, I’ve got you covered. Here’s my annual look at all 16 playoff teams, ranked from the worst bandwagon options to the very best.


Why you should get on board: You’re a contrarian.

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Why you shouldn’t: I’ve been doing these lists long enough that “Don’t root for the defending champs” has almost become a trope. It’s classic front-running, after all, and the rarity of repeat champions in the cap era suggests that it’s also usually futile. So yeah, in general, don’t root for the defending champ.

But these particular champs? Come on. Everyone hates the Golden Knights, the too-much-too-soon expansion team that won’t stop trading for All-Stars and skipped to the front of the line, partly by cheating the salary cap.

Bottom line: The Knights were always a fun pick for a specific type of bandwagon fan back when they were the new guys still trying to defy tradition and buck the odds. But now that they’ve won, this may be the easiest ranking in the history of this column.

Why you should get on board: It’s always fun to pick a wild card that goes on a run, and the Lightning look like a reasonable bet to do just that. And the narrative of the former champs trying to get back to the top of the mountain one more time before it all crumbles is one you could get behind.

Why you shouldn’t: Really, what’s the best-case scenario here? The Lightning pull off an upset or two, maybe even go all the way to the final, and … congratulations, you’re bandwagoning a team that’s already been there three times in four years. It’s all the risk of picking a wild-card team, without any of the fun underdog vibes.

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Bottom line: There’s also the Nikita Kucherov factor, which will help or hurt depending on how much you like the idea of an MVP-level wizard who can also come across as kind of a jerk sometimes.

Why you should get on board: They’re a potential underdog, one that everyone seems to be forgetting about but that’s been building to this for years now. It’s not unheard of for teams like the Kings to emerge as contenders, and when they do everyone else is usually just a bit too late to figure out what they’re watching. You could be the one who already had their seat on the bandwagon.

Why you shouldn’t: The Kings peaked early, got some attention and then faded in the second half before finishing strong, so they fit the profile of a team that probably deserves more respect than they’re getting. But that doesn’t mean they’re not underdogs, and riding with them in a first-round matchup against a high-flying team in Dallas or Edmonton may not be your idea of fun.

Bottom line: Speaking of not all that fun, there’s also this whole thing. The Kings are going to rank high on this list some year soon, but that year is not this one.

Why you should get on board: One of the longest-suffering fan bases in the league is back in the playoffs yet again, this time with a crazy new coach to go with their crusty old GM. Nobody is picking them to win anything and their fans know it, so if you like a good “us against the world” story then you may have found your temporary home.

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Why you shouldn’t: We won’t break out the dreaded “b” word, but we will point out that no playoff team other than Washington scores less than the Islanders, and their ticket to a long run probably involves riding their goaltending to a bunch of low-scoring wins. Choosing this team to bandwagon would feel just a little like having a cheat day on your diet and choosing to spend it at the salad bar.

Bottom line: If they beat the Hurricanes and go on to play the Rangers in Round 2, you have to get a Denis Potvin jersey. Just keep that in mind.

Why you should get on board: They’re a very good team with plenty of star players, including the likely MVP. And after last year’s first-round disaster against the Kraken, they should be motivated.

Why you shouldn’t: Shaky goaltending has led to a tough final stretch, meaning they’ll start the playoffs on the road against a very good Jets team in a series that’s basically a coin flip. And since they won it all in 2022, you don’t even get any underdog points for picking them.

Bottom line: For sheer fun factor, this roster is pretty stacked. But it’s a bit of a front-runner pick combined with a tough first matchup.

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Why you should get on board: They were the top pick for the 2022 list, and an awful lot of what we said back then still holds. They’re a fun team, they’ve never won a Cup, and their fans have had to deal with endless negativity over the last few decades. Heck, they’d probably even welcome some bandwagon love. Oh, and they’re really good, having followed up a 2022 Presidents’ Trophy with a run to last year’s final.

