New York Giants trying to move Kevin Zeitler amid cap concerns

New York Giants, Kevin Zeitler

The New York Giants are wrestling with the salary cap this offseason and Kevin Zeitler may be the next one affected. The Giants already moved on from wide receiver Golden Tate, in large part due to the salary cap. But on their quest to work out their cap situation, it could be offensive guard Kevin Zeitler that moves on from the franchise next.

Instead of losing him for nothing with a cut, the Giants are looking to make a trade according to Jason La Canfora.

Unfortunately, the Giants don’t have very much trade leverage here. Everyone knows about their cap situation and how they have to get rid of players this offseason. Just like the Giants couldn’t get anything for Golden Tate and cut him for nothing, other teams anticipate the same thing happening with Zeitler. It seems like the league is willing to wait for that to happen and pick him up as a free agent.

Zeitler arrived in the Meadowlands in 2019 as part of the Odell Beckham trade. He started 15 games during that season and started all 16 games during the 2020 season. He was on the field for just about every snap during that time, so the Giants will have to figure something out at guard if they do move on from him.

With a salary of $12M for 2021, Zeitler is the second highest paid Giant this season if the Giants do end up keeping him. And that’s looking increasingly unlikely due to their need to mitigate cap problems right now.

Chris Kreider’s hat trick leads New York Rangers to win over New Jersey

New York Rangers

You are not reading the game reports from Feb 24. Chris Kreider did get another hat trick on Thursday night to lead the New York Rangers to a 6-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils. Pavel Buchnevich, Brendan Smith, and Alexis Lafreniere scored the other goals.

The Rangers have tallied five goals in a road game at New Jersey (not including the 2014 Stadium Series, which was technically a Rangers road game at Yankee Stadium) for the first time since Dec.12, 2008.

Igor Shesterkin had 32 saves before leaving late in the third period due to an injury. Alexandar Georgiev came to relieve him and recorded three saves.

After the game head coach David Quinn said in his Zoom conference that Shesterkin has a lower-body injury and that the team will know more tomorrow morning.

If Shesterkin has to miss any time, Keith Kinkaid would likely be called up from the taxi squad.

Chris Kreider gets the second hat trick of the season for the New York Rangers.

With his second hat trick in his last five games, Kreider has recorded a goal/point in five of the last six games. Coming into the game, he was tied for eighth in the NHL in power-play goals and is tied for 13th in the NHL in goals this season, and will be moving up those ranks after tonight’s performance. In addition, Kreider is one of only two NHL players who have registered at least 10 goals and 40 hits this season. He is easily been the catalyst for the Blueshirts recently, has nine goals and two assists over the last 11 games.

There are other New York Rangers who extended streaks.

In addition to his own goal, Lafreniere earned an assist on the Buchnevich goal. He has tallied a point in five of the last six games. He also tallied his first multi-point game in the NHL. Speaking of Buchnevich, he has tallied eight points (four goals, four assists) in the last eight games. He leads the Rangers in points at 5-on-5 this season, and he has notched a point in eight of the team’s nine wins in 2020-21.

Mika Zibanejad spends a large period of time on the New York Rangers bench.

After having only just over three minutes of ice team in the first period, Mika Zibanejad spent the first part of the second period on the bench. He finished with just over 13 minutes of ice-time for the game but did get an assist on the Lafreniere goal.

When asked about Zibanejad’s playing time Quinn said: “I think he’s letting the stats and all the pressure slow him down a little bit. I think it’s getting to him. This is a guy that’s been a fearless and courageous player. He is just trying to find his game.” Quinn also added that he thought Zibnejad played better after the benching.

The two teams will play again on Saturday with a 1 p.m. puck drop.

NASCAR: Three drivers to watch for this weekend in the Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube

The NASCAR Cup Series begins their two-race West Coast swing on Sunday, stopping in Las Vegas for the Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube. Sunday’s event will be 267 laps around the 1.5 mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the second intermediate track of the season. Here are three drivers to watch:

Matt DiBenedetto

There’s no other way to say it, but Matt DiBenedetto has gotten off to a horrific start in 2021. DiBenedetto sits 34th in the standings with just 14 points earned through three races.

