NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — 2017 saw plenty of big names leave the New York sports scene while some new faces arrived hoping to make their mark. Meanwhile, we were reminded that expectations mean very little in sports, as the Giants and Mets entered the year with world-title aspirations but flopped. Meanwhile, a rebuilding Yankees team arrived ahead of schedule.
Here are the top 10 New York City-area sports stories of the past year.
10. Mike Francesa signs off
Mike Francesa, a pioneer in sports talk radio, concluded his 30-year run on WFAN on Dec. 15.
He spent 19 years as half of the iconic “Mike & the Mad Dog” duo and then spent the past nine years hosting the afternoon-drive show solo.
Francesa’s final months included live farewell shows at the Tilles Center on Long Island and the Paley Center for Media in Manhattan, which included 85 big-name guests. He, however, devoted his final broadcast entirely to taking calls from his listeners.
“Thirty years of this has been a blessing,” Francesa said during his final monologue. “It’s been a gift. It’s more than anybody could’ve ever hoped for. I’ve had the best job in the world.”
9. Devils get the No. 1 pick, and everything begins to change
The Devils didn’t have the worst record in the NHL in 2016-17, but they did miss the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.
But then, as luck would have it, they caught a huge break.
New Jersey won the NHL draft lottery, and with it the No. 1 overall pick. The Devils used it on Swiss center Nico Hischier. That move, combined with some adept front office work by general manager Ray Shero, positioned the Devils to have much more than just fleeting hope to begin the 2017-18 season.
Armed with a fine mix of young, skilled players and experienced veterans, New Jersey started quickly, winning nine of its first 11 games. The Devils haven’t looked back since, as they have been in the mix atop the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division throughout the season’s first three months.
It remains to be seen if the Devils will make the playoffs, but they certainly are in much better shape organizationally than they were a year ago.
8. Charles Oakley vs. the Knicks
During a Knicks game in February, former star player Charles Oakley got into a physical altercation with security at Madison Square Garden. The incident was captured on video and posted on social media. In it, Oakley appeared to shove security guards before they pull him away from his seat. He was arrested on misdemeanor assault and trespass charges.
The Knicks alleged that Oakley was ejected from the arena because he “behaved in a highly inappropriate and completely abusive manner.” He insisted he did nothing wrong and was being targeted because he’s an outspoken critic of Knicks owner James Dolan.
Dolan then banned Oakley from the arena. Oakley ended up accepting a plea deal with prosecutors that would dismiss the charges against him if he stays out of trouble for six months and keeps away from the Garden for a year. Now Oakley is suing Dolan and the Garden, alleging he was a victim of assault, battery, false imprisonment and slander.
7. Islanders announce plans to return to Long Island
They had no Plan B.
That was the declaration from Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky while the team waited anxiously for nearly three months as the state mulled bids for vacant land at Belmont Park. The NHL club put all its eggs in one basket, a proposal to build an 18,000-seat arena, community space, a shopping hub and a hotel.
The state liked what it heard.
On Dec. 19, reports surfaced saying the Islanders had outbid Major League Soccer’s New York City Football Club for the right to develop the land. Empire State Development Corp. and Gov. Andrew Cuomo confirmed the deal the next day at a major news conference at the Belmont Park racetrack.
The news ended a decades-long quest by the Islanders to get a new arena, following repeated failures in Nassau County. The Isles once tried to push through a privately funded $3.3 billion project, but were met with stiff resistance from politicians, and later a referendum for a $400 million renovation of Nassau Coliseum, the team’s home from 1972-2015, was defeated by county residents.
But now, barring something unforeseen, the Islanders, who have been playing at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center since 2015, will be returning to Long Island, where they belong. The new arena is expected to be completed in three to four years.
6. Jets purge roster, but don’t tank
After the Jets’ disappointing 2016 season, there was a parade of veteran players exiting the team’s Florham Park headquarters. Gang Green parted ways with Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold, David Harris, Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, leaving a roster light on talent and experience.
The moves fueled speculation that the Jets’ front office was trying to tank in an effort to receive a high draft pick in 2018 and select the true franchise quarterback that has eluded the Jets since Joe Namath left 40 years ago. Team officials, however, denied that was the case. Regardless, before the season, Vegas put the Jets’ Super Bowl odds at 200-to-1 – tied for worst with the Cleveland Browns.
