Thursday, June 29, 2023

Devils draft Lenni Hameenaho

  The New Jersey Devils made their first draft selection in the second round as they tabbed Lenni Hameenaho, a left-wing from Finland.

As always with the NHL draft, I only make claims that I know a little beyond the top ten or so prospects, so I'm accumulating information from several sources, so kudos to All About The Jersey for their preview of Hameenaho and Elite Prospects for their scouting report.

The eighteen-year-old (nineteen in November) Hameenaho is six foot, 174 pounds, is already playing in the Finnish professional league with Assat, and played for the Finland entry in the World Junior Championships.

Hameenaho scored nine goals with twelve assists in fifty-one games in his rookie season with Assat, and while Hameenaho's stats don't seem otherworldly, for an eighteen year in their top pro league that's a very nice start to a pro career.

Hameenaho has been listed as a solid prospect that may have a lower ceiling than some prospects but a high floor, which means he may not turn into a superstar but he's likely to be a lower risk as well.

Hameenaho is under contract to Assat through 2024-25, so he's not someone that the Devils will be bringing over to the USA anytime soon and the Devils aren't in a position of need for a player to make an immediate impact from the draft.

This is a solid pick and while I wouldn't venture a guess to say whom New Jersey should have selected instead, I'll say this- while there may have been players with higher upside available, New Jersey is missing their first and third picks in this draft so a solid player that you think has a chance to eventually make an NHL roster is preferable in this situation compared to taking a swing at a more talented player that might be less likely to make a team.

I'm all for taking chances in the draft ( NFL and NBA as well) but one has to be recognizant of the circumstances.

For the Cavaliers, gambling on a potential top talent like Emoni Bates in the second round made sense to me because no player was going to give them immediate help in the second (and final) round, so swing for the fences.

In the longer NHL draft where depth is needed in the organization and lacking a choice in both the first and third rounds, the Devils needed to take a good player that had a higher likelihood of eventually arriving in at least Utica and hopefully Newark.

This likely takes care of the Devils' coverage from the draft unless Tom Fitzgerald makes another transaction before the conclusion.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Devils extend Timo Meier

  Tom Fitgerald just hasn't stopped during NHL draft week and maybe it's because the New Jersey Devils do not possess a first-round pick in the draft but Fitzgerald has been taking care of business with his latest transaction locking up the player that cost the Devils that missing first-rounder.

The Devils signed winger Timo Meier to an eight-year extension worth over seventy million dollars and removed Meier from the free agent marker.

While Meier was a restricted free agent and the Devils could have matched any contract offer, I've always thought that teams are far better off in avoiding another team extending an offer sheet by signing the player themselves.

It avoids other teams from getting into the player's ear and allows both sides to keep any hard feelings from building up, such as the team possibly feeling that they paid more than they had to or accepting a poison pill such as a no-trade clause or the player resenting the team matching an offer when he had wanted to leave town.

Meier turns twenty-seven just before opening night, and the agreement locks Meier into price certainty (8.8. million average) for eight years, which covers his prime seasons and may even allow Meier to end his career as a Devil.

Meier scored forty goals last season, nine of those with New Jersey, after being obtained from San Jose for a package of prospects, this year's first-round pick, and a 2024 second-rounder that could become a first round, if the Devils hit certain marks in the 2024 postseason.

You have to like this signing after paying such a price to acquire him and considering his age, past production, and that he still has some prime seasons ahead of him, the only minor complaint may be that the Devils might be overpaying him for the final season or two of the contract.

And even that is part of the cost of doing business in this era, as teams realize that is likely to occur but the trade-off is worth it with the cost certainty and the likelihood that contracts are only going to continue to rise as the years click by.

With Meier and Jesper Bratt signed and in the fold for the long term, the Devils have a case for having the most exciting two lines in hockey with various combinations that include Meier, Bratt, Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, newcomer Tyler Toffoli, and either Dawson Mercer or Alexander Holtz.

New Jersey finished fourth in the league last season in goals scored, and when you add in an entire season with Timo Meier and now the addition of Tyler Toffoli, it's not unrealistic to believe that the Devils could threaten the Edmonton Oilers for the top spot in the category next season.

While Devils fans have to be thrilled with Tom Fitzgerald's off-season work in signing Timo Meier and Jesper Bratt to long-term contacts, trading for Tyler Toffoli, and signing veteran Erik Haula to a three-year agreement, the Devils still have a few needs to fill.

The biggest concern is in the net as should Fitzgerald let it ride, the Devils will have to hope that Vitek Vanecek can repeat his regular season work and that his playoff slide isn't a sign of things to come, along with hoping that Akira Schmid's postseason play is representative of his future, instead of getting hot at the right time.

I'm not sure how the goaltending is going to go but it's a gamble to double-down on Vanecek/Schmid, although I'm not sure who would be available that would be a big improvement other than Winnipeg's Connor Hellebuyck and Winnipeg will have a high asking price on him.

I also would be in the market for a veteran defenseman that could fit into the third pairing with Ryan Graves likely to sign elsewhere in free agency, a reasonably priced veteran could give the team a little bit of depth and insurance in the event of some rookie struggles from either or both Luke Hughes or Simon Nemec.

Other than those potential additions, the Devils look set for a strong season and for many seasons in the future as well.

I don't claim to know very much about the hockey draft prospects but I'm likely to try to put something together about the player that the Devils select with their first pick in round two tomorrow and in the event that Tom Fitzgerald has another transaction in mind, I'm sure I'll add something about that as well.

Devils acquire Tyler Toffoli

 Five minutes after I posted about the New Jersey Devils trading Mackenzie Blackwood to the San Jose Sharks, I checked the news one last time for the night and discovered that Tom Fitzgerald wasn't finished with his pre-draft dealing as Fitzgerald traded Yegor Sharangovich and their third round selection (80th overall) to the Calgary Flames for right winger Tyler Toffoli as the Flames continue to blow up their roster.

The draft pick is returning to Calgary as their original choice through Seattle, and Columbus before the Devils obtained the choice from the Blue Jackets in the Damon Severson earlier this month.

Tyler Toffoli scored thirty-four goals with thirty-nine assists, leading the Flames in both categories along with a plus-sixteen for Calgary last season, and gives New Jersey another forward capable of playing on either of their top lines.

Toffoli is thirty-one and last season was the best of his career as the top option on a non-playoff team, so there are questions if Toffoli can match those numbers or at least approach them in New Jersey.

Toffoli is in the final season of a four-year contract that he originally signed with Montreal and he will be making 4.25 million, which would be a bargain for the Devils, should Toffoli finish with similar statistics as he did last season in Calgary.

I would suspect that the arrival of Toffoli means that the team isn't likely to re-sign Tomas Tatar or Miles Wood, or perhaps even both could be on their way out the door.

Should the Devils decide to allow both of the pending free agents to leave and considering that they traded Sharangovich, Tom Fitzgerald could have one move for a forward at a bargain price in the works before the start of the season.

Yegor Sharangovich was soon to be a restricted free agent on July 1st and the Devils were expected to shop him around as their most desirable non-core trade asset.

Sharangovich has shown signs of being a potential top-six forward and in 2021-22, Sharangovich scored twenty-four goals with twenty-two assists to appear to be on the verge of a bigger breakout season.

Instead, Sharangovich regressed a bit with his numbers dropping to thirteen goals and seventeen assists.

Some of that is due to the Devils' improvement last season, Sharangovich wasn't as key to the New Jersey offense, but he did lose some ice time, and some have speculated that the lost ice time could have been due to Sharangovich's skating as not a good fit with New Jersey's faster-skating young talent.

Sharangovich is still only twenty-five, has a better-than-average shot and could score thirty goals on the Flames' first line next season depending on just how many players Calgary's GM Craig Conroy jettisons before the season begins.

