The New York Knicks need talent wherever they can get it, especially with injuries plaguing the team at the moment. However, there is a free agent target they could look to as a potential solution in 2021.
While he’s not a well-known player yet, former second-round pick Talen Horton-Tucker has made tremendous progress with the Los Angeles Lakers. As the 46th pick in 2019, he doesn’t have a guaranteed contract just yet with Los Angeles, and with the Lakers’ deep rotation at guard, they might have no choice but to let Horton-Tucker walk this upcoming off-season.
One team that should 100% be in on him are the Knicks, who have inconsistent youth and several veterans trying to find their spot on the team.
Horton-Tucker has only played in 10 games this year, averaging 8.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.8 assists. However, he hasn’t disappointed while on the floor, seeing improvement as a shooter and solid vision on the court.
“League sources told Heavy.com Horton-Tucker can expect ‘multiple teams’ to have an interest in pursuing him this summer,” Deveney wrote. “That would put pressure on the Lakers to match some offers that could, potentially, be very hefty. The Knicks, Cavaliers and Mavericks were listed as teams with potential interest.”
Considering he’s learning under LeBron James, Talen has the potential to be a fantastic player in the future. Over a four-game stretch, he averaged 20+ points at one point this season, and as a mature player with smart basketball knowledge, he would fit like a glove in New York.
The expectation is that Horton-Tucker could earn in the $10 million range, and considering the Knicks desperately need more adequate shooters, he could fit the bill well. He has a .484 field goal percentage this year and is shooting .364 from downtown. While he’s only connected on 10 of 22 from three, he’s also an aggressive defensive player, which is exactly what head coach Tom Thibodeau is looking for.
The New York Giants have a long road ahead of them this off-season, as free agency will ultimately determine how to utilize their draft picks in 2021. The roster has plenty of holes that need resource allocations, but they only have so much money and draft capital to spend on bolstering them.
To list some positions that need upgrades:
I listed some positions here, despite having youthful players with promise. Positions like linebacker and right tackle could be seen as strengths, considering Blake Martinez and Matt Peart represent either established talent or potential. However, the second spot at linebacker next to Martinez was a rotation in 2020, and the Giants must find an every-day starter moving forward. It could be Tae Crowder, or they could somehow land Micah Parsons in the draft, which would give them one of the best linebacking corps in football.
All of these positions could use more resources, but as stated before, the Giants only have so many assets they can utilize.
Nonetheless, most wouldn’t anticipate tight end being a position of weakness, but ‘Pro-Bowl’ TE Evan Engram continues to be a turnover machine, representing a minimum of six turnovers this past season due to dropped balls and one fumble.
Engram finished the season with 11 dropped passes, even more than his rookie campaign. At this point, it is fair to say he cannot be relied on as a pass-catching tight end with minimal blocking abilities in the run game. That is why some mock drafts have listed Florida TE Kyle Pitts as a potential option for the Giants with the 11th overall pick.
What would the New York Giants get with Kyle Pitts?
Pitts is an exceptional talent who formally played quarterback before making the transition to TE. As a junior out of Florida, he has fantastic size at 6-foot-5 and 239 pounds. However, the way he’s described really reminds me of Engram coming out of Ole Miss in 2017. Don’t be worried, though, he is a vastly different prospect with way more strengths.
Pitts has the ability to line up as a tight end inline, outside, or in the slot. In fact, Pitts is so versatile that he played just shy of 64% of his offensive snaps inline. He has the ability to split out wide against corners, dominating with his size and strength. He is a phenomenal route runner and goes toe-to-toe with press coverage. Over his 40 receiving snaps the season from a wideout spot, he made 15+ yardage gains on seven occasions. There’s never been a TE on record with more than two 15+ yard plays from a wideout spot.
As you can see, Kyle isn’t just an ordinary tight end, he’s capable of playing multiple positions, which is exactly what New York Giants head coach Joe Judge likes in his players. He can be cross-trained at both WR and TE, with the versatility to dominate against corners, safeties, and linebackers. God forbid an opposing defense lines up an LB against him, he will have a field day.
