Alexis Lafreniere’s first NHL goal gives the New York Rangers an OT victory

After a silent start to the season, Alexis Lafreniere announced his New York Rangers presence in a big way by scoring the winning goal in overtime as the Blueshirts defeated the Buffalo Sabres 3-2.

Lafreniere’s goal came after the Sabres’ Jack Eichel turned the puck over in his own zone. Colin Blackwell snagged the loose puck and drove up the right side before flipping a pass through the middle to Lafreniere, who one-timed the puck inside the near post.

In scoring this goal in overtime, Lafrenière became the first Ranger to register his first career NHL goal in overtime since Mats Zuccarello did that on Jan. 5, 2011.

Also, At 19 years 109 days, Lafrenière is the youngest player in NHL history to net an OT-winner for his first career goal. The only other teenager to do that was Cody Ceci (also 19) in 2013.

The win also means that the Rangers finally won a one-goal game after going 0-3-1 in their past four outings.

While wearing the broadway hat in his post-game Zoom conference, Lafreniere said that “Yeah, it’s pretty crazy, in overtime, getting the game-winning goal. It is really special and I will never forget this moment.”

It was a long wait for the first overall pick, who had to wait four months to be drafted first overall and then wait until his seventh game to score his first NHL goal.

A very pleased head coach David Quinn continues to be impressed by Lafreniere. “This guy is a ballsy kid. I don’t care if he is the first pick or the 271st pick, he’s a ballsy kid. He’s a kid you want to be around.”

Artemi Panarin had a goal and also set up Ryan Strome’s goal that started the scoring for the Rangers. This was the 200th NHL game for Panarin.  Since entering the NHL in 2015-16, Panarin ranks third in the league in points (223) and assists (142) on the road, and he only trails Connor McDavid and Patrick Kane in each category.

Igor Shesterkin stopped 37 shots for his first win of the season.

Next up for the Rangers is a two-game homestand against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday and Monday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UFC: Justin Gaethje says he would ‘smoke’ Nate Diaz

Justin Gaethje (22-3) had his eyes on the TV Saturday night watching UFC 257. The PPV was a huge night for the lightweight division and in the main event we saw the rematch between Conor McGregor (22-5) and Dustin Poirier (27-6, 1 NC).

In the co-main event of UFC 257, we saw Michael Chandler (22-5) make his debut against Dan Hooker (20-10). With incredible performances, Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler both scored knockout victories on Saturday night.

Watching the action got Justin Gaethje excited for his return. The former interim UFC lightweight champion has been waiting for last Saturday before thinking about what he wants to do next.

Gaethje sat down with ESPN’s Brett Okamoto this week and talked about everything that’s been going on with him. He said that the UFC had approached him last week about his next fight, but he wanted to see how UFC 257 shook out.

Now that he’s seen the action, Gaethje is ready to go. Gaethje said that he would fight anyone who is a top contender in the division and he knows it will take a win to get another title shot.

The Highlight made it clear that he wants a top three guy in his next fight, but he will make an exception. That would be for the one and only Nate Diaz (20-12). On a potential UFC bout with Diaz, Gaethje said he would happily accept it.

Will the UFC book Diaz – Gaethje?

“If they call me to fight Nate Diaz, I’m fighting Nate Diaz. I will roll him up and smoke him like a blunt. I can out smoke Nate Diaz any day of the week. It’s not something I’m proud of, but he thinks he’s Mr. 420. I’d roll him up and smoke him,” Gaethje told Okamoto.

I’m not going to lie, I think all UFC fans would be pumped for a potential matchup between Gaethje and Nate Diaz. When the UFC was talking about Diaz’s lightweight return, I figured Gaethje was a name that they were discussing.

However, Gaethje said that there’s been no talks on that fight yet. The UFC’s lightweight division is so exciting right now and Justin Gaethje – Nate Diaz might be one of the most fun matchups that could be made. It’ll be interesting to watch this one play out.

The New York Knicks can afford Bradley Beal, but should they pursue him?

New York Knicks, Marcus Morris

Leading the NBA at a whopping 35.4 points per game, Bradley Beal has been one of the major storylines throughout this early NBA season. However, despite the off-season acquisition of Russell Westbrook, Beal’s Wizards sit with the worst record in the league at 3-11. They’ve also lost 10 consecutive games when Beal scores 40 or more points.