Why you shouldn’t: A few weeks ago I tried to sell you on the Panthers as the NHL’s new team you love to hate, with mixed success. But yeah, between Matthew Tkachuk, Nick Cousins, Sam Bennett and others, you’re going to see them do something nasty over the next few weeks that you’ll have to pretend to defend.

Bottom line: They’re also playing the Lightning, the big brother that’s been kicking sand in their face for years. These guys can’t even villain correctly.

10. New York Rangers

Why you should get on board: They’re the best team in the league, at least according to their regular season record, and a roster stacked with talent appears to agree. But with only one Stanley Cup to show for the last 84 years, you’re hardly chasing after recent success here. If you’re looking for a bandwagon, you could do a lot worse than a big market with a great goalie and lots of star power that will get a ton of coverage.

Why you shouldn’t: The Rangers have been a fascinating team to watch this year, with at least some statistical evidence showing that they may not be as good as their record suggests they are, especially at the even strength that makes up most of how crucial playoff games are played. Then again, we’ve been having that argument for years, and they just keep winning.

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Bottom line: Hey, do you feel like the first-place team in the league’s biggest U.S. market still somehow doesn’t get enough attention? Guess what: You do now, so don’t think too hard about it.

Why you should get on board: We say it every year, but it remains true — if you can get past the fact that it’s the Leafs, you’ve got a good team with lots of exciting offensive players, trying to snap a historic drought for one of the sports world’s most loyal fan bases. Remember how much fun it was when the Chicago Cubs finally won the World Series? It would be kind of like that.

Why you shouldn’t: You can’t get past the fact that it’s the Leafs. (Or you can, but you don’t see a path out of the Atlantic for a team with shaky goaltending and a history of postseason failure, which works too.)

Bottom line: There are three types of hockey fans: Insufferable Leafs fans, insufferable fans of other teams whose brains have been broken by the Leafs and fans who can’t understand what the big deal is. Only that third group is eligible here, but if that’s you, there are worse choices. But also better ones.

Why you should get on board: They’re arguably the league’s best second-half story, somehow turning a canceled team outing to a concert into a playoff push that just never stopped. They’ll be underdogs in every series, but have one of the league’s best goalies so they’ll always have a puncher’s chance. They hired a GM with no front-office experience and let him make a bunch of weird moves, and I think we can all agree this copycat league would be more fun if other teams had to follow that strategy.

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And remember, they made their only final appearance in 2017 as a wild-card team, so there’s a recent-ish precedent here.

Why you shouldn’t: The U2 thing is cool now, but check back in the conference final if the Predators are still around and you’re hearing about it for the 400th time.

Bottom line: For the record, if you choose the Predators and they make the final, you pretty much have to take a roadie to Nashville.

Why you should get on board: They’re an excellent team that’s a year removed from a record-breaking season and didn’t take much of a step back this year despite losing their beloved franchise player to retirement. Since last year ended with a shocking first-round loss, they still have plenty to prove and don’t feel like an obvious front-runner pick. And while they’re an Original Six team with all the over-the-top pomp and circumstance that involves, they’ve won one Cup since 1972.

Also, David Pastrnak wears weird clothes to the game sometimes, if that’s your thing.

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Why you shouldn’t: Brad Marchand. The Jack Edwards farewell tour, which his fans will love but your mileage may vary. Pat Maroon hogging all the Stanley Cups and never letting anyone else have a turn.

Bottom line: Look, I’m a bitter old man with a heart of stone, and even I love the goalie hugs. With Linus Ullmark probably getting traded in the summer, wouldn’t you love to see one last hug as the Cup is being passed around?

(Check back after the first few games of the Leafs series for my column on why goalie hugs should be banned.)

6. Washington Capitals

Why you should get on board: You like underdogs? You don’t get a bigger underdog than this, at least in the parity era. The Capitals were supposed to be rebuilding, with just about nobody picking them as a playoff team heading into the season, or even heading into April. You only bothered to learn their goalie’s name two weeks ago. They earned the last wild-card spot on their season’s final night, despite losing more games than they won and posting the worst goals differential on any postseason team since 1991. Their reward for all that will be a matchup with the Rangers, in a series nobody will think they can win. MoneyPuck has them with 0 percent Cup odds, which I’m not sure I’ve ever seen before. If you believe in no guts no glory, this is your team. Do it. Do it!

