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Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac trade grades: Devils ship duo to Islanders in mega deal

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It is officially official: trade season is here.

With the NHL trade deadline less than a week away, a big East Division swap went down Wednesday night when Tri-State clubs, the Devils and the Islanders, traded players and picks. The New York squad snagged forwards Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac while New Jersey got two minor leaguers and some draft picks — one being a first-rounder.

It’s a good deal for both clubs as the Devils stock the cupboards and the Isles get two guys that could help the Stanley Cup contenders up front. 

Here’s how the teams did:

Islanders received from New Jersey:

Kyle Palmieri (F) and Travis Zajac (F)

Devils received from New York:

A.J. Greer (F), Mason Jobst (F), 2021 first-round pick, 2022 conditional fourth-round pick

New Jersey will retain 50 percent of both Zajac and Palmieri’s salaries.

Devils grade: B+

Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald knows how to make moves. Last year at the deadline (when he was the interim) he made three deals, and that was after he sent Blake Coleman to the Lightning and Andy Greene to these same Isles. This year he traded two guys who will be unrestricted free agents this summer, who they could have lost for nothing, for something. 

NHL TRADE TRACKER 2021: List of deals completed before the deadline

With a young core including Jack Hughes, Ty Smith and netminder Mackenzie Blackwood, Fitzgerald went out and added at least one more potential young star with that first-round pick. New Jersey now nine picks in the 2021 draft, including two in the opening round. Greer is a 2015 second-round pick and Jobst went undrafted; both had been playing in the AHL with Bridgeport.

“It sets us up really well for the future,” said Fitzgerald on Zoom after the deal. “We feel we got three really good prospects that can come in and develop under our development program and grow these players to be the players we project them to be.”

While the 2021 draft isn’t considered as deep as 2020, the Devils could get a quality guy in the latter portion of the first round, which is where Fitzgerald is expecting the pick to fall.

“I hope it’s the 32nd pick, I really do. I hope these two gentlemen can win a Cup and we get the 32nd pick. I would love nothing more than that,” he said.

Islanders grade: A-

The Islanders lost captain Anders Lee, who was tied with Brock Nelson for the team’s goal lead (12), to a season-ending knee injury in March. According to NHL.com’s Brian Compton, GM Lou Lamoriello noted that the way the team responded after Lee went down (8-4-0), he needed to make a move to help bolster the lineup.

“I know what they bring on the ice,” Lamoriello said regarding his newest acquisitions. “I also know what kind of people they are and what they bring to the locker room. Chemistry is extremely important to me.”

Lamoriello especially knows Zajac who he drafted with the 20th overall pick in 2004 for the Devils. The two-way center has spent his entire career in the Garden State and amassed 550 points in 1,024 games. He also has 28 points in 57 playoff games, including 14 points during the Devils 2012 Stanley Cup runner-up run.

He’ll probably be a bottom-six guy for Barry Trotz’s club but what he brings as a grizzled veteran — and that long playoff run — is intangible to the squad. It should be noted that Zajac waived his no-trade clause to go to the Island and considering it’s a short drive (traffic permitting) from NJ to Uniondale, it was probably a big reason why. 

“I’m extremely excited for this opportunity,” said Zajac. “At [this] point in my career and where I’m at, I want a chance to win. I just believe this is a team that has all the aspects of a winning hockey team and to be able to try and be a part of that and help them in any way possible … I think it was just, for me, it was the right time.”

As for Palmieri, he was the blue-chip in this deal. Before the move, he was considered one of the top players expected to be moved. (TSN’s Trade Bait board had him at No. 2.) The 30-year-old winger has only potted 17 points this season (in 34 games) but he’s consistently notched 20-plus goals in each of the previous five seasons. In 595 career games between the Ducks and Devils, he has 183 goals and 172 assists. A change of scenery, and playing with the likes of Mat Barzal could spark his offense.

“The opportunity to go and be a part of a team that has a chance to do something special is something every player wants,” Palmieri told reporters. “That’s all you can ask for. I’m really looking forward to this opportunity.”