In his nine-year tenure in Washington, Beal’s made the playoffs four times and made the conference semi-finals three times. However, he’s failed to ever make it beyond that despite the strong teams with him and John Wall. Now going on three years without a playoff birth, the Wizards are seemingly headed into a rebuild, and it may start with unloading Beal.

Now, trading Beal certainly isn’t a given, but all signs currently point that direction. His contract expires at the end of next season, and he has a player option for the 2022-2023 season. The Wizards don’t seem close to being a competitive team, so it would make sense to trade Beal and enter a massive rebuild.

Could it be the New York Knicks who try and land Beal? The Knicks are looking for another shooter, and they may have the assets the Wizards are looking for in exchange.

What the Knicks have to offer

The Knicks currently have around $16 million remaining in the salary cap and have two first-round picks in this summer’s NBA draft. Beal will make nearly $29 million this season, so the Knicks would have to get a little crafty to create salary space. Beal’s salary increases to $35 million next season, but the Knicks have enough guys entering free-agency this off-season to make it work beyond this year.

To make ends meet, the Knicks would have to free up $13 million in cap space in a trade. A few guards who come to mind as potential trade pieces are Frank Ntilikina, Elfrid Payton, and Dennis Smith Jr. All three have underperformed and are all paid around $6 million per year. Believe it or not, Ntilikina is the third-highest paid Knick at almost $6.2 million.

Another Knick who comes to mind as a potential trade piece is Obi Toppin, the 8th overall pick in this past November’s draft. It’s no secret that Toppin has a giant ceiling, but he doesn’t really fit great in New York. He’s a forward, a position the Knicks have a lot of depth in. Mitchell Robinson and Julius Randle are the team’s two best forwards, and they certainly won’t go to the bench in favor of Toppin. The team also landed a solid back-up forward last off-season in Nerlens Noel, who thrives on both ends. It’s unlikely the Knicks ever run with three bigs in the starting lineup, giving Toppin’s long-term fit a question mark.

So, with Toppin’s tremendous upside, he may be the most desired piece in a potential trade. He’s making around $5 million this season, so trading him with one of the guards mentioned earlier almost makes financial ends meet. The Knicks would need to include one other piece in a trade to stay under the salary cap, another guard, or someone like Ignas Brazdeikas or Taj Gibson.

To potentially give up less in a trade, the Knicks could try and get another team involved. More and more NBA trades are via multi-team deals, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see that happen.

If they can do it for the right price, the Knicks should pursue Bradley Beal. He’s one of the best guards in the league and would give the Knicks the boost needed to make a serious playoff push.

Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu about returning: ‘It took a while, but this is what I wanted’

New York Yankees, DJ LeMahieu

It took a while, but in the end, the New York Yankees secured the services of their primary target in the offseason: infielder DJ LeMahieu. After months of rumors, negotiations, and flirting with other teams, in LeMahieu’s case; and with replacements on the Bombers’ part, things got done with a six-year, $90 million commitment.

The Yankees’ star, who led the team in fWAR in both 2019 (5.4) and 2020 (2.5), spoke with New York media on Thursday via Zoom, covering several topics including his negotiations and Masahiro Tanaka.

About his former teammate, he said that it was disappointing to see him leave (he signed to pitch in Japan with the Rakuten Eagles) “but just wanted to mention what a great teammate he’s been and what an impact he’s had on the Yankees and the city and I obviously wish him well and I’ll be following him.”

“As exciting as it is (to be back), I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to play with him anymore,” he said.

The Yankees achieved their objective

Then, the second sacker explained the process that took place for him to sign with the Yankees. “I wanted to explore other options, but deep down, I wanted to be a Yankee. I wanted to be back with this group. I couldn’t be more excited,” he said.

Signing LeMahieu virtually unlocked the whole offseason for the Yankees: they signed Corey Kluber, traded for Jameson Taillon, and inked reliever Darren O’Day, among other minor moves.

“It was frustrating at times because it took so long, but this is what I wanted from the beginning. I wanted to be back,” LeMahieu explained.