Why you shouldn’t: They’re not good.

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Bottom line: Oh settle down, Capitals fans, you know it’s true. And it doesn’t matter because all the regular season is for is getting in. They’re in. Now anything can happen, and that’s the beauty of it. DO IT!

(You can pick a new team when they’re out by next weekend, it’s fine.)

Why you should get on board: They were my top pick last year, and not much has changed since. If anything, the Zach Hyman story might make them even more likable. Other than that, go back and read last year’s piece, all the arguments pretty much still apply.

Why you shouldn’t: They added Corey Perry to a team that already includes Evander Kane, so they’re clearly in “anything goes as long as we win” mode. That’s not necessarily a bad place to be if you’re a die-hard fan, but it might give bandwagoners some pause.

Bottom line: You deserve a little bit of cheering for Connor McDavid instead of being terrified of him, as a treat.

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Why you should get on board: They’ve spent all year as one of the best teams in the league, but nobody outside of Vancouver seems to actually think they’re good, meaning you get the rare opportunity to bandwagon a top contender while also playing the “nobody believes in us” card. Beyond that, the Canucks are just a flat-out fun team, with all sorts of firepower and some interesting characters. And at 54 years and counting without a Cup, it’s fair to say they’re due.

Why you shouldn’t: Canucks fans have been waiting forever for a Cup, and they’ve been through some legitimate heartbreak along the way, so if they ever do get there, they may not take kindly to any bandwagon fans trying to crowd in on their glory. That’s reasonable, and part of being a good bandwagon fan is knowing your place, but keep it in mind.

Bottom line: Wait, 54 years without a Cup? Didn’t some other team have a famous drought like that, one that ended against … the Canucks? That team could even be the favorite to be waiting for the Canucks in the final. This feels like fate lining up, right? Oh man, I think I just spoiled this year’s playoffs, sorry everyone …

3. Carolina Hurricanes

Why you should get on board: Because the top of these rankings is really Western Conference heavy, and let’s be honest, nobody really wants to stay up that late.

Oh, and also the Hurricanes are a very good team, quite possibly the best in the conference. They have fun players, are well-coached and have a forward-thinking front office. They also have one of the best Old Guy Without A Cup stories of the year in Brent Burns, and an inspiring comeback from Frederik Andersen.

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Why you shouldn’t: At some point, Rod Brind’Amour is going to say something that’s going to make you feel bad about your workout habits.

Bottom line: Also, a Hurricanes championship would make Montreal fans mad, which is a plus.

2. Winnipeg Jets

Why you should get on board: One year ago, we all figured they were done for, an inevitable rebuild starting years too late. Today, they’re finishing off a fantastic season, they have the presumptive Vezina winner in net, they were aggressive at the deadline and their coach is the ultimate OGWAC. And they’re doing it all in front of one of the best fan bases in the league, one that has a super-cool playoff tradition but has never seen their Jets get past the third round, and oh yeah, had no team at all for 16 long years.

Also, and Jets fans might not like me mentioning this but it has to be said: All your favorite players have the Jets on their no-trade list. That means that the Jets are building a contender with one hand tied behind their back. A deep run would be extra impressive under those circumstances, and it might also change a few minds.

Why you shouldn’t: They probably have to go through Colorado and Dallas to get out of the Central, which is quite possibly the ugliest playoff path that any team in the league is facing. There’s a very good chance this ends both badly and quickly.

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Bottom line: Oh, and the franchise itself is in danger. But don’t let that guilt you into anything, go ahead and cheer for them to lose their team again, it’s not like it makes you a bad person.