However, DiBenedetto has a great chance to turn his misfortunes around this weekend. Last season, DiBenedetto finished 2nd in both Las Vegas races, as Fords have run strong there the past few seasons. With DiBenedetto far behind in points and looking for a new ride next season, he must have a strong run this weekend. He also has the chance to win his first race, something that would be career-changing.

Joey Logano

Joey Logano has gotten off to a solid start in 2021. He’s registered 14th, 2nd, and 25th place finishes to open up his 13th full-time season. Logano’s accumulated a lot of stage points in the first two races of the season, putting him 3rd in points.

A win this weekend would be Logano’s third straight in the Las Vegas spring race. He’s placed in the top-5 six times over his career, meaning he’s shown to consistently run up front there. With a victory, Logano would punch his ticket to the playoffs and potentially assume first place in the standings.

Martin Truex Jr.

They don’t call him mile and a half Martin for no reason.

Over the past seven seasons, Martin Truex Jr. has been one of the strongest on the NASCAR circuit at intermediate tracks. 16 of his 27 Cup Series wins have come on intermediate tracks, including two wins at Las Vegas.

Coming into this weekend, Truex Jr. sits ninth in points after a 3rd place finish at Homestead-Miami. After a down year in 2020, Truex Jr. should be a major threat to put up his first victory of the season.

Alonso’s Grand Slam Propels New York Mets to an 8-4 Victory

New York Mets, Luis Rojas

For the second straight game, the New York Mets came out swinging and had the pitching to back it up. They used three home runs and seven two-out RBIs to defeat the Washington Nationals 8-4.

Brandon Nimmo got the Mets started early with a leadoff home run to give them a quick 1-0 lead against Jackson Rutledge. After three quiet innings, the fifth was loaded with action. Dellin Betances made his Spring debut and became the only reliever to allow runs.

After getting the first two outs of the inning, Betances issued two walks, and an RBI double on a fly ball that left fielder Drew Ferguson misplayed. Ryan Zimmerman capped off the inning with a three-run homer, giving the Nats a 4-1 lead. The only positive of his outing is his velocity in the 92-93 range, which is far better than last year’s spring training.

In the bottom half of the fifth, Pete Alonso‘s grand slam put the Mets back and forth 5-4. It was a classic Alonso homer as he drove it onto the right-center field hill. Alonso did not homer in 13 spring training games in 2020 and already looks more relaxed at the plate. Jake Hager supplied the third homer on the day with a solo shot in the seventh.

Pitching Success

David Peterson was solid in his first start of the spring as he tries to earn a spot in the starting rotation. In two innings, he allowed just one hit, a hit batter and worked out of a second and third jam in the first inning. Peterson finished off his start with a 1-2-3 inning in the second.

After Peterson left the game, the Mets used many relievers who are expected to make the Opening Day roster. Jeurys Familia struggled with his command and needed 31 pitches to get through his scoreless inning. Aaron Loup was the complete opposite, needing just 11 pitches to work through a scoreless fourth inning.

Trevor May, Robert Gsellman, Stephen Tarpley, and Sean Reid-Foley all put up goose eggs in their respective innings. Mets pitchers collectively only recorded two strikeouts on the day. The Mets have a day off on Friday and send Jacob deGrom to the mound on Saturday night against the Houston Astros. Due to MLB’s incompetence, the game will not be televised.

New York Jets: 8 Robert Saleh/Joe Douglas quotes (and what they mean)

New York Jets, Joe Douglas

Firmly established in their roles with the New York Jets, Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas addressed the offseason ahead.

With their traditional media meetings at the NFL Scouting Combine kiboshed by the ongoing health crisis, Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas, the respective head coach and general manager of the New York Jets took to Zoom on Wednesday to discuss the team’s upcoming offseason. The activities officially got underway with the release of three-year defender Henry Anderson on Tuesday night.

ESM highlights X quotes from Douglas and Saleh, and ponders their meaning, as the teandem’s fateful first offseason together looms large on metropolian calendars…

(Quotes via notes provided by the Jets)

“In terms of Marcus, we have had productive conversations with his representatives. Similar to the last question I answered, our stance on Marcus hasn’t changed as well. Marcus is a valuable member of this organization, someone that started his career here, who’s been a pro’s pro. Smart. He’s been reliable and he’s provided outstanding leadership. Our plan hasn’t changed. We are in the process of working to have Marcus be here long term.”-Douglas on Marcus Maye

What It Could Mean: The release of Anderson attracted the attention of Erik Burkhardt, the co-head of Select Sports Group, LLC and agent to Marcus Maye, by far the Jets’ most prized free agent this offseason. When ESPN’s Field Yates noted the Jets’ $8 million expansion (through Anderson’s release) to their already-healthy cap space situation allowed them “the resources to try and acquire..(a)ny player available”, Burkhardt brought up the Jamal Adams saga and strongly hinted that Maye would follow in his fellow safety’s footsteps.

