New Jersey Devils Finalize Roster, Prepare for Season Opener

Friends, I have just one thing to say: HOCKEY IS BACK! It’s been a long, crazy summer but the time is here again for another NHL season and I could not be happier. Tonight at 7 P.M. the season kicks off with the annual all-Canada matchup, this time seeing the Leafs battle the Senators. We also get some other great division rivalry contests with the Blues/Hawks, Flames/Oilers and Sharks/Kings all squaring off tonight. Unfortunately we have to wait until tomorrow night to see our beloved New Jersey Devils take on the Florida Panthers, but at least there are four terrific games to entertain us this evening.

Focusing on the Devils, last season was a pretty bittersweet year for Jersey’s Team. On one hand, the Devils battled all season long and showed a ton of promise for the future. On the other, they missed the playoffs yet again for a fourth straight season. With a record of 38-36-8, there is room for hope but also plenty to improve upon. Finishing 7th out of 8 teams in the division isn’t anything to write home about, however considering they were dead last in goals per game it seems like that position could easily rise with the offseason trade to bring in elite forward Taylor Hall.

Let’s take a full look how Ray Shero changed the roster over the summer.

Acquisitions

Taylor Hall, LW, traded from EDM

Vernon Fiddler, C, free agent from DAL

Beau Bennett, RW, traded from PIT

P.A. Parenteau, RW, claimed off waivers from NYI

Luke Gazdic, LW, free agent from EDM

Ben Lovejoy, D, free agent from PIT

Yohann Auvitu, D, free agent from HIFK Helsinki

Kyle Quincey, D, free agent from DET

Losses

Stephen Gionta, C, signed with NYI

Bobby Farnham, LW, signed with MTL

Jordin Tootoo, RW, signed with CHI

Tuomo Ruutu, LW, free agent

Mike Sislo, RW, signed with COL

Adam Larsson, D, traded to EDM

David Schlemko, D, signed with SJ

***

Right off the bat, it’s quite clear that Ray Shero’s priority this offseason was to upgrade the overall depth on the roster. At forward, Shero got rid of virually the entire bottom six who had a putrid season and replaced them with more established NHLers and players with far more offensive and defensive upside. On defense, the team did take a big hit with the loss of Larsson – who was their most important defender along with Andy Greene. Also, I didn’t quite understand letting Schlemko walk, but I’m guessing Shero wanted to give a kid like Steven Santini a shot on the blueline.

Here’s what the lines will look like to start the season remembering Jon Merrill, Sergey Kalinin and Luke Gazdic are all on injured reserve:

Taylor Hall – Adam Henrique – Devante Smith-Pelly

Mike Cammalleri – Travis Zajac – Kyle Palmieri

Reid Boucher – Pavel Zacha – Beau Bennett

Jacob Josefson – Vernon Fiddler – P.A. Parenteau

Extras: Miles Wood, Blake Speers

Andy Greene – Damon Severson

John Moore – Ben Lovejoy

Yohann Auvitu – Steven Santini

Extra: Kyle Quincey (expected to be activated off IR)

Cory Schneider

Keith Kinkaid

***

Obviously these lines will change at some point, maybe even by tomorrow, but this gives you a general sense of how the Devils will line up at least to start the season. Hall and Henrique will be playing together and it’s likely the RW on that line will fluctuate until somebody completely gels with the two stars. Henrique had his first 30 goal season last year and it’s only logical to think that he can repeat his success, probably getting even better now that he has an elite winger next to him. And oh yeah, he and Hall are good friends who played together in Juniors. Immediate chemistry is never a bad thing.

The second line is probably the most sure thing to be together for a long time this season. There are no more excuses for Travis Zajac. My explanation for his dip in offense over the last few seasons has been because his wingers were less than ideal. Well, now that’s over. He has 30 goal scorers Mike Cammalleri and Kyle Palmieri flanking him. If he can’t put up 50+ points with those two snipers on his wing, then it’s definitely time for him to drop down a line.

img_4668All of that also depends on the devlopment of stud rookie Pavel Zacha. If Zacha shows the offensive skill we all know he has and Zajac struggles on that side of the puck (he’ll always have his defense), then a switch will have to be made. The one thing that should really help Zajac produce more offense is Vernon Fiddler. Fiddler is a terrific defensive center and strong in the faceoff circle. Last season, Zajac was the only center on the team that could be relied upon to win a defensive zone faceoff. With the addition of Fiddler, that will take some of the burden off of Zajac and allow his line to get more offensive zone starts.

What many people don’t realize is that the Devils’ top six wasn’t their main issue last year. When you hear a team can’t score, you just assume it’s their top players not producing. However, it was the Devils’ bottom six that really hurt them. Henrique and Palmieri scored 30 goals. Cammalleri was virtually a point per game player before he got hurt. The top six did their job on both sides of the puck, but the bottom six was a total tire fire. They produced absolutely no offense and were a complete liability defensively. This season should be totally different with much more skill on the bottom two lines – Bennett, Parenteau/DSP, Boucher, etc. – and the veteran defensive presence of Fiddler.

On defense, there’s no doubt the loss of Adam Larsson will sting. He ate up all the big minutes against the opponent’s top players and shut them down. The Devils really need guys like Damon Severson and Steven Santini to take a step forward this season. Both RHD have huge potential and they need to tap into it sooner rather than later. I’m guessing both will see time playing with Andy Greene which will help their development massively. Ben Lovejoy is to the defensemen what Fiddler is to the forwards. He adds a veteran to the D corps and will play in a variety of roles. It also doesn’t hurt that he has playoff experience, wink wink.