1. Dallas Stars

Why you should get on board: They’re an incredibly skilled and entertaining team, they have a very good shot at winning the Stanley Cup, they haven’t won this century so it’s not quite a front-runner pick, and Joe Pavelski may be the single best OGWAC story in the league. Mix in alternate-OGWAC Ryan Suter, plus Matt Duchene’s comeback season, plus Mason Marchment trying to win the Cup that eluded his late father, plus not one but two fun rookie stories, and the Stars are just about the perfect bandwagon pick.

Why you shouldn’t: They’ve been known to cheat to win the Stanley Cup, or so it has been explained to me. Also, they were my pick to win both in October and earlier this week, so if they do then I’ll be even more insufferable than usual.

Bottom line: The Stars have so much going for them that it’s almost annoying, which I suppose could also be a reason to turn on them. But there’s no reason to overthink this one — in a league with a handful of very solid options, the Stars are the best of the bunch.

(Photo of Mark Stone and Connor McDavid: Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

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Mueller: Has the NFL WR market reached a breaking point? How much is too much?

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Mueller: Has the NFL WR market reached a breaking point? How much is too much?

I’m not one for letting good players walk out the door.

I know from experience that talent is too hard to replace, even with the best-hatched plan, without taking a step backward. So I understand that, at least sometimes, proven teams need to overpay slightly for the sake of continuity.

But recent contracts for NFL wide receivers have forced me to at least question my philosophy. And that tells me that general managers and team-builders around the NFL are no doubt contemplating that question as well.

It’s not because these receivers lack talent. They are all really good players. But the contract numbers are making the team-building equation more complicated than ever.

The dilemma is twofold. First, if you’re going to pay a wide receiver more than $30 million per year, are you sure he’s a difference-maker and not just a guy who fits your system? And second, is it feasible to pay big salaries to more than one wide receiver on your roster?

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Ten years ago, the NFL’s top-paid wide receivers made about $16 million annually, equaling about 12 percent of the $133 million cap. Today, A.J. Brown leads the way at $32 million annually on a cap of $255 million. That’s still just 12.5 percent of the cap. But let’s look closer.

In 2014, the two receivers making $16 million annually were Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, the clear standard-bearers at the position. There weren’t enough top-of-the-heap receivers that every new contract would reset the market. Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Julio Jones and A.J. Green signed new contracts in 2015, but none exceeded $15 million per year. Fitzgerald’s and Johnson’s deals weren’t eclipsed until Antonio Brown hit $17 million per year in 2017 (a year after Johnson retired), just 10.2 percent of the $167 million cap.

The receiver market has already been reset twice in the past month, and we are on the verge of another jump with Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, Ja’Marr Chase and Brandon Aiyuk all up for new deals. All four could plausibly reset the market, so we might be looking at $35 million per year — which would be 13.7 percent of the cap — or more. That leaves the Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys, Cincinnati Bengals and San Francisco 49ers with big decisions with implications across their rosters.

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Justin Jefferson extension is now No. 1 priority for Vikings

Teams must take a hard look at where this money will come from. How much is too much for a non-quarterback? Does it make sense for a position group other than QB to exceed 20 percent of a team’s cap? How would that affect decisions elsewhere on the roster?

Jefferson is arguably the best receiver in the league, and Minnesota should certainly extend him. But the cost will tighten money to spend elsewhere, like on last year’s first-round pick, 22-year-old Jordan Addison, when his rookie deal ends. Of course, if the Vikings’ assessment of J.J. McCarthy proves accurate, a quality quarterback on a five-year rookie contract might be just what the doctor ordered. If I were running the Vikings, I would pay Jefferson and keep churning WR2 at the end of Addison’s deal.

Jerry Jones and the Cowboys probably need to be much more creative in dealing with Lamb. Jones already has a $50 million-plus quarterback quandary on his hands, with Dak Prescott having all the leverage in an endless game of chicken. As long as Prescott is the QB, the Cowboys’ evaluation skills might be challenged beyond most as they seek value from other receivers to pair with Lamb.