You have to like this trade for the Devils considering that they moved a restricted free agent that may not have been a perfect fit with the talent on the team and a third-round draft pick for a solid veteran winger that might be able to clean up around the net to add something that for as good as last years team was, lacked a bit in the postseason.

Tom Fitzgerald isn't resting on last year's improvement, he's preparing to go to the next level as soon as this coming season.

The addition of Tyler Toffoli is a very good start to that process.

As of now, the Devils will not have a choice on the first day of the draft.

They have the following selections on the final day

Round 2- 58 Overall

Round 4- 122

Round 5- 154

Round 6- 164 (From San Jose for Mackenzie Blackwood)

Round 6- 186

Round 7- 218

Devils trade Blackwood to San Jose

    With the NHL draft one day away and the New Jersey Devils still lacking a first-round pick, the Devils still found a way to make some news with two minor trades.

The bigger of the two saw the one-time Devils goaltender of the future end his future with the Devils as Mackenzie Blackwood was traded to the San Jose Sharks for a sixth-round pick in the upcoming draft.

New Jersey used their second-round draft pick in 2015 (forty-second overall) on Blackwood, who was the second goaltender drafted and the first North American netminder selected.

Blackwood played in twenty-two games for the Devils last season, finishing 10-6-2 with a GAA of 3.20 and a save percentage of .893.

This past season was the third season in a row that Blackwood allowed over three goals a game as Blackwood authored a disappointing end to a tenure that started well in New Jersey.

Blackwood's first two seasons were strong ones for a bad team with an even worse defense in front of him, as he won thirty-two games over those seasons, finishing at .500 in his rookie year and 22-14-8 in the second season, finishing both years with a GAA under three and save percentages of over ninety-one percent.

But Blackwood never seemed to recover following the Covid-19 pandemic shutdown as his game fell into a decline that he was unable to reverse.

Blackwood suffered from illness, injury, and battles over the Covid-19 vaccine as Blackwood first refused to take the vaccine, and after taking it, playing even worse.

Blackwood was a restricted free agent and when you consider that the Devils were unlikely to make a qualifying offer of over four million dollars for a third goaltender that has struggled for years, Tom Fitzgerald did well in getting a sixth-rounder, which isn't anything to leap into the air about but it is literally better than nothing.

New Jersey also made a minor trade with the Boston Bruins as the Devils added forward Shane Bowers from Boston for defenseman Reilly Walsh.

The best part of this trade is the two teams swapped two players from the 2017 draft and the two have each played one game in the NHL.

Bowers was the first-round pick of Ottawa in 2017 and played his only NHL game for Colorado last season.

Bowers spent the rest of the season playing in the American Hockey League for fifty-seven games split between Colorado and Providence, where he combined for eight goals and seventeen assists between the two teams.

Walsh was taken by New Jersey in the third round in 2017, and played his lone game for New Jersey in 2020-21, finishing with an assist.

Walsh played last season for the Utica Comets in the AHL, finishing with nine goals and thirty-two assists in seventy-one games.

Both players are likely to play for their teams' respective AHL affiliates with a possible emergency callup.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Boxing Challenge: Ioka outboxes Franco, Berlanga tops Quigley

    Matchroom Boxing and DAZN rolled out their much-ballyhooed signing in New York City with everything set for a spectacular debut and while Edgar Berlanga scored four knockdowns in his unanimous decision win over Jason Quigley, it was Quigley that emerged the hero after the final bell.

Put aside the four knockdowns (rounds three, five, and two in round 12) and this was an even fight.

In fact, if you used the old-school rounds system, where a close round won had equal weight on the cards as a round won with knockdowns, the fight would have been even on my card at six rounds apiece.

The fifth-round knockdown was clearly a poor call as Quigley stumbled to the floor and the third-round knockdown was fairly scored but Quigley suffered a flash knockdown rather than being hurt by Berlanga.

Still, you had to like Berlanga's final round where he showed the offensive style that made him such a hot prospect and the fire to try for a knockout but he couldn't take Quigley out, who had been knocked out in both his losses (Demetrius Andrade, Tureano Johnson) neither by fighters noted for their pop.

Berlanga won on scores that were bigger than I thought Quigley deserved at 118-106, and 116-108 times two, with my score for Berlanga at 114-109.

Quigley's grit served him well and he fought as well as he can fight, so he likely earned himself some more fights in the future against higher-profile opponents.

As for Berlanga, who signed with Matchroom with the thinking that would be the fastest path to a fight vs Canelo Alvarez, who then moved to PBC, Eddie Hearn has been talking up the prospect of Berlanga against Jaime Munguia, which would be a strong action battle and seemingly easy to make with both fighters affiliated with DAZN but Hearn and Munguia's promoter Oscar De La Hoya aren't exactly pals and unless the network extends the pressure on both companies to make the fight, it could be more difficult to put together than one would think.

The day started with a rematch of the New Year's Eve junior bantamweight unification draw between WBA champion Joshua Franco and then-WBO leader Kazuto Ioka from Tokyo, Japan.

Since then, Ioka vacated the WBO version in order to take the rematch against Franco rather than defend against his WBO mandatory, the dangerous puncher Junto Nakatani, and with the fight only with the WBA title at stake, Franco blew the weigh-in and lost the title on the scales.

Should Ioka win, he would claim the WBA title.

A Franco win or draw would result in the WBA title becoming vacant.

Most (including me) thought that Franco deserved the decision in their first fight and favored him in the rematch- Until Franco failed on weight.

Then you just had the feeling that Ioka might be more motivated and better prepared- to the point that Ioka became the favorite and he deserved to be as Ioka generally controlled the fight in winning a unanimous decision.

Scores read at 116-112 times two (mine as well) and 115-113 for Ioka, who cut Franco badly along the right eye in the fifth round after being cut Franco's effectiveness dropped off a bit although he did continue to try to reach Ioka but was unable to miss the Ioka uppercut that scored constantly.

Ioka could now pursue Junto Nakatani in what would again be a WBA-WBO unification match and more lucrative now for both boxers.

As for Franco, he announced his retirement after the loss, citing mental health issues.

While I don't want to question anyone's mental suffering as how would I know what anyone is truly going through, I do have concerns about more and more boxers discussing mental health issues.

Ryan Garcia, Jermall Charlo, Adrien Broner, and now Franco have talked about their issues and the two consistent themes have been fighter inactivity and problems with making weight.

What I wonder is- are fighters beginning to use mental health as an excuse for losing fights (in the ring or the scales) or does boxing's culture have a problem that has always existed but is only now beginning to find the light?

I hope it is the latter and not the former.

 Mental health is a serious issue and hopefully doesn't become a standard excuse for fighters that are disappointed with their ring performance.

Boxing Challenge 

TRS:105 Pts (7)
Ramon Malpica:96 Pts (6)
Vince Samano: 77 Pts (5) 

Monday, June 26, 2023

Boxing Challenge: Questionable Night In Minneapolis

    The Showtime/PBC card from Minneapolis did more than showcase some talented boxers, twice in their three-fight evening, a problem throughout boxing was shoved to the forefront and it's one that sanctioning bodies, promoters, fighters, and their teams, and fans would be wise to begin paying more attention to.

PBC's main event would see middleweight Carlos Adames retain his minor title with a controversial ninth-round stoppage over former WBA and IBF junior middleweight Julian Williams when referee Mark Nelson stopped the fight with Williams stung along the ropes but throwing punches back.

I thought Williams was in a little bit of trouble, and he had been busted up just under his right eye, so it's not as if Williams was a lock to survive but he was punching back and I thought the stoppage was premature.

Adames had a large lead on the scorecards after eight rounds with leads of three, four, and an astonishing eight points, which means that the judge had scored every round for Adames.

I had the fight closer at 77-75 for Adames and he was likely on his way to a win but Williams fought well and deserved a better fate or at least the chance to place his fate in his own hands defensively at the end.