Now, the Yankees’ roster is almost finalized with a eye towards the 2021 season. Re-signing Brett Gardner and bringing another reliever are possibilities, though. But the Bombers can go to the battle ground knowing they achieved most of their objectives.

New York Giants: Eli Manning visits John Mara, looks set for mentor role

New York Giants, Eli Manning

It’s been a bit over a year since New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning walked away from the NFL. But Manning is still connected with the franchise, and has said earlier this year that he wants to do more with the team. According to a recent report from Gary Myers, that might come in the form of mentoring players.

Manning visited the Giants offices and seemingly had a meeting with co-owner John Mara last week. A possible future role with the franchise was one of the things discussed, but it’s been known for a while that Manning isn’t interested in a coaching role. He’s said as much publicly, and it looks like these future plans match up with that idea.

Previously this year, Manning has also talked about going into TV and doing work with ESPN. But even if he’s set to do a show with ESPN+, it looks like he also has some free time to work on other things.

There’s many players on this Giants team that could use veteran mentoring, of course. The most obvious name is quarterback Daniel Jones, but the Giants have gotten younger in general since the last days of Eli’s time with the team. Many veteran faces departed over those years and many of the current starters for the Giants are draft picks who haven’t been able to seriously experience winning yet.

Playing for an organization with high expectations like this and in a tough city like New York isn’t easy – multiple members of the team would probably appreciate the advice from someone that handled it better than anyone.

The Yankees aren’t worried about Domingo German’s winter performance

New York Yankees, Domingo German

Even after adding Corey Kluber via free agency and Jameson Taillon via trade, the New York Yankees know they will have to rely on depth guys more than other teams. That way, they can improve their chances of having their best starters healthy, locked, and loaded for a hypothetical postseason.

Domingo German is part of that equation. The problem is that he represents a risk himself. Not because of injury, but instead, because he hasn’t pitched in major league baseball games since September 2019. He missed the 2020 campaign because of a suspension for a domestic violence incident.

He will, however, be a part of the rotation for the Yankees in 2021, at least for the first couple of months until Luis Severino is ready to return. To keep his spot after that, though, he will have to perform.

He didn’t get off to a good start, if we consider his performance pitching with Toros del Este in the Dominican League, LIDOM.

The Yankees were just happy to see him pitch after a long layoff

In five starts there, he had a 7.16 ERA in 16 innings. He handed nine bases on balls, struck out 18 batters, and finished with a 1.59 WHIP. Considering the small sample size and the long layoff, it wasn’t a complete disaster. The Yankees know that.

“While German’s velocity ticked down as his workload increased in Winter Ball, it was to be expected after the long layoff,” Yankees’ pitching coach Matt Blake said to Sweeny Murti of WFAN.

“Regardless of his results in winter ball, getting back into competition was really important and getting some quality work in between his outings, just starting to get back into the flow of being a baseball player again and everything that demands. We need to continue to see just him working and showing up with a good bill of health and making sure he’s doing all the right things off the field, but I think he could slide right into the middle of the rotation like he did in 2019. It’s just a lot boxes we have to check before we get to that point,” Blake explained.

The Yankees, therefore, still have high hopes for German for the 2021 season, and are taking his winter performance with a grain of salt.

Yankees’ pitching coach discusses plans for the rotation

matt blake, New York Yankees

The New York Yankees have managed to build an impressive collection of talent in their rotation. Behind proven ace Gerrit Cole, they have newcomers Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon, returning Domingo German, plus homegrown starters Jordan Montgomery, German, Deivi Garcia, and Clarke Schmidt.

However, there is just no way to deny that more than half of those guys are severe injury risks. Kluber has suffered a litany of injuries in the last two years, while Taillon, German, Schmidt, Montgomery, and German are all Tommy John surgery survivors.

Yankees’ pitching coach Matt Blake is well aware of the risk attached to the group as a whole. In a conversation with Sweeny Murti of WFAN, he talked about the subject at lenght.

The Yankees, according to Murti, will need between 800 and 900 innings from their starters in 2021.

“Obviously there are certain guys like Cole, you know he knows what it’s like to take the ball every fifth or sixth day and get 180 to 200 innings,” Blake said.

