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This is the Aaron Judge nightmare Yankees fans might be facing on Opening Day

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It’s a brisk, sunny Thursday in The Bronx. You’re playing hooky from work. Maybe you’re skipping school. A hot dog is in one hand. A scorebook is in the other. Baseball is back and all is right in the world.

It is Opening Day. Everyone has hope. But the Yankees still have more than most. They are among the top five World Series favorites again. They boast a top-five payroll again. They have been to the ALCS three of the past six years. They are months removed from one of the greatest first halves in MLB history. They are due to have better health.

It is March 30, and you see Gerrit Cole on the mound, still only 32 and two years removed from being the Cy Young Award runner-up, throwing to All-Star Jose Trevino. You look to the field and see a pair of former MVPs (Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Donaldson) and a pair of three-time All-Stars (Anthony Rizzo, DJ LeMahieu). And as always, Aaron Judge is the center of attention, the most popular Yankee since Derek Jeter now the most hated person in the building, sporting orange and black and a San Francisco smile that screams betrayal.

This surreal scene could be cemented in the next few weeks. The reigning AL MVP is currently in the Bay Area, where he was scheduled to meet Tuesday with the San Francisco Giants, perhaps the Yankees’ greatest competition to signing the Northern California native.

There’s a good chance Aaron Judge will be in Yankee Stadium for Opening Day next year, but it’s not so clear which dugout he’ll be in.
Corey Sipkin

Judge is expected to sign a deal worth at least $40 million per season over at least eight years, and Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has said that no deal is too rich for the team’s flexible payroll to take on this offseason.

“From a financial standpoint, there’s nobody that would be out of our capability to kind of meet what we expect the contract demands will be,” Zaidi said this month. “It’ll just be a question of whether there’s mutual interest and how we put together the best possible team.”

Judge might have serious interest in a homecoming. He could be seeking change after turning down offers — a $213.5 million extension he rejected before last season, as early attempts to avoid arbitration on his 2022 salary — deemed insufficient; after enduring boos from home fans who had witnessed him carry the Yankees for months in his historic 62-homer season.

Judge could also just be using his leverage as the sport’s most coveted free agent and driving up the price of his first and last massive long-term contract. Maybe a meeting with the Dodgers is next, forcing the Yankees to increase the offer Brian Cashman confirmed they recently made to the outfielder.

“I don’t know how fast it’s going to go or how slow it’s going to go,” Judge said recently of his decision. “There’s teams that we’ve talked to. For me, if we’re going to build a winning team, if I can get my [contract] stuff out of the way so they can kind of move on and add some more pieces to build teams up, I think that’s always an advantage for wherever I go.

San Francisco Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi speaks during a news conference at Oracle Park in the Nick Peters interview room on Tuesday, October 1, 2019 in San Francisco, CA.
Giants president of baseball operation Farhan Zaidi recently talked up the team’s financial flexibility this winter.
San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

“The most important thing is a winning culture and being with a team that’s committed to winning, not only for the remainder of my playing career, but I want the legacy to live on with the organization.”

No legacy is stronger than starting and finishing your career with one team, especially in pinstripes. Ask Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, Jeter or Rivera. And nothing — aside from the “pot of gold” guaranteed wherever he lands — matters more than winning. Because what might Judge’s legacy be if he finishes his career without a championship? Ask Mattingly.

Judge’s suitors all appear to be deep-pocketed teams, capable, and likely willing, to meet his asking price, giving him the choice of contracts in the same neighborhood. If the decision does not come down to money — such as when Robinson Cano left for Seattle — it would make Judge’s potential departure even more devastating, as a perceived rebuke of the city and the franchise — going on 14 years without a championship — where he gained unrivaled stardom, unparalleled affection and the unprecedented honor of a Yankee Stadium section named after him.

On March 30, the MVP could be standing in front of the dismantled “Judge’s Chambers,” treated like Alex Rodriguez in Seattle or Bryce Harper in Washington. He would be just the second player in MLB history (Barry Bonds) to leave a team as a reigning MVP, the biggest star to spurn a New York title contender since Pat Riley faxed his resignation to the Knicks.

It would be surreal. But it may not be far from reality.

Today’s back page

The back cover of the New York Post on November 23, 2022.
New York Post

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What a mess

Lionel Messi may not be long for this World Cup.

Despite entering Qatar with a loaded Argentina squad pegged as the field’s second-strongest favorite, in position to fill the only hole in his résumé, the 35-year-old legend is now in danger of leaving his fifth — and likely final — World Cup in the group stage, following one of the greatest upsets in tournament history in Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia. It was Argentina’s first loss in its past 37 games and Saudi Arabia’s second World Cup win since 1994.

Messi, who scored the game’s first goal, was in shock afterward.

“The truth? Dead,” Messi said when asked how the team was feeling. “It’s a very hard blow because we did not expect to start this way.”

