Zdeno Chara could add extra element for Islanders’ special teams

The Zdeno Chara era — the second coming of it — is set to begin Thursday when the Islanders open training camp for the 2021-22 season.

It’s an exciting time for the 44-year-old, as he’s joining an Isles’ squad that has hopes of lifting the Stanley Cup this year after coming close the last two years. And there’s been a lot of chatter about how Chara will be used in the defensive rotation by head coach Barry Trotz.

Will he be playing top-four minutes alongside Scott Mayfield? Will he be paired with Noah Dobson, who’s 23 years younger his senior? Will him and Andy Greene making up the oldest defensive pairing in league history? (just joking with that one, or maybe not?)

Those questions should be answered over the coming weeks. But, there’s another part of Chara’s repertoire that the Islanders could benefit from — his ability to play special teams.

Yes, Chara has not been a true power play threat for close to five seasons now, having succeeded those duties to younger blueliners, but there’s no denying his shot is still one of the most dangerous in the league. The image of he and Ryan Pulock — who has a lethal shot of his own — on the same man-advantage should have Islander fans salivating. Chara would also probably allow Pulock more ample opportunities because the opposition’s focus would be directed toward him. with The lefty-righty dynamic of those two could become a big advantage too.

The Islanders power play absolutely needs to be better than it’s been the last few seasons. They have captain Anders Lee returning, a stud playmaker in Mathew Barzal, two sharpshooters in Oliver Wahlstrom and Kyle Palmieri, and added Zach Parise, who in a two-year span — 2018-20 — recorded 22 power play goals. Chara’s presence though, is another reason to believe he is what could take it over the top.

One of the most frustrating things about the inefficiency of the Isles’ power play units over the years has been its refusal to shoot. Well now there are no excuses with a prime shooter, facilitatorlike Chara helping man the point, whether on power play one or the quarterback on the second unit.

At the other end, Chara’s possible use on the penalty kill could be interesting. The team’s PK already has two extremely effective players in Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield. The age he’s at, it’s hard to see the coaching staff utilizing Chara at anything other than the power play or even strength. But the future Hall of Famer showed last year he can still kill penalties. He was a part of Capitals’ PK that was top-five in the league last year.

With Chara’s length and reach, he could become a stalwart on the second unit and make things more difficult for the opposition. Something the Islanders have become good at as a whole and would only provide another advantage.

However Trotz and the coaching staff see Chara fitting, there’s no questioning how his ability can have a huge effect on the present club. Special teams maybe more than any other.

It’s a nice add on to have, and the Islanders might be very fortunate because of it in the long run.

 

Knicks News: Carmelo Anthony reunion nearly happened, Randle wants to bring Championship to New York

New York Knicks, Carmelo Anthony

The New York Knicks were extremely active this off-season, signing familiar faces preparing to hit the free-agent market and bringing in new talent to replace those that didn’t make the cut.

Impending free agents like Elfred Payton and Reggie Bullock simply didn’t offer enough value to earn a second contract with the Knicks, as they elected to spend money and upgrade both spots with Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier. The Knicks were connected to some of the brightest players in the league during the rumor mill months, but they nearly reunited with one legend from the past, Carmelo Anthony.

Anthony, who ended up signing a one-year, $2.6 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, spent last season with the Portland Trailblazers, averaging 13.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, and shot 42% from the field. Melo connected on 41% of his three-point shots, showcasing he still has shooting efficiency on his side, despite being 36-years-old.

Playing in 69 games last season, averaging 24.5 minutes, Carmelo still has gas left in the tank, but his career is slowly coming to an end. He is far removed from his younger years when he averaged nearly 30 points per game with the Knicks in 2012, but the front office saw him as a potential piece on a cheap contract.

Instead, he will join a stacked Los Angeles team where he will pair up with Anthony Davis and LeBron James, living out the rest of his career with championship aspirations.

The Knicks elected to retain Alec Burks and draft youngster Quentin Grimes to provide scoring production from range. All-Star power forward Julius Randle is convinced the team has taken a big step forward, and the process of accomplishing success has been a long time in the making.

Randle told Ian Begley of SNY that “everything is a process. We’ve been building this from the ground up. But for me, personally, winning a title in New York is the expectation.”

It is clear the organization is dialed in and on an upward trajectory, which is far more than we can say for the past few years, if not decades. Having established talent and youth on the rise is exactly the situation the Knicks want to be in, and they’ve only added more this off-season to help boost their chances of making a deeper postseason run compared to their 2020-21 season when they were knocked out in the first round by the Atlanta Hawks.

Yankees News: Boone faces big question with Gary Sanchez, huge challenge ahead to close the year

New York Yankees, Brett Gardner

With the 2021 season winding to an end, the New York Yankees are desperately fighting to gain ground in the Wild Card standings. Currently, they are 0.5 games back from the second spot held by the Toronto Blue Jays. The Boston Red Sox have taken a 1.5 game lead, and with a series coming up against the New York Mets, who have lost five of their last six games, the Yankees could be in a bit of trouble.