What to expect from the Yankees’ new guys

Kluber may have only pitched 36 2/3 frames in the last two seasons, but he was a workhorse before that, topping 200 in five consecutive years.

“I think the hard part is you don’t want to just go in blind and say we’re going to get 200 innings from all these guys,” Blake said. “That’s not realistic.”

When asked whether expecting around 150 innings from Kluber in 2021, the Yankees’ coach said “that’s probably somewhat reasonable”.

With Taillon, the 150 threshold should again serve as a good benchmark, but it may be lower or higher depending on how the pitcher is feeling. He is coming from his second Tommy John procedure.

“I think you just kind of add and subtract based on if they’re going deeper in games or getting out early, or if they need to skip a start or something,” Blake noted. “I think it’s just being rational and realistic about where these guys are coming from, and knowing that their most value is going to come if we can get to a point where we’re playing in October.”

The Yankees, if they want to keep everyone healthy come playoffs time, will need to get creative and use their depth: Garcia, Schmidt, Nick Nelson, Michael King, Nestor Cortes, Jhoulys Chacin, or Asher Wojciechowski could find themselves starting a game or two.

“I think there’s a volume of arms that can kind of pick up some innings in bunches,” Blake said. “I think it’s just trying to figure out in what order does that happen and how many times in a row do they take the ball.”

Does Julianna Pena deserve a title shot after UFC 257?

This past weekend at UFC 257, Julianna Pena (10-4) took on Sara McMann (12-6) on the prelims. After losing the first round, Pena performed very well on Saturday night and ended up pulling off a rear-naked choke in the third round.

It was a big win for Julianna Pena and the win put her at sixth in the UFC‘s bantamweight rankings. However, the headlines weren’t surrounding the performance. The headlines were around the post-fight interview.

After the fight was over, Pena called out the UFC‘s two-division champion, Amanda Nunes (20-4). Pena said that Nunes was ducking her and that a fight between the two women needed to be made.

Nunes immediately clapped back on Twitter saying, “Ducking? You couldn’t even make yourself a contender for me.” The notion that Amanda Nunes is ducking Julianna Pena is completely ridiculous and the callout didn’t make sense from that perspective.

I completely understand calling out the UFC champion. However, the reality is that Nunes has never dodged Pena. In fact, Nunes is correct in that Pena has lost both of her title eliminator fights that would have earned her a shot. So after her win at UFC 257, does Julianna Pena deserve the next shot?

A UFC title shot for Pena?

The simple answer her is no. Julianna Pena’s win at UFC 257 does not warrant a title shot. We can’t forget the fact that Pena was just put to sleep by Germaine De Randamie (10-4) a few months ago.

Julianna Pena is 2-2 since 2016 and neither one of those wins came against top five competition. That resume doesn’t warrant a shot at the UFC bantamweight title and the greatest of all time in Amanda Nunes.

For Pena to get a title shot, she’s going to need to beat someone in the UFC’s top five. However, I will say that nobody in front of her would make for a more compelling matchup against Nunes.

Nunes has already defeated de Randamie twice and she knocked out Holly Holm (14-5). The two most compelling contenders outside of Holm and de Randamie are Pena and Aspen Ladd (9-1). Ladd is currently recovering from a knee injury.

I think the best play for the UFC is to pair up Holm against de Randamie for the second time. In addition, they should book Pena against Aspen Ladd. The winner of Ladd and Pena would provide a compelling new challenger for Amanda Nunes. However, to be clear, Julianna Pena shouldn’t jump the line.

Playing the kids would be a refreshing sight for the Islanders and their fans

A big theme as the Islanders prepared themselves for this 56-game sprint this season was the promising kids in the organization  finally getting a chance to show what they’re made of. Because of the rule that all teams must abide by — having a the taxi squad of six extra players in case of COVID-19 cases — it seemed more realistic the Isles and coaching staff would experiment.

Six games in, the Islanders have yet to really let the kids loose. Only Kieffer Bellows, 22, has gotten a substantial amount of playing time. Bellows has appeared in five games and was slotted on the second line on Tuesday night with Anthony Beauvillier on IR.

