Lost in the shuffle on the marathon second day of the draft is that Wednesday also represented the deadline for qualifying offers to be tendered. The flattening of the salary cap increased the concerns about salary arbitration which has certainly affected the quality of players that are now set to hit the open market on Friday. As these players will not be a part of our annual Top-50 UFA Rankings, here’s a rundown of ten notables to keep tabs on over the coming days, listed in alphabetical order.
Andreas Athanasiou (Edmonton)
Back at the trade deadline, the Oilers dealt a pair of second-round picks and Sam Gagner to secure the speedster, one that GM Ken Holland had plenty of familiarity with from his own days with Detroit. While the winger was having a tough season, he’s only a year removed from a 30-goal campaign. In a normal salary cap world, his $3MM qualifier would have been tough to swallow but still would have happened. Instead, he hits the open market with Edmonton not getting much return for those two fairly high picks while becoming an intriguing bounce-back target for some teams. He won’t get paid like a 30-goal scorer but as a third-liner with upside, he’ll land one of the bigger contracts out of this group of players if not the biggest.
Matt Benning (Edmonton)
There was a time that the Oilers hoped that Benning could step into a role on their second pairing but it didn’t come to fruition. However, he has been a serviceable third-pairing player over the past few years but a cap-strapped Oilers team couldn’t justify qualifying him at $1.95MM. Given that he’s a right-handed shot in a market that doesn’t have a lot of them, he should have interest from a few teams.
Nick Cousins (Vegas)
On the surface, a $1MM qualifying offer to a player who had 25 points in 65 games and got into 17 postseason contests doesn’t seem too pricey. But this is a case where the potential for a higher award through arbitration is a risk that Vegas didn’t want to take with Cousins. It’s the second-straight year that the 27-year-old was non-tendered for this reason after Arizona did the same thing a year ago. A versatile depth player, he should be able to land somewhere for around the same contract as he played on this past season.
Anthony Duclair (Ottawa)
Despite finding an opportunity to play a bigger role than he had at any other point in his career, it seems as if Duclair may have overplayed his hand in contract talks. After scoring 23 goals this season, he opted to represent himself in contract negotiations against the recommendation of GM Pierre Dorion who indicated that a sizable raise was offered before getting to this point. Still just 25, Duclair becomes a very interesting addition to the open market but having bounced around the league already (he has played for five different teams in six NHL seasons), it’s hard to tell how strong his market may be.
Vinnie Hinostroza (Arizona)
A year ago, it looked like the 26-year-old was set to be a useful part of Arizona’s long-term plans. He was coming off of a career-best 16-23-39 stat line and was pushing for a spot in their top six. Things went sideways this year though as he potted just five goals in 68 games which made a $1.5MM qualifier untenable. Hinostroza could fit on a third line for some teams and should have a fair bit of interest.
Dominik Kahun (Buffalo)
This was one of the more surprising non-tenders of the group. Although Kahun has just two years of NHL experience, he’s arbitration-eligible since he’s 25. He followed up a 37-point rookie campaign with 31 points this pandemic-shortened season (including four in six games with Buffalo after being acquired in a deadline day deal from Pittsburgh) while he also missed time with a concussion and a knee injury. With his point per game average, he played at a 45-point full-season pace. Buffalo GM Kevyn Adams has indicated they are interested in retaining the winger but if he makes it to the open market, he should be one of the most sought-after players from this list.
Mark Jankowski (Calgary)
While he had shown progress in his development over his first two full NHL seasons, things went off the rails in 2019-20. Jankowski scored just five times in 56 games and while he wouldn’t have been able to get much more than his $1.75MM qualifier in arbitration, that was still too high of a price tag for Calgary’s liking. Still just 26, Jankowski now heads to an open market that isn’t exactly loaded in available centers so while a pay cut is likely, he should have no issues finding a new team.
Dominik Simon (Pittsburgh)
A natural center, Simon has spent the majority of his time with Pittsburgh on the wing, playing on all four lines along the way. While not a gifted point producer, he has surpassed 20 points in each of the last two seasons while posting above-average possession numbers. Owed a qualifier of less than $800K, the fear of arbitration sealed Simon’s fate on a cap-strapped Penguins squad.
