The Big Apple bore witness to some intriguing stories in the world of sports in 2016.
New York City FC surged in its second MLS season. Alex Rodriguez played his final game with the Yankees — and possibly of his career. Mixed martial arts made its long-awaited debut at Madison Square Garden with a historic UFC event.
And several New York teams are on track for postseason play, some of whom haven’t been this good in a while. Those stories will roll into 2017, along with a few more to monitor entering the new year.
The Blueshirts are on a roll. After a disappointing first-round exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in April, they sit third in the Eastern Conference standings.
With forwards Michael Grabner (14 goals, plus-15), Kevin Hayes (24 points, plus-12) and Derek Stepan (28 points, plus-12) leading the charge and excellent goaltending from starter Henrik Lundqvist and backup Antti Raanta, expectations are high once again at the Garden. It’s too soon to engrave names in the Cup, but midtown hockey in June isn’t a far-fetched notion.
Big Blue is even closer to its championship goal than the Rangers. They’ve locked up an NFC wild-card playoff berth thanks to some standout defense and more consistent play from star wideout Odell Beckham Jr.
Although the running game remains underwhelming and Eli Manning’s days as an elite passer appear to be nearly over, the G-Men are as good a bet as anyone in the conference to vie for the Super Bowl in Houston on Feb. 5.
New look Knicks
After several rough seasons, the Knicks look to finally be a team worth watching again. By the end of December, they might have won more games than the 17 they did during the entire 2014-15 campaign.
The biggest reason for their success was born from that miserable season: 2015 first-round pick Kristaps Porzingis. With increased 3-point accuracy from his rookie season, the 7-foot-3 Latvian is averaging 20 points to give Carmelo Anthony a much-needed complementary scorer. That has taken pressure off Derrick Rose, who has been fine when healthy after his June acquisition.
The biggest news of the offseason in Queens has been re-signing Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year contract, ensuring the team’s top hitter sticks around while the Mets’ best starting pitchers are young.
But the hope is that those arms will be healthy enough to make it through 2017 and pitch deep into the playoffs. Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Steven Matz all were injured by the end of September, and Zack Wheeler hasn’t pitched in two years. If all (or most) can withstand 162 games alongside Noah Syndergaard, the Mets should be contenders again.
The Yankees are in rebuilding mode, but they’re not quite ready to settle for mediocrity. They didn’t hand Aroldis Chapman the richest-ever contract for a reliever to pitch in meaningless games.
But all eyes are on the next generation, including power-hitting catcher Gary Sanchez. Championship No. 28 likely is too much to hope for, but these Yankees could surprise and be fun to watch and wonder about the bright future on the horizon.