The wild card of the unit is Yohann Auvitu. You never know what you’re getting when you sign a player from Europe, but if preseason is any barometer, Auvitu could be critical to the success of the Devils this season. He had six assists during the preseason and looked like a huge weapon on the power play. The Devils have been aching for an offensive defenseman. It’s another reason they struggle to score as they don’t get much production from the back line. With Greene seeing a more offensive role this season and Severson likely getting more important minutes, those three should be able to spark the blueline into being more offensive.

In goal, the Devils have their rock Cory Schneider. The man is arguably the best goalie in the league (no offense Carey) and always keeps the Devils in games they have no business being in. That should change this season as his teammates should be able to provide far more support in terms of goals. He may face a few more shots, but I think he’ll take that trade-off if the team is scoring for him. His backup will be Keith Kinkaid who beat out Scott Wedgewood for the job. I personally would have gone with Wedgewood – THANK GOD HE DIDN’T GET CLAIMED OFF WAIVERS – but Kinkaid has shown he can be a capable backup. With Wedgewood and Mackenzie Blackwood in the minors, Kinkaid knows he has to play well so that should help him be more consistent.

***

Can the Devils make the playoffs? Absolutely. Will they? Only time will tell. The Devils could finish anywhere in a wide open Metro Division. After the Caps and Pens, it’s really anybody’s guess who will make the playoffs. The Devils didn’t get eliminated until the very end of last season and it was largely due to the fact they couldn’t score. They have much more depth this year and that will result in more goals. Will it be enough to push them into the postseason for the first time since 2012? Nobody knows, and that’s the fun of it. You have to watch and find out!

 

 

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Michael Phelps, Swimming the Best Parts of the Summer Olympics

Today is a sad day for any Olympics fan. Last night was the final night of swimming events for the 2016 Rio Olympics and quite possibly the last competitive swim in the historic career of Michael Phelps. The swimming schedule came to a close with both the men’s and women’s 4x100m Medley Relay where the United States, as expected, claimed a pair of gold medals. The two golds brought the American medal count for Rio swimmers to 33 with 16 of those being gold. When the American women won gold in their relay last night, it was the 1,000th gold medal for the USA in the history of the Summer Olympics. It always seems like swimming is front and center every four years in more ways than one.

Of course, nobody is more prominent than the greatest of all-time: Michael Phelps. In these Olympics, Phelps competed in six events and came away with five gold medals and one silver. He now has 23 golds, three silvers and a pair of bronzes; 28 medals for the most decorated American Olympian ever. Most of Phelps’ finals were relatively comfortable wins, but as always there were a few that really made headlines. There are always two events involving Phelps that seem to be bigger than all the others. The first is the 4x100m Freestyle Relay where the Americans always seem to get a run for their money, most notably from France.

There was perhaps no greater race in Olympic history than the 2008 4x100m Freestyle Relay in Beijing where Jason Lezak chased down Alain Bernard of France to win gold and propel Phelps to his record-breaking eight gold medals of those games.

After winning that gold in 2008 it was France’s turn to pull off the gigantic upset in 2012. This year Phelps was the second leg of the relay and turned in a huge split (47.12s) along with anchor Nathan Adrian (46.79s) – who won two golds and two bronzes himself – to bring the title back to American soil. That loss in London was one of the things that fueled Phelps’ return to these games, but it was also his loss to South African Chad Le Clos in the 200m Butterfly in 2012 that made him eager to return. The 200m fly is Michael Phelps’ bread and butter. It’s his race. And he lost. He came to Rio with many goals, but none more than to re-take his crown in that all important event. Well, it definitely didn’t come easy. Before the semifinals even started, Phelps made headlines with his angry face seemingly directed at Le Clos.

The face immediately became a meme sensation all over the Internet and the stage was set for the finals the following night. Phelps won gold, re-took his crown and Le Clos was kept off the podium. Talk about a dramatic turn of events. Then oddly enough, a few nights later in the 100m Butterfly there would be one of the most interesting results you’ll see. Joseph Schooling of Singapore would win gold easily, but it’s the silver medal that most people will remember. That silver medal went to Michael Phelps… and Chad Le Clos… and Laszlo Cseh of Hungary. Yep, a three way tie for second between three swimmers who will be connected to each other until the end of time. Cseh, if you’re not familiar with him, always would finish second to Phelps and is a really terrific swimmer. He just had the unfortunate timing of being in his athletic prime at the same time of the greatest to ever swim. Those three tying for a medal is the most Olympic thing to ever happen at the Olympics.

And that was it for swimming drama HAHA JUST KIDDING. Swimming rivalries just come naturally and they’re amazing. Lilly King, a 19-year-old American breaststroker, didn’t hold anything back when it came to Yulia Efimova of Russia. Efimova was lucky to even be allowed to swim at the Olympics after being caught for drug cheating. The night of the semis for the 100m Breaststroke, Efimova was in the first heat and won it. She then held up her finger to signal that she was #1. Lilly King was having none of it. NBC showed her watching the race on a monitor in the waiting area and countering Efimova’s finger with one of her own. No, not that one. She shook her index finger like Dikembe Mutombo saying not on my watch. King went on to win her semi and then take down Efimova in the final the following night. When she was interviewed following the races, she didn’t back down from her feelings. She said point blank how she felt about Efimova and cheaters in general. She’s the hero we all need.

Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about Katie Ledecky – the most dominant swimmer in the world not named Phelps. In fact, she has an argument for being even more dominant than Phelps. She burst onto the scene in London as a 15-year-old and came into Rio as one of the most notable athletes competing. All she did is come away with four gold medals and one silver. Ledecky still hasn’t lost an individual final of an international race. That’s just insane. Of her four golds, there was none more impressive than the 800m Freestyle. She was the favorite going into the race and all Ledecky did was win by, wait for it, ELEVEN SECONDS. ELEVEN. HOW?! Ledecky is the best, knows she’s the best, and somehow is able to stay drama free both in and out of the pool. That’s pretty remarkable.

Swimming at the Olympics, in my opinion, is the best. You have the big names as always, but there’s more to it than that. There’s Simone Manuel winning the first individual gold medal for an African-American female swimmer as she tied with 16-year-old Canadian Penny Oleksiak in a really sweet moment for the neighboring countries. Manuel picked up another gold along the way as well as a pair of silvers. There’s Ryan Murphy who swept the backstroke events AND set a world record in the 100m backstroke during the Medley Relay. There’s Maya Dirado, 23, who says this is her first and last Olympics – we’ll see about that – who went from relative obscurity to win two golds, a silver and a bronze. It’s not just American swimmers either. I love great athletes and Katinka Hosszu was fantastic. The Hungarian backstroke specialist won three gold medals in DOMINANT fashion, as well as a silver medal in the 200m Backstroke thanks to Dirado, and she was so much fun to watch. Also, her husband/coach’s reactions to her wins/loss on the sideline was priceless. #goals

Seriously, there’s nothing better than swimming at the Summer Olympics. I love each and every sport, but there’s nothing like swimming. It has everything you want: drama, excitement, stars, etc. The best part about swimming is that it’s ALWAYS shown live. ALWAYS. Unlike other big primetime sports such as gymnastics, the finals of each swimming event are televised live by NBC. You never have to worry about when NBC is going to decide to air the race. You never have to worry about it being bumped to late night if the Americans don’t do well (see: Men’s Gymnastics Team Final). You also never have to worry about spoilers on the Internet during the day like you do with gymnastics.

It’s live, it’s entertaining, it’s unpredictable and as an American it’s golden.

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Yankees Trade Andrew Miller, Officially Enter Sell Mode

Losing two games in a row to the last place Tampa Bay Rays is not a way to convince your General Manager that he should buy instead of sell. After two weeks of promising baseball where the Yankees put in good performances and series victories against some of the top teams in baseball, the bottom finally fell out. Brian Cashman was ready and pulled the trigger by sending one of the best, if not the best, relievers in baseball Andrew Miller to the Cleveland Indians for a package of four prospects headlined by OF Clint Frazier. Frazier is the 21st best prospect in baseball according for Baseball America while LHP Justus Sheffield is 69th. Getting two Top-100 prospects is a nice haul and they also got a pair of relief prospects with big arms, Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen.

What kind of world is it where the Yankees have that kind of talent in the minor leagues. That list doesn’t even mention Luis Severino and Greg Bird, who have exhausted their prospect status, or 2016 first round pick Blake Rutherford. After moving Miller and the trade of Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees now have seven of the Top-100 prospects in baseball: Jorge Mateo (19), Frazier (21), Gleyber Torres (27), Gary Sanchez (36), Aaron Judge (42), Sheffield (69), James Kaprielian (99). The future of the organization is certainly looking bright.

All that being said, this trade stings. When the Yankees traded Aroldis Chapman, they weren’t necessarily committing to selling off everything and anything they could. The Chapman deal was a pure baseball move (with some hints of ‘sell sell sell’ mixed in) by trading a pending free agent, maximizing value and getting more back than you gave up. It was a slam dunk, no-brainer. Trading Andrew Miller was not obvious by any means. Miller is signed through 2018 at $9 million a year. His value was extremely high, but it wasn’t limited to the next few days. If the Yankees didn’t trade Miller, they would still have one of the best relievers in the game for at least two more years.

Not to say the Yankees didn’t get a nice package for Miller, it’s just that I wouldn’t have personally traded him. I thought his value was just as high staying with the club and closing ballgames for the foreseeable future. However, re-signing Chapman in the offseason is a serious possibility and if you’re not going to win this season, then trading Miller does make sense. Also, if the Yankees somehow were able to swing a trade for Chris Sale and David Robertson (a man can dream, can’t he?) then that would also make a ton of sense. I have no doubt the Yankees will replace Miller – they still have a guy named Dellin Betances by the way – but right now losing him hurts.

By trading Andrew Miller, it seems clear that this should – I stress should – trigger a fire sale. Carlos Beltran is the next obvious piece to move. What’s the point in keeping a 39-year-old DH playing RF if you have no realistic hope of competing this season. Cashman can say whatever he wants; you don’t trade Andrew Miller if you think you can compete this season. You just don’t. Beltran needs to be moved now. That’s a given. Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira also have no place on the team anymore. Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Brett Gardner, Chase Headley, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova and Nathan Eovaldi are some other names that could be on the move before the deadline. Outside of Betances, Didi Gregorius, Masahiro Tanaka and maybe Starlin Castro, there really isn’t a player at the ML level they shouldn’t look to trade.

Selling Andrew Miller and not going into a total fire sale would be a big mistake. The next 24+ hours will be interesting to say the least.