I don't really see Adames as this "boogeyman" ( there must be two of these boogeymen around at 160 pounds as Top Rank says the same thing about WBO champion Janibek Alimkhanuly) as he was called in the pre-fight buildup, although he is a good fighter in a very week middleweight division and deserves the full WBC with champion Jermall Charlo inactive for two years and soon to fight Canelo Alvarez at super middleweight, the WBC should do the right thing and force Charlo to fight Adames next (which he wouldn't and shouldn't do considering the payday for a Canelo fight) and when he chooses to face Canelo, give the full title to Adames.

As bad as the Adames-Williams ending was, the co-feature was worse as junior middleweight Erickson Lubin returned from an over a year layoff after losing to Sebastian Fundora, to defeat veteran Luis Arias by a fifth-round knockout.

After the first four rounds were fairly evenly fought (I had Lubin ahead 39-37), Lubin landed a right hand just behind the ear of Arias in the fifth that knocked Arias down but it appeared to be a glancing blow, although a legitimate knockdown.

Arias was perched on one knee as he listened to the court of Zachary Young and appeared to me to get up at the count of nine.

Young, however, counted to ten and claimed that Arias had not gotten up in time to beat the count which was clearly untrue.

An absolutely putrid call by Young, who could have stopped the fight with less controversy by judging Arias unable to continue (I would have said that would have been a mistake as well but there is a difference between judgment and a blatant violation of the rules).

It's a needed comeback win for Lubin and a tough loss for Arias, who lost his third fight in his last four and was stopped for the first time, which is a difficult pill to swallow considering how he lost.

These crazy things such as awful scorecards, misinterpretations of the rules by referees, poor stoppages, etc, seem to pop up most often in states that aren't widely known as hotbeds for the sport- in this case, Minnesota.

There really needs to be something about these smaller state commissions shoving their referees and/or judges into roles for world-class fights that they either aren't experienced enough or aren't good enough to handle properly.

Sanctioning bodies could install more qualified people for these spots but in many cases, the state commission will insist on their people being involved.

The answer could be the media provider or the promoter insisting on world-class referees and judges and if the state doesn't like it (in this case, Minnesota), pull the event and go somewhere else.

Faced with the loss of money from the event, I'd bet after a few times, these commissions will do the right thing.

The key to this would be working with the commission a few weeks before the card on deciding on the officials involved and ironing out any differences early.

A compromise could be allowing the state to use their people for the lower undercard and the world-class level fights is where the better/more experienced officials could step in.

There is too much on the line for champions and contenders to continue to have these types of problems.

In the opening fight, Fernando Martinez retained his IBF junior bantamweight title with an eleventh knockout of Jade Bornea.

I had the fight even after eight hard-fought rounds and in round nine, Martinez landed a left hook against Bornea's right ear, which caused what I would call a boil, bulging on the ear.

Martinez landed another hook against the ear later in the ninth, busting the boil open and causing lots of blood to flow.

Martinez dominated the tenth and the fight was stopped in the eleventh with Bornea weakening to the loss of blood.

I haven't watched the Kazuto Ioka-Joshua Franco fight or the Edgar Berlanga-Jason Quigley battle, so I'll do a followup with those two fights and the boxing challenge results with that post.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Boxing Challenge

    The boxing world slows a little over the next two weekends but it still has a few interesting bouts with importance.

Arguably the best and most important fight of the weekend takes us to Tokyo for a rematch for the WBA junior bantamweight title between champion Joshua Franco and former WBO champion Kazuto Ioka.

The two fought on New Years Eve to a majority draw in what would have unified the WBA and WBO titles in a pairing that most think Franco deserved the edge.

Both fighters wanted this rematch but the WBO demanded that their mandatory challenger, Junto Nakatani, fight Ioka next and Ioka decided to vacate the belt rather than face Nakatani for a smaller check.

The questions here are these- Was the first fight a sign of decline for Ioka at thirty-four?

Or was it simply an off-night?

Can Franco repeat his strong outing or did he catch Ioka at the perfect time?

Entering this one, there is more uncertainty than solid reasoning which makes it very interesting-IF you can see it live as of this writing, no American outlet has picked up the card for programming.

Editor's Note: Franco has missed weight and has been stripped of the title.

If Ioka wins, he will be the WBA champion, If Franco wins or the fight ends in a draw, the title will become vacant.

Matchroom/DAZN will be in New York for their super middleweight main event with one-time phenom Edgar Berlanga making his Hearnville debut against Jason Quigley.

You may remember Berlanga from his days with Top Rank and his much-hyped streak of sixteen first-round knockouts to begin his career.

Since the streak ended, Berlanga has gone the distance in each of his four fights and was floored by Marcelo Coceres and was fortunate to receive the decision.

In his last fight against veteran Roamer Angulo, Berlanga tried to bite Angulo on the shoulder and then offered a tasteless joke during the post-fight interview that would lead to a six-month suspension and his release from Top Rank.

Berlanga shopped himself to the other promoters, selecting Matchroom, and is rumored to be in consideration for a challenge of Canelo Alvarez, provided he looks impressive, and Canelo is unable to face a bigger-name opponent.

Jason Quigley appears to be the perfect foil to make Berlanga look good with a 29-2 record, a win over Shane Mosley Jr, knockout losses in both of his two fights against world-class opponents against Demetrius Andrade and Tureano Johnson and is a natural middleweight.

If Berlanga cannot look good against Quigley, I'm not sure that he'll shine in the future.

Showtime and PBC complete the challenge with a three-fight slate from Minneapolis with a pivotal fight in the very soft middleweight division as the main event.

With WBC champion Jermall Charlo inactive for two years (no, really), and possibly either facing Canelo Alvarez and vacating or being stripped for inactivity, Carlos Adames, who holds the WBC minor title, is in position to become the full champion soon with a win over former WBA and IBF junior middleweight champion Julian Williams.

I've always rooted for "J-Rock" Williams and he has always shown talent but has been knocked out twice by solid punchers in Jermell Charlo and Jeison Rosario, and really doesn't deserve this shot, losing a split decision to 12-4 Vladimir Hernandez after the Rosario loss before a decision win in an eight-rounder against unknown Rolando Mansilla last November.

Still, Williams has the skill set to win this, if his chin holds out, and while Adames has looked good in his last two fights with a majority decision win over Sergey Dereyvanchenko before a three-round crunching of Juan Montiel, one fight after Montiel lasted the full twelve rounds against Jermall Charlo, I still remember his decision loss to Patrick Teixeira for the vacant WBO junior middleweight title as a big favorite and I have a feeling that Adames could be looking past Williams.

The co-feature is in the junior middleweight division as hard-punching Erickson Lubin battles Luis Arias in a crossroads bout.

Lubin returns to the ring for the first time since his ninth-round knockout loss to Sebastian Fundora in an action-filled war in April 2022 and could use a win to re-establish himself in the division.

Arias is most remembered for his timid performance in a loss to Daniel Jacobs but won and lost split decisions in 2021 over faded veterans with a win over former junior middleweight champion Jarret Hurd and losing to Vaughn Alexander.

Arias has fought once since winning a decision over journeyman Jimmy Williams in May 2022.

The opener is a defense of the IBF junior bantamweight title as undefeated champion Fernando Martinez defends against unbeaten challenger Jade Bornea.

Martinez won the title last year from long-time champion Jerwin Ancajas and repeated the win in the rematch last October.

I know very little about Bornea, so I'm not sure what he will bring to Martinez

Boxing Challenge

WBA Junior Bantamweight Title. 12 Rds 
Joshua Franco vs Kazuto Ioka
Ramon Malpica and TRS: Ioka Split Decision 
Vince Samano: Ioka Unanimous Decision

Super Middleweights. 12 Rds
Edgar Berlanga vs Jason Quigley
R.L: Berlanga Split Decision
TRS: Berlanga KO 4
V.S:  Quigley Unanimous Decision

Middleweights.12 Rds
Carlos Adames vs Julian Williams
R.L: Adames KO 6
TRS: Adames KO 9
V.S: Williams Unanimous Decision

Junior Middleweights.10 Rds
Erickson Lubin vs Luis Arias
R.L and TRS: Lubin Unanimous Decision
V.S: Lubin KO 6

IBF Junior Bantamweight Title 12 Rds
Fernando Martinez vs Jade Bornea 
All; Martinez Unanimous Decision

Friday, June 23, 2023

Cavaliers draft Emoni Bates

  The Cleveland Cavaliers didn't have a first-round selection in the NBA Draft and their second-rounder came very late in the round at number forty-nine.