Douglas’ quote, however, should put Jets fans at ease, at least those who wish to see Maye re-don New York green next season. He further addressed Burkhardt’s comments, passing them off as “business”. With Maye a prime target for the franchise tag, the capital earned through Anderson’s release could pay off a majority of the one-year such a disgnation would offer him (circa $10-11 million).

“With regards to the roster, the one thing that’s very, very clear is the character of the individuals that put uniforms on for this Jets organization, they’re fantastic. They’re made of the right stuff. They’ve got the right mindset, they’re good young men who strive to get better. Obviously with every situation, when you study the roster and you try to make things fit with regards to what you do schematically, there’s always discussions to be had. Those are the things that we’ve been working on over the last month and we’ll continue to work on all the way up until the draft.”-Saleh on the current Jets roster

What It Could Mean: It feels like Anderson won’t be the first veteran to go, as the Jets have several other cap casualties that could find new homes fairly soon. Particularly intriguing is the case of Jamison Crowder, the team’s most consistent offensive weapon over the last two season, who would save over $10 million upon his removal. Beyond Maye, 25 other players are up for free agency, and there’s probably not a tight cause to keep any of them.

But Saleh’s words after roster analysis seem to indicate that he likes what he sees from the roster, particularly the younger pieces. Plenty of Adam Gase’s former proteges (including Ryan Tannehill and Kenyan Drake) have gone on to enjoy breakouts elsewhere. Saleh’s quote indicates that perhaps he’s not interested in a complete fire sale, but rather sees the talent that Gase left behind as clay ready for the molding.

“I feel like we’re well positioned. I feel like this isn’t going to hurt us in terms of free agents. Like I said, I feel like our evaluations, especially with the coaching staff, that’s been the main thing that we’ve been focusing on. For the remainder of this week, we’re going to be on the phone with the agents of our own current players that are hitting for agency. I really don’t feel like that’s going to affect our free agent plans or player free agent plans as it pertains to us.”-Douglas on how the Sam Darnold rumors affect the rest of the team moving forward

What It Could Mean: The only certainty of the Jets’ current quarterback quandary is that it will be over by April 29, opening day of the NFL Draft. While many have clamored for Douglas to settle the passing situation as soon as possible, Douglas indicated at several times that he is in no rush to settle the situation. One in favor of haste could argue that potential free agents would be scared away by the uncertainty under center, but Doglas appears willing to let the evaluation process, both on the free agency and draft fronts, play out. All in all, Douglas was relatively bureaucratic when it came to the Darnold conversation on Wednesday, praising his talents and contributions to the team thus far while re-confirming that he would indeed accept calls about his availability.

“There’s always comfort and familiarity. It’s almost human nature to gravitate to people you’ve worked with and people you’ve been around, but there’s still a process at which you go to. There’s a fit, there’s a value. There are all those different things, a lot of moving parts that go into it. While yeah, it’d be great, it’s not the main determining factor on whether or not we can get those people into the building, those players.”-Saleh on if he’ll target former 49ers in free agency

What It Could Mean: Don’t expect a San Francisco rebranding.

Countless offseason previews have situated former 49ers into the 2021 Jets’ roster. A popular choice has been Richard Sherman, who has been vocaly supportive of Saleh’s hire and has credited him with helping him refind his game in San Francisco. But with their cap space surplus, the Jets can’t afford to spend all that money in a single source. If they can bring some of Saleh’s former pupils over, it’s obvious they won’t complain, but they’re not just going try to assembles a San Francisco-style Avengers and call it a day.