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Ryan Fitzpatrick Re-Signs With Jets… Finally.

The nightmare is over. About two weeks after the Jets shockingly re-signed star defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson, they made another huge move by re-signing starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. After months and months of drama, the Jets finally said here’s our last offer: take it or leave it. Fitzpatrick took it and everyone is once again happy.

The deal is a one year agreement worth $12 million that can jump to $15 million with incentives. That’s more than fair for a veteran journeyman QB who had a career season. He had a career-high 3,905 yards and 31 touchdowns – which also set a franchise record. The Jets didn’t want to commit a ton of money or years but Fitzpatrick felt that he deserved both. It’s understandable why he thought that after the huge money Sam Bradford and Brock Osweiler got. Thus, the long standoff ensued.

It was such a weird situation because neither side really had leverage. The Jets needed Fitzpatrick back or else they would’ve had to start Geno Smith, Christian Hackenberg or Bryce Petty and there’s no way they wanted to do that. Fitzpatrick needed to return to the Jets because he had no other serious suitors, nowhere he would start and he fit so well with the system Chan Gailey runs. The Jets needed Fitz, Fitz needed the Jets, yet nobody wanted to cave. We’ll never know if Nick Foles getting released by the Rams led to the Jets putting a firm deadline on their contract offer, but if it did… thank you Los Angeles.

Now the Jets go into the new season with their starting QB back, star DL happy to finally be free of his contract dispute and a team that’s hungry to overcome last season’s disappointment of missing the playoffs in the last five minutes of Week 17. This year’s team is as good, if not better than last year’s. The big difference is that their schedule got a whole lot tougher. It’ll be a challenge but Todd Bowles will have the team ready to take the next step.

Welcome back Fitzy. Welcome back.

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Yankees Trade Aroldis Chapman to Cubs for Top Prospect, Three Others

No matter what your feelings are about Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman, you have to admit that he’s one of the best in the business when it comes to making trades. Whether it’s turning a few good months of Shane Greene into budding superstar Didi Gregorius or four lesser prospects into flamethrowing closer Aroldis Chapman, Cashman makes some really strong deals that set the Yankees up for success. His free agency moves may not always pan out (see: Ellsbury, Jacoby), but when it comes to making trades they are usually on point.

Today is no exception as Aroldis Chapman was traded to the Chicago Cubs and in return the Yankees got back a really nice package of four players. Headlining the quartet coming to New York is 19-year-old shortstop Gleyber Torres. Torres is the consensus number one prospect in the Cubs’ system which is saying a lot seeing as their farm system is considered one of the best in baseball. Torres projects to be a five-tool player and gives the Yankees some crazy good depth at shortstop in addition to incumbent top prospect Jorge Mateo and Double-A SS Tyler Wade. You can never have too much talent, especially up the middle. If by some miracle they all pan out, some players can switch positions (to second or third) or they can be used as trade chips for starting pitching. Getting Torres for the rental closer in Chapman is a really good move.

Chapman for Torres straight up would probably have been good on its own for the Yankees, but they were able to get three more players in the deal. Outfield prospects Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford will now try to make names for themselves in the Yankee minor-league system. McKinney is a former first round pick in 2013 while Crawford is said to be a freakish athlete. Neither is a sure thing – hey even Torres isn’t – but it’s nice OF depth in the system and you never know if they figure something out over the next few years.

The fourth player in the deal is my personal favorite, and that’s pitcher Adam Warren. If you remember, the Yankees sent Warren to Chicago this past offseason in a big trade for second baseman Starlin Castro. While some have been down on Castro, I have nothing but good things to say about him. He’s been respectable in the field and is a huge upgrade offensively to Stephen Drew. He may only be hitting .262 with a .701 OPS but the good far outweighs the bad and he’s fit in nicely on the club. Now the Yankees get back Warren and essentially they picked up Castro for free. I’d take a 26-year-old with tremendous upside for nothing, wouldn’t you? Adam Warren is having a woeful season with the Cubs, but he was a very solid pitcher in New York and it’s worth getting him back as a “throw in” and seeing if he can find his form again. He’ll most likely try and fill the void left by Chapman in the bullpen, but he can also be a starter as well. I always liked Warren and never wanted to see him go. It had to be done to trade for Castro, but getting him back is awesome.

If you can’t tell, I’m very high on this trade. Brian Cashman turned four lesser prospects in the Yankee system into Aroldis Chapman and then flipped him for a top-of-the-line prospect, two other decent prospects and Starlin Castro (Adam Warren). That’s how you do business. Instead of letting Chapman walk as a free agent, Cashman pulled the trigger and got back way more than they would’ve if they had to settle for the compensatory pick for Chapman walking. It’s just good business. And hey, who says they don’t sign him in the offseason when he hits free agency? Wouldn’t that be something.

Also don’t mistake it, there’s probably no way Cashman moves Chapman if the Yankees were a legitimate contender this season. In no way does trading Chapman wave the white flag on the season, but it definitely is the first domino to fall if the Yankees go into full sell mode. If they fall even further back this next week, look for guys like Carlos Beltran and maybe even Andrew Miller (I hope not) to be on the move. If they have a good week and stay within striking distance of the Wild Card, Cashman may just stand pat or even be a buyer. However, just trading Chapman isn’t sell mode. The bullpen is still ferocious with Miller and Dellin Betances. It was just too good of a deal to pass up, especially with the team not being that great.