There are not many players with his tangible and intangible skill-set, making him a fantastic option for the Giants if they want to go that route. If they do manage to sign a wide receiver in free agency and add a player like Pitts, the offense will be in great shape moving forward. I would be remiss not to mention the return of Saquon Barkley, who demands attention in the backfield.
The New York Yankees had their fair share of struggles in 2020 regarding injuries and supplementing with depth pieces. This is the second consecutive season the Yankees have had to find ways to compensate for influential players missing time.
Of course, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge both missed chunks of the season, and given the year was only 60 games, to begin with, it was quite disappointing how little they played.
One player who was thrust into a starting role was Clint Frazier, who had been looking for more starting reps but was logjammed behind a bevy of players. Fortunately, injuries allowed him to play in 39 games, experiencing 160 plate appearances. He finished the year with a .267 average, eight homers, and 26 RBIs. He played so well, and saw his defensive efficiency elevate so much, general manager Brian Cashman is expecting him to be an everyday starter in 2021.
Considering Stanton can’t even play defense anymore, we should expect to see Frazier in the outfield regularly. Surprisingly, he was a Gold Glove finalist in the outfield this past season after disappointing in 2019 as a defender.
“I’m not making any changes this offseason,” Frazier said on the MLB Network on Monday. “I’m just trying to familiarize myself with that movement more going forward and mash.”
The primary goal is to continue building off his strong 2020 campaign. One category that he needs to improve on is his strikeout rate, as he landed at 27.5% this past year.
However, he did see a career-high 15.6% walk rate, showing polarizing abilities at the plate. If he can be more consistent and continue to develop with more appearances, the Yankees will finally realize his true potential.
Frazier detailed his struggles last year with the Yankees and why his bat went quiet toward the end of the year:
“At times I always felt like I was trying to swing but my swing was on safety, and there were things that were preventing me from moving forward the way that I wanted to,” he said.
Since his defense took such major strides, I feel comfortable with him in the outfield. There’s also the potential that Cashman could bring back Brett Gardner on a one-year contract, given his statement during the season that he didn’t want 2020 to be his final playing year. I don’t think this is a situation where they want to spur a competition battle, as Frazier deserves the first crack at a starting gig.
The New York Yankees and all of the world have been suffering now for some time with the ever-present coronavirus pandemic. This article doesn’t deal with that or the effect on sports and the Yankees. We have all had our life disrupted by the dread virus for ten months now. Months of wearing masks, staying away from crowds, and washing everything in sight. We all need relief, so today, this idle fantasy mind has decided to look at what a 2021 baseball season for Yankee fans might look like.
Before the season started, the Yankees were slow to make any moves to improve the team as they waited for DJ LeMahieu to re-sign with the team. The hold out lasted until 10 days before the start of spring training when DJ signed a four-year deal worth $100 million. With the slower than normal offseason for free agents, there were still players available. Just two days after DJ signed, the New York Yankees announced that they had just signed Yadier Molina to a one-year deal worth $8 million with a team option for 2022. It was a move that turned out beneficial as he mentored Gary Sanchez throughout the season with satisfactory results.
New York Yankees fans had waited what seemed to be an eternity for baseball. They found out that there would be a 162 game season with a limited number of fans in the stands at the start of the Yankees season. Although MLB allowed fans in the stadiums, it was up to each locale to set the rules. New York Governor Cuomo set a limit of 40% for both Yankees Stadium and City Field for the first two months of the season, a wait and see move while determining the vaccine’s success.
Finally, it was February 27th, the day pitchers and catchers report to spring training. In an unusual move, the YES Network set up special programming to cover the pitchers and catcher’s first day of practice and provide footage for the YES program Yankees Magazine. They had the pitchers line up on the third baseline and the catchers on the first baseline to start the program. Of course, Michael Kay and John Sterling. were there along with all the other Yankee dignitaries. Hal wasn’t there but representing the family was George’s daughter Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal.
