NHL talks resume with owners, players meeting
NEW YORK — NHL owners and players were meeting Tuesday afternoon at a Times Square hotel in an unusual session aimed at kick-starting stalled labor talks.
A group of about a half-dozen owners and 18 players got together without two key figures — Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr. The hope is some candid, face-to-face talks will result in a breakthrough.
After more than five hours of talking, the sides broke for dinner and expected to talk again later Tuesday night.
If the hockey season is going to be saved, a deal needs to be struck soon.
Tuesday is the 80th day of the lockout. All games through Dec. 14 have already been wiped off the schedule, along with the outdoor Winter Classic on New Year’s Day and All-Star Weekend that was slated for January in Columbus, Ohio.
Texans 1st, Falcons, Pats tied for 2nd in AP Pro32
NEW YORK — An NFL version of No. 1 vs. No. 2 is set for Monday night when the Houston Texans visit the New England Patriots.
The Texans remained first in the AP Pro32 power rankings Tuesday, while the Patriots inched up two spots into a second-place tie with the Atlanta Falcons.
Houston received eight first-place votes and 376 points in balloting by The Associated Press’ panel of 12 media members who regularly cover the league. The Texans (11-1) are first for the fourth straight week.
New England (9-3) and Atlanta (11-1) each had 364 points; the Patriots received three first-place votes, the Falcons one.
“We will find out all we need to know about this team when they visit New England on Monday,” said the Chicago Tribune’s Dan Pompei, who had the Texans first and the Patriots third on his ballot.
“Had impressive win in Chicago. Can they get one in New England?” asked Clifton Brown of Sporting News, who had the Texans fifth and the Patriots first.
The Texans clinched a playoff spot with last week’s win over Tennessee, while the Falcons clinched the NFC South and the Patriots the AFC East over the weekend.
New England has made a steady climb up the rankings thanks to a six-game winning streak.
“Hard to keep out of the top spot when all you do is win,” ESPN’s Chris Berman said.
“Still don’t trust the defense,” noted Rich Gannon of CBS Sports/SiriusXM NFL Radio, “but they do have Brady and the No. 1 offense that’s averaging 36 ppg.”
Denver is up a spot to fourth after clinching the AFC West with its seventh straight win. San Francisco slips three spots to fifth after an overtime loss to the St. Louis Rams.
“They can run. They can play defense. They have Peyton Manning. And they can’t lose,” said Clark Judge of CBSSports.com. “Yeah, I’d say the Broncos are complete.”
Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News noted the Texans and Broncos are the most balanced teams in the league because they are the “only teams that rank in the top 10 in both offense and defense.”
The New York Giants dropped a spot to eighth after a 17-16 loss to Robert Griffin III and Washington on Monday night, with the Redskins up two places to 14th. The Giants are the highest-ranked 7-5 team and are ahead of two 8-4 teams — Chicago (ninth) and Indianapolis (10th).
The defending Super Bowl champion Giants have a one-game lead over Dallas and Washington in the suddenly tight NFC East race.
“The Giants have been very inconsistent and to me it starts up front on both sides of the ball,” said John Lynch of Fox Sports. “This D-line that has been so feared and integral to their success and championships in recent years needs to start dominating!”
Pittsburgh, in a playoff fight with Baltimore and Cincinnati, improved three spots to 11th with a win over the Ravens.
“They likely salvaged their season in an unlikely venue — Baltimore,” noted Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune.
Kansas City, with an emotional win over Carolina, moved up two places from last to 30th. Jacksonville fell to 32nd.
Hall of Fame quarterback collapses during speech
MADISON, Wis. — Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr collapsed during a speech in Madison, Wis., on Tuesday. Conference organizers say he appears to be OK.
The Green Bay Packers’ former quarterback and coach finished speaking at the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority conference at Monona Terrace, then collapsed on stage.
Authority spokesman Kevin Fischer says Starr then sat up and said he was fine. Fischer tells the Journal Sentinel the 78-year-old Starr was speaking coherently and left the convention center with his wife, Cherry, got into a limo and was taken to the Dane County Regional Airport.
Starr led the Packers to five NFL titles and two Super Bowl championships. He was Green Bay’s head coach from 1975-83.