The other forwards — Oliver Wahlstrom (20), Otto Koivula (22), Dymtro Timashov (25), and even to a further degree Austin Czarnik (27) — have been patiently waiting their turn to get into a game.

This has a lot of people frustrated. And it only has magnified throughout this particular week more because of the Islanders’ lack of offense, the ineffective play of several forwards, and how Tuesday’s loss to the Capitals unfolded.

Head coach Barry Trotz preached changes after the devastating defeat and called out his group in the process. So that really only leaves one option: playing the kids. It would be refreshing in a number of ways.

For one, allowing the kids a shot would shake things up and provide the spark this team is seeking.

Having Bellows and Wahlstrom in the same lineup or any combination of the names mentioned can provide energy. The Isles have lacked a lot of it the past two games.

Secondly, fans would get what they’ve been asking for. Isles fans only got a small taste of Wahlstrom early last year and saw the skill and shot he brings. This season was supposed to be his real introduction to the NHL.

But beyond Wahlstrom and Koivula in a sense — he too got some games in last year — the others making up the taxi squad only have been  read about. There haven’t been awarded the opportunity yet to show whether they can make an impact.

Then there’s the dynamic that the kids provide options for Trotz. Because of what happened with Leo Komarov two nights ago, Trotz has choices to replace him. That too goes for Ross Johnston, who’s been stamped on to the Islanders’ third line since the season began.

The fact that those two play the wing — and most of the taxi squad is made up of wingers (Koivula plays both center and wing) — makes the decision a little easier of sorts.

Even this early in the season, the Islanders have reached a point where playing the kids might do more good than bad. Sure, to get into the lineup they need to show they can be trusted both with and without the puck. But right now they need something refreshing.

Playing the kids is it.

While the Isles are having troubles on the ice, the organization overall continues to make big leaps for the future. And it’s their soon-to-be-new home at UBS Arena which continues to bring that added level of excitement.

Yesterday it was reported that the club will have sold out of seats in the lower bowl of the building by the end of this month.

From The Hockey Writers James Nichols chat with Michael Consentino, the club’s Senior VP of Ticketing, Premium and Business Intelligence:

We have a term here that we like to use, and that’s ‘family. The family of our season ticket members, of our fanbase, are stepping up in a way that we knew was possible, but seeing it come to fruition was special.”

New York Yankees say goodbye to fan-favorite starting pitcher

New York Yankees, Masahiro Tanaka

The New York Yankees have embarked on an exciting flurry of acquisitions the past few weeks, locking in Corey Kluber to a one year deal, trading for Jameson Taillon, and signing Darren O’Day, formally of the Atlanta Braves. General manager Brian Cashman has been busy, while the latest moves have been exciting, it is time to say goodbye to one consistent and fan-favorite pitcher.

Japanese native Masahiro Tanaka is taking his talents back home, where he signed a deal with a Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Nippon Professional Baseball League. At 32 years old, Tanaka spent seven years with the Yankees, recording a career 3.74 ERA and 78 total wins. Not only was he a consistent option day in and day out for the Yankees, but he took a Giancarlo Stanton line drive off the head in 2020, returning to play for a majority of the season.

He stated his farewell on Thursday, making sure to thank the fans and all of his supporters throughout the last seven years.

“I have decided to return to Japan and play for the Rakuten Eagles for the 2021 season,” Tanaka wrote on Twitter. “I wanted to make sure and touch base with you, and thank you for all the love and support you have given me for the past 7 seasons.

“I feel extremely fortunate for having the opportunity to take the field as a member of the New York Yankees, and play in front of all you passionate fans. it has been an honor and a privilege! Thank you so much!!”

The Yankees’ starting rotation will feel a bit empty without Tanaka taking the mound, as his humble presence always spoke volumes of his nature. He was a quiet person who focused on his craft and managed to put together an impressive career in the MLB. However, it is time for him to go home, as the Yankees embark on another quest to reach the World Series for the first time in 10 years.

The starting rotation will likely be composed of Gerrit Cole, Kluber, Taillon, Luis Severino, upon his return, Domingo German, Jordan Montgomery, and a bevy of younger options. Some might say Cashman is putting too many chips in on formally injured players, but if his method pans out, the Yankees will be in great shape for the 2021 season.