It makes more sense to trade Chapman and still try to make the playoffs but guarantee yourself a nice package in return, than to keep him and ultimately miss the postseason leaving yourself with nothing. Brian Cashman made a great trade, and there very well could be more on the horizon.

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Joe Girardi Manages One Heck of a Baseball Game in Win vs. Indians

Continuing their season of unpredictable, up-and-down play… the New York Yankees won a crazy ballgame in Cleveland against the red hot Indians. The Yankees were able to overcome a lot of adversity and prevailed 7-6 in 11 innings as they moved within one game of .500 with one game left before a much needed All-Star Break. This game had everything: a bunch of lead changes, clutch hitting, dazzling plays in the field, some luck factored in and – Joe Girardi managing one of the best games of his career! It’s well documented how I am not a fan of Joe’s managerial style, but today he was fantastic. He managed with his gut and basically threw the binder in the trash.

There were three huge moves that Girardi made during the game that propelled the Yankees to victory, and three moves that are so not typical Joe. The first terrific move came in the sixth inning with the Yankees down 5-3 and runners on first and second with Aaron Hicks due up. Hicks has been a huge disappointment this season, but for some reason Girardi keeps running him out there. Today, with Mark Teixeira nursing a sore knee, it was understandable that Hicks was in the lineup. However, in such a big spot in the game there was no way he should be hitting. Enter: Alex Rodriguez. Girardi sent up ARod in place of the ever struggling Hicks and Alex earned a tough walk to load the bases for Brett Gardner. Gardy would deliver with a bases-clearing triple to put the Yankees up one. Way to go, Joe!

Joe Girardi's BallAfter Dellin Betances surrendered an unlikely run in the seventh – something that is not remotely Girardi’s fault – the score would remain knotted at six as the bullpens battled. Girardi called on Andrew Miller for the eighth AND the ninth which was another move I wholeheartedly agreed with. Then with two outs in the ninth and two on, Girardi went to the pen again and brought on his closer Aroldis Chapman. Miller was at 35 pitches and you don’t want to burn him out so pulling him was absolutely the right decision. Going to Chapman in this situation is not a by-the-book move as you usually hold back your closer for a save situation on the road. Girardi was burned by that when he didn’t use Miller to start an inning earlier in the season in Baltimore and the Yankees ended up losing that game. This time Chapman came in and blew away Juan Uribe.

The 10th went by rather uneventfully, but then the 11th inning came and this is where Joe Girardi deserves endless praise. With two outs and nobody on, Carlos Beltran singled to right to give the Yanks a base runner. Surprisingly, Girardi pinch-ran for Beltran with utility infielder Ronald Torreyes. I immediately loved the move because Joe was going for the win here. He knew his bullpen wouldn’t last much longer with Chapman near the end of his rope and the unreliable relievers up next in the pecking order. It was now-or-never and Joe picked now. On the next pitch, Brian McCann ripped a go-ahead RBI double to right scoring Torreyes – and presumably a hit Beltran wouldn’t have scored on with his bad hamstring. Girardi absolutely went for it and it’s something I wish he would do more. Use your gut!!!!

Oh, but Joe wasn’t done. After throwing an inning and a third, many people figured Chapman was done and Chasen Shreve would ent-not so fast. Girardi once again went for it and brought Chapman back out for another inning. He was only at 19 pitches and has four days off after tomorrow. HELL YES GO FOR IT. It’s not burning out your bullpen when you need to pitch your best relievers. Girardi nailed it by leaving Chapman in for the 11th and the Cuban Missile rewarded the move by closing out the victory.

It’s not often I get to praise Joe Girardi, but this needed to be said. He was BRILLIANT today and the Yankees wouldn’t have won without him. I just wish Joe would manage like that more often. Throw away the binder and just use your gut.

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Adam Larsson Traded for Taylor Hall and Free Agency Looming

Yesterday was one of the craziest half hours of offseason hockey news possibly ever. It all started when the New Jersey Devils shocked the NHL community by sending defenseman Adam Larsson to the Edmonton Oilers for star forward Taylor Hall. That trade alone brought a huge buzz along with it. Little did we know that it was just a delicious appetizer to what was in store. Minutes later, the Montreal Canadiens sent P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber in a straight up swap of D-men. The hockey world went nu- Tampa Bay is signing Steven Stamkos OH MY GOD! Chaos. Three gigantic transactions in the matter of minutes. What a time to be alive.

It’s pretty funny that my buddy Jason and I were discussing the exact trade the Devils and Oilers made just 24 hours prior. He thought it would be a flat out steal for the Devils, and he might turn out to be right, but I was less enthusiastic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled to have Taylor Hall and his immense offensive talent in New Jersey. He’s everything the Devils needed and more. That being said, losing Adam Larsson just hurts both emotionally and on the ice.

Ray Shero had to make this trade. The Devils desperately needed offense and when you have the chance to get a superstar forward without selling the farm you do it. What worries me with the trade is how will the Devils replace Larsson in the lineup? Losing him leaves a huge hole on defense and the free agent class of defensemen isn’t that exciting. I trust Shero to fill the hole, but losing Larsson is the only reason I’m not happier than a pig in sh*t about this trade. Once there’s a viable replacement in place, I’ll be much happier.