While the Jets weren’t exactly championship contenders, they were surprisingly competitive. After starting 0-2, Gang Green won three straight. And even when they weren’t winning, they hung tough in the vast majority of their games, including against last season’s Super Bowl teams, the Patriots and Falcons. With one game to play, the Jets sat at 5-10 – the same win total they had with a supposedly better roster the year before.
5. Mickey Callaway takes over Mets after disastrous season
There’s a new skipper in Flushing.
After the Mets ended a grueling season that saw Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, Yoenis Cespedes, David Wright, Neil Walker and Jeurys Familia spend significant time on the DL, manager Terry Collins stepped down.
In their search for Collins’ successor, the Mets’ brass was so impressed by Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway that they canceled the second round of their planned interviews and hired the 42-year-old.
In his introductory news conference, Callaway emphasized building strong relationships with his players.
“We know that they’re human beings, and their numbers or stats are going to be a byproduct of how durable, prepared and aggressive they are, and that’s it,” he said. “We’re not going to have expectations on numbers. I’m going to have expectations that they’re going to work the right way to go put up numbers.”
4. Yankees offseason: Goodbye, Girardi; Hello, Giancarlo!
After a memorable regular season, the Yankees did not stop generating headlines in the offseason.
Days after being eliminated by the Astros in the ALCS, the Yankees surprisingly chose not to offer manager Joe Girardi a new contract, sending their manager of 10 years walking. They then made another surprising decision by hiring Aaron Boone, a former Yankees playoff hero with no managerial or coaching experience, as Girardi’s successor.
The Bombers then made the biggest hot-stove splash this offseason when they acquired reigning National League MVP and home run champ Giancarlo Stanton, who will form a fearsome trio with AL home run champ Aaron Judge and catcher Gary Sanchez.
3. Knicks turn page on Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony
The Knicks weren’t supposed to be great during the 2016-17 season, but they weren’t supposed to be an absolute train wreck, either.
But that’s what they ended up being, and owner James Dolan didn’t stand for it.
Rather than endure another season of Phil Jackson’s unorthodox franchise-building ways, Dolan parted ways with his mercurial team president following New York’s 31-51 campaign and promoted longtime lieutenant Steve Mills. Along the way, veteran NBA executive Scott Perry was recruited from the Sacramento Kings, and the Knicks’ new front office embarked on changing the culture of the franchise.
The biggest player-personnel move was the trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Melo’s career in New York spanned seven tumultuous seasons, and though he was consistently one of the league’s better scorers, the Knicks made the playoffs just three times and won just won postseason series.
The Knicks started the 2017-18 season with Kristaps Porzingis as their centerpiece, and so far the results have been encouraging, with New York in the mix in the Eastern Conference without its usual off-court drama.
2. Giants endure nightmare season
The Giants were thinking Super Bowl to start the season, thanks to their 11-5 record and playoff appearance under first-year head coach Ben McAdoo in 2016.
But things went off the rails quickly. Without much warning, the Giants spiraled into Jets-like dysfunction, with injuries, most notably to superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., poor play, and off-field distractions contributing to an 0-5 start that stunned their fans and the rest of the NFL.
As the losses continued to pile up, it looked for a while like McAdoo would survive until the offseason, but his fate was sealed in the aftermath of his decision to bench two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning prior to the Giants’ 24-17 loss at Oakland on Dec. 3. It was a move that angered many for it ended the veteran quarterback’s consecutive starts streak at 210 games and painted him as a scapegoat.
McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese were fired Dec. 4, with the team’s record at 2-10 and all eyes on the NFL draft next spring.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was named interim head coach for the rest of the season, as co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch began the arduous process of hiring new people to get the once-proud franchise heading in the right direction.
1. Aaron Judge powers Yankees to surprising season
The Yankees entered the 2017 season in what many considered the first full year of a major rebuilding project.
Someone clearly forgot to tell them.
Led by eventual AL Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge, the Yankees defied all the prognosticators by winning 91 games and securing a wild-card berth in the postseason.
Judge finished his brilliant season with a .284 average, 52 home runs and 114 RBIs, powering a Yankees offense that ended up second in runs scored (858) and first in homers (241).
The Bombers then defeated the Minnesota Twins in the one-game playoff before upsetting the heavily favored Cleveland Indians in five games in the Division Series.
Though their run ended with a loss in Game 7 in the AL Championship Series to the eventual World Series champion Houston Astros, the Yankees had served notice to Major League Baseball that they are very much back to being the franchise that everyone fears.