Aside from joining a team that could go on a long postseason run, the two newest Islanders will also be welcomed — from a social distance — old friends and teammates Greene and Cory Schneider (taxi squad).


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As MLS season opens with Columbus Crew chasing rare repeat, league must seize chance to take next step forward

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The teams that won the two biggest trophies in Major League Soccer will open their seasons Sunday evening on national television. This is a big deal to the teams involved. It probably ought to be a bigger deal to the league in general.

The Philadelphia Union won the Supporters’ Shield at the close of the COVID-truncated 2020 season, compiling 47 points from 23 games. It was the first major trophy ever won by the club, but the celebration was shortened by its first-round playoff loss to New England.

The Union had to watch three weeks later as Columbus Crew SC won the league’s most coveted honor, MLS Cup champions, on a cold Saturday night at Crew Stadium.

“We’re not unique in that we want the ultimate prize, which is MLS Cup,” Union coach Jim Curtin told Sporting News. “We’re disappointed that our season ended on our home field against New England last year. … It’s always devastating when the year ends. But I think that also motivates us.

“We were able to lift the Supporters’ Shield, get a taste for our young players and our experienced guys of what that feels like. For some of them it was their very first trophy. And that’s a taste and a feeling that you want to have again and again and again over your career. There’s a lot of great teams in MLS this season. The league continues to get better and better. It’s exciting times for the fans now, as they slowly get back into the stadiums.”

MORE: If all MLS owners were like Matthew McConaughey, everyone would be a fan

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jonathan Tannenwald, this is the first time that the Supporters’ Shield winner and MLS Cup champion opened the subsequent regular season against one another. This is probably something the league would be wise to turn into a tradition. It is important enough that FS1 will show the game.

The 26th MLS season opens Friday with a Houston Dynamo-San Jose Earthquakes game (8 p.m. ET, ESPN+) and one matching the Seattle Sounders and Minnesota United (9:30, FS1).

As MLS continues to try to grow among U.S. professional sports leagues, though, and in the broader soccer landscape, it continues to suffer from a sort of identity issue. Not a crisis, but perhaps a conundrum. It is covered less as a sports competition than the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball or the NHL. This is partly the result of too few league teams being covered daily by major media outlets and so much of the conversation about the league being driven at a national level.

As commissioner Don Garber took the time Monday to speak with reporters about the 2021 season, the primary focus was on the introduction of another new team, Austin FC, and the eventual openings of new stadiums in Cincinnati and Columbus. The comment he made that generated the most reaction involved a player who’s currently competing in England, Darryl Dike.

On loan with Barnsley in England’s Championship division, Dike could return to Orlando City FC or be sold during the summer transfer window.

“That’s a $20 million player,” Garber told reporters.

“Really the story of Major League Soccer today is about youth,” he said. “We are now at the youngest we’ve ever been on average, in the history of the league. We’re investing deeply in developing players, with academies in every particular market. And now you have to have programs that could provide opportunities for young players to be able to perform at their highest, develop at their youngest and ultimately build a professional career.”

Those covering MLS generally express the view that it’s positive for the league to produce such players as Dike, Tyler Adams (now with RB Leipzig in German) and Brendan Aaronson (who started 23 games for and scored four goals for the Union last season and then moved to RB Salzburg in Austria).

It probably is best for the U.S. men’s national team to have players developing and competing on multiple fronts. It surely is an advantage to have young players developing in professional academies in the way more established soccer nations have for decades. And that’s part of why there is such a focus on MLS’ advancement as what some would term a “selling league.”

To gain greater traction in the U.S. sports marketplace, though, it needs to be viewed as, foremost, a league. Fans need to care about its race, standings, playoffs and champion as much as about how much one of its young stars might command in transfer fees.