But the Cavaliers took a big swing with their only selection in taking Eastern Michigan's Emoni Bates, who was a five-star recruit just two years ago and was regarded as one of the top five recruits in the nation.

The 6'9 Bates attended Memphis for one disappointing season, struggling through injuries to his finger and back that would cause him to miss fifteen games, and didn't adapt well to coach Penny Hardaway's decision to move him to point guard, which he had never played in the past.

Bates averaged only 9.7 points and 3.3 rebounds for the Tigers and would transfer to Eastern Michigan, where he would be suspended on gun charges before he played a game for the Eagles.

After a plea bargain, Bates would play for EMU, averaging nineteen points and just under six rebounds a game in being named to the All-MAC third team.

Bates is known as an incredibly gifted shot creator but not as a shooter, which seems to be more of a need for Cleveland.

Bates shot just thirty-six percent from the floor in his season with Memphis and barely forty percent for Eastern Michigan and thirty-three percent from beyond the three-point area, so this isn't a gifted shooter.

However, he moves well with the ball, makes things happen in one on one situations, and knows how to score, which is a skill that doesn't always come to a player naturally.

John Hollinger, the former Grizzlies GM, wonders about his defense and his athleticism, and questions if he can develop beyond being a gifted scorer in a league that has many gifted scorers.

To me, Bates has all of those questions, and in a league that continues to shift to a three-point game, Bates doesn't shoot as well as he should and he'll have to devote lots of work on the defensive end in order to develop into a key contributor.

However, Bates makes things happen with the ball in his hands (and he'll have to learn how to play when the ball isn't in his hands) and passes the ball very well, so there is plenty of upside here if Bates is willing to work and the Cavaliers (and their G-League team, the Charge) are patient as well.

Bates is likely to spend much of the season with the G-League Charge on a "two-way" contract that enables the Cavaliers to move him up and down between the two teams when the roster situation- I.E. injuries dictate a need for him on the main roster.

Bates is far from a sure thing but when a team is picking forty-ninth in a fifty-eight spot draft- who is?

If you are going to gamble, why not gamble on a player with a high upside if everything goes perfectly?

Late in the second round is when you take a risk or two and while I'm far from promising success for Bates from a team that didn't have the patience to groom a player with similar talent and problems in Kevin Porter Jr, I don't blame them for trying at this stage of the draft.

At the conclusion of the draft, the Cavaliers signed Craig Porter, a 6'2 guard from Wichita State.

Porter averaged thirteen points, six rebounds, and just under five assists for the Shockers last season in the third of his three seasons in Wichita.

Porter is expected, like Emoni Bates, to be signed to a two-way contract with the expectation that he will spend most of his first season with the G-League Charge.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Cleaning out the Inbox: Passings

   Another tribute post dedicated to some persons of note that have recently left us.

Goodbye to Homer Jones at the age of 82.

The speedy Jones averaged over twenty-two yards a catch (an NFL record even today) over his career after the Giants selected him in the twentieth round in the 1964 draft and he would make two Pro Bowls for the Giants.

Jones is also credited as the first player to spike the football after a touchdown and was the star of the first-ever Monday Night Football game in 1970 when he returned a kickoff for a touchdown for the Browns in their win over the Jets.

The Browns had traded running back Ron Johnson (their first-rounder in 1969) and defensive lineman Jim Kanicki to the Giants for Jones in expectations of Jones replacing the production of Paul Warfield, whom they had traded to Miami in order to draft quarterback Mike Phipps.

Jones would catch only ten passes for the Browns, despite playing in all fourteen games and would be out of the league after the season, while Johnson would twice rush over one thousand yards for the Giants.

Goodbye to Daniel Ellsberg at the age of 92.

Ellsberg is thought of by some as a hero and others as a traitor for his role in the leaking of the famous "Pentagon Papers", which unveiled the Top Secret files of the defense department's history of the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War.

Ellsberg was brought to trial in 1973 under the 1917 espionage act among other charges but had all charges dismissed by Judge William Matthew Byrne.

Ellsberg was also a key portion of Watergate, as one of the "Plumbers" break-ins was at Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office in search of damaging information on Ellsberg.

Ellsberg spent much of his time after his court cases involved in liberal causes, whistleblower protection, and anti-nuclear weapons work.

Goodbye to Bob Brown at the age of 81.

The Hall of Fame offensive tackle was the second overall pick in the 1964 draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, winning the Rookie of the Year award which isn't an easy award to win for an offensive lineman.

Brown was named to the first or second-team All-Pro teams in nine of his ten seasons with the Eagles, Rams, and Raiders, and won the NFLPA's Offensive Lineman of the Year for three consecutive seasons from 1968-70.

"The Boomer" was part of history in 1971 with Oakland as the Raiders could occasionally send out an entire offensive line of future Hall of Famers with Gene Upshaw, Art Shell, Ron Mix, Jim Otto, and Brown.

Goodbye to Brison Manor at the age of 70.

Manor spent most of his nine-year NFL career with the Denver Broncos other than the final few games of the 1984 season after Denver traded him to Tampa Bay at midseason.

Manor was a key part of the Bronco defensive line for their "Orange Crush" defense, which led the franchise to their first three playoff seasons from 1977-79.

Manor recovered a key fumble in the 1977 AFC title game for Denver in their win over the Oakland Raiders and finished his career with twenty-three sacks with a high of six and a half in 1979.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Boxing Challenge: Prograis struggles, Tszyu stars

     There was a world championship fight this Saturday but the winner of that match wasn't the performer of the day as that fighter was a spectacular victor and gives some consideration that a unified four-title champion may not be the best fighter in his division.

But first, Regis Prograis is a fighter that is being considered the best in the junior welterweight division.

However, he didn't show it in his split decision win in his hometown of New Orleans to retain his WBC title over Danielito Zorrilla.

Zorilla appeared to have dropped Prograis in the first round but it wasn't ruled to be one, costing Zorrilla a deserved point. and Prograis scored a flash knockdown in round three.

That about covers anything exciting as Zorrilla rarely took chances and demanded that Prograis force the action, which caused long pauses in the action and resulted in a boring fight.

There were differences in the scoring, both officially and unofficially, with Prograis winning on two judges' cards at 118-109 and 117-110 with a dissenting card of 114-113 for Zorrilla.

I had it closer for Prograis at 115-112 but I've seen several cards online for Zorrilla.

Either way, it was an ugly, clunky fight that was very awkward in the ring, and may have raised questions about Prograis, who has received recent plaudits as the best in the division after running through the respected Jose Zepeda to win the title vacated by Josh Taylor.

The old boxing adage- win today, look good the next time will have to do for Prograis in victory this time.

Meanwhile, in Australia, Tim Tszyu had a harder time overcoming a training camp dog bite than he did Carlos Ocampo as Tszyu knocked Ocampo down seconds into the fight with a right hand and after Ocampo rose, he took several punches before a left polished the veteran off after only seventy-seven seconds.

Ocampo had been knocked out in one round by Errol Spence but in his previous fight had lasted all twelve rounds with Sebastian Fundora, so the early KO isn't tarnished too much.

For Tszyu, who retained his minor title as well as his mandatory shot at Jermell Charlo, it was the type of win that gets fans and media excited about his challenge of Charlo, who hasn't fought in over a year since gaining the final of his four titles with a win in his rematch vs Brian Castano.