IMG_8848What’s saddening me is all the hate Adam Larsson is getting from Oilers fans and others around the league. I get it; he’s not a superstar defenseman, he’s not a big name and he’s not a number one D. I understand the anger over trading Hall for him, I do. That being said, Adam Larsson is a helluva hockey player. He certainly can be a top pairing defenseman on the defensive side of the puck. He’s proven that by playing against every team’s top line along with Andy Greene and doing really well. No doubt his offense is a question mark right now, but I believe in his offensive upside. He got swamped with defensive zone starts against top competition and spent all of his special teams minutes on the penalty kill. He never got a chance to show what he could do on the power play because that wasn’t the role the Devils needed out of him. If given solid PP time and a more offensive role overall, I do think he could put up respectable numbers that would put him as a very good number two D-man on the top pairing. Only time will tell.

As far as the Devils are concerned, wow it’s nice to have a superstar winger in Newark again. After Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk left, the Devils have been in dire need of goals and star power up front. Adam Henrique, Taylor Hall’s Junior teammate in Windsor and good friend, has done his part. Kyle Palmieri, Mike Cammalleri (when healthy), and Travis Zajac (at least defensively) have also contributed a lot. But none of them are close to what Hall can bring. The Devils have that dynamic winger that can make everyone around him better and help out scoring at even strength – by far their biggest offensive issue among many. The line of Hall-Henrique-Palmieri could put up some BIG numbers this season if John Hynes decides to put them all together.

All of this, of course, is dependent on what Ray Shero can do for an encore in free agency. After the Devils sign their RFAs, they’ll have room for probably two “big” additions. Adding a right wing like Loui Eriksson, Kyle Okposo or even bringing back Lee Stempniak would round out the top six with Cammalleri and Zajac, making that quite the dynamic group. Another veteran bottom six forward would also be a good addition. As far as defense, bringing back David Schlemko would be nice. He had a pretty good season in NJ, especially considering he was signed at the last minute, and he can help mentor the younger defenders on the team. The last remaining addition would be filling Larsson’s hole, and that’s going to be tough. Does Shero go with an older D on short term to put a bandage on the problem or does he make another splashy trade for a longer solution?

Come noon tomorrow, we shall find out. It’s sure going to be interesting that’s for sure.

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Devils Go Offense, Offense and More Offense at 2016 Draft

Ray Shero made it clear when he was asked about what he was looking for before the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. He said he wanted to add more talent to the Devils and that’s exactly what he did. First round? Forward. Second round? Forward. Third round? Forwards. Fourth round? Another forward. It wasn’t until the Devils’ second pick of the fourth round that they picked something other than a forward and that was a goalie. Everybody in the hockey world knew the Devils needed better forward depth in their system and Shero made that his mission this year. Out of the nine draft picks the Devils had this year, they picked six forwards. That says it all.

In the first round, the Devils took Mississauga Steelheads (OHL) center Michael McLeod 12th overall. They originally had the 11th overall pick but decided to move back one spot and swap with Ottawa. In doing so, they picked up an additional third round pick which would prove to be very important. In moving back to pick McLeod, they passed on 6’6″ center Logan Brown. Only time will tell who the better player will be, but it was clear Shero wanted more speed in the lineup. By all accounts, McLeod can absolutely fly and plays a complete 200 foot game. Sounds like a perfect fit with the Devils. Moving back one spot, picking up basically a free third rounder and getting the guy you wanted anyway? I’d say that’s a pretty solid move.

With the 41st overall pick, the Devils took right wing Nathan Bastian. What I loved about this pick is that Bastian was linemates in Junior with McLeod at Mississauga. Having your top two draft picks from not only the same team, but the same line provides some great chemistry right off the bat. Assuming both go back to the OHL for another season, they can continue to play together and build that chemistry even more. As far as the player himself, Bastian is a big winger who has a strong shot and is a very good passer. The combination of McLeod and Bastian will be fun to watch for the foreseeable future.

Entering the third round after the trade in the first, the Devils had three picks. With two of those picks they drafted right wing Joey Anderson, who scored seven goals in seven games for the USA at the World Junior Championships, and center Brandon Gignac, who had 61 points in 67 games for Shawinigan of the QMJHL. As I said, offense and offense and more offense.

However, it was the second pick of the round that made the most noise as the Devils traded the 77th overall pick – the one they got from Detroit in the Marek Zidlicky trade – for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ oft-injured forward Beau Bennett. The 24-year-old former first round pick in 2010 has had a tough go of it recently as he simply hasn’t been able to stay on the ice. He played just 33 games last season and 49 the year before. When he has been healthy, he hasn’t been productive as he scored only six goals and had six assists last year.

All that being said, I think it’s a smart trade for the Devils. Ray Shero drafted Bennett when he was at the helm of the Penguins so he’s familiar with him. He knows the potential of the player and hopefully a change of scenery can spark him like it did with Devante Smith-Pelly. When Shero traded Stefan Matteau for DSP at last year’s trade deadline, it was looked at with some confused faces as DSP’s career high in goals was just seven. All he did was score eight goals and 13 points in 18 games with New Jersey. Now DSP is viewed as a solid bottom nine option at RW and hopefully Bennett can follow in his footsteps.

I also like the trade because the Devils really didn’t give up much to acquire Bennett. As I mentioned earlier, they moved back one spot in the first round to pick up an extra third round pick giving them a total of three. So Shero used one of those three to take a shot on a young forward who still could easily fulfill at least some of his potential. In my mind, they traded a pick that they didn’t have two days ago so in essence they got Beau Bennett for pretty much nothing. The Devils have a pretty empty roster at the moment and aren’t anywhere near the cap so neither of those are issues either.