Michael and John took turns introducing the Yankee catchers; their backs were to the camera until they were introduced, then they turned to the camera. But when it was time to introduce the pitcher’s general manager Brian Cashman walked up to the podium and asked for the microphone. He stood silent for a moment, then said, “For our first pitcher, I would like to introduce to Yankees fans Cory Kluber.” The Yankees had signed Kluber during the night. Kluber boarded a plane and arrived at Steinbrenner Field just 20 minutes before the broadcast. Kluber got a three year $22 million contract from the Yankees.
Yankee fans worldwide were delighted that the team would have pitching help behind ace Gerrit Cole. Spring training went on with little incident. However, during the spring Yankee fans would learn that Miguel Andujar had been traded to the Cleveland Indians for a minor league catcher, outfielder, and a player to be named later. During the last few exhibition games, the Yankee starting rotation was released it would be Gerrit Cole, Domingo German, Cory Kluber, Jordan Montgomery, and Deivi Garcia.
Finally, it was here April 1, opening day. The New York Yankees opened at home against the Houston Astros. With gathering restrictions mostly lifted, Yankee fans 18 000 strong filtered into the Stadium. To celebrate the occasion, the Yankees are offered a Yankee cap, a hot dog, and a soda for just $2.
Welcoming Yankee fans to the Stadium, the traditional message from Bob Shepard was played: “Ladies and Gentleman welcome to Yankee Stadium.” Upon hearing his voice via recording, the Yankee faithful both cheered wildly while tears of happiness flowed. After a short pause, public address announcer Paul Oden echos the welcome and announces the opening day celebration. As part of the opening day celebration, the West Point Glee Club sings the National Anthem as a formation of F-15 jets from Westover Airbase flies over Yankee stadium with a ruffling Olympic pool size American Flag donning the field.
There is a podium set up at the home base. Michael Kay takes to the podium and introduces Yankee great Bernie Williams.
The crowd starts to cheer “Bernie” “Bernie” when the crowd settles, Williams gives an emotional speech summarizing all the world and the team has gone through during this difficult time. At the end of his speech, he says, “Let’s play ball,” to the roar of the game hungry crowd. As the cheering fans began to settle, the PA announced Derek Jeter as throwing out the first pitch to Yankee catcher Jorge Posada and the crowd erupted again.
The players for both teams took to the baselines. Over the public address system, the Astros players were announced, the crowd was eerily quiet. Then each of the Yankees who were all healthy and ready to beat the Astros. Then the game started as Jose Altuve was announced. The loudest boos ever heard at Yankee stadium bounced off River Avenue buildings. The PA warned Yankee fans from throwing anything onto the field. Starting pitcher Gerrit Cole was expected by fans to bean Altuve with a wild pitch, but it didn’t happen; instead, he struck him out on three pitches, much to Yankee fans’ delight.
The game ended after eleven innings, with Gerrit Cole having a complete game of 118 pitches. At the bottom of the eleventh inning, and with the bases loaded with Yankees, first basemanLuke Voit walked to the plate. As I said, the bases were loaded, and reliever Roberto Osuna had the Yankees down to their last out. Voit swung at the first two pitches missing both; down to the last strike, Luke swung and blasted one into the Astros bullpen for the 5-1 Yankee walk-off win.
The New York Yankees played great ball during April and May. It seemed as if it was going to be a season where Cole and Kluber for the most wins, just like the Mantle Maris race for the most home runs in 1961. With two months of starts, they were neck and neck with identical records of 9-2, although Cole had the lower ERA. Domingo German had the only complete-game shutout of the young season. Clarke Schmidt got to join the rotation at the end of May when Jordan Montgomery sprained his shoulder.
The Yankees suffered few injuries; however, Aaron Judge was unfortunately on the IL with a wrist injury when the Ray’s Tyler Glasnow hit him with a pitch. With just two weeks to the All-Star break, Luis Severino returned to replace the injured Jordan Montgomery. The New York York Yankees were 52 and 24. Surprisingly Deivi Garcia was the Yankee’s leading pitcher; he alone was 11-5. Luke Voit and Giancarlo Stanton were tied for the most home runs with 18 apiece; Gleyber Torres found his form hitting 12 with Gio Urshela right behind with 11 long balls.