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If I were the Bengals, I would probably sign Chase — who still has two years left on his deal — as soon as possible to avoid resetting the market after Lamb’s and Jefferson’s deals come in. Cincinnati already appears to be planning to let Tee Higgins walk after this season, which might necessitate another high NFL Draft investment at the position next year.

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The 49ers have a more complicated situation than the Bengals, having already paid Deebo Samuel ($23.8 million per year, $28.6 million against the cap in 2024) and with Aiyuk ($14.1 million against the cap in 2024) in the last year of his contract. Both players’ names have been popular in trade rumors this offseason. The Niners hedged their bet by drafting Florida receiver Ricky Pearsall in Round 1 last month, giving themselves options at the position.

My crystal ball tells me this group will undergo a renovation after the 2024 season. Aiyuk and Samuel are set to count $42.7 million against the cap this season. Add Pearsall and tight end George Kittle and that’s more than $56 million against the cap (22 percent) for four pass catchers. Samuel is the NFL’s eighth-highest-paid wideout and might rank third in the 49ers’ position room when it comes to route running and ball skills. Something will have to give.

Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel

Will Deebo Samuel, left, or Brandon Aiyuk be elsewhere in 2025? (Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)

Players deserve whatever they can get — I am not here to dispute this — but even NFL teams with the most creative capologists will eventually be forced to pay for their extensions of credit, just like you and I. So what will they do about the rising costs of receivers?

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When players get too expensive, nothing speaks louder than cheaper options.

Teams selected 35 wide receivers in the 2024 draft. That’s not unordinary, but the total of seven picked in Round 1 grabbed my attention. Sure, it might just have been a year with several special talents available. But it also might speak to a few other factors:

1. With experienced receivers becoming more expensive, teams need more cheap talent.

2. In this era of seven-on-seven competitions and wide-open passing offenses in college, receivers have more advanced skills at a younger age.

3. Good talent evaluators can identify and sequence receivers properly, with smoother projections to the NFL.

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If you can identify the traits — beyond stats, height, weight and speed — that lend to a reasonably high hit rate on prospects, you can find value. These would be my top three traits, which you can find if you watch enough tape, for a receiver to fit any scheme:

• Create separation at the break point and/or change gears while underway in a route.

• See and distinguish coverage with your mind and reactions (or instincts), pre- and post-snap.

• Consistently extend to catch with your hands near defenders, allowing small guys to play bigger and big guys to be great.

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The last few draft classes have been rich in receiver talent. Even in a watered-down free-agent pool this year, there were several good values. In short, you don’t have to pay top-notch to get value at wide receiver.

Some teams, such as the Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills, have already picked a lane. (Of course, having a talented quarterback makes it easier for them to consider this road.)

The Packers and Chiefs traded Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill before the 2022 season instead of paying them. Adams got $28 million from the Las Vegas Raiders, and Hill got $30 million annually from the Miami Dolphins. The Bills traded Stefon Diggs to the Houston Texans this offseason, two years after signing him to an extension worth $24 million annually.

Though the Adams trade has not exactly worked out for the Raiders, Packers GM Brian Gutekunst has reworked Green Bay’s receivers via the developmental route.

Christian Watson, drafted in the second round in 2022, is a straight-line-fast long-strider who can eat up a cushion, take the top off defenses and catch when he’s covered. His game is similar to that of Jameson Williams, whom the Detroit Lions drafted 22 picks earlier. In Round 4 that year, the Packers took Romeo Doubs, who will make $1.1 million this year after catching 59 passes in 2023. Doubs’ ability to find soft spots and distinguish coverages resembles that of the Lions’ Amon-Ra St. Brown, at least stylistically.

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Last year, the Packers took Jayden Reed (64 catches as a rookie) in Round 2 and Dontayvion Wicks (39 catches, 14.9 yards per catch) in Round 5. Given his acceleration off the ball and out of breaks, Wicks might have more upside than any of the above.