“Joe’s made it very clear that he wants collaborative communication. He wants us to be all in this together, scouts, coaching staff, everybody within the organization speaking the same language and having a great amount of communication with regards to everything that happens in this building. Free agency and the meetings that we had, he alluded to it earlier were unbelievable. Got a lot accomplished over the course of that week. We’re going to continue to do that. There’s the old saying, “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I think Joe believes that, and he’s been practicing and preaching that since the day we walked into this building.”-Saleh 

“I would say both Woody and Christopher, they want to win. They want to create the best culture and support system for that to happen. They’ve both been very supportive of the processes that we’ve had in place and continue to have moving forward. It’s been great having Woody back. I feel like the communication has been outstanding. The number one thing is that they both want to win.”-Douglas

What It Could Mean: In this instance, Douglas and Saleh each gave a look at what the communication has been like in the post-Gase era, one defined by endless rumors of in-fighting and power struggles. Eager to move on, the Jets have created a collaborative workspace, one where Woody Johnson, back on the right side of the Atlantic Ocean, has seamlessly reconfigured (all while delighting fans with his new found prowess for being a Twitter historian). Christopher Johnson said several years back that he would not be up for hiring a coach that demanded “total control” but Saleh sounds satifised with his role in the current organization.

“We’re better positioned than we were this time last year. I would say that our philosophy and stance has not changed however. I think our goal and our plan is to be, like I said earlier, a team that really builds this through the draft and hitting on draft picks, obviously using free agency to supplement our roster. If the opportunity and the value meet, that’s going to be the point where we’re going to be aggressive and get someone that we feel good about, helping this team not only on the field, but with the culture and inside the building. While we are positioned better, I think our philosophy has stayed the same.”-Douglas on the draft

What It Could Mean: Every armchair/desk chair/beanbag chair general managers in the tri-state area has the Jets sharing some of their expanded draft capital, almost always in an attempt to land Deshaun Watson or Russell Wilson. But the general manager of the Jets doesn’t sound quiet ready to part with his picks just yet. Sure, it wouldn’t be shocking in the slightest to see the Jets make a deal, and any potential Watson/Wilson offering would more than likely include either the second overall choice or the pick obtained in the Adams trade from Seattle. But Douglas’ words indicate that he won’t be as trigger happy as Jets fans may expect him to be.

“We’re going to get better. We’re going to win championships here. To give you a timeline, I wish I knew, I’d go to Vegas. But we’re excited about the opportunity that we have in front of us. We’re excited about what Joe and his staff have been able to accomplish since they’ve gotten here. Now it’s just a matter of being able to piece the whole thing together and have fun doing it.”-Saleh on 2021 expectations

What It Could Mean: It’s not exactly Joe Namath’s guarantee, but Saleh’s promises of championships…with an s…should be enough to make any Jets fan run through a brick wall. But, as he iterated in his opening statements…patience will be the key.

One way or another, the 2021 offseason is going to be one to remember, for better or worse. It’s a year where the decade truly begins for the Jets. But Saleh, while hopeful, is realistic. There’s a major chance to take a step forward, but the time to judge will come September. For now, it’s time to get to work and for the fans to enjoy the ride…the football gods know they’ve paid the token.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

UFC 259 Preview: Dominick Cruz – Casey Kenney

In the featured prelim of UFC 259, we will see the return of arguably the greatest bantamweight of all time. Former world champion, Dominick Cruz (22-3) will be making his return against up and comer, Casey Kenney (16-2-1).

For Dominick Cruz, this will be the second time that he’s fought in the last 12 months. However, those two fights were his only two fights since December of 2016. Injuries have completely derailed the career of Cruz.

In 2011, Dominick Cruz was the undisputed UFC bantamweight champion. He had just defended the title twice before the injury bug started to bite him. Since in 2012, Dominick Cruz has only fought five times. In eight years, we have only seen Cruz five times inside the octagon.

Yes, during those five fights he came back and won a UFC title as well as defend it. However, the inactivity has just killed Cruz’s career. Cruz is now 35 years old, and he’s looking to get back on track with a win on Saturday night, but it won’t be easy.

Casey Kenney has been very impressive since his signing with the UFC. Since making the jump from LFA, Kenney is 5-1 with his lone loss coming against Merab Dvalishvili who just outwrestled him for fifteen minutes.

Kenney will enter the featured prelim on Saturday having won three fights in a row. He is just outside of the top fifteen, but if he wins against Dominick Cruz, you should expect him to be in the UFC rankings next week.