Luckily, the Bombers managed to escape on Monday with a victory over the Texas Rangers, who only have 55 wins on the season. With Nestor Cortes Jr. taking the mound, the starter lasted 4.1 innings, allowing five hits and three earned runs. He struck out seven batters over 92 pitches. The bullpen looked solid, giving up just two hits the rest of the way as they often struggle to get going.

The Yankees scored all of their runs in the second and third innings, thanks to a Gary Sanchez homer and a bit of contact hitting in the third. Despite Sanchez launching a long ball, the Yankees have found themselves in a conundrum with the veteran catcher, who has been spotty defensively the past few games. Nonetheless, skipper Aaron Boone still has plenty of faith in Gary, who is currently hitting .211 with 22 homers and 52 RBIs on the season.

“These final two weeks, everything’s up for grabs,” Aaron Boone said before the game. “I’m going to run out there what I think gives us the best chance to win. And I think in Higgy and Gary’s case, I think they both bring a lot of value. We’re going to need both of them to play big roles here down the stretch.”

The Yankees have 11 games remaining, and with their last nine against AL East opponents, their toughest challenges are ahead. Finishing off a three-game series against the Texas Rangers, the Bombers will then head to Boston and Toronto over six days, and then they will finish out the season with Tampa Bay at home.

The two series against Boston and Toronto will end up being the decision-maker for the Wild Card, so the Yanks must be on top of their game. A series sweep against either of those teams would likely give them enough cushion to last the rest of the campaign and walk away with a postseason spot. However, after giving up 22 runs into games against Cleveland over the weekend, there’s a reason to believe the Yankees’ inconsistencies are not going away.

Luckily, the rotation falls in a way that Gerrit Cole will feature against Boston in the first game on Friday evening, so they can put their best foot forward and start strong as they prepare for the toughest stretch of games this season.

New York Yankees: Does the hot Aaron Judge deserve a long-term contract?

New York Yankees, Aaron Judge

The New York Yankee’s slugger Aaron Judge burst onto the Major League scene in 2017.  He played in 155 games, getting 52 home runs and hitting .284 with 114 RBIs. He was heralded as the new Yankee Star, the new Mickey Mantle. He was a Silver Slugger, Rookie of the Year, All-Star, and came second in the MVP voting. However, with all of those accolades, he was never the same again, that is, until the 2021 season.

From 2018 to 2020, Judge was riddled with a myriad of injuries keeping him off the field and from performing. During those three years, he played only an average of 80 games a season. His home runs were gone, and his strikeouts stood out. He never could regain his 2017 form.

Fast forward to the 2021 season; a new healthy Aaron Judge appeared on the stage at Yankee Stadium. He has played in 137 games missing only a few games due to testing positive for Covid and a few days off. He has been the most dependable and consistent player this season. He will not reach the 52 home runs in 2017, but he does have 35 so far and the highest batting average of his career.  He hits some runs, singles, doubles, and gets on base. His .383 OBP is the best since 2018. Plain and simple, he has carried the Yankees on his back even during the horrid first half of the season.

During the New York Yankees’ consecutive game-winning streak, he really shined. In August, he hit .330 with an OPS of 1.021. The Yankees hoped his performance would carry into the postseason. Since then, the Yankees have stumbled, falling out of a wild-card berth, but that hasn’t stopped Judge. He is still the Yankees’ best player, and his defense and arm in the outfield, whether it’s at right or center, is a huge asset for the Yankees.

During September has 16 hits and has hit a home run in every three games. In 19 games this month, he has six home runs. His batting average has stayed between .287 and .301. With the season coming to a close, that annual question is right around the corner. Should the Yankees give Judge a long-term contract?

It seems like the answer should be simply yes, but it is far more complicated than that.

  • Is one healthy season enough to assume he will stay healthy?
  • The Yankees already have two huge contracts on their hands, will the Yankees be likely to add another?
  • Will Hal Steinbrenner continue to insist on remaining below the luxury tax threshold.
  • Judge is no longer a newbie; he turns 30 in April; how long is a long contract?
  • The Yankees, at the beginning of the season, signed a relatively inexpensive but long-term deal with DJ LeMahieu; it hasn’t gone as planned as LeMahieu hasn’t come close to the numbers that got him the contact.

Based on his performance this year, he should certainly qualify for a contract extension. Of course, he would like to be a lifetime Yankee, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t follow the money. Judge is not Derek Jeter, who made it very clear that he would retire a Yankee.

The big question for both Judge and the Yankees’ front office is what kind of contract will benefit both parties. At the start of the season, Judge settled for a one-year contract for $10.175 million. In 2022 he is arbitration-eligible and will become a free agent in 2023 when he is 32 years old. The Yankees should probably act now.