It may even be arguable that Tszyu could be the biggest star in his eventual Charlo fight with his activity and exciting wins over Tony Harrison and Ocampo with the consideration of Charlo's inactivity and the thought that nags at me that perhaps Charlo is the best of an average era in the junior middleweight division.

The WBO has mandated that a Charlo-Tszyu fight must take place by September 30th or Charlo will be stripped of their title and Tszyu will be elevated to full status from his minor belt.

In the co-feature, undefeated Sam Goodman scored the biggest win of his career with a split decision over Ra'eese Aleem in a qualifier for the mandatory slot for the IBF in the junior featherweight division.

Aleem started quickly and when he threw punches, had Goodman confused by Aleem's volume of punching and movement.

Aleem stopped throwing as often over the second half of the fight, so Goodman took command over the final four rounds to pull out the split decision.

The judges scored 117-111 and 116-112 for Goodman along with 116-112 for Aleem, all too wide for my tastes with my card for Goodman at 115-113.

Goodman is now the mandatory challenger for IBF and WBA champion Marlon Tapales but with possible plans for Tapales to face the winner of the WBC/WBO title battle between Stephen Fulton and Naoya Inoue held in July, Goodman may have to wait until 2024 for his eventual championship attempt.

Boxing Challenge

TRS: 98 Pts (3)
Ramon Malpica: 90 Pts (3)
Vince Samano:72 Pts (3) 

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Boxing Challenge

     Only three fights in the boxing challenge weekend but with one world title at stake, a mandatory challenger putting his status at risk, and an eliminator that will decide a mandatory contender, the three fights all have high stakes.

On DAZN and Matchroom, Regis Prograis defends his WBC junior welterweight title for the first time in his hometown of New Orleans, and needs a win for a potential unification fight against IBF champion Subriel Matias later this year.

Prograis impressively pounded Jose Zepeda in winning the WBC title vacated by Josh Taylor with an eleventh-round knockout and regained some of the prestige that Prograis had lost after his close decision loss to Taylor in 2019.

Danielito Zorrila steps in as a replacement for the injured Liam Paro against Prograis and the 17-1 Zorrilla owns a second-round knockout over long-time contender Pablo Cesar Cano as his best win.

But Zorrilla's only loss was last summer to contender Arnold Barboza and while losing a decision to the undefeated Barboza certainly is no crime, it's hard to see how Zorrilla can fend off the bigger and more powerful Prograis.

The remaining two fights are televised by Showtime from Australia as Tim Tszyu continues to stay busy to prepare for his eventual title chance against the unified junior middleweight kingpin Jermell Charlo, against veteran Carlos Ocampo.

Tsyzu was very strong in stopping former WBC champion, Tony Harrison in nine rounds in March and was expected to finally challenge Charlo now as the champion continues to recover from a hand injury that has caused two postponements of a fight against Tsyzu, causing Tszyu to decide to take this match vs Ocampo to stay sharp for his title challenge.

Ocampo has lost both of his highest-profile fights, losing by a first-round knockout against Errol Spence for the IBF welterweight title in 2018, and lost a unanimous decision to Sebastian Fundora in his most recent bout last October.

The WBO, who lists Tszyu as the mandatory challenger for Charlo, ruled on May 30th that Charlo-Tszyu must take place by Sept 30th or Charlo will be stripped of their title.

The co-feature will be an IBF title eliminator at junior featherweight between Ra'eese Aleem and Australia's Sam Goodman with the winner stepping into the mandatory slot in the organization for current IBF and WBA champion Marlon Tapales, who won the title with an upset split decision win over Murodjon Akhmadalev earlier this year.

Tapales has been given permission by the WBA to wait on a mandatory challenge in order to face the winner of the Stephen Fulton-Naoya Inoue fight for Fulton's WBC and WBO belts for sn undisputed four title champion in the division, so the winner may have a long wait on their hands before their eventual chance.

Aleem has built his record with several wins over contenders a cut below the top of the division on PBC cards, while the undefeated Goodman notched his most important win in March with a unanimous decision over former IBF champion T.J. Doheny.

Boxing Challenge

WBC Junior Welterweight Title. 12 Rds
Regis Prograis vs Danielito Zorrilla
Ramon Malpica: Prograis KO 7
TRS: Prograis KO 10
Vince Samano:Prograis KO 8

Junior Middleweights. 12 Rds
Tim Tszyu vs Carlos Ocampo
R.L: Tszyu KO 10
TRS: Tszyu KO 6
V.S: Tszyu KO 8

Junior Featherweights.12 Rds
Ra'Eese Aleem vs Sam Goodman
All: Aleem Unanimous Decision

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Devils extend Jesper Bratt

    The New Jersey Devils entered the off-season with questions about two of their high-scoring forwards with both Timo Meier and Jesper Bratt on the restricted free agent market.

Considering the past problems between the Devils and Bratt in contract negotiations, it wouldn't have been a long reach to figure that Meier would be the more likely of the duo to settle first.

However, it was Jesper Bratt, who the Devils will be welcoming back into the fold as New Jersey signed Bratt to an eight-year contract extension (Bratt technically would not be a free agent until July 1) worth sixty-three million dollars.

Bratt's contract starts high and dwindles as the agreement progresses from ten million for next season to the smallest amount of six million in the final year of the deal in 2030-31.

The twenty-four-year-old Bratt scored a career-high thirty-two goals last season and his seventy-three total points equaled his previous season, which was then a career-high.

Bratt is about as well-rounded offensively as a forward can be with both his shot and passing touch, and his defensive skills aren't a drag on the Devils either, so I think this is a deal that can wear well over the course of those eight years.

The Devils can now turn to an attempt to lock up Timo Meier for the long-term, which I would think would come soon as the Devils will have to send him a one-year, ten-million-dollar contract offer unless his extension can be agreed upon.

New Jersey's acquisition of Meier at the trade deadline cost them four prospects, their first-rounder in the upcoming draft, and their second-round choice in the 2024 draft, so general manager Tom Fitzgerald is motivated to lock Meier up and avoid having Meier leave as an unrestricted free agent following the 2023-24 season. 


Cleaning out the Inbox: Passings

 The tributes never stop and here is our latest batch of salutes to persons of note that have recently passed.

Goodbye to the "Iron Sheik" at the age of 81.

Famous in recent years for his profane Twitter account and various other media accounts, The Iron Sheik is otherwise best remembered for the moment to the left when he ended the over five years plus WWF title reign of Bob Backlund at Madison Square Garden, when Backlund's manager, Arnold Skaaland, threw in the towel with Backlund trapped in the Sheik's finishing move, the feared "Camel Clutch".

Sheik would hold the title for close to a month before dropping the championship at the same MSG to Hulk Hogan.

The Sheik would later team with Nikolai Volkoff and their tag team title win over Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo at the initial Wrestlemania would be the first title change ever for Wrestlemania.

Sheik had several runs as a top heel through several territories, including Mid-Atlantic, Georgia, Florida, and Mid-South, and his WWF feud with Sgt. Slaughter was also a very successful series.

Goodbye to Mike Young at the age of 63.

Young looked like a coming star for the Baltimore Orioles when he hit twenty-eight homers for the Birds in 1985 but he would only hit a combined twenty-eight homers over the next four seasons (sixteen of those in 1987) and would be out of the majors after thirty-two games for Cleveland in 1989 before playing in 1990 for the Hiroshima Carp in Japan.

In 1987, Young homered twice in extra innings in an Orioles win over the Angels and was the last player to accomplish that feat until 2013.

Goodbye to Jim Hines at the age of 76.

Hines won two gold medals in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, winning the 100-meter dash and the four-man 100-meter relay, setting world records in both events.

Hines's record in the 100 meters would stand for fifteen years until broken in 1983 by Calvin Smith.

After the NFL success of 1964 Olympic gold-winning sprinter Bob Hayes with the Dallas Cowboys, NFL teams were drafting sprinters often in the hopes of finding another Hayes for their club, and Hines was not an exception as the Miami Dolphins drafted Hines in the sixth round in the 1968 draft.

