New York Sports have not seen a champion since the 2011-12 New York Giants. Are the 2017 New York Mets next in line to take the crown?There have been some close calls in recent memory: the Rangers, Devils, and Mets have all been runners-up at some point. But, as the saying goes: “close, but no cigar.” For all the hard fought playoff runs, the ultimate return of a title remains missing.
Let’s assess how close each New York sports team is from contending. Are they close? Are they far? Are they stuck in purgatory? Let’s find out how close our city is to another parade down the Canyon of Heroes.
The “Ask Me Again in a Decade” Tier:
Teams Present: Brooklyn Nets
Let’s start with the team with the worst record in the NBA. Brooklyn finished the regular season quite fittingly, losing 112-73 to the Chicago Bulls, to finish the year at 20-62. While the season had some bright spots: Brook Lopez was terrific, Jeremy Lin was solid (when healthy), and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Caris LeVert look like strong role players that could contribute on a title team.
But, otherwise, it’s pretty bleak for the Nets, who will lose their very high lottery pick (which has a 25% chance at being the number one pick in the most loaded draft of the decade) to the Boston Celtics as a result of the terrible, horrible, very bad Garnett-Pierce trade from 2013.
The Nets won’t have a high draft pick until at least 2019. They have a roster low on assets. They have a fanbase low on hope.
Maybe the Nets will be a title contender some day, but they are, by a distance, the New York team that is the farthest away from being a genuine title contender.
The “So, What are We Doing?” Tier:
Teams Present: New York Jets, New Jersey Devils
Great question. What are we doing here? The Devils and the Jets don’t seem to have a particular direction at the moment. The Jets are an unmitigated disaster, going from 10-6 in 2015 to 5-11 in 2016. With the exception of Leonard Williams, the entire defense unperformed immensely. They don’t have a clear answer at the quarterback position. They lost their best receiver, Brandon Marshall, to the Giants. The disparity in talent between them and the defending champion Patriots has arguably never been larger.
What are the Jets doing? Honestly, it’s hard to tell. I was considering putting the Jets in the “Ask me in a decade category,” but Leonard Williams seems like a franchise caliber player, a tag that no Net can boast.
As for the Devils, it’s been a rough stretch for the past few seasons. In 2011-12, the Devils roared to the Stanley Cup Finals, beating their local rivals, the Rangers, in the process. After losing to the Kings in six, they have not returned to the postseason since. a five-year playoff drought, paired with a lack of a franchise talent (Martin Brodeur is thoroughly missed), the same question can be asked for the Devils: What are they doing?
The “We Have A Franchise Guy, but Nothing Else” Tier:
Teams Present: New York Knicks, New York Islanders
Other than Kristaps Porzingis and John Tavares, what else is going on with the Knicks and the Islanders?
Let’s start with the Knicks, who just finished the regular season 31-51, missing the postseason for the fourth consecutive season. Porzingis is still the team’s beacon of hope, despite an underwhelming second half of his sophomore season, which was no fault of his own. Porzingis looked like an All-Star at the beginning of the season, but fell victim to being teammates with ball dominant players like Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose.
Porzingis figures to be the Knicks franchise guy moving forward, but he needs help. And realistically, other than Willy Hernangomez, no player on the Knicks roster should stay on the Knicks roster when (or if) the team finally morphs into a playoff contender.
The Islanders don’t have the benefit of a super young superstar; Tavares, while still only 26, is running out of prime years. Porzingis is 21, and still has room to grow.
Tavares has been with the Islanders for eight years, and despite excelling individually and becoming one of the best centers in the NHL, and the Islanders have made the playoffs only three times, and won only one series. Essentially, the issue at hand is how to capitalize on a generational talent like Tavares. So far, mediocrity has been the answer. 2016-17 was the first time in three years that the Islanders failed to make the playoffs. Which direction does that suggest they are trending?
If the Islanders don’t start to wheel and deal, Tavares career will be nothing more than a fond memory, rather than a memory filled with Stanley Cup glory.
The “Winter is Coming” Tier:
Teams Present: New York Yankees
Before the most recent season of Game of Thrones, it felt like winter wouldn’t be coming until around 2019. For the Yankees, it certainly should be. This Yankee team is one of the more exciting projects in Major League Baseball, in particular, because of their ability to stay afloat despite rebuilding. In the latter stages of a game vs. the Rays, play-by-play commentator Michael Kay was marveling at how despite trading away established veterans for prospects, the Yankees still manage to hang around the playoff conversation until mid-September at the worst.