Troy Stecher (Vancouver)
In 2018-19, Stecher looked to be on the verge of securing a spot in Vancouver’s top four after averaging nearly 20 minutes a night and chipping in with 23 points. But the return of a healthy Chris Tanev and the addition of Tyler Myers helped push the 26-year-old onto the third pairing and a much lower ATOI than usual. A $2.325MM qualifier is a bit high for someone in that role but there should be a few teams that see him as a potential fourth or fifth option which makes him a notable addition to the UFA market.
Lucas Wallmark (Florida)
One of the notable parts of the Vincent Trocheck deal, Wallmark was coming off of a league-minimum salary which means this non-tender was solely arbitration related. The 25-year-old only has two full NHL seasons under his belt, putting up 25 and 23 points in each while posting a faceoff percentage that’s a bit above the 50% mark each time. There is still some upside with Wallmark and with a weak market down the middle, he’ll have no trouble generating interest.
While these players (among the others that were non-tendered) can become unrestricted free agents on Friday, some teams will still be negotiating with their players to try to get them at a lower salary than either their qualifying offer or their expected arbitration salary. Usually, a handful wind up re-signing so at least for some of these players, their fates may not be completely sealed yet.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Time check! Khabib Nurmagomedov, Justin Gaethje will fight at UFC 254 around 4:15 p.m. ET today – MMA Mania
We are just hours away from one of the biggest lightweight battles in recent UFC history as undefeated champion Khabib Nurmagomedov meets interim titleholder Justin Gaethje for the undisputed belt this afternoon (Sat., Oct. 24, 2020) at UFC 254 live on ESPN+ PPV from inside Flash Forum on “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi.
Nurmagomedov, who is currently 12-0 in UFC competition, is hoping to push his overall MMA record to 29-0 with a win over “Highlight.” It won’t be easy, though, even for a dominant champion like Khabib. That’s because “Eagle” will be competing for the first time in over 13 months, the first time without his father by his side, and the first time in front of no fans. It will be a shock to say the least, but one that Nurmagomedov should be able to handle.
Gaethje, who destroyed Tony Ferguson this past May to claim the interim strap, is hoping to pull off the biggest upset in recent UFC history. The “Most Violent Man in the Sport” has all the ingredients to take it to Khabib and give him his toughest test to date, but it’s all going to come down to whether or not Gaethje can keep his back off the cage and feet on the ground. If he can do that and utilize his elite collegiate wrestling background then maybe Gaethje can actually pull it off.
It will be a lightweight title fight for the ages, but when exactly should fight fans expect Khabib and Gaethje to step inside of the cage on a loaded PPV card smack dab in the middle of the day?
With five other fights taking place on the PPV main card starting at 2:00 p.m. ET, Khabib vs. Gaethje is likely to begin sometime around 4:30 p.m. ET. The co-main event will showcase a middleweight scrap between former UFC champion Robert Whittaker and rising contender Jared Cannonier, which could very well end in spectacular fashion early. Mix in a heavyweight class between Alexander Volkov and Walt Harris, as well as a rematch between light heavyweight finishers Magomed Ankalaev and Ion Cutelaba, and UFC 254 might move along quicker than anticipated.
If things run early/late Mania will be sure to provide an updated start time for today’s Khabib vs. Gaethje main event.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 254 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 11:00 a.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN+/ESPN2 at 12 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
Dodgers rake in any count, and other takeaways from their Game 3 win – theScore
The Los Angeles Dodgers retook control of the World Series on Friday, besting the Tampa Bay Rays 6-2 in Game 3 behind a brilliant effort from Walker Buehler and more timely hitting from their potent lineup en route to a 2-1 series lead. Here are a few takeaways from their Game 3 victory.
Dodgers hitters excel in any count
The Dodgers’ preposterously deep and star-studded lineup excels in so many ways. No team, for instance, hit for more power than Los Angeles during the abbreviated 2020 regular season. No team made quality contact at a higher rate, either. And no team did a better job hitting with two strikes.
Highest weighted-on base average (wOBA) with two strikes, 2020
(Courtesy: Baseball Savant)
The club’s collective knack for two-strike hitting has been on display throughout the postseason – half of Mookie Betts’ hits through Game 2 of the World Series came in two-strike counts, as did Cody Bellinger’s go-ahead home run in Game 7 of the NLCS – but never more so than in Friday’s victory.