Hines, Tommy Smith (Bengals), and John Carlos (Eagles) all were in NFL camps following the Mexico City games but what their teams discovered was that while Bob Hayes was a football player that sprinted, Hines, Smith, and Carlos were sprinters that were trying to play football.

Carlos didn't make the Eagles, Smith caught one pass for forty-one yards in his one season (1969) as a Bengal, and Hines caught two passes for twenty-three for the 1969 Dolphins before playing in one game for the Chiefs in 1970 to end his career.

Goodbye to Jim Turner at the age of 82.

Turner kicked in two Super Bowls, winning with the New York Jets in 1968 and losing with the Denver Broncos in 1977 in his sixteen-season career.

In their Super Bowl win, Turner kicked three field goals for the Jets and nailed a forty-seven-yard field goal for Denver in their 27-10 loss to Dallas nine years later.

Turner was voted to the All-AFL second team as the kicker covering the ten-year existence of the league and in the 1977 "Broncomania" season, Turner slipped out of the backfield on a fake field goal attempt and walked into the end zone with a twenty-five-yard touchdown reception from holder and backup quarterback Norris Weese in Denver's breakout 30-7 win over the defending Super Bowl Champion Raiders in Oakland.

Turner was second in career scoring in league history when he retired in 1980 after losing his job in training camp to Fred Steinfort.

Goodbye to Stan Savran at the age of 76.

A long-time sports media icon in Pittsburgh, Savran was actually from Cleveland but moved to Pittsburgh in 1976 and became a major part of the Pittsburgh media.
Savran worked broadcasts for the Pirates and Penguins on their cable networks, hosted Mike Tomlin's coaches show, and hosted "Savran on Sportsbeat" for seventeen years on Fox Sports Pittsburgh the longest-running sports program in Pittsburgh's history.

Goodbye to Harvey Glance at the age of 66.

An Olympian in 1976 and 1980 in the 100-meter dash, Glance won the Olympic Trials in 1976 and was thought to be a favorite entering the finals in Montreal but finished a disappointing fourth.

Glance did win a gold in Montreal however as he was part of the four-man 100-meter relay team that won that event.

Glance would make the 1980 Olympic team but did not compete due to the United State boycott of the game.

Glance twice equaled the 100-meter world record in 1976, with running times of 9.9 seconds.

After retiring from competition, Glance would serve as the head track coach at his alma mater of Auburn before leaving for the same position at rival Alabama.  

Monday, June 12, 2023

Boxing Challenge: Lopez upsets Taylor, announces "Retirement"

  Teofimo Lopez rehabilitated his image and his career with a wide unanimous decision triumph over Josh Taylor to lift the WBO junior welterweight title from Taylor as well as his status as the lineal champion that Taylor held as well as all four titles since defeating Jose Ramirez in May 2021.

The fight was evenly fought through five rounds and I had Taylor slightly ahead at 48-47 but that was as good as things would get for the Scotsman as Lopez snatched control of the match and I would give each of the next seven rounds to Lopez, who would surprisingly announce his retirement after the fight, which will likely last as long as a hiccup with Lopez's return to being mentioned in elite fights to be made in the sport.

Taylor was far too slow for Lopez in the second half of the fight as Lopez connected over and over with combinations that were punctuated with an occasional wiggle and added showmanship as Taylor struggled with each attempt to regain his composure.

Lopez's victory was closer than it should have been with one judge scoring the same as I did at 117-111 and the remaining two turning in cards that were far too tight at 115-113.

While Lopez looked sharper as the fight moved on and deservedly strides back onto the big stage, I still wonder how much this win was about Lopez's skills or the sudden deterioration of Taylor, who looked less than great for the second fight in a row, and I also wonder if Taylor will ever approach the level that saw him defeat Ivan Baranchyk (when Baranchyk was unbeaten), Regis Prograis, and Jose Ramirez before his controversial win over Jack Catterall.

I suppose it's possible that Taylor's decline is due to making weight at 140 and he could move to welterweight to help with that problem.

We'll find that out when Lopez and Taylor fight again but I might think that Taylor might be best served to be matched somewhat carefully and for Lopez?

Teofimo Lopez tends to respond to challenges and when he isn't being challenged, Lopez has shown a tendency to zone out both in and outside of the ring.

While I'm sure that his team and Top Rank would like a good but not great opponent for Lopez next time out, I might not do that considering Lopez's history.

If you can make a fight with Devin Haney, do so.

With their amateur history, a battle between the three-belt unified champion at lightweight/lineal junior welterweight champion and the fully unified lightweight king moving up would certainly have plenty of intrigue.

I don't see Lopez making a fight against any of the other champions at 140 pounds with WBC and IBF champions, Regis Prograis and Subriel Matias with Matchroom and WBA "boss" Rolando Romero signed to PBC.

Although maybe there would be a chance that Lopez, who claimed before the fight that he had fulfilled his obligation to promoter Top Rank after the Taylor fight, could perhaps find either of the Matchroom duo appealing should his version of his TR contract turn out to be correct. 

The most likely big-name opponent for Lopez could be former WBC/WBO champion Jose Ramirez, who fights with Top Rank, has appeared on ESPN many times, and should Lopez decide to fight Ramirez in his hometown of Fresno, would draw a big crowd and for doing so, some extra dollars.

Ramirez has only one loss and I'd think would be an excellent consolation prize in the event that Lopez-Haney can't be signed for later this year.

Ramirez hasn't always been anxious to sign fights that would be difficult, so should Ramirez not be available, Top Rank also has undefeated contender Arnold Barboza in their camp and Barboza is likely to rise to the top contender spot (Barboza is 2nd, Jose Ramirez is 3rd) in the WBO (the title Lopez actually possesses now), so Lopez could perhaps get ahead with a mandatory (Politics depending) with a Barboza battle.

The Haney fight would make the most sense and the most dollars, Lopez would be cashing in before any possible missteps could occur, and a victory would mean possible superstardom.

Earlier in the day from London, broadcast by DAZN/Matchroom, Sunny Edwards retained his IBF flyweight title over challenger Andres Campos.

Not much to say about this one, Campos attempted to be aggressive but was generally repelled and outboxed by Edwards in a fight that was typical of an Edwards fight.

Edwards called out WBO champion Jesse "Bam" Rodriguez after the fight for a unification bout and hopefully, that can happen before the end of the year.

Edwards won on all cards by a score of 117-111, which was the same as mine.

Boxing Challenge

TRS:95 Pts (2)
Ramon Malpica: 87 Pts (2)
Vince Samano: 69 Pts (0)  

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Boxing Challenge: Munguia battles Derevyvanchenko

  The biggest fight of the weekend normally receives top billing and while Teofimo Lopez's upset win over Josh Taylor will be more telling in the future of boxing, the fight between Jaime Munguia and Sergey Derevyvanchenko was also important and the battle waged will be remembered for a long time, so it deserves a post of its own.

I will write another about the Lopez-Taylor fight as well as the title defense for IBF flyweight champion Sunny Edwards shortly.

The twelve-rounder from Golden Boy/DAZN from Ontario, California saw Dereyvanchenko push the pace and avoid his usual slow start but Munguia answer back with strong punches of his own in the early rounds with both fighters rocked at times without falling to the mat.

Dereyvanchenko was obviously the smaller fighter but was able to avoid the wider shots of Munguia to do valuable work on the bigger man and was able to jab his way inside Munguia to his credit.

Munguia had his moments in the first half of the fight and the fifth round will be in consideration for the round of the year when the awards are decided as both fighters landed right hands at will with Dereyvanchenko gaining a small edge.

The second half started slowly but began to pick up in the eighth round with Derevyvanchenko having Munguia in mild trouble in both the eighth and ninth.

