Yahoo Sports AM: Matt Rempe, the NHL's newest enforcer

In today's edition: Matt Rempe is fighting everybody, Rafael Nadal withdraws, USWNT's wild win, our latest NFL mock draft and more.

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🚨 Headlines

🎾 Nadal withdraws: Rafael Nadal withdrew from Indian Wells on Wednesday after missing most of last season with a hip injury because "I don't find myself ready to play at the highest level." The 37-year-old has played just 12 official matches since the 2022 U.S. Open.

🏈 Bills come due: The Bills cut six players on Wednesday, including All-Pro safety and team captain Jordan Poyer, All-Pro cornerback Tre'Davious White and 2022 Pro Bowl center Mitch Morse, to help save roughly $46 million in cap space.

🏒 Pre-deadline trade frenzy: Stanley Cup contenders were wheeling and dealing on Wednesday, with the Rangers, Panthers, Avalanche, Golden Knights and Oilers all making moves ahead of Friday's NHL trade deadline.

🏀 Abu Dhabi Games: The Celtics and Nuggets will play two preseason games in U.A.E. next October in the third edition of the NBA Abu Dhabi Games.

⚽️ Champions League: Man City crushed Copenhagen (6-2 on aggregate) and Real Madrid squeezed past RB Leipzig (2-1 on aggregate) to join PSG and Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarterfinals. The final four spots will be decided next week.

🏒 Matt Rempe is here to fight

(Yahoo Sports)
(Yahoo Sports)

There's a 50-50 chance that when Rangers rookie Matt Rempe takes the ice on Saturday against the Blues, he'll drop his gloves and start throwing punches, Jeff writes.

The NHL's newest enforcer: The 6-foot-7, 241-pound center from Calgary has fought in four of his eight games since debuting last month, spending almost as much time in the penalty box (39 minutes) as on the ice (40 minutes, 32 seconds).

State of play: This is nothing new for the 21-year-old Rempe, who tallied 16 fights in 96 AHL games before last month's call-up. But his style of play is making waves across the sport, as he's one of the few players keeping alive a tradition that has been disappearing for years amid increasingly negative sentiment.

Rempe is still sporting a shiner from his fight against Olivier. (Michael Mooney/NHLI via Getty Images)
Rempe is still sporting a shiner from his fight against Olivier. (Michael Mooney/NHLI via Getty Images)

To fight or not to fight: The simplest argument against fighting is safety. A recent study showed that NHL enforcers live significantly shorter lives than their peers, largely due to causes often linked to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

  • Analytics also play a role, with data showing that enforcers — who are typically less-skilled than their teammates — don't really help generate wins.

  • Add it all up and you can see why there are just 0.23 fights per game this season, down from 0.58 in 2010 and 0.64 in 2002.

Not everyone agrees, though: Advocates argue that fighting is a critical part of the game, acting "as a release valve that settles scores according to the code, and in a more orderly manner than increasingly dirty hits," writes The Guardian's Colin Horgan.

  • It's also tradition — an unwritten rule along the same lines as getting pitched up-and-in after ruffling your opponent's feathers in baseball — and one that some don't want to see vanish.

  • "I'm OK with that hit," former enforcer Paul Bissonnette said Saturday during TNT's broadcast, referencing Rempe's hit that instigated his latest fight. "But I'm also OK that he had to answer the bell to the other team's tough guy."

Where it stands: Fighting has been banned at the youth and college levels, and last fall one of Canada's three major junior hockey leagues did away with it, too. The NHL seems content to let it fade on its own, allowing the Matt Rempe's of the world to continue plying their trade until the game decides they're no longer needed.

⚽️ In photos: USA's wild, wet win

(Omar Vega/Getty Images)
(Omar Vega/Getty Images)

The USWNT beat Canada on penalties on Wednesday night in a wild W Gold Cup semifinal that, by any reasonable measure, should not have been played, writes Yahoo Sports' Henry Bushnell.

(Carmen Mandato/Getty Images for USSF)
(Carmen Mandato/Getty Images for USSF)

Torrential rain soaked Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego, turning the first half into a farce. The ball wouldn't roll. Passes couldn't travel more than 10 yards. "This is so insane," former USWNT star Julie Foudy wrote on X during the first half. "STOP THE MATCH."

(Ben Nichols/ISI Photos/Getty Images for USSF)
(Ben Nichols/ISI Photos/Getty Images for USSF)

When asked afterward whether the match should've been played, USWNT coach Twila Kilgore said: "Probably not." Canada coach Bev Priestman added: "It's obvious that the game was unplayable."

(Omar Vega/Getty Images)
(Omar Vega/Getty Images)

Alyssa Naeher emerged as the hero in the 3-1 penalty shootout, making three saves and converting a penalty of her own to send the USWNT to Sunday's final against Brazil.

🏈 Post-combine mock draft

(Yahoo Sports)
(Yahoo Sports)

Our latest mock draft from Charles McDonald and Nate Tice is a wild one, with four projected trades in the top 10 (including the Vikings trading up for a QB amid rumors that Kirk Cousins is headed to Atlanta).

Preview: The first six projected picks are all skill position players, All-World tight end Brock Bowers falls to No. 15, and five QBs go in the first round (the four above plus Michael Penix Jr. to the Patriots at No. 31).