One other thing to like about the trade is that he’s an immediate upgrade to the bottom six. He honestly cannot be worse than some of the players the Devils had eating up minutes in their bottom six last season. If you think of it as Bennett replacing Tuomo Ruutu – one assist all season – on the roster, then it’s a no-brainer. Maybe Shero hits a home run and Bennett turns his career around or maybe he’s just a better player than Ruutu. Either way it’s a win for the Devils. I see no downside whatsoever with this trade.

Long story short, the Devils are better today than they were Friday morning and that’s really all you want. They added speed and scoring to the system as well as a low-risk, high-reward depth player. Ray Shero with another terrific weekend as he continues to rebuild the Devils the right way.

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The Curious Case of New York Rangers’ Trades

The New York Rangers made another trade today as they sent the rights to Keith Yandle to the Florida Panthers in exchange for a sixth round pick in 2016 and a conditional fourth round pick in 2017. The Rangers will get that fourth rounder if Yandle signs with the Panthers. This trade was made by the Rangers because they either don’t want to re-sign the offensive defenseman or, more likely, they simply did not have the cap space to pay him what he would demand. Either way, this is not news Rangers fans wanted to hear.

I’ll revisit the Yandle trade in a bit, but I want to go back a few years and detail the big trades the Rangers have made since 2012. Buckle up, it’s not a pretty sight.

2012

Rangers receive: F Rick Nash, D Steven Delisle, 2013 3rd round pick (Pavel Buchnevich)

Blue Jackets receive: F Brandon Dubinsky, F Artem Anisimov, D Tim Erixon, 2013 1st round pick (Kerby Rychel)

Now, it’s not all doom and gloom as I loved this trade when it happened. I thought the Rangers got an absolute steal in getting 40-goal-a-year player Nash for a first and some decent players. While Dubinsky has turned into a gritty middle six center in Columbus and Anisimov centered a powerhouse line with probable Rookie of the Year Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane in Chicago, I still think the Rangers came out ahead in this deal. They needed a star forward to play with Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards. While that line didn’t quite work out, Nash has been very productive for New York – at least in the regular season. The hidden gem in this deal is the third round pick they got that turned into Buchnevich, who is arguably the best forward prospect left in their system.

2013

Rangers receive: F Derick Brassard, F Derek Dorsett, D John Moore, 2014 sixth round pick

Blue Jackets receive: F Marian Gaborik

I’ll admit I wasn’t a fan of this deal at all. I thought the whole idea was to have Nash and Gaborik lead an offensive attack that would result in a deep playoff run. As it turns out, this was another solid trade as Brassard has turned into one of the most underrated centermen in hockey. This past season he scored 27 goals and had 31 assists while being in the prime of his career. Gaborik on the other hand was a major bust in Columbus, but he did get traded to the Kings where he scored 14 goals en route to winning the Stanley Cup. Who knows if Gaborik would’ve helped the Rangers win it all, but they could have done much worse than Brassard. However, the Rangers did make a bad deal along with the Gaborik swap as they sent three draft picks to the Sharks for 12 games and three goals from Ryane Clowe. Yuck.

2014

Rangers receive: F Martin St. Louis, Conditional 2015 second round pick (for Callahan signing with TB)

Lightning receive: F Ryan Callahan, Conditional 2014 second round pick (turned into a first after Rangers made ECF), 2015 first round pick , Conditional 2015 seventh round pick (because they signed Callahan)

Here is where it gets ugly. I hated, hated, hated the trade when it was announced. First off, trading away your captain in an effort to improve the team is usually frowned upon. Cally was a beloved figure in New York; heck he was one of my favorite players in the sport. I loved everything he brought to the team. That being said, trading him for St. Louis almost straight up certainly could be defended. St. Louis, although getting up there in age, was an elite scorer and would help them in the playoffs. As it turned out, the Rangers rallied behind MSL to make it all the way to the Finals before they lost to Gaborik and the Kings. What I didn’t like about the trade is the fact the Rangers essentially sent two first round picks to Tampa Bay when St. Louis basically demanded to be traded to the Rangers. He said he would only go to New York. That was it. Why overpay for an aging, albeit skilled, forward when you’re the only team he will go to? I could understand the conditional second, but another first on top of it??? Too much.

2015

Rangers receive: D Keith Yandle, D Chris Summers, 2016 fourth round pick

Coyotes receive: F Anthony Duclair, D John Moore, 2015 second round pick, 2016 first round pick

If you thought I hated the Callahan-St. Louis trade, just wait. That trade had nothing on how bad this trade was. I also hated this trade from the jump because I felt it was extremely unnecessary. Keith Yandle is a damn good offensive defenseman and would help any blue line, but was it really worth trading away your top prospect in Duclair and yet another first round pick – their fourth year in a row – plus a second round pick and a young defender in Moore? I didn’t think so, but they did. I didn’t like it because I didn’t think trading all that to beef up your sixth defenseman was crazy. Moore could handle those minutes behind one of the better D corps in hockey (at the time).

What makes this trade even worse is how bad it kept progressively getting. It was bad on it’s own and compounded the trade of the previous season. At some point going “all in” needs to produce a Cup. It didn’t. Then Duclair turned into a stud paired with another dynamic rookie in Max Domi. He scored 20 goals and had 24 assists in his first full season at the age of 20. Moore signed with the rival Devils and had a decent season which he can build on as he’s only 25. Now, they couldn’t re-sign Yandle so they had to trade his rights to Florida for at best two ‘meh’ draft picks. What a disaster.