The DAZN commentators throughout the fight referred to an offer made to Dereyvanchenko to reduce the fight from twelve to ten rounds for a reported six-figure sum that was turned down as Dereyvanchenko figured to have the advantage in the late rounds and didn't want to give that away.

Had that offer been accepted, Derevyanchenko would have been the winner by majority decision.

Munguia won the eleventh and landed a thumping body punch that sent Dereyvanachenko to one knee in the final round and seemed to be on his way to a stunning final-round knockout.

Dereyvanchenko managed to move away, pulled Munguia to the canvas along with himself, and by the end of the round had recovered enough to fend Munguia off with an occasional right hand.

In the end, it was another heartbreaking defeat for Dereyvanchenko as Munguia won a narrow unanimous decision with scores of 115-112 and 114-113 times two for the victor.

Had Dereyvanchenko not been knocked down in the last round, the fight would have ended in a majority draw.

I had Dereyvanchenko the winner at 114-113 but this was not a robbery just a close fight with reasonable scores.

While I feel bad for Dereyvanchenko for another achingly close defeat, the facts are that it has been his chin that let him down yet again in these close losses as he was dropped in losses to Daniel Jacobs and Gennady Golovkin.

The win is the best of Munguia's career and he announced a permanent move to the super middleweight division after the fight.
However, Munguia was punished by a smaller fighter and one not known for a tremendous amount of power, so it's fair to speculate how he will hold up in a division with Canelo Alvarez, David Benavidez, and David Morrell at its top.

Still, Munguia finished strong, pulled out a fight that he was losing, showed an incredible amount of heart in winning the bout, and he deserves a lot of credit for his effort, even if you thought Derevyvanchenko was the winner.

In the co-feature, veteran middleweight Shane Mosley Jr scored the biggest win of his career with a seventh-round stoppage of D'Mitrius Ballard in what was thought of before the fight as a possible showcase for a fight against Jaime Munguia in the future.

I'm not sure if that happens now that Munguia will stay in the 168-pound division but Mosley dominated the once-beaten Ballard, who had suffered his only loss in his previous fight against Munguia in three rounds last year, and could face an opponent in his next fight that would give Mosley a chance to improve himself in a weak middleweight division.

Ballard won the first two rounds on my card but Mosley began to grind Ballard down and scored a knockdown in the fifth round that Ballard never recovered from as Mosley finished Ballard in the seventh as the referee jumped in with Ballard taking punches along the ropes.

Ballard appears headed for journeyman status or will at least need to be rebuilt with a few lower-level opponents before he would face a top-twenty opponent.

The problem for Mosley, who is ranked 10th in the WBA and 13th by the WBC, is that Golden Boy Promotions really doesn't have an opponent that would help him rise higher in the ratings.

Mosley would have likely been a sizable underdog against Jaime Munguia but that would have given him a chance to face a name opponent and without Munguia in the division or a sanctioning body ordering an eliminator (unlikely for now), Mosley may be in a gray area without anyone to fight.

Boxing Challenge

TRS: 93 Pts (3)
Ramon Malpica: 85 Pts (2)
Vince Samano: 69 Pts (0)  

Friday, June 9, 2023

Devils trade Damon Severson to Columbus

  The New Jersey Devils have two defensemen they selected with top-five overall draft picks coming up through the pipeline with Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec perhaps arriving as soon as next season.

That didn't leave a lot of room for veteran Damon Severson and while the team would have been interested in retaining Severson, who would be an unrestricted free agent when the free agency period begins later this month, had he been amenable to a short-term contract of a year or two, Severson, understandably so, at twenty-eight, was ready for his big cash-in contract and was looking for a long-term deal.

Those reasons made sense for both Severson and the Devils as New Jersey traded Severson to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a third-round pick in the upcoming draft that Columbus had obtained from Calgary, which is the 80th pick overall.

New Jersey didn't have a third-rounder, having traded their third-rounder last summer to Pittsburgh in the trade that brought John Marino to Newark, so the Devils managed to get something from a player that was almost certain to leave the team shortly.

Severson immediately signed an eight-year contract with Columbus worth fifty million over the course of the contract and the eighth year is the reason that the Devils were able to acquire something for Severson by working out a "sign and trade" with Columbus, who could only offer Severson seven years since they were not his original employer and by obtaining his rights before signing Severson as a free agent, the eighth year was able to be added to Severson's contract.

Severson was part of the Devils top defensive pairing at times in his New Jersey tenure but signing him long-term didn't make sense when you consider the Devils have Dougie Hamilton on a long-term contract, John Marino and Jonas Siegenthaler as cheaper options in the veteran defensemen role, and Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec on their way at some point next season.

Severson played well last season finishing with seven goals and twenty-six assists and a plus-nine but as All About the Jersey stated, Severson may have improved due to improved talent around him which enabled him to play fewer minutes last season.

Severson was a frustrating player for most of his career as he always seemed to be the player that committed a silly penalty or a turnover that appeared to be due to a lack of focus but he did show improvement in those areas last season and he's an above-average defenseman, it's simply that for the dollars that he was paid by Columbus, the Devils can cover his loss with Hughes and Nemec in the long term and perhaps a less-pricey veteran could be obtained for next season to cover any growing pains that the rookies could endure.

New Jersey will have five unrestricted free agents, as of this writing, but only four will need a decision to be made as veteran goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who played in only ten games due to a hip injury over his two-year contract.

The Devils will have three forwards as UFA's-Tomas Tatar, Erik Haula, and Myles Wood, and one defenseman in Ryan Graves.

New Jersey may have to hope that one of the forwards would take a lesser contract to stay and I think that Ryan Graves may be leaving because he may be out of the Devils price range to retain him considering the team's situation at this time.

New Jersey will have the following as restricted free agents, giving the team the ability to match any offer made to the player- forwards Timo Meier, Jesper Bratt, Jesper Boqvist, Yegor Sharangovich, Michael McLeod, and Nathan Bastian, defenseman Kevin Bahl, and goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood.

Considering the capital that was paid out to acquire Timo Meier and with Jesper Bratt as a home-grown talent that scored thirty-two goals at twenty-four last season, the Devils are certain to do what they must to retain both players and preferably to long-term contracts as both would be free to hit the unrestricted market following next season.

Keep in mind that the Devils will have to make qualifying offers to the restricted group and all of those players have arbitration rights with the exception of Kevin Bahl.

It will be interesting to see how many of these players return (and to varying degrees, I'd like to try to keep all or most of them at the right cost) and I think that the Devils are motivated to bring back each of the RFA's with the exception of Mackenzie Blackwood, who the team could be ready to part ways with.

New Jersey will not (unless they trade up) have a first-round choice in the upcoming draft due to trading it to San Jose in the Timo Meier trade.

Boxing Challenge

    The boxing weekend bounces back from an off-week with two world championship battles and a former world champion fighting his toughest opponent in years.

The biggest matchup is from New York City where WBO (and former undisputed) junior welterweight champion Josh Taylor defends his lone remaining belt against former three-title lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez on an ESPN+/Top Rank card.

Both fighters enter the ring in need of an impressive victory after controversial wins in their most recent fights with neither fighter looking strong in victory.

Taylor won a split decision over Jack Catterall in February 2022 that has been universally panned and after several tries and Taylor vacating titles for a rematch against Catterall, the WBO forced Taylor's hand and mandated this fight against Lopez, who was knocked down in a split decision win over Sandor Martin last December and didn't come close to resembling the fighter that defeated Vasyl Lomachenko.

While Taylor didn't look great against Catterall, Lopez looked like a fighter that may have seen his best fights already in his rear mirror, and Taylor is bigger, stronger, and may have more in the tank than Lopez- But I don't know if I'd bet on that.

The remaining title bout is from DAZN in the afternoon in London as Sunny Edwards defends his IBF flyweight title against Andres Campos.

Edwards is making his first appearance with Matchroom Boxing and with a victory, Edwards is likely to receive a unification chance in his next fight against either WBC champion Julio Cesar Martinez or WBO titleholder Jesse "Bam" Rodriguez, both of whom also fight for Matchroom.