See the full first round.

⚽️ Is Messi's dominance more about him or MLS?

(Megan Briggs/Getty Images)
(Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Three games into Lionel Messi's first full MLS season, the GOAT looks as unstoppable as ever. The question is whether that says more about him or the league he's dominating at 36 years old, Jeff writes.

The latest: Messi scored twice in Saturday's 5-0 shellacking of Orlando, giving him three goals in three games. And this comes after he turned the league on its head last year during his partial-season debut, putting up stats reminiscent of his prime in Europe.

By the numbers: Messi averaged 1.61 non-penalty goals and assists per 90 minutes last season before getting injured, notes Yahoo Sports' Henry Bushnell. That would have been the second-best rate of his career behind only his 2012-13 campaign with Barcelona, when he was 26.

What they're saying: "It's pretty clear that Messi's move to MLS has helped him invert the typical arc of an aging career," Bushnell writes. "And the easiest explanation for the inversion, of course, is MLS. It's the lowest level Messi has ever played at. … He has an extra half-second of time on the ball, an extra half-yard of space to conjure magic."

The other side: Messi may simply still be that good. He did, after all, lead Argentina to a World Cup title just 15 months ago, followed by a record-extending eighth Ballon d'Or last fall. Sure, he has 14 goals in his last 14 Inter Miami matches, but he was at times equally dominant in Europe.

The bottom line: No one is arguing that MLS is on par with the world's top leagues. But it has improved immensely in recent years, and the gap between it and Europe's Big Five should only get smaller thanks to Messi's own gravitational pull.

Tune in tonight: Messi and Miami take on Nashville tonight (9pm ET, FS2) in their CONCACAF Champions Cup Round of 16 first-leg match.

📆 Mar. 7, 2016: "God bless football"

(Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
(Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Eight years ago today, Peyton Manning announced his retirement, ending one of the most prolific careers in NFL history, Jeff writes.

Manning: "I fought a good fight. I finished my football race, and after 18 years, it's time. God bless all of you, and God bless football."

More on this day:

  • 🏀 1982: The NCAA tournament selection show was broadcast on TV for the first time. The No. 1 seeds were DePaul, Virginia, Georgetown and eventual national champion UNC.

  • 🏒 1986: Wayne Gretzky* broke his own single-season assists record with No. 136 en route to a still-standing record of 163. No other player has ever exceeded 114 (Mario Lemieux).

*One of the craziest stats ever: If you took away all 894 of Gretzky's goals, he'd still lead the NHL in career points on assists alone.

📺 Watchlist: Clash of the titans

(Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
(Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

The Nuggets host the Celtics tonight (10pm ET, TNT/Max) in a clash of the two teams with the best odds to win this June's NBA Finals, Jeff writes.

Title favorites: Boston (+220 at BetMGM) and Denver (+450) lead the way, with the Clippers (+500), Bucks (+700) and Suns (+1800) rounding out the top five.

More to watch:

  • 🏀 NBA: Heat at Mavericks (7:30pm, TNT/Max)

  • 🏀 NCAAM: Washington at No. 18 Washington State (9pm, FS1); No. 5 Arizona at UCLA (9:30pm, ESPN)

  • ⚽️ CONCACAF Champions Cup: Cincinnati vs. Monterrey (7pm, FS2); Nashville vs. Inter Miami (9pm, FS2)

  • 🏒 NHL: Blues at Devils (7pm, ESPN)

  • 🎾 Tennis: Indian Wells (2pm, Tennis)

  • ⛳️ PGA: Arnold Palmer Invitational* (7:30am, ESPN+; 2pm, Golf/Peacock)

  • ⚾️ Spring training: Braves at Red Sox (1pm, ESPN); Cubs at Reds (8pm, MLB)

*Loaded field: Nine of the world's top 10 players will tee it up at Bay Hill in Orlando. The only one missing is No. 3 Jon Rahm, who's now with LIV.

⚾️ MLB trivia

Young fans receive autographs before a Red Sox-Twins spring training game. (Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
Young fans receive autographs before a Red Sox-Twins spring training game. (Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

We're three weeks away from Opening Day. To mark the occasion, let's test your knowledge of the 2023 season.

Question: Can you name the six division winners from last season?

Answer at the bottom.

⛳️ A meal kit unlike any other


The food at the Masters is almost as iconic as Amen Corner, and the good news is you can experience it first-hand from the comfort of your couch, Jeff writes.

Taste of the Masters: Augusta National first began shipping refreshment kits in 2020 to give fans — who couldn't attend amid the pandemic — a more authentic home viewing experience. This year there are two options:

  • Classics Kit ($99.95): Enough pimento cheese, potato chips, moon pies, souvenir cups and coasters for six people.

  • Large Hosting Kit ($179.95): The bigger option feeds 14 people and includes pimento cheese, egg salad, bbq pork, chips, cookies and cups.

Looking ahead: The 88th Masters tees off on April 11.

Order your Taste of the Masters.

Trivia answer: Orioles (AL East), Twins (AL Central), Astros (AL West), Braves (NL East), Brewers (NL Central), Dodgers (NL West)

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