FRONT RUNNER

FRONT RUNNER

(Getty Images)
As with the DPOY argument, it is about time there is a non-QB winning the award this year. In the preseason I wanted someone to break the dominance of the passers of the ball, and I thought it could’ve been Justin Jefferson. Unfortunately, he got injured, but the MVP should still go to a “receiver” of the ball.

That player should be Christian McCaffery. The 27 year old Running Back is having s stellar season with the 49ers and is arguably their best player. The half-back has had his 17 game touchdown streak halted this season, but he already has 13 TD’s this season and looks unstoppable, as do the rest of his team.

(Getty Images: Christian McCaffery)
The MVP award has traditionally gone to QB’s over the years and you’d have to go back to 2012 when there was a non-QB winner, and that was a RB in the great Adrian Peterson.

Factually, the award will be handed to Lamar Jackson, Brock Purdy, or even Dak Prescott before they even consider other stars like McCaffery, Bland, or Lane Johnson purely based on position.

(Getty Images: Adrian Peterson)
To put that into perspective, it’s like having a PB&J sandwich and thanking the bread for the flavour. Purdy has been good, Jackson fine, and Dak okay, but McCaffery has been the most consistent player in the league. This might just be a pity article, another one swept under the rug, but it is high time the MVP actually goes to the Most Valuable Player. Happy Holidays!
3 Surprises and 2 Concerns from the Islanders’ Season So Far

3 Surprises and 2 Concerns from the Islanders’ Season So Far

Photo Credit: espn.com
Heading into the 2023-24 season, the New York Islanders were coming off a quiet offseason that was headlined by extending several players to long-term deals, such as star goalie Ilya Sorokin, backup goalie Seymon Varlamov, forward Pierre Engvall, and defenseman Scott Mayfield. They had a successful regular season as they clinched a wild card spot in the playoffs, but they got eliminated in 6 games by the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round. Through the team’s first 32 games, it has been a solid start as they have a 15-8-9 record, good for 39 points and 2nd place in the Metro. Behind their record has been some surprises and a few concerns to be aware of…

Surprise #1. Noah Dobson’s outstanding start

Noah Dobson showed some solid growth last season as he became the quarterback on the power play and recorded 49 points (13 goals, 36 assists). However, he left management and fans displeased with his growth on the defensive end. This year, he has found a new level on both parts of his game. Dobson has been a near point-per-game player (5G, 28A) so far, which is a rarity in the Islanders’ defensive structure. However, his defense has taken a massive leap, as he consistently makes great plays to prevent goals in his own end. His TOI has increased to 25:32, one of the highest in the NHL, with the Islanders’ injuries to their defensemen, but he has proven that he can live up to the task. Can Islanders fans see him holding up the Norris Trophy at the end of the season? If he keeps up this pace, he definitely can!

Concern #1. The struggling penalty kill

Ever since the good old days of Doug Weight, the Islanders have usually held a top penalty kill in the NHL. Even when they switched from Barry Trotz’s heavy defensive scheme to Lane Lambert, they had the 9th best penalty kill (82%). This year, the PK has been horrendous as it is last in the NHL (73%). It has definitely lost them several games that they could’ve won (for example, against the Devils in November and against the Bruins a couple days ago). There was a stretch where the Islanders gave up a goal on 10 of their 17 kills. That’s a 41% successful rate, which is unheard of! The Islanders have been better lately with the penalty kill, but they must fix it soon to stay in a playoff spot in a Metro division that is beginning to heat up.

Surprise #2. The Islanders’ scoring as a team

Last year, the Islanders attempted to play with a more aggressive approach than in years’ past under Lambert. They eventually reverted back to a structure similar to Barry Trotz’s as the playoffs drew closer. The Isles had the 23rd lowest goals per game in the NHL (2.95) and lost many games because of their inability to score (especially in shootouts). While their scoring rate is closer to the middle of the pack this season (3.06, 15th in NHL), it has been very high over the last 12 games (3.66 goals per game). The Isles have 4 players scoring at a near point-per-game pace (Dobson, Barzal, Horvat, Nelson) and 11 players with at least 10 points. In a year where Ilya Sorokin hasn’t been at his best, this eruption by the Isles’ offense is vital until the goalie finds his form.