Of the Dodgers’ 10 hits in Game 3, all but three came with two strikes, including all four of their most impactful hits by win probability added: Justin Turner’s solo shot off Charlie Morton in the first; Max Muncy’s two-run single in the third; Betts’ run-scoring single in the fourth; and Austin Barnes’ unexpected, lead-padding homer off John Curtiss in the sixth. The bulk of that damage was done off Morton, who allowed just one run through his first three postseason starts, and, more germanely, held hitters to a .170/.207/.284 line in two-strike counts this year.
Ultimately, Game 3 further evinced how difficult the Dodgers’ lineup is to navigate for opposing pitchers, not only due to its abundance of All-Stars and former MVPs, but because the team’s hitters, almost to a man, are comfortable hitting while behind in the count. Even with two strikes on them, they refuse to expand the zone, continuing to get off quality swings and produce.
Turner gets his moment
No player embodies the Dodgers’ ongoing futility in October like Clayton Kershaw. But Justin Turner, their venerable third baseman, has also been around for most of the recent heartbreak. And just like Kershaw had his moment in Game 1, and his memory to savor should the Dodgers finally end their championship drought this year, Turner has made his mark, too, following a 2-for-5, two-run effort highlighted by that first-inning homer, which tied him with Duke Snider for the most (11) in Dodgers postseason history.
Prior to Friday, Turner’s postseason had been somewhat of a disappointment. Through his first 14 contests, the Dodgers’ No. 3 hitter in each of those games had slashed just .216/.328/.353, a far cry from his robust regular-season numbers. Meanwhile, Turner had recorded a negative win probability added in all but four games, a byproduct of his struggles during run-scoring opportunities. To date, he’s hitting just .118 with runners in scoring position this postseason, and the veteran has driven in only three runs in 17 such at-bats.
Suddenly, however, Turner’s postseason is no longer a disappointment. He’s now poised, should the Dodgers pull this off, to be one of the heroes, which would be well deserved considering how important the 35-year-old has been to this powerhouse franchise.
Arozarena struggling with offspeed diet
Until the ninth inning of Game 3, the Dodgers had all but silenced Randy Arozarena, the rookie phenom who hit .382/.433/.855 with seven home runs through the first three rounds of the postseason. Much of that damage came off fastballs, and he’s generally experienced far more success against fastballs than any other pitch type throughout his nascent career.
So the Dodgers decided to feed the prodigious 25-year-old a steady diet of offspeed and breaking pitches. Through the first two games of the World Series, as Arozarena notched just one measly infield single in six at-bats (albeit with three walks), fastballs accounted for less than a quarter of the pitches he saw.
|WC + LDS + LCS||41.5%||.513|
|WS Gms 1+2||24.1%||.281|
That approach continued to pay dividends for the Dodgers in Game 3. Walker Buehler’s fastball is electric, but he threw Arozarena just four heaters over three plate appearances (and only two inside the strike zone), resulting in a three-pitch strikeout, a flyout to deep center, and another strikeout. And that fourth-inning flyout, which rocketed off Arozarena’s bat at 100.5 miles per hour and produced an expected batting average of .760, came off a fastball.
Yet, with two outs in the ninth inning and a four-run lead, deposed closer Kenley Jansen deviated from the plan that had been so effective to that point in the series, throwing Arozarena six straight fastballs while trying to secure the game’s final out. He failed.
Jansen opted to just let it eat, as he does – nine out of every 10 pitches Jansen throws is some kind of fastball, either a cutter or a sinker – and got burned for it, serving up a poorly located 3-2 cutter that Arozarena deposited into the left-field seats for his record-tying eighth postseason home run. It was also the game’s hardest-hit ball, with an exit velocity of 111.3 mph.
And as disheartening as it might’ve been for Jansen, it was an instructive at-bat for Los Angeles. Not only did it validate the Dodgers’ game plan and reinforce how untenable it is to throw Arozarena fastballs in the zone right now, but it also illustrated why Jansen is a poor matchup for the burgeoning star. His one-dimensional repertoire makes him particularly vulnerable against Arozarena, and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts should avoid using him in high-leverage spots for the remainder of the series if the outfielder is due up.