UFC 259 Prediction

To me, this is one of the more difficult fights to predict when it comes to the UFC 259 lineup. The reason it’s so difficult is the question marks surrounding Dominick Cruz. I really don’t know what to expect from him on Saturday night.

Is Dominick Cruz going to look like The Dominator of the past, or is he going to look like a shell of his former self? These are questions that we need answers to. When Cruz is on, he’s one of the most difficult fighters to face in the entire UFC.

Cruz’s footwork and technique are so unique and make him very challenging to prepare for. He has great wrestling defense and his awkward movement and striking are incredibly effective when he’s on point.

Casey Kenney has very good wrestling and he’s got a lot of pop in his shots. His kicks are also very good and that could be key for him at UFC 259. With Dominick Cruz, you have to attack his legs and his movement.

For Casey Kenney to be successful on Saturday night, he has to invest in the leg kicks early. If you take away Cruz’s movement, he becomes much more beatable. However, if Kenney can’t get going downhill with those kicks, he might struggle to get his offense going.

With the movement and style of Cruz, it’s appealing to judges because there is so much activity to watch. With that said, Kenney is going to have to decisively win rounds in this one.

Despite the question marks surrounding Cruz, I think he’s going to be able to do enough to earn a decision in the judges eyes at UFC 259. However, if Cruz shows up anything less than close to his best, than he’s in for another loss.

Prediction: Dominick Cruz by Unanimous Decision

New York Yankees Recap: Yankees’ pitching collapses in messy 15 run shut out loss to the Phillies

New York Yankees, Deivi Garcia

Today, the New York Yankees traveled just a mile from Steinbrenner Field to the Philadelphia Phillies’ home at BayCare Park in Clearwater, Florida. It was the first meeting of the teams early in this spring training. Former Yankee manager Joe Girardi leads the Phillies. The Yankees were led today by Carlos Mendoza while manager Aaron Boone recovers from pacemaker surgery.

In the game, Gio Urshela made his first appearance in a game since rehabbing from a bone spur in his throwing elbow. Urshela had the surgery in December and said he feels fine now. In another debut, Deivi Garcia made his first pitching start of spring training. He faced the Phillies Matt Moore, a lefty that played in Japan last season. The game was played under bright sunny skies with a game time temp of 66 with a stiff NW breeze.

To put it simply in the game the New York Yankee hitters couldn’t hit Philly pitchers and the Yankees’ pitchers couldn’t pitch. Unfortunately it was the Yankees first 9 inning game of spring training.

Mike Tauchman led off for the Yankees against Matt Moore in the first. He struck out followed by Gio Urshela first at bat coming back for elbow surgery. Urshela flew out and Luke Voit popped out to second baseman Nick Maton. Moore made quick work of the Yankees in the frame. At the bottom the young Deivi Garcia took the mound. Deivi is just one of the pitchers that will be fighting for the fifth spot in the rotation at the start of the regular season. Garcia used three different pitches to get Adam Haseley to ground out to Urshela at third. Hoskins struck out. Then Scott Kingery hit a line drive homer to left off of Garcia. Phillies 1 Yankees 0.

Moore was back on the mound for the second, facing Clint Frazier who struck out. Miguel Andujar flew out, and Kyle Higashioka who is catching today walked on six pitches. Tyler Wade doubled, but “Higgy” was called out as he tried to reach home plate. Deivi Garcia with 15 pitches (12 strikes) was back on the mound in the bottom of the frame. Garcia gave up another homer, this one to Odubel Herrera. Phillies 2 Yankees 0.

Vince Velasquez replaced Moore in the second inning. Brito struck out. Estrada grounded out bringing us back to the top of the lineup. Tauchman  grounded out to first. Wojciechowski took over for Garcia. He put down the side in one-two-three fashion. Velasquez in his second inning of work in the fourth and he put down the Yankees again.

“Wojo” was back in the bottom of the frame. Kingery reached on a Tauchman error. Bohm walked, Herrera singled giving Wojo a big mess to clean up with no outs on the board. Chatham singled driving in Kingery. Still no outs. He finally got an out by striking out Jeff Mathis. Nick Maton doubled and cleared the bases. Phillies 6 Yankees 0. Bench Coach Medoza took Wojciechowski out of the game. With one out Albert Abreu took over. The Yankees went from bad to worse. He gave up a double to Luke Williams driving Maton home for another Phillie’s run.