As the season came to an end, the Yankees won the East Division by six games over the Tampa Bay Rays. Giancarlo leads the team with 39 home runs. DJ LeMahieu again led all of baseball with a 338 batting average. Most surprising was the seven home runs of Tyler Wade with 13 stolen bases on the season. In the last game of the season, Mike Ford hit a walk-off win against the Detroit Tigers.
The Toronto Blue Jays won a berth in the Wild Card game. But the Yankees rolled over them two straight games. Nine days later, the Yankees won the ALCS against the Chicago White Sox four games to three. In the ALCS, Aaron Judge hit four home runs, two in the last winning game. This set the stage for the Yankees to face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. In game one, Gerrit Cole lost to Clayton Kershaw 12-7. The Yankees came back with Severino winning game 2 3-2. The Dodgers won the next two games. Jordan Montgomery pitched game 5. It was his best game of the season. He went seven innings of one-hit ball. The Yankees won 1-0.
Game 6 was another elimination game; with Deivi Garcia on the mound, he went six innings giving up just two hits, one a homer to Mookie Betts. Luis Cessa pitched a scoreless seventh followed by a scoreless eighth by Chad Green setting up Aroldis Chapman to close the game for the Yankees. Chapman gave up a homer to catcher Will Smith, but the Yankees came back in the bottom of the ninth. Pitch hitter Mike Tauchman hit an inside the park home run, his first in his career for the Yankee 4-2 win.
October 29th marked the World Series’s last day with the Dodgers and Yankees tied at three games apiece. Gerrit Cole was to start for the Yankees, and Kershaw again faced him. It was not an exciting day for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Gerrit Cole did what he was hired to do; he went eight inning throwing 121 pitches only giving up 3 hits and no runs. The score was 1-0, and Yankee fans sat on their hands, waiting to see who would close against the upcoming Mookie Betts. When the Fox Network came back from the commercial, Zack Britton was on the mound. In a take no prisoners attempt, Britton struck out the side, and the Yankees won their 28th World Championship.
EmpireSpotsMedia.com’s Columnist William Parlee is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Follow me on Twitter @parleewilliam.
The New York Rangers are entering their 95th campaign in the National Hockey League. This season has been delayed due to the Covid pandemic, but the hard work during the offseason has kept the organization focused since last season concluded in the Toronto Bubble.
The club has been preparing for a marathon 56 game schedule, which begins on Jan. 14 against the New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden and concludes on May 8 in Boston against the Bruins.
Empire Sports Media writers Jim Bay and Frank Curto take a look at what has transpired since the Blueshirts were eliminated from the playoffs last summer in the qualifying round against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Team President John Davison, along with general manager Jeff Gorton is set to bring the youngest team in the NHL back to the playoffs in an attempt to win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1994. Plenty of obstacles stand in their way, yet the team is set up for success as they play in the toughest division in the NHL this season.
Players come and go, but the one constant is the name on the front of the sweater. Here is a look at the upcoming season’s preview, oh baby, this is going to be a lot of fun.
The Rangers traded veteran defenseman Marc Staal to Detroit on Sept. 26, 2020, and the forward Jesper Fast signed as a free agent with the Carolina Hurricanes. The toughest transaction was the buyout of 15-year veteran Henrik Lundqvist.
The Rangers selected the first overall selection in this year’s NHL Draft, Alexis Lafreniere. Gorton and Quinn have high expectations for the success of rookie defenseman K’Andre Miller as he looks to make the team out of training camp. Brendan Smith could be on the bubble with so many new faces on defense.
Goaltender Keith Kinkaid was originally brought in to help ease the team’s expansion draft requirement, but now could be a valuable asset in the Covid pandemic abbreviated season.
The first line will be led by Zibanejad, who was a goal-scoring machine last year with 41 goals in 57 games, a ridiculous 59-goal pace over a full season, with 15 of those coming on the power play. Zibanejad made some nice improvements in creating more chances at both even strength and on the power play, with the hope that the 15 percent and 26 percent rates continue into this season.