Bold strategy, Dave
The vulnerability of the Dodgers’ bullpen looms large over this series. As such, it was a bit curious to see Roberts use three of his most trusted relievers – Jansen, hard-throwing rookie Brusdar Graterol, and ground-ball extraordinaire Blake Treinen – to close out a somewhat lopsided game, potentially limiting their availability (and/or reducing their effectiveness) over the next couple of games.
On one hand, neither Graterol nor Treinen had pitched since the NLCS finale, and Jansen hadn’t appeared since Game 6 of that series, so they were overdue for some work. However, one or more of them could now be asked to pitch on three consecutive days after not doing that during the regular season, which generally seems ill-advised, especially with the three-batter rule in place.
This may end up being a non-issue, but if any of those three falter over the next couple of days, it’ll be hard not to look back at Game 3 and wonder why, say, Victor Gonzalez, Jake McGee, and/or Dylan Floro weren’t asked to handle the late innings with the Dodgers staked to a comfortable lead.
Jonah Birenbaum is theScore’s senior MLB writer. He steams a good ham. You can find him on Twitter @birenball.
Javier Mendez theorizes Justin Gaethje ‘second-biggest threat’ to Khabib Nurmagomedov after Conor McGregor – MMA Fighting
Khabib Nurmagomedov faces a dangerous opponent this weekend, but the biggest challenge to his lightweight supremacy may already be in his rear-view mirror.
That’s how head coach Javier Mendez sees it, at least until he gets to see Nurmagomedov actually defend his title against Justin Gaethje this Saturday at UFC 254. Until then, any threat measurement is strictly theoretical and with that being the case, Mendez still considers Conor McGregor to have been Nurmagomedov’s toughest test yet.
“I thought when I looked at [Gaethje], I was thinking probably the second biggest threat [to Nurmagomedov] because I still to this day believe Conor was,” Mendez said at a media day in Abu Dhabi on Thursday. “And the reason why I believe Conor was is because of that precision striking. But Justin could easily prove me wrong and prove to be the toughest test we’ve ever had. We’ve yet to see that. But I know we’ve already seen Conor and that’s why I would say Conor.
“If you think about it, who’s won a round against Khabib? Conor. And whose given Khabib a tough time—The first round, he took Conor down, but how much damage did Khabib give him? No, Conor was very good there, so I have to give it to Conor for that. I haven’t seen Justin. Obviously, if I’ve seen Justin already and we fought him already and we are victorious like I’m hoping, then I can tell you 100 percent he was the toughest. Right now, I think in theory he’s number two.”
Nurmagomedov successfully defended his lightweight title against McGregor at UFC 229 in October 2018, an event that stands as the most successful pay-per-view in UFC history. Despite McGregor becoming the first UFC fighter to take a round from Nurmagomedov, it was “The Eagle” that triumphed via neck crank submission in round four.
Mendez admitted that up until recently he hadn’t focused too much on Gaethje’s exploits. It wasn’t until Gaethje’s one-sided win over Tony Ferguson this past May that Mendez really took notice.
“Long story short, I didn’t really pay attention to him until he dismantled Tony,” Mendez wrote. “Because now he was real, now he’s in front of us. So then I paid attention and I saw how great he actually is and what a challenge he is. That’s when I really paid attention.”
Pundits have pointed to Gaethje’s striking, inhuman endurance, and grappling defense as factors to consider when picking him for a potential upset. “The Highlight” has only lost twice in 24 pro bouts and 19 of his victories have come by way of knockout.
Gaethje himself has suggested that he needs to keep the fight standing and in the center of the octagon otherwise he’s “screwed,” but Mendez isn’t convinced that it will be that simple. Based on what he knows about Gaethje now, he doesn’t expect that anything Nurmagomedov does will break Gaethje’s will.
“Absolutely not,” Mendez said. “That guy ain’t quitting for nothing. That guy’s a true warrior. He ain’t quitting. You’ve got to kill him to stop that guy. Both of those guys. No, it goes in the middle, it goes on the cage, he’s fighting, he’s giving it all. You’ve seen what type of person he is. You’ve seen what kind of great warrior he is, you’ve seen the mentality he has. How can you not love him? You have to respect him. If you don’t love him, you have to respect him.
“Obviously, my job is I’m Khabib’s coach and I love him and I want him to win and we’re doing everything we can, but Justin is as incredible as they come in every department. Mental, physical, how he approaches the fight game, how he acts, he’s great everywhere.”
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