He then threw a wild pitch moving William to third. Haseley walked. Hoskins singled driving in Williams. Kingery struck out for the second out of the half. Bohm homered driving in three more runs. Herrera popped out ending the complete collapse of the Yankees pitching. The two Yankee pitchers gave up nine runs in the frame.

The New York Yankees remained scoreless in the top of the fifth. Next up for the Yankees was Lucas Luetge. Mathis singled and was replaced by pinch runner Luis Garcia. But, Luetge managed to get out of the inning without allowing another Philly run. In the top of the sixth Ryan LaMarre managed to get the Yankees second hit of the game, a line drive single to center. But the Yankees failed to score a run.

Reggie McClain pitched the top of the sixth for the Yankees, and immediately gave up a homer to Mickey Moniak to far right. He got out of the inning only giving up the one run. The Yankees faced Philly pitcher Ramon Rosso. The Yankees Josh Breaux singled, Brantly walked, but again the Yankees failed to score. Nestor Cortes Jr. took to the mound for the Yankees. Garcia walked and Williams homered. Mickey Moniak homered. Phillies 15 Yankees 0.

Phillies pitching again shut down the New York Yankees in the top of the eighth. Ryan LaMarre was hit by a pitch but Alvarez with two outs failed to drive him in. Yoendrys Gomez pitched the bottom of the eighth for the Yankees. He did his job and prevented the Phillies from scoring another run. With last licks on the line, the Yankees hoped to avoid the shutout in the top of the ninth inning, but the game was called after the eighth.

The final score was the Philadelphia Phillies 15 and the Yankees Zero. The losing pitcher was Deivi Garcia and the winner was Moore.  The Yankees only mustarded up three hits in the game.


Knicks: 3 keys to beating the Detroit Pistons on Thursday night

New York Knicks, Julius Randle

The New York Knicks are preparing to face off against the Detroit Pistons on Thursday night, a far lesser team they will offer the same competition as a San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday evening.

The Knicks fell to San Antonio on 119-93, allowing their defense to be exposed and failing to produce offensively. The second half was a complete mismatch, as the Spurs outscored New York by 15 points in the third and seven points in the fourth. An unfortunate wake-up call for the Knicks that head coach Tom Thibodeau said they deserved. Hopefully, this reality check allows them to move forward with the expectation that beating quality teams won’t be a walk in the park.

Three keys to beating the Detroit Pistons for the New York Knicks:

1.) Strong defense

The Knicks saw their defense fail against the Spurs, allowing 119 points when they’re averaging just 104.4 over 36 games. Without point guards Derrick Rose and Elfrid Payton, New York undoubtedly felt the effects — the expectation is that Rose will play against the Detroit Pistons on Thursday night.

As we know, Thibodeau plays through his defense, so the very moment that collapses, the Knicks are immediately in trouble.

2.) Julius Randle interior domination

Julius Randle failed to make an impact again San Antonio, scoring just 14 points over 31 minutes. It was clear that they attempted to lock him down and force other players to beat them, and their plan worked to perfection. Luckily, the Pistons offer no such defense and will easily be steamrolled by a player of his magnitude.

3.) The return of Derrick Rose

Rose was shut down due to COVID-19 protocols against the Spurs, but after inconclusive tests, there’s a good chance he’s able to play against Detroit at The Garden.

As long as his pregame tests come back negative, he should be available. With that being said, it was clear how much the Knicks missed his presence on both sides of the ball, especially when it came to his court vision and ability can to control the team in transition.

Frank Ntilikina struggled in many facets, as he’s not a natural scorer, and his defense wasn’t enough to hold down the team in the absence of Rose.

UFC 259 Preview: Joseph Benavidez – Askar Askarov

Joseph Benavidez, UFC

On Saturday night, we will see arguably the most stacked PPV card in history. Words cannot express how deep and talented the card is for UFC 259. If you need any proof, just take a look at the prelims.

One of the prelims that I’m the most excited about is this contest in the UFC‘s flyweight division. The second ranked contender in the division and former title challenger, Joseph Benavidez (28-7) will be taking on the native of Dagestan, Askar Askarov (12-0-1).

Askarov is ranked third so this is a matchup of two of the UFC‘s top three at flyweight. It’s not even the featured prelim which tells you a lot about this stacked card. For Benavidez, he will be looking to bounce back after a rough 2020.