Kreider and Buchnevich will again flank Zibanejad on either side, and both have “analytically” graded out as productive top-six players for the team. The chemistry that the trio achieved was a huge reason why the Rangers improved so much in the second half of the season.
The second line will be anchored by Panarin, who will have Strome returning, will see Kakko added as his linemate to start the season.
What Panarin has brought to the Rangers is not only on-ice results but also how much of a positive influence he has on his linemates and teammates. This will hopefully hold true for Kakko, who showed signs of improvement upon returning to play in the summer after the league was paused due to the pandemic.
The bottom six is where the Rangers struggled last season. Help will come in the form of the first overall pick in the draft, Alexis Lafreniere.
It is tough to see how quickly Lafreniere will adapt to the NHL game with a small camp and no preseason games to evaluate his skills. However, many projection models have him getting 57 points this year. That may seem high for a first-year player, but with the skills that he brings to the team, this seems achievable.
Much of this may depend on his linemates. Chytil has been projected for improvement this year after being a negative goal contributor last season to an expected positive one this year. Gauthier presents some grittiness and size that could complement his linemates.
Howden will hopefully solidify the third line and has had a nice camp. During Zibanejad’s absence at the beginning of camp, Howden stepped in on the first line and did quite well. He also impressed those with his play during last summer’s playoffs. Lemieux provides the grit for this line, and hopefully, not too much-unwanted attention from the referees. Last season, Di Giuseppe provided the solid and steady play that you want to see from a bottom-six contributor.
The defense will look to improve this season. Jacob Trouba will enter his second season on Broadway and needs to be better than he was last season. By his own acknowledgment, he was not happy with how things progressed, though he seemed more comfortable as the season concluded.
The dynamic duo of Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren was the highlight of the defense corp. The two rookies became stronger once they were paired together by former defensive coach Lindsy Ruff. With a year under their belt, the two could be the team’s top pair and see plenty of ice time once again.
The club has plenty of new faces on the back end, with rookie K’Andre Miller leading the way. Miller has been praised by the head coach in training camp earning a roster spot on opening night.
Jack Johnson along with Anthony DeAngelo and Brendan Smith will be pushing each other early on to be in the lineup every night.
Igor Shesterkin will take the reigns as the team’s number one goaltender this season. With such a condensed schedule, Alexandar Georgiev should expect more playing time and responsibility with the teams playing a marathon like a schedule.
Taxi Squad Projected Players
The taxi squad will be a big piece of the puzzle for the Blueshirts. With the AHL delaying the start of their season until Feb. 5, the Rangers are eligible to carry a minimum of 4 to a maximum of six players. These players can practice and travel with the team but are not on the active roster until they are recalled.
Philadelphia Flyers – The Flyers were one of the most complete teams in the NHL last season, finishing in the top 10 in both goals scored and allowed. With their team from last year mostly intact, they are my favorite to win this division.
Boston Bruins – Boston suffered some notable losses on the blueline in Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara, and that might be enough to put them behind the Flyers. However, with a top offensive line and goaltending tandem, don’t be surprised to see them win this division.
The Pens still have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, so you have to put them in the top four.
Washington Capitals – The high scoring offense should carry them, put questions with their goaltending may them one of the leading contenders to get bumped by either the Rangers or Islanders.
New York Rangers– The Blueshirts have many obstacles with this season that will be difficult for a talented but a young team to overcome. A short training camp with no preseason games is not ideal for a young team, especially when you have the first overall in Alexis Lafreniere coming to town. Playing a 56 game season will not help either.
New York Islanders – In addition to not wanting to put them ahead of the Rangers, this is still quite a mysterious team. Last season, they were two games from the Stanley Cup Final in spite of the fact they allowed more goals than they scored in the regular season.
Buffalo Sabres – The Sabres did get better in the offseason, but playing against such tough divisional opponents every night will mean that they will finish ahead of only New Jersey.
New Jersey Devils– The Devils hope that Jack Hughes will be better, but the Devils are still destined for the bottom of the division. The recent retirement of Corey Crawford will not help either.