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Sure, it requires conviction in your evaluations, but Green Bay should be lauded for overhauling this group almost entirely with draft picks (none in Round 1), as those four receivers will cost a total of $6.3 million against the cap in 2024. Other teams should try to copy this economic model.

I’m not saying the Lions are wrong, but it’s a useful comparison. They reset the market by paying St. Brown $30 million per year even though he ranked 71st in the NFL in average air yards per target (7.75) and 39th in average yards per reception (12.7) last season. I understand the importance of keeping peace in the locker room and rewarding hard workers and leaders. He fits their system. But that signing might have ruffled a few feathers outside of the Lions’ front office and fans, who think it is money well spent. The Lions did let 29-year-old wideout Josh Reynolds walk, so they have shown they are willing to make tough choices, too.

The Chiefs, no doubt aided by Patrick Mahomes’ presence, have thrived since bailing on the market and going young, like the Packers. The Bills, with Josh Allen, have taken a similar route this offseason, choosing quantity over quality with reasonably priced veterans in Curtis Samuel, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Chase Claypool and second-round rookie Keon Coleman, after trading Diggs and letting Gabe Davis walk.

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Of course, there are still teams on the opposite end of the spectrum. The Seattle Seahawks paid DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett a total of $41.3 million annually (they restructured Lockett’s deal this offseason), then drafted a receiver (Jaxon Smith-Njigba) in Round 1 in 2023. The Philadelphia Eagles paid Brown and DeVonta Smith this offseason a combined $57 million annually (22.4 percent of the cap), even after signing quarterback Jalen Hurts to a record deal last offseason.

The Eagles made those investments after struggling to draft and develop receivers, missing on top-60 picks in Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Jalen Reagor. I can’t help but wonder: Was paying Brown and Smith a reaction to their previous struggles at the position?

There’s not necessarily a correct way to handle the rising costs at wide receiver. If there is, I’m not sure we know it just yet. Many theories are still being tested.

But here is something to consider: Teams will always have to pay great money for good players at positions where there is true scarcity, like quarterback. But I don’t see wide receiver, especially in the modern NFL, as a position of true scarcity. As a result, the sticker shock of recent contracts has given me pause.

I’m still not for letting any good player walk, but with each market-setting deal, the costs are getting harder to justify.

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(Top photos of Amon-Ra St. Brown, left, and Justin Jefferson: Cooper Neill, Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

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Wemby makes history with All-Defense first team nod

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Wemby makes history with All-Defense first team nod

Victor Wembanyama just accomplished something no other NBA player has ever done.

On Tuesday, the towering San Antonio Spurs big man became the first rookie in league history to be named to the All-Defensive First Team.

Wembanyama joined Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert, Miami Heat big Bam Adebayo, New Orleans Pelicans guard/forward Herb Jones and Los Angeles Lakers big Anthony Davis on the first team.

Chicago Bulls guard Alex Caruso, Orlando Magic guard Jalen Suggs, Boston Celtics guard Derrick White, Timberwolves forward Jaden McDaniels and Celtics guard Jrue Holiday made the second team.

Gobert led in votes, receiving all 99 first-team votes from the panel of writers and broadcasters who submitted ballots. Gobert’s unanimous first-team selection comes as no surprise. Minnesota, with Gobert protecting the rim and receiving outstanding contributions on the perimeter from McDaniels and Anthony Edwards, finished the regular season as the league’s top defense, limiting opponents to 108.4 points per 100 possessions. Gobert ranked fourth in defensive rebounds per game (9.2) and sixth in blocks per game (2.13).

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Two weeks ago, Gobert received the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award for a record-tying fourth time.

Wembanyama was named to the first team on 86 of the ballots and to the second team on 12 ballots. Although his Spurs ended the season with the league’s 21st-ranked defense, he already earned a reputation among his peers as a stellar defender. In The Athletic’s 2024 anonymous player poll, Wembanyama was the top vote-getter when players were asked to identify the league’s best defender, named on 15.2 percent of the ballots. Wembanyama led the league in blocks (3.58 per game) and collected 27.3 percent of all available defensive rebounds.