Concern #2. Ilya Sorokin’s play

Ilya Sorokin’s numbers this season are considerably down from the past few years: 9-4-7, 3.04 GAA, .914 SV%. Now, those numbers aren’t terrible for any goalie, but they aren’t good for a superstar like Sorokin who has never had a GAA over 2.40 in his career. It isn’t all his fault as he still makes spectacular saves every evening, but the easy goals have been getting by him more often this year. In addition, the Islanders defense allowing nearly 35 shots a game isn’t easy for any goalie. However, Ilya has been one of the worst NHL goalies on the penalty kill this year, which has dragged down the team’s PK. He has had several Sorokin-type games this year, including saving 32/33 shots vs the hot Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night. If Sorokin gets hot, this Islanders team can definitely ride off him and make the playoffs. If this trend continues, it may be a harder path there.
Photo Credit: amnewyork.com

Surprise #3. The Islanders’ power play

Along with the scoring outburst by the Islanders in the past month, their power play has heated up in a big way. After recording one of the lowest power plays in years last season (15.2%), they are 5th in the NHL so far (25.6%). There are some reasons why this power play is so much different from last season’s with the same players. For one, the Isles hired a new PP coach and moved John MacLean to assistant coach. Another reason can be the Islanders’ PP lines. Recently, Dobson and Reilly have been the only D-men on the PP lines as Nelson, Barzal, Horvat, and Palmeri make up the first line while Engvall, Lee, Pageau, and Fasching/Wahlstrom make up the second line. The Isles have shot the puck way more on their recent power plays, which was their demise last season as they would pass way too much before attempting to shoot. In a start where the team’s penalty kill has been dreadful, the PP has been a pleasant surprise to watch so far.
Photo Credit: amnewyork.com
Yamamoto Sweepstakes

Yamamoto Sweepstakes

Photo Credit: yardbarker.com
Now that Shohei Ohtani is out of the picture, Japanese sensation Yoshinobu Yamamoto is the focus of the baseball world. The 25-year-old is anticipated to earn a huge contract as the best available free agent pitcher, even more than two-time Cy Young winner Blake Snell. Teams are lined up to add Yamamoto to their rotation, which is not surprising given that he put up a stunning 1.16 ERA over 171 innings for the Orix Buffaloes last year.

The contract offers will be significant just as they were for Ohtani, but only one team will truly be satisfied. Yamamoto, on the other hand, will have plenty of options for where he starts his MLB career. There are 3 landing spots for Yamamoto I will be discussing that I feel make the most sense for this Japanese sensation.

Photo Credit: foxsports.com

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers recently gave Ohtani $700 million in guaranteed money, but they still have money to work with because the two-time MVP decided to defer a whopping $680 million of his contract. Is there room for one more Japanese superstar?

If the finances work out, Yamamoto could be persuaded to move to Los Angeles by Ohtani’s presence and his desire to play in a major market. The Dodgers are in dire need of pitching, as seen by the uncertainty surrounding their rotation and the fact that Clayton Kershaw, a free agent, is expected to miss the start of 2024. It also helps the Dodgers chances of landing Yamamoto by having 4 MVP’s sitting in on the meeting in Shohei Ohtani, Mookie Betts, and Freddie Freeman.

Yamamoto would just add to an already star studded Dodger team, and would give him the best chance to compete year in and year out.

Photo Credit: bnnbreaking.com

2. New York Yankees

There have been numerous rumors indicating that the Yankees are leading the Yamamoto sweepstakes, having already met with the free agent. New York was reportedly in a “solid position” before the meeting, according to Andy Martino of SNY. If Yamamoto decides to sign with the Yankees, he would be teaming with former MVP Aaron Judge, the current AL Cy Young winner, Gerrit Cole, and recent addition Juan Soto, one of the best young players in the game. If Yamamoto enjoys performing in front of the brightest lights possible, New York is the place to be.