Chile's Campos is undefeated at 15-0 and has defeated two former title challengers in Jesus Silvestre and Gilberto Pedroza but with only four knockouts, I wonder if Campos can hurt Edwards enough to do any damage.

In the evening, DAZN hands the keys over to Golden Boy, who will have two fights for the challenge.

In the main event, former WBO junior middleweight champion and long-time middleweight contender Jaime Munguia will finally face an opponent with name value in three-time former title challenger Sergey Derevyanchenko in a super middleweight fight.

Munguia was offered several title shots at then-WBO middleweight champion Demetrius Andrade and the current WBO titlist Janibek Alimkhanuly but has turned all of those down in favor of fighting a collection of faded fighters and non-entities since vacating his 154-pound title in 2019.

Derevyanchenko lost two very close decisions in title chances against Gennady Golovkin and Daniel Jacobs and was competitive in another decision defeat for a championship against Jermall Charlo before losing a majority decision to the current top contender in the WBC ratings, Carlos Adames in December 2021.

Derevyanchenko has fought only once since, a unanimous decision win over Joshua Conley last July.

While all of Derevyanchenko's losses are against excellent opposition, his losses to Charlo and Adames did show that he could be losing a step as they weren't quite as close as his defeats to Golovking and Jacobs, and with Munguia having a substantial advantage in size, it could be Derevyanchenko's fate to use his name to bolster that of Munguia.

It'll be interesting to see just how Derevyanchenko fares against Munguia for his future and that of Munguia.

The co-feature pits two fringe contenders that appear evenly matched in the middleweight division in D'mitrius Ballard and Shane Mosley Jr.

The once-beaten Ballard has fought since last February when he was overpowered and stopped in three rounds by Jaime Munguia, while Mosley enters the fight after winning two decisions over aging veterans in Gabriel Rosado and Mario Lozano.

Mosley is a gatekeeper between journeyman and fringe contender and while Ballard has only one loss, his most notable fight wasn't even a win- it was a draw against Yamaguchi Falcao.

We know what level Shane Mosley Jr is, the question is if D'Mitrius Ballard is on the same level.

Boxing Challenge

WBO Junior Welterweight Title.12 Rds 
Josh Taylor vs Teofimo Lopez
R.L and TRS: Taylor Unanimous Decision
V.S: Taylor KO 11

IBF Flyweight Title. 12 Rds
Sunny Edwards vs Andres Campos
R.L and TRS: Edwards Unanimous Decision
V.S: Campos KO 8

Super Middleweights. 12 Rds
Jaime Munguia vs Sergey Derevyanchenko
R.L and V.S: Derevyanchenko Unanimous Decision
TRS: Munguia Unanimous Decision

Middleweights. 10 Rds
D'Mitrius Ballard vs Shane Mosley Jr.
R.L: Mosley KO 9
TRS: Mosley Unanimous Decision
V.S: Ballard Unanimous Decision

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Road Trip: Lake Erie

I haven't been following baseball as much as I used to and it shows by how little I've been writing about the sport here at TRS.

Still, the last few months have been extremely stressful for me, and I welcomed the chance to get away for a day and check a new ballpark off the list.

The day started with a drive to the Hartville Marketplace in Hartville, Ohio. 

I've been to Hartville several times over the years and it's a fun place to find various foods and items from the vendors on the inside but on Saturdays, the outside is opened up to the yard sale crowd and I was hoping to find some nice items from those sellers.

That didn't work out as that area's numbers were lower than usual as some rain fell in the morning and I'd bet that kept some vendors home as sitting in the rain didn't seem very appealing.

I didn't spend very much other than a few bottles of hot sauce from a local vendor that she stated "was in seventeen stores in the area" named Muck Monster.

She was giving out samples and I was impressed enough with Garlic Serrano to buy a few bottles.

A quick trip down the road for lunch had just enough time for a stop at A&W drive-in for a coney and chicken sandwich along with a gas stop and a few bags of chips for the ladies here.

As we drove up the road, there was always time for a stop at the Medina antique mart, which rarely fails to find something for the collection.

I didn't spend as much as usual but I did find a 1972 Indians program scored from a game against the Oakland A's for twelve dollars, so there was something added to the collection.

Medina isn't that far from Avon, which was the main reason for the trip on this day.

I had visited Avon a few years ago when Rachel did one of her Duck Tape YouTube shoots for the company, and had driven by the home of the Frontier League's Lake Erie Crushers but didn't attend a game.

The stadium is a basic one-level stadium that uses field turf as its surface.

I think this may have been the first time that I have ever been the only person in the stadium, as I was first in line and the ticket taker opened the gate after scanning my ticket before the general manager was ready (although it was he that unlocked the gate!), so for about two minutes, I stood inside the gate as the only fan in the stadium!

We were the only people autographing amongst the small crowd and I didn't have anything for myself, so I was working to help others that had sent things along.

The players here are thrilled to sign and several players took their cards from their days in affiliated baseball to show to other players.

There were a few that I remembered from visits to Hagerstown and I asked about their memories of the Muni.

Former Phillies farmhand Jiandido Tromp just smiled when asked and he gave a look of "I can't say anything nice, so..." pitching coach Jason Zgardowski, who had also hit Hagerstown as a Phillie's minor leaguer, talked about how players had to fight for hot showers after the game.

Catcher Michael Blanke, who had been a Kannapolis Intimidator (White Sox) chatted a little about Hagerstown but even more about the former home of the Intimidators, Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium, and the world's hottest baseball stadium!

Blanke told a story about a blazing hot Kids Day start with the sun beating down on the players and getting worse by the minute along with the usual loud blaring noise that teams use for these occasions.

Blanke decided that he was going to get kicked out as soon he could and after he was booted from the game, he laughed as he walked across the field to the centerfield clubhouse area with "Spongebob's theme song played as I left the field!".

All the players were terrific except we didn't get former Phillie J.D. Hammer, who didn't seem interested in anyone, including his teammates!

I don't have the time to graph often anymore but that was a very enjoyable hour doing what I used to have so much fun with.

The Crusher's crowd was very small and I wonder if it wasn't for a town still paying for a stadium, if they would even still be in business.

Built in 2009 during the stadium and minor league baseball boom, Mercy Health Stadium is well maintained and in good shape but near fifteen years of age, and minor league baseball not as desirable as it once was for cities to spend their dollars on

Considering the number of teams that are within an hour or less drive ( Cleveland, AA Akron, High A Lake County, MLB Draft Mahoning Valley), the Crushers are in a tough spot with competition for the baseball dollar in an area that could be considered overserved even without them.

I'd like to see the Crushers stick around, the staff was great, the players friendly, and their logo (very reminiscent of the old Jamestown Jammers) is terrific.

I would have bought a hat, had it been in my size, at the gift shop but I settled for a baseball for the collection with two shirts for the ladies at home.

After leaving the stadium, we decided to stop at the Winking Lizard, which I had enjoyed so much when I visited Avon for Rachel's trip.

Winking Lizard has sixteen locations in Ohio, mostly in the northern half of the state, and I remembered how much we enjoyed our stop on our previous visit.

The Lizard was very busy and they said it would be a thirty-minute wait but it turned out to be closer to ten minutes before we were seated.

As we waited for our food, we watched National Treasure hold off the charge of Blazing Sevens to win the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore.

After an excellent burger and splitting a small appetizer of chicken tenders in spicy garlic sauce (Garlic mixed with their signature 911 sauce), we were on our way back home after a long and fun day.

If you are ever in Ohio and see a Winking Lizard, you really need to stop by and grab a bite.

My work life has changed and I don't have the time to autograph very often but it's fun to jump in every once in a while and just have some fun.

I have three other trips planned for the remainder of the season, so I'll be writing about those after they happen and all three have their special reasons for their selection.