Adebayo was the cornerstone of the Heat’s fifth-ranked defense. Routinely praised for his ability to switch onto opposing guards — no small feat for a sturdy 6-foot-9 big — Adebayo provides the versatility and grit the Heat are known for.

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Jones earned his first All-Defensive team selection. Tall and rangy at 6-foot-7, Jones was a key contributor to a Pelicans defense that finished sixth in defensive efficiency.

Davis finished the season third leaguewide in defensive rebounds per game (9.5) and fourth in blocks per game (2.34).

This marked the first season the league employed “positionless” voting for its All-Defensive and All-NBA teams and the first season players had to play at least 65 games (in most cases) to be eligible for an All-Defensive team.

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In prior years, voters selected two guards, two forwards and one center for each of the two All-Defensive teams and each of the three All-NBA teams. Not anymore, though. As a result of the collective bargaining agreement ratified last year, voters were directed to select the most deserving players, regardless of their positions, this year.

The All-NBA teams will be announced Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET.

The NBA named its first All-Defensive teams following the 1968-69 season. Before this year, only five rookies had ever been named to an All-Defensive team: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1969-70 season), Hakeem Olajuwon (1984-85), Manute Bol (1984-85), David Robinson (1989-90) and Tim Duncan (1997-98). But Abdul-Jabbar, Olajuwon, Bol, Robinson and Duncan were named second-team All-Defensive players as rookies, not first-team All-Defensive players.

What is the biggest takeaway?

League officials and the players’ union switched to positionless voting to ensure the most deserving players receive recognition.

This year, Abebayo and Davis benefitted from that change.

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Although Adebayo has been considered within league circles as an elite defender for several years, he had been a second-team All-Defensive player in each of the previous four seasons, often finishing behind the likes of fellow big men Gobert, Draymond Green, Jaren Jackson Jr., Brook Lopez and Evan Mobley.

This year, Adebayo finally broke through to the first team for the first time in his career, deservedly so.

Questions remain about the long-term implications of the move to positionless voting: How should voters judge perimeter players’ defense relative to the defense played by bigs? Will bigs now dominate the All-Defensive First Team voting in most years, and would that be a positive or a negative?

Caruso almost certainly would’ve made the All-Defensive First Team this year if the league had retained the position-based voting system.

What was the biggest surprise?

It’s a pleasant surprise that the Timberwolves and Celtics, the top two teams in points allowed per possession, placed two players each on the All-Defensive teams. Minnesota had Gobert and McDaniels, while Boston had White and Holiday.

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Who suffered the biggest snub?

Look no further than the Oklahoma City Thunder, who finished the regular season with the league’s fourth-best defensive rating and entered the playoffs with the top seed in the Western Conference but didn’t have players on the first or second teams.

Wing Luguentz Dort barely missed making the second team. He collected 34 total points in the voting, the 11th-highest total. Holiday, the final player selected to the second team, received 36 total points. Chet Holmgren, Oklahoma City’s rookie center who ranked fifth in blocks per game, had the 13th-highest voting total.

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(Photo of Victor Wembanyama and P.J. Washington: Jerome Miron / USA Today)

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Stenhouse Jr. fined, father suspended after Kyle Busch fight

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Stenhouse Jr. fined, father suspended after Kyle Busch fight

NASCAR fined Cup Series driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. $75,000 and suspended his father and two JTG Daugherty Racing crew members for their roles in a fight that occurred following Sunday night’s All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

Upset about an on-track incident that knocked him out of the race, Stenhouse confronted Kyle Busch after the race, then threw a punch at Busch’s head after they exchanged words. Busch was not fined or penalized.

Stenhouse’s dad, Ricky Stenhouse Sr., was suspended indefinitely for joining the physical altercation, following past precedent where NASCAR objects to family members injecting themselves in confrontations.