Mookie Betts earns a base salary of $27M. Bryce Harper $25M. Francisco Lindor $45M. Mike Trout $36M. Examining these deals makes you wonder how much Judge is worth and will the Yankees be willing to handcuff themselves with another huge contract.

Aaron Judge has been asked if there have been any discussions about a long-term deal with the Yankees; he indicated neither he, his agent, or the Yankee front office had had any ongoing discussions. However, with the offseason coming soon, those discussions will be held. The outcome of which we probably won’t know until very late in the winter. It all boils down to if Judge wants to retire a Yankee, how little the Yankees can payout to make that happen. As talks develop, you will read about it on EmpireSportsMedia.com.

EmpireSportsMedia.com’s Columnist is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Follow me on Twitter @parleewilliam.

 

 

 

 

Chicago Bears: What message is Matt Nagy trying to send?

bears, matt nagy

On Monday morning, following a Chicago Bears victory in week 2 that saw rookie quarterback Justin Fields get extended playing time, questions arose regarding the state of the quarterback position. After veteran Andy Dalton left the game due to a knee injury, Fields entered, leading the Bears to a 20-17 win.

With Dalton out for the next several weeks, the opportunity to move forward with Fields as the starter presents itself. Head coach Matt Nagy doubled down on Dalton being the starter under one condition: Only when healthy. The Bears did send a representative from the public relations department to convey a message directly to Chicago media: Dalton would be the starter when healthy.

On the surface, Nagy is merely saying that once Dalton is healthy, the 11-year veteran will once again be named the starter but until then, it’ll be the Justin Fields show. Dive deeper into the entire situation and it’s clear that even Nagy seems to know that Fields will play at some point in 2021.

Let’s be honest, situations and circumstances can change and the Bears are no exception. Fields is expected to start in week 3 when the Bears face the Cleveland Browns. With no set timeline for Dalton’s return, week 4 will see the Bears host the Detroit Lions, followed by week 5, a road showdown against the Las Vegas Raiders.

Fields statistics may not reflect a player who’s ready to be a fulltime starter and averaging 4.6 yards per pass attempt won’t get the job done in the NFL but dropped passes that should’ve been touchdowns by wide receivers Darnell Mooney and Allen Robinson didn’t do the former Ohio State standout favors either.

If Fields lights it up over the next three games, Nagy will have no choice but to keep Fields as the starter when the Green Bay Packers come to town in week 6. As much as Nagy would like to see his plan to develop Fields and keep Dalton as the starter throughout the 2021 season, Nagy’s message on Monday sent mixed results, implying that there isn’t necessarily a surefire commitment to Dalton, despite what words have indicated.

 

 

Knicks’ Miles McBride could have a bigger impact than expected in rookie season

miles mcbride, knicks

If there’s any specific factor that New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau prefers in his players, it is defensive proficiency. In the most recent draft class, the Knicks targeted players like Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride, both known for their defensive attributes but high ceiling regarding their scoring abilities.

Grimes was once ignorant of the benefits of playing high-level defense, but during his time with Houston, he learned the ways which caught the eye of Thibodeau. McBride, who played with West Virginia, has always been an aggressive player guarding the perimeter, utilizing his extraordinarily long wingspan and massive hands to help cut passing lanes and poke the ball free from handlers.

Despite McBride being a second-round selection, the Knicks are confident he will develop into a potential starter down the road. During Summer League play, McBride looked fantastic over 27.7 minutes per game. He averaged 15.2 points, shooting 53.2% from the field and 50% from three-point range, over 6.0 attempts per game. He also contributed 3.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds, including 1.3 steals, showcasing his quick hands.

While the Summer League offers players an opportunity to develop alongside NBA talent, it doesn’t mean they will be efficient during regular-season games.

Despite shooting incredibly, the sample size is too small to consider McBride anything but a reserve player in his rookie season. Nonetheless, the West Virginia product already understands what he needs to do to earn minutes and make an impact this year.

Knicks’ Miles McBride already knows the best way to make an impact, saying as much to The Spun in an interview:

Just be ready for anything. You know how quickly things can change in the NBA. I need to be ready to play in any role, whether that’s bringing the ball up the floor, making shots in the corner, or trying to take out the opposing team’s best player. I just need to be versatile.

Known for his toughness, McBride can offer immediate defense in specific scenarios. With Derrick Rose and Kemba Walker as the primary point guards, their defense can be a weakness at times with a focus on scoring and faciliating, which is where McBride can get on the floor and apply his talents. In addition, he’s an even better scorer than Frank Ntilikina, who the Knicks let go this off-season, signing a two-year contract with the Dallas Mavericks.