The Yankees still have a lot of work to do on their roster, and the starting rotation is the top priority despite their huge acquisition for Soto. The Yankees are short on options behind Cole, Carlos Rodon, and Nestor Cortes Jr. with Michael King traded, Luis Severino out of the picture, and Frankie Montas a free agent after sitting out almost all of 2023. With Cole at the top of the rotation, adding Yamamoto would give the Yankees a potentially formidable one-two punch. However, it is unclear how a deal would affect the team’s chances of re-signing Soto in the long run.

Given that Masahiro Tanaka and Hideki Matsui are two of the most adored players in recent Yankees history, Yamamoto may look up to those two Japanese icons as role models for what life in New York could be like.

Photo Credit: reddit.com

3. New York Mets

Despite Steve Cohen’s enormous bankroll, the Mets didn’t take Ohtani seriously, and they haven’t been as influential this offseason as they were a year ago. One explanation for this is the belief that 2024 will be a year of transition rather than championship contention. While some players may not align with that long-term strategy, Yamamoto does. When the Mets finally establish themselves as title contenders, Yamamoto, who is only 25 years old, will still be at his peak for a number of years.

Kodai Senga, who arrived from Japan a year ago and had a fantastic rookie season, is the Mets’ top starter going into 2024. Senga may help Yamamoto feel at home in a foreign land and make an outstanding tandem at the top of New York’s rotation.

Given their history of making big-time purchases when the opportunity arises, the Mets might make Yamamoto’s biggest offer, and that might just be enough to land him.

Photo Credit: foxsports.com
While all three of these teams are the best fits for Yamamoto, they still have to work out some sort of contract with the young pitcher. According to Jon Heyman of the New York Post, Yamamoto might be able to fetch a $300 million contract. If a team signs Yamamoto, they will also have to pay his posting fee, which could be as much as $35 million, depending on how close the transaction is to $300 million.

Although Yamamoto was initially anticipated to sign a contract in the $200–$225 million range, the Japanese star is poised to take full advantage of multiple suitors and a comparatively sparse free agent class outside of the top few players. After agreeing to a nine-year, $324 million contract with the Yankees in 2019, Gerrit Cole became the only pure pitcher in MLB history to receive a $300 million contract. Although Yamamoto is four years younger than Cole was when that agreement was inked, it’s unclear if he has any chance of shattering Cole’s record.

Yamamoto has until January 4th to sign with a team, so these sweepstakes could very well come down to the wire. Whoever lands Yamamoto will certainly be gaining a future ace for years to come in their rotation.

Defensive Player of the Year?

Defensive Player of the Year?

(FROM LEFT: TJ Watt, Myles Garrett, and Micah Parsons)
So far there has been alot of captivating performances during this NFL season, and none more than the defensive linemen that take center stage. Now when I say ‘defensive linemen’ I don’t mean exclusively Defensive Ends and Edge rushers, but also Linebackers, Safeties, and Cornerbacks. Normally Defensive Player Of the Year would go to the player with the most sacks/tackles, but this season it would only be fair to give it to the person with the most “Pick-Sixes”.

DaRon Bland set a new NFL record for most pick-sixes in a single season (5) with only 11 games gone and it would be a travesty if he doesn’t win the award. Bland, 24, a fifth round pick in 2022 by the Dallas Cowboys was more-or-less in the shadows of teammate Trevon Diggs, who himself had a huge year for interceptions.

(DaRon Bland [left] with QB Dak Prescott)
This season with Diggs’ injury, Bland has had to step up in his absence, and so he did. Setting the record for most interceptions returned for a touchdown in the Thanksgiving game in Arlington, TX against division rivals Washington Commanders, it is almost nailed on for him to be up there in the DPOY conversation. Bland has also made 102 tackles which shows he does have that physical side to him as well.

With the league leading seven interceptions and five returned for a touchdown, only CeeDee Lamb (7) has more TD receptions than his defensive partner. That’s mad! There have been calls for the DPOY to be either Myles Garrett, T.J Watt, and even DaRon’s teammate Micah Parsons, but for once, the DPOY should be someone who not just makes tackles, but turns over possession for the offence to strive.

(Bland is the best Defensive back in the league this season)