MVP: Artemi Panarin Rookie of the Year: Alexis Lafreniere Top Defenseman: Adam Fox Most Improved: Kaapo Kakko Players Player: Brendan Lemieux Steven McDonald Extra Effort: Mika Zibanejad Leading Goal Scorer: Mika Zibaenjad – 48G Points Leader: Artemi Panarin- 90 Pts.
Photo via NewYorkRangers.com
The unusual 56 game schedule will see the Rangers face only the other members of the temporary Eastern Division and will not have any preseason games for their young players, such as first overall pick Alexis Lafreniere, to gel with their new teammates outside of the two-week training camp period.
One of the “benefits” of this schedule is that the Rangers will also get eight contests with some of the rivals, including the Islanders, Devis, and Flyers.
In this compact schedule, there are some important times that stand out over the slightly condensed schedule this season that commences for the Rangers on January 14.
Like in a horse race, it is important to get out of the gate well, and this will also be the case for the Blueshirts this season. Easier said than done, especially as they face the Islanders in their first two games to start the season. The opening stretch will also see the Blueshirts face the Devils, as well as four meetings split between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres.
February will be a challenging month as, on the 10th, the Rangers start a stretch of games with two against Boston before a two-game battle with the Flyers. They then head to Washington to play the Capitals twice, play the Flyers once more, capping things off with two more meetings with the Bruins. This stretch should show whether the Rangers are a true playoff contender or not.
After facing three games against Sabres and Devils, March will again see the Rangers run through a gauntlet of Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington for most of the month. If they are going to survive this stretch, they must reverse the fortunes of 2019-20 that saw the Rangers go a combined 0-5-1 against the Bruins and Flyers.
April will see the Rangers play many games against the Islanders, Devils, and Sabres. In fact, starting on April 9, the Rangers will have back-to-back road games against the Islanders and then play four straight against the Devils before capping it off with a final tilt with the Isles. Any chance to stay or get into playoff contention may hinge on the outcome of the games, against teams that the Rangers went 3-1 against (Islanders) and 2-2 (Devils) in 2019-20.
The Rangers will need their top players to play as they did last season. The pressure will be heavy once again on Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin to have consecutive great seasons shield the Blueshirts look to replicate last season’s playoff run.
Igor Shesterkin takes over for Henrik Lundqvist, huge skates to fill but something Shesterkin is capable of doing.
The wild card is the head coach himself. Dave Quinn and his coaching staff will walk a fine line between coaching the veterans, along with bringing the younger players through one of the most demanding schedules since the early 1970s.
There are no easy games this season, no time to take a night off. A team that has a rich tradition along with high expectations from its fan base will need to find the right chemistry out of the gate in order to keep up with the teams within this division.
This season will be like no other. A schedule that has the Rangers playing each division opponent eight times, Covid protocols that will have games postponed and re-scheduling at almost a daily pace, and playing most games in front of little or no fans at all.
2020-2021 season will be the hardest battle of endurance and stamina the Rangers have ever encountered. The reward will be more precious should the team exceed their expectations.
It all begins Thursday night at the world’s most famous arena when the Rangers host the biggest rivals in the NHL.
Empire Sports Media Writers Predictions
We have some great writers at ESM, So Jim Bay and I asked what they predict will transpire in the upcoming season.
Brandon Schnapp Most Goals: Panarin Most Points: Zibanejad MVP: Panarin Best Defenseman: Fox Rookie of the Year: Lafreniere
The team will miss the playoffs (Brandon is an Islanders fan, BTW)
Jim Bay Most Goals: Panarin
Most Points: Panarin
Best Defenseman: Trouba
Rookie of the Year: Shesterkin
Playoffs: Not this year
Frank Curto Most Goals: Panarin Most Points: Zibanejad MVP: Panarin Best Defenseman: Fox Rookie of the Year: Shesterkin Playoffs: Yes, will be eliminated in the second round
Goals: Panarin Points: Ziba MVP: Panarin Defenseman: DeAngelo Rookie of the Year: Lafreniere
Playoffs: The team makes the playoffs, eliminated in the second round.