Given Rose and Walker essentially have two-year deals themselves, McBride will be developing his game over the next few seasons to prepare himself for the future. If he can increase his scoring proficiency and improve his defensive strengths, Thibodeau could entrust him with the starting gig down the line. His rookie season is a great opportunity to establish some strengths at the NBA level while developing his weaknesses as the regular season continues.

Giants’ Daniel Jones showed flashes of franchise quarterback play, but what does he need to establish himself?

New York Giants, Daniel Jones

New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones has been one of the most polarizing players on the team since being drafted in 2019. As the 6th overall selection, Jones had high expectations coming out of Duke, representing a quarterback with intriguing mobility and solid accuracy.

The major problem surrounding Jones has been his turnover issues, as he threw 22 interceptions during his first two seasons and fumbled 29 times. However, through two games this season, Jones has only fumbled once, not throwing an interception over 69 passing attempts. So far, he has thrown for 516 yards and two passing touchdowns but has also rushed for 122 yards and two rushing scores. He’s currently the teams leading rusher and is on pace for 4,352 yards, which would completely destroy his previous high of 3,027 yards.

In the team’s most recent loss to the Washington Football Team last Thursday, Jones was one of the best players on the field, carrying the Giants’ offense to 29 points on 22 completions for 249 yards and two total touchdowns. He would’ve ran for two scores, but a botched holding call on wide receiver CJ board resulted in the play coming back.

PFF graded Jones with a 91.3 overall in Week 2, the highest player in the game and the highest grade in his entire career. His adjusted completion percentage landed at 78.1%, including drops from receivers. In fact, in both weeks, his receivers dropped 12% of passes thrown, an unacceptable number. In addition, opposing defenses have curated 28 total pressures, showcasing his mobility and increased ball security. His only fumble happened outside of the pocket on a run up the middle. The growth and development he’s experienced over the off-season regarding ball security and pocket movement are clearly on display, as the offensive line remains a deficiency and Jones dominated against Washington regardless.

The OL has allowed a league-high six sacks, tied with only the Tennessee Titans and New York Jets. Of those three quarterbacks (Ryan Tannehill, Zach Wilson), Jones has the highest QBR, highest completion percentage, and most amount of yards.

The qualities that Jones has displayed through two weeks are convincing that he’s capable of being a franchise quarterback, but he needs to play consistently great to earn that term.

Specifically, he needs to perform well against teams not named Washington and crush opponents like the Atlanta Falcons coming up in Week 3. The Falcons have allowed 30+ points in each of their last two games, including 48 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Giants’ offense must display another strong performance, and if Jones can string together a few solid outings, the narrative around him will quickly begin to change in the Giants community.

New York Yankees: 3 Major takeaways from Yankees win over the Rangers

After losing two games to the Cleveland Indians, the New York Yankees took to the field with a new urgency to get back a wild-card berth. The Yankees didn’t disappoint; they won the game 4-3. They have two more games with the Rangers; then the remaining schedule gets tough when they play three teams that are ahead of them.

Nestor Cortez kept the Yankees in the game

On September 15, Nestor Cortes Jr. had one of his best games of the season, striking out 11 Orioles in a Yankee win. Last night he wasn’t quite that good, but he kept the Yankees in the game. He lasted 4.1 innings with 7 strikeouts and giving up three runs. The fifth was led off by Culberson, who homered to left. Taveras hit a ground-rule double. Kiner-Falafa doubled, scoring Culberson. Manager Boone pulled him, replacing him with Chad Green, who got the final out, holding the Rangers to three runs to prevent any further damage.

Bullpen leads the way in win

Last night unlike some games recently, the Yankee bullpen was stellar. After Cortes Jr. was taken out of the game, Chad Green pitched 1.2 innings of hitless ball. He was followed by Clay Holmes, who allowed just one hit in another 1.2 innings of work. Joely Rodriguez came in to get the last out of the eighth. Then it was nail-biter time. With only a one-run advantage in the game, Aroldis Chapman came in to close out the game.

Chapman facing Heim was stuck out put out. Culberson grounded out to third. Taveras, as the last hope for the Rangers, struck out for the Yankee win. for the first time in a long time, Chapman left the game with a defiant look on his face. The final score was the New York Yankees 4 and the Texas Rangers 3. The winning pitcher was Chad Green, and the loser was A.J. Alexy. Aroldis Chapman got his 28th save of the season.

Gary Sanchez mixed bag, Boone says no!

Gary Sanchez has had a horrid week defensively, costing the Yankees big time. Yet manager Boone continues to sing his praises and says that Yankee fans scrutinize him too critically. On the offensive side, Sanchez has had 8 hits during 13 games in September, four of them for home runs.

The New York Yankees especially Boone have supported Sanchez regardless of this lack of focus at key times, boneheaded running mistakes, and passed balls. He has been a lightning rod for controversy during his entire career, yet the support continues. What do you think?