That’s an area where the Crew could be of considerable use to the league this season. With star player Lucas Zelarayan injured for part of last year, they finished third in the East Division. But his return to health allowed them to surge through the playoffs and defeat the favored Seattle Sounders 3-0 in the MLS Cup final. The organization kept most of the lineup intact and deepened the roster by signing forward Bradley Wright-Phillips, who ranks sixth on the league’s career goal scoring list.

Columbus’ pursuit of a second consecutive championship could return the focus of the league to the field. Winning two in a row isn’t easy, as Bruce Arena is the only coach who’s done it twice — 1996 and 1997 with DC United, 2011 and 2012 with the Los Angeles Galaxy. And that’s part of what makes it compelling.

“Last year was an odd year. I give the Crew all the credit for winning the MLS Cup, as I give credit to Philadelphia for winning the Supporters’ Shield. But I think it’s going to be a lot different this year,” Arena said. “Columbus certainly has a good team, and I’m sure they anticipate competing throughout the year for not only Supporters’ Shield but also to return in MLS Cup.

“I think it’s probably more difficult with the more teams. This year, also, the schedule is different now. Now we’re playing conference schedules as opposed to playing everyone in the league. The league is certainly, probably, as competitive as it has been. It certainly will be a challenging year for anyone trying to win the MLS Cup.”


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Michael Jordan to present Kobe Bryant at Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

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The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Thursday revealed the presenters for the 2020 enshrinees.

Most notably, Michael Jordan — a 2009 inductee into the Naismith Hall of Fame — will present the late Kobe Bryant, who was the closest to emulating Jordan’s style and success on the court and whom Jordan considered to be a little brother. Jordan also spoke at Bryant’s memorial service in February 2020, showing the extent of their relationship.

MORE: ‘The Last Dance’ footage shows how young Kobe Bryant quickly earned respect of Michael Jordan

Bryant often peppered Jordan with questions about his game and preparation, much to the latter’s chagrin. But Bryant’s drive to succeed — coupled with his natural ability — revealed itself to Jordan, who took it on himself to help Bryant where he could. Their relationship began in the 1998 All-Star Game, where a 19-year-old Bryant forced Jordan to push himself. It eventually got to the point where Jordan considered Kobe the only player capable of beating him one-one-one.

“I don’t think I would lose,” Jordan said. “Other than to Kobe Bryant, because he steals all of my moves.”

Jordan will also present fellow 2020 inductee Kim Mulkey, coach of the Baylor women’s basketball team — making him the only person to present two inductees into the 2020 Hall of Fame class.

The 2020 induction ceremony will take place on May 15 after it was rescheduled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Below is a complete rundown of the 2020 enshrinees and their respective presenters:

  • Patrick Baumann, presented by Russ Granik (’13), Vlade Divac (’19)
  • Kobe Bryant, presented by Michael Jordan (’09)
  • Tamika Catchings, presented by Alonzo Mourning (’14), Dawn Staley (’13)
  • Tim Duncan, presented by David Robinson (’09)
  • Kevin Garnett, presented by Isiah Thomas (’00)
  • Kim Mulkey, presented by Michael Jordan (’09)
  • Barbara Stevens, presented by Geno Auriemma (’06), Muffet McGraw (’17)
  • Eddie Sutton, presented by John Calipari (’15), Bill Self (’17), Sidney Moncrief (’19
  • Rudy Tomjanovich, presented by Calvin Murphy (’93), Hakeem Olajuwon (’08)


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Braves’ Ronald Acuña Jr. nails fan’s beer with pinpoint accuracy

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Nachos, beer … no fan’s concession items are safe inside MLB parks.

The latest such example came from Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr.; video shows him nailing a fan’s beer at a game earlier this week — at the behest of the fan, of course.

MORE: Justin Turner destroys, then replaces fan’s nachos

And another angle:

It’s uncertain which game this was, but it took place at Truist Park in Atlanta. The cheapest beer there goes for $5, with the most expensive at $12 — well worth the price for a ball from Acuña, who’s playing some of the best ball in MLB right now: He leads MLB in hits (23) and home runs (seven) and is third in batting average at .442.


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