Friday, February 29, 2008

Eagles Dive in Deep End in Free Agency Pool

The Eagles decided to play with the big kids in the free agency pool signing DB Asante Samuel to a 6 year, $57 million dollar deal as well as signing DE Chris Clemons to a free agent contract (couldn't find terms).

The Asante Samuel signing was widely anticipated, although I profess myself stunned that the Eagles would commit so much money to a defensive back.

The move essentially moves Lito Sheppard out of his familiar left corner back spot and probably makes him trade fodder. It's a shame because Sheppard has been a good player for the Eagles, but he simply can't stay on the field for any length of time, missing 14 games over the past 3 years. I doubt they'll cut him; worst case scenario