There are plenty of reasons to be excited about this team. Their conglomerate of young studs is near overwhelming: Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, Gleybar Torres, and Clint Frazier are just a few of the players who could become household names in a few years (Sanchez arguably already is).
There is also plenty of established major league talent on this roster. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are still productive outfielders who could mentor the young guys. Starlin Castro, Didi Gregorius, Chris Carter, Matt Holliday, and Chase Headley are solid stop-gap options. Dellin Betances, Masahiro Tanaka, and Aroldis Chapman are all elite pitchers.
In 2019, the stars could very well align: the young guys will all be in the majors, and a star-studded free agent class including Bryce Harper and Manny Machado is hitting the open market.
The Yankees haven’t won the World Series since 2009. They’ve won just the one title in the past 16 years. But another dynasty could be brewing in the Bronx, and when she hits, it’ll be like unleashing a horde of White Walkers on the rest of the league.
The “Talent is Here, But Let’s Prove It” Tier:
Teams Present: New York City FC, New York Red Bulls
On paper, the two New York-based MLS franchises are title contenders. New York Red Bulls have been the top team in the Eastern Conference for two straight years and won the Supporters Shield in 2015. NYCFC were the East’s second seed in 2016. Each team has a plethora of talent, including two top class strikers in Bradley Wright-Philips and David Villa, respectively.
However, they have to prove it. NYRB has disappointingly crashed out of the playoffs at the first time of asking during the past two seasons and lost one of their key playmakers, Dax McCarty, over the winter. NYCFC were shellacked 7-0 in their inaugural playoff tie, and despite playing quite well to start the season, have only won two of their opening five matches.
The talent for both teams is clearly present. These are two upper-tier MLS sides.
Now they have to go out and prove that they are legitimate title contenders.
The “Missing A Piece” Tier:
Teams Present: New York Rangers
The Rangers have made the postseason in 10 of the last 11 seasons, and the one year they missed the playoffs, they lost out on the final day of the regular season.
They have made it to the Stanley Cup Finals once, the Conference Finals twice, and the Conference Semifinals three times. They have a deep, youthful attack, an experienced defense, and one of the better goaltenders in the NHL.
But despite all that success, this team hasn’t won the Stanley Cup since 1994, and despite being in the playoffs currently, is nowhere near a favorite to win the whole thing.
The Rangers are one piece away from being a genuine title contender, in my humble opinion. A star attacker, perhaps. When they acquired Rick Nash several years ago, he was seen as the guy to take them over the hump. Despite Nash enjoying several fruitful seasons in the Big Apple, the hump has still not been overcome.
The Blueshirts are the most consistent playoff team in the Big Apple, yet they are not the closest team to contending. Until the Rangers find that missing link going forward, I fear that they may not be able to return the Stanley Cup to Madison Square Garden before Henrik Lundqvist hangs up his skates.
The “Genuine Title Contender” Tier:
Teams Present: New York Mets, New York Giants
Welcome to the cream of the crop. The Mets (no, seriously) and the Giants (to a lesser degree: no, seriously). A perennially underperforming team, and a team that despite winning the cities last title, suffered four straight postseason-less seasons, are the two teams best suited to win the title.
This is based off the old fashioned saying that defense (in football) and pitching (in baseball) wins championships. Both of these teams have those in abundance.
Let’s start with the Giants. After being a turnstile for much of this decade, the Giants defense transformed into an elite unit last season. Free agent signings Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, and Janoris Jenkins all became either Pro Bowlers or All-Pro’s. Landon Collins was one of the three best defenders in the entire NFL. The secondary is deep and talented. The defensive line and linebacking corps are solid and could be bolstered by the draft.
The Mets have a terrific pitching staff, as well. Noah Syndergaard, Jake deGrom, Matt Harvey, and Steven Matz all range from superstars to reliable starters. Zack Wheeler just won his first game since 2014, and finally looks like he’s ready to nail down a consistent spot in the rotation.
It isn’t like these teams have bad offenses, either. The Mets just mashed out 7 home runs against the Phillies, and have capable bats like Yoenis Cespedes, Lucas Duda, and Jay Bruce. The Giants struggled offensively down the stretch, but have an incredibly talented receiving corps and a two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.
The competition is stiff, especially in their own divisions: The Nationals and Cowboys, respectively, could easily upend the Mets and Giants in the division.
Regardless, the Mets and the Giants are the most complete teams in New York sports, and thus should be recognized as genuine title contenders moving forward.