Victorino, Red Sox near $39M, 3-yr deal
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Free agent outfielder Shane Victorino and the Boston Red Sox are close to completing a three-year deal worth $39 million, a person familiar with the talks told The Associated Press on Tuesday
The person, speaking at the baseball winter meetings under condition of anonymity because the contract wasn’t finalized, said paperwork for the contract was being completed.
Victorino hit a combined .255 with 11 home runs and 55 RBIs last season for Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Dodgers. He also stole a career-high 39 bases. The Dodgers obtained Victorino in a late July trade with the Phillies.
Nicknamed The Flyin’ Hawaiian, Victorino tweeted that he planned to spend the day in Maui on a snorkeling trip aboard the Alii Nui catamaran.
“Amazingly beautiful day,” he tweeted.
A two-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner, Victorino turned 32 Friday. He also had been pursued by the Cleveland Indians.
Victorino played mostly center field for the Phillies and shifted to left with the Dodgers. He likely would play right field for the Red Sox but could shift to center if Jacoby Ellsbury is traded or leaves as a free agent after next season.
Boston finished last in the AL East this season and is trying to boost its offense. On Monday, the Red Sox reached a $39 million, three-year contract with Mike Napoli, an All-Star catcher with Texas this year.
“We see him as a first baseman primarily, but with the ability to catch,” new manager John Farrell said. “We would have him catch in spring training early on, but then certainly make sure that we’ve got enough reps at first base for not only him to feel comfortable there, but for us as well.”
Yankees: ‘Beggars can’t be choosers’
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Here’s a new one for the New York Yankees.
“Beggars can’t be choosers,” Brian Cashman, general manager of baseball’s wealthiest team, said Tuesday.
While the Boston Red Sox have added Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino this week, the Yankees are taking a slow approach and appear focused on getting their payroll below the $189 million luxury tax threshold in 2014.
Dependable catcher Russell Martin already has left New York, right fielder Nick Swisher appears certain to follow and reliever Rafael Soriano also is likely to depart.
“I think sometimes people assume that the New York Yankees are the New York Yankees and there’s no budget constraints and there aren’t things that we want to stick to,” manager Joe Girardi said about Martin. “But there are. So I think that’s part of the reason why he wasn’t re-signed.”
New York has paid the luxury tax every year since it began in 2003 and the Yankees have been the top-spending team every season from 1999 on. By dropping under the threshold — which includes benefits — in 2014, New York would lower its tax rate in 2015 to 17.5 percent from 50 percent. And the Yankees would become eligible to get some of their revenue-sharing money back in 2014, known as a “Market Disqualification Refund” under baseball’s new labor contract.
Girardi thinks moves may become even more limited.
“I don’t think we’ll get a true flavor until next year. When I say next year, I mean 2014,” he explained, “and maybe it’s July 28th, and you’re talking about adding a guy, and it puts you over the cap. I don’t think we’ll really get a true idea of what it’s like until then.”
New York’s moves thus far have been a trio of one-year contracts for pitchers nearing the ends of their careers — $10 million for Mariano Rivera, $12 million for Andy Pettitte and $15 million for Hiroki Kuroda. The Yankees are uncertain of right field and catcher, and third base is open for at least the first half of the season because Alex Rodriguez needs surgery on his left hip.
Eric Chavez, Rodriguez’s backup, also is a free agent. Cashman said he has talked with the agents for Ichiro Suzuki, Kevin Youkilis and A.J. Pierzynski.
“I’m prepared to drag this thing out,” he said.
Rodriguez’s hip injury, detected during an examination last month, complicates matters.
“When you go into an offseason, you feel you have to address certain areas, and all of a sudden you get a surprise in a sense,” Girardi said. “It’s a pretty big hole to fill. It may not necessarily be with one person. We’re not sure exactly how we’re going to do it. We’ll let things play out here. It’s not what we were expecting.”
A-Rod was pinch hit for and benched during a dismal postseason. The Yankees say now the injury likely caused the production decline.
“He wasn’t the Alex we saw before the injury, and now we have a reason possibly why,” Girardi said. “He kept trying to play and kept trying to be productive for us. Obviously, he wasn’t even sure what was going on. But he knew that his hips weren’t working the way he was accustomed to them working.”
New York hopes to sign Chavez or another player who can fill in. Finding that player isn’t easy.
“There’s not a lot of choices out there,” Cashman said. “It’s a very limited sandbox to play in.”