When 2020 started, it looked like Benavidez finally had his best chance to capture UFC gold. With Henry Cejudo vacating the flyweight title, Benavidez was booked to take on Deiveson Figueiredo (20-1-1) in February.

Benavidez fell short in that one, but since Figueiredo missed weight, the UFC ran the fight back. Unfortunately, Benavidez was dominated in the rematch. Now, he’s looking to reset. Benavidez is one of the greatest fighters in history to have never captured a world title.

He’s one of the best, but he’s going to have his hands full on Saturday. Askar Askarov is one of the more exciting prospects at flyweight. You already know how talented the pool of fighters from Dagestan is. Askarov is no different.

Askarov will be making the walk to the octagon for the fourth time. In his debut, he fought to a draw with top contender, Brandon Moreno. After that draw he’s defeated Tim Elliot and Alexandre Pantoja to earn this shot at UFC 259 against Benavidez.

UFC 259 Prediction

When it comes to this flyweight matchup at UFC 259, I’m very curious to see how Benavidez looks. When you look at the skillsets of both men, Benavidez is going to have the speed advantage on the feet.

For Benavidez to be successful, he’s going to have to jump in and out and have his footwork on point. He needs to use his speed to try and fluster Askarov. For Askarov, he cannot get impatient in this fight.

He needs to be deliberate and he needs to be focused. Askarov is really good at counter striking and he’s going to have the power advantage. If he plots forward due to frustration, I see Benavidez getting the better of the striking while catching Askarov coming in.

However, if Benavidez has to come in all night and Askarov remains patient, I could see him landing a big shot that ends the fight. The grappling should be fun to watch and I’d give the slight advantage to Askarov.

A lot of money is coming in on the undefeated Russian and I understand it. However, it’s still worth noting that Benavidez has only lost to some of the best in the world. I think his speed is going to be enough and I think he just barely edges out a decision on Saturday night.

Prediction: Joseph Benavidez by Split Decision

The Islanders know the feeling all to well of what’s happening in Buffalo

As the Islanders get set to play the Buffalo Sabres three times in a row starting tonight, the difference between the two teams trajectories couldn’t be more contrasting. The Isles are near the top of the MassMutual East Division — currently in second place — and are 9-2-2 in their last 13 games. Buffalo sit dead last in the division and 2-7-1 in their last ten games.

The turmoil surrounding the Sabres right now is something the Islanders are all too familiar with, having been in the same situation just a few years ago.

Before Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz swept in with the winds of change, the Isles were dealing with fan unrest for both ownership and management for a long time. The team overall kept failing to get better and couldn’t support their franchise star, John Tavares, despite making the playoffs two straight seasons in 2014-15 and 2015-16. The end result was Tavares spurning the Islanders — the team that had drafted him as their saviour in 2009 — to sign with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs on the first day of free agency in 2018.

The Sabres, are dealing with a similar dilemma.

It’s been a decade since the franchise last achieved a postseason birth, and to be brutally honest they haven’t even come within a lick in that period of time. While they’re still in that malaise, they were fortunate enough to draft who they thought was their Tavares — Jack Eichel. Eichel became a Sabre at the 2015 Draft when the franchise chose him second overall after Connor McDavid went number one to Edmonton.

The belief that night was that all those years of losing had finally paid off.

Or so they thought.

In the six years since his debut, Eichel — the 24-year-old captain of the team — has evolved into one the NHL’s premier players, but the team he leads continues to be stuck in mediocrity. He’s yet to appear in a playoff game and things have gotten so bad that you can’t go a day the past season-plus without talk of Eichel wanting out of Western New York or a trade rumor.

Now neither Tavares, nor Eichel for that matter, had ever expressed their desire to be traded. But when a franchise really needs a shakeup to get things kickstarted again, you look to the top for where to start. Buffalo has tried to do that with several coaching changes and revamping its front office. The Islanders were a little late on that front, but they ended up getting it right with the Lou-Trotz duo. The proof is two straight years of playoffs and an Eastern Conference finals appearance this past summer.

I’m not saying the Sabres should trade Eichel. But how much more can they watch their franchise sink to new lows?

Right now it feels like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel inside the walls of KeyBank Arena and from their fanbase.

Those who followed the Islanders had that feeling once.