Two crew members for JTG Daugherty Racing, Stenhouse’s team, were also suspended for their involvement. NASCAR suspended team mechanic Clint Myrick for eight races and tuner Keith Matthews received a four-week ban.

Wednesday’s penalties are the fallout from an incident between Stenhouse and Busch during the opening laps of the All-Star Race, which became the catalyst to the post-race fight in the garage.

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Stenhouse punches Busch after NASCAR All-Star Race

The chain of events began with Busch upset over what he considered an overly aggressive move by Stenhouse on Lap 1, prompting Busch to retaliate on the next circuit by turning Stenhouse’s car and sending him crashing into the wall. With his car too badly damaged to continue, Stenhouse parked his Chevrolet in Busch’s pit stall before exiting and climbing a ladder to yell at Busch’s team.

Stenhouse then vowed revenge during a national television interview on FS1, essentially stating he’d be waiting for Busch after the 200-lap race. Nearly 90 minutes later, and moments after the checkered flag waved, Stenhouse waited for Busch in the garage, casually leaning against the RCR No. 8 team hauler when Busch approached.

After exchanging words about the track incident, Stenhouse punched Busch, triggering a melee between members of their teams that included Ricky Stenhouse Sr. shoving Busch. Stenhouse Jr. could be heard saying “Dad” several times as his father and Busch jostled, with Busch appearing to throw a punch at the older Stenhouse.

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The fight was over within seconds, but a video of the incident went viral.

“I’m not sure why he was so mad,” Stenhouse Jr. told FS1 after the fight. “I shoved it three-wide, but he hit the fence and kind of came off the wall and ran into me. I don’t know, when I was talking to him, he kept saying that I wrecked him.

“Definitely built up frustration with how he runs his mouth all the time about myself. But I know he’s frustrated because he doesn’t run near as good as he used to.”

Elton Sawyer, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, told SiriusXM that officials opted not to penalize Busch for the crash that preceded the fight because they didn’t view it as entirely intentional.

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“We really, as a sanctioning body, stay out of the on-track incidents unless we see something that blatantly comes back to us,” Sawyer said. “We’ll let those guys decide and agree to disagree.”

Sawyer reiterated crew members and family members are not permitted to “put their hands on our athletes” but declined to go into the specific reasoning due to the penalties being subject to appeal. He said NASCAR fined Stenhouse Jr. because he still decided to get physical with Busch despite the long wait after the on-track incident.

NASCAR handled the Stenhouse-Busch scuffle similarly to how it handled a fight last fall after a Truck Series race at Talladega Superspeedway that included a parent participating.

In that situation, Matt Crafton, who crashed out of the race, waited for Nick Sanchez after the race to confront him. Crafton threw a punch that broke Sanchez’s nose. Crafton was fined $25,000, Sanchez was not penalized, and Sanchez’s father was suspended two races for involving himself in the altercation.

Typically, NASCAR tolerates physical confrontations between drivers provided they occur immediately afterward with no time for either to cool down. NASCAR is not as lenient when parents involve themselves, usually reacting by issuing a suspension.

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Why NASCAR issued these penalties

Let’s start with the crew members and Stenhouse Sr.

Historically, NASCAR has viewed crew members similarly to how the NHL views the “third man in” for its fight rules. NASCAR is somewhat OK with drivers settling things themselves (thus only a fine and no suspension for Stenhouse, and no penalties at all for Busch). But NASCAR absolutely does not want drivers being assaulted by a third party and has discouraged such behavior through harsh penalties to send a message.

Stenhouse Sr. is not a crew member, so it’s somewhat easier for NASCAR to issue an indefinite suspension for his role. But he also aggressively went after Busch, which is highly frowned upon as a family member.

As for Myrick and Matthews, the penalties do seem a bit severe compared to the past — particularly for Myrick. Eight races is a lot, especially for a mechanic on a mid-sized team. But NASCAR must have felt Myrick was particularly excessive with his role, and it certainly sends a message to other crew members not to get involved in future fights.

(Photo: Peter Casey / USA Today)

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