2016

Rangers receive: F Eric Staal

Hurricanes receive: F Aleksi Saarela, 2016 second round pick, 2017 second round pick

Do they EVER learn their lesson?? STOP TRADING AWAY THE FUTURE SO YOU CAN TRY AND WIN NOW BUT ULTIMATELY FAIL. I understand going for it because Henrik Lundqvist won’t be elite forever, but sheesh. You can’t sell the farm four/five years in a row, not win it all, and then come out on top. The best thing I can say about this trade is that they didn’t trade away their 2017 first or Brady Skjei. If they had, I don’t even know what I would be saying. As it is they traded away two valuable second rounders and one of their remaining good prospects for a guy who had three goals and three assists in 20 games and a first round exit from the playoffs. Not good.

If you’re still reading this, I swear I’m not some Devils fan who’s just trying to rip on a rival. It’s just amazing at how year after year, the Rangers continue to compound bad trades in previous seasons with even worse ones. At some point you have to think they’ll stop doing this. Sometimes it works, other times it goes down in flames. Chicago pulls it off, the Rangers haven’t.

 

 

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Pet Peeves When It Comes to Sports Fans

If you’re a human being, you have pet peeves. It’s just a natural way of life. Whether it’s someone who chews with their mouth open or someone who cannot use proper grammar, there’s always things that just annoy you to your core. Being a sports fan is no different. There are things that sports fans do that absolutely grind my gears.

Here are a few things that I simply cannot stand:

Learn the Rules Before You Complain

This is, by far, the most annoying thing any sports fan can do. It happens almost every day in every sport imaginable. Complaints can vary from a call that didn’t go their way to a decision their coach made to even a trade their general manager executed. If you’re going to argue that a call was wrong or unjust then please at least know the rules of the sport. It’s beyond ridiculous when someone thinks they got screwed over but in reality they have no idea what the call actually was.

Sports fans, all of them, love to complain. They all think they know better than everyone else. Trust me, I’m the same way. Difference is, I actually know what I’m talking about when I do complain about something. If I don’t know, I shut my mouth. It really goes for all aspects of life not just sports. If you don’t know something, educate yourself. I respect a person who can admit “I don’t know” more than someone who acts like they know everything and spews complete nonsense all over the place. It’s impossible to know everything. All you have to do is take a breath, do some research and formulate an opinion. Ask someone who has strong knowledge of the situation. That way you don’t look like a fool, especially on social media.

Be Your Own Person With Your Own Thoughts

I can’t stand when someone is a virtual clone of another person. It’s okay to start liking certain things when your friends do, but don’t build your entire sports personality around other people’s interests. Be your own person. Where this really comes into play is when people are forming opinions. As I just stated, I wish people would do some research and ask around in order to become educated. The downside to that is that people will just take what they hear and spit it out verbatim. That’s not what learning and watching sports is. You’re supposed to take all these avenues of information and build your own ideas and thoughts from them. What’s the point of living your whole life based on another person’s characteristics?

Back Up Opinions With Facts

The introduction of Twitter into the world has made being a sports fan completely different. It has provided fantastic benefits like quicker breaking news and more in-depth ways to follow your favorite teams. However, it also provides a platform for people to just throw out random opinions without ever backing them up. You think a player sucks? Tell me why. You think a team should do this? What’s your reasoning for thinking that? Anybody can say anything that pops into their head, but it’s so frustrating when that opinion isn’t backed up by a statistic or example. I’m not always going to agree with your idea, but at least let it be a credible thought and not just wild conjecture.

“Draft Experts”

Unless you watch an absurd amount of collegiate competition or junior events where draft prospects are prevalent, you probably don’t know much about the players who get drafted. I can understand some serious thoughts when it comes to high profile prospects near the top of the draft, but some fans are just never happy with who their team selects. What good is it to complain about a player your team drafts in the fourth round when you’ve never even heard of them? Sure maybe you wanted another player, but you have no idea how that player is going to pan out. Heck, even the guys who’ve been scouting the players for years don’t know. Just let it play out and then you can look back in a few years and see if it really was as bad of a pick as you thought it was.

You’re Really Wearing That Jersey???

It is so annoying when you go to a game and the person in front of you is wearing that jersey. The player that you simply cannot stand and you wonder how on Earth they can even bring themselves to look at it never mind actually wearing it to the game. As a Devils fan, every time I see an Ilya Kovalchuk jersey in the crowd I want to puke. Now, I completely get that some people can’t afford new jerseys and maybe it’s the only one they own. I don’t want to tell you not to wear what you spent a lot of money on, but it just hurts seeing them. If it’s your only option, I’ll live with it. If you have five other jerseys in your closet and you choose to wear that one, you’re a jerk.

Creepy Crazy Player Obessions

We all have certain players and athletes that we love more than others. For me it’s hands down Travis Zajac. He is easily my favorite player in sports. I’ve never met a sports fan that didn’t have at least one player they admired on a different level than the rest. However, some fans take their “admiration” to another level. Some fans are just outright creepy with their lovefest for a player. All these people tweet about is that certain player no matter what. It’s the only gear they wear even when that player isn’t even relevant to the game. They don’t just love the player, they’re genuinely in love with them. It’s just weird, man.

 

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