In 1990, Diego Maradona — the Argentinian deity to whom Messi has long been compared, and whose memorable ’86 World Cup run Messi has never been able to replicate — and Argentina also suffered one of the tournament’s all-time upsets in a loss to Cameroon, but that team recovered to reach the World Cup final.

Lionel Messi looks dejected in Argentina's loss to Saudi Arabia.
Lionel Messi and Argentina have some work to do if they hope to get out of the group stage at the World Cup after falling to Saudi Arabia.
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A win over Mexico on Saturday keeps such a scenario in play for Argentina. Otherwise, the greatest player of his generation will be gone from the world’s greatest stage once again.

“There are no excuses,” Messi said.”We are going to be more united than ever. This group is strong, and we have shown it. It is a situation that we haven’t gone through in a long time. Now we have to show that this is a real group.”

Devilishly good

Can the Devils do it again?

When the Maple Leafs visit Prudential Center tonight, the Devils (16-3-0) will have a chance to set a new franchise record with their 14th consecutive win. New Jersey, which beat Toronto (10-5-5) six days ago, tied the 2001 Stanley Cup finalists’ mark with a 5-2 win over Edmonton in front of a sold-out crowd in Newark. The Devils haven’t lost since Oct. 24.

Nico Hischier #13 of the New Jersey Devils battles Darnell Nurse #25 of the Edmonton Oilers for the puck during the 2nd period of the game at Prudential Center on November 21, 2022 in Newark, New Jersey.
Healthy after an injury-plagued past few seasons, Nico Hischier (22 points) has fueled a Devils team that hasn’t lost in almost a month.
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“We’re up there [in] the history book,” captain Nico Hischier said after Monday’s win. “Nobody’s gonna take that from us now.”

Despite making one playoff appearance in the past decade and finishing 28th in the NHL last season, the Devils have amassed the second-most wins (16) in NHL history through a season’s first 19 games, trailing this season’s Bruins and Boston’s 1929-30 squad (17). The 1992-93 Penguins hold the NHL record for most consecutive wins (17).

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Revered Borje Salming leaves behind lasting Maple Leafs, NHL legacy as icon

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The beautiful part of it is that Borje Salming knew how the world perceived him before his passing as a victim of ALS on Thursday at age 71. The word “iconic” doesn’t quite do justice to the Hall of Fame defenseman. Salming was more that. He was revered. 

He was revered not only as a player, but also as an individual. Love and adoration flowed to Salming as a groundbreaker who became a pioneering role model in opening the door for an influx of his fellow Swedes into the NHL after he conquered an unwelcoming, antagonistic environment that confronted him and any who might threaten the Canadian hegemony of the league. 

Salming knew that. He knew that when he received a thunderous ovation at Maple Leaf Gardens during pregame introductions while representing Team Sweden prior to playing Team Canada in the 1976 Canada Cup. He knew that two weekends ago in Toronto on consecutive, emotional nights featuring one impromptu tribute and a second formal one that evoked tears. 

Similarly, he knew that at the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation Centennial Gala celebrating the country’s all-time greatest players at Avicii Arena in Stockholm just over one week ago, when his introduction evoked an emotional response. Salming was not only a beloved hockey player, but also a beloved individual in the way of Rod Gilbert, Jean Beliveau and Gordie Howe, and a beloved cultural icon in the way of Maurice Richard. 

Borje Salming
Borje Salming passed away at 71.
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Mika Zibanejad was born in 1993, three years after Salming retired from the NHL and the same year No. 21 stepped away from the Swedish League to which he had returned for his final three seasons. Zibanejad is of a different generation. But he’s not ignorant. 

“From my personal experience, the guys I grew up watching were Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Peter Forsberg, Mats Sundin, Daniel Alfredsson,” Zibanejad told Slap Shots on Friday. “I was too young to see Salming play, and I’m sorry I never got the chance to interact with him, but I know what he did for our game. 

“He opened doors for players from Sweden and Europe and changed everything for us, and that is because of his courage.” 

Before Salming and countryman Inge Hammarstrom joined the Maple Leafs for the 1973-74 season, just three Swedes had played in the NHL. Ulf Sterner was the first, playing four games for the Rangers in 1964-65, but the slick center could not make the leap in an era in which European leagues did not permit bodychecking in the offensive zone. 

Juha Widing, another center who played for the Rangers in 1969-70 before he was traded to the Kings for Ted Irvine, was next. Detroit defenseman Thommie Bergman joined the league in 1972-73. Salming and Hammarstrom came over a year later in a time during which those of his origin were painted as, “Chicken Swedes.” By the way? In 2011, NBC analyst Mike Milbury called Daniel and Henrik Sedin, “Thelma and Louise,” so there was that. 

Salming joined the Leafs in an era during which Bobby Orr was just going out; Denis Potvin, Brad Park, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe and Larry Robinson dominated on the blue line; and Raymond Bourque was just coming into the NHL. 

Borje Salming is honored in a ceremony on Nov. 11.
Borje Salming is honored in a ceremony on Nov. 11.
Getty Images

From 1974-75 — Salming’s sophomore season — through 1979-80, the Swede was the only defenseman to be named either first-team or second-team All-Star in each of those six seasons. He was dominant at both ends of the ice, and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996. 

Salming was one of a kind. He kicked the door down for people like Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson to join the Rangers in 1978-79 as the 12th and 13th Swedes to play in the NHL. They faced constant physical abuse. They endured the slings and arrows so others could follow. 

Seventy-nine Swedes have played in the NHL this season. 

A statue of Borje Salming resides outside Scotiabank Arena.
A statue of Borje Salming resides outside Scotiabank Arena.
Getty Images

“I know it was not easy for any of those players. Of all of us who are in the NHL now owe them a debt of gratitude,” Zibanejad said. “They paved the way for us. 

“It’s not something I think about on a day-to-day basis, but I do try to keep that in mind. I’m very thankful for what they did. I want to be able to have the same positive influence and make things better for the next generation. 

“That’s a way I can repay Borje.” 


The NHL gets younger and faster all the time, while Brian Boyle gets neither. But the 37-year-old center, currently unemployed as a free agent, should be a person of interest for Stanley Cup contenders looking to shore up their bottom sixes. 

“I’m not retired,” the one-time Ranger and Devil said in a text exchange this week. “I’d love to be playing but so far the offers haven’t been there 

Boyle, the 2018 Masterton winner, rehabbed from knee surgery after sustaining an injury in Game 6 of the Penguins’ first-round series against the Rangers. 

“I was good in four weeks,” said Boyle, an inspirational figure after having conquered chronic myeloid leukemia. “I’m training hard and am staying ready. We’ll see. 

“But all is great.”

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Artemi Panarin’s scoreless streak grows to 12 games in Rangers’ loss

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Artemi Panarin has gone 12 straight games without a goal after failing to score in the Rangers’ stunning 4-3 loss to the reeling Oilers on Saturday afternoon at the Garden. The 12 games tied the longest scoring drought of the Russian wing’s NHL career.

Game 12 likely stung more than the previous 11, however, considering Panarin thought he had scored twice.

Panarin had one of his more active games of the season, in two of the three periods at least. In addition to assisting on Chris Kreider’s second-period tally, Panarin posted two shots on goal and one takeaway. Both of his shots came in the first period.

The first came on a power play. Panarin wired one home from the right faceoff circle and had a look of relief rush upon his face. But Edmonton challenged for offside and the goal was rescinded after the replay revealed that Panarin never fully crossed the puck into the offensive zone before Vincent Trocheck entered.

Artemi Panarin reacts during the Rangers’ loss to the Oilers.
Jason Szenes

“Yeah, especially when I can’t score the last [11] games,” Panarin said when asked if he was frustrated. “Posts or something, always something. Just keep doing what I usually do. Try not to lose confidence. That’s the most important thing.”

Braden Schneider also had a goal negated after the Oilers challenged for goalie interference, which proved to be the case when replays showed Ryan Carpenter had made contact with Oilers goalie Jack Campbell in the blue crease.

Panarin later smacked a one-timer from the other faceoff circle and Campbell slid over to get in front of it just in time. It was unclear if the puck went in or not, so the refs got on the headsets with the situation room to give it a second look before it was officially deemed not a goal.

Panarin skated on the right wing of the top line next to Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider , similar to how the Rangers lined up at the end of their 3-2 loss to the Ducks in Anaheim on Wednesday and again in practice on Friday. That left Trocheck to center Jimmy Vesey and Barclay Goodrow. The Kid Line of Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko remained intact, while the fourth line featured Sammy Blais, Ryan Carpenter and Julien Gauthier.


Vitali Kravtsov was scratched for a seventh straight game despite taking part in warmups Saturday afternoon. Additionally, Libor Hajek replaced Zac Jones on the left side of the bottom defensive pair alongside Braden Schneider. Jones had played in the previous three games and seemed primed to get a run in the lineup, as Hajek already had, but  head coach Gerard Gallant opted to switch it up.


The Rangers dropped to 8-2-1 when scoring first this season after giving up four unanswered tallies in the third period.

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Rob Gronkowski plays baseball with marshmallows in supermarket: ‘Holy smokes’

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Former superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski showed off his prowess in a different sport: baseball.

While in a Sprouts Farmers Markert, the five-time Pro Bowler was recorded hitting a marshmallow into a sea of gawking people. Gronkowski even earned enough respect to be posted by MLB’s Twitter account, who captioned the video: “POV: You go to the store to get milk and Gronk is in produce crushing dingers.”

The gimmick took multiple attempts to successfully complete, with Gronk using a loaf of bread as a bat. During one trial, the bread slid out of its sleeve and flew to a customer – who later got it signed.

Gronkowski tried again and finally made contact by sending the marshmallow deep. Among a crowd of oohs and ahs, the former Patriots and Buccaneers tight end proudly saluted his hit.

Gronk hit dingers with marshmallows in a supermarket.
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“Holy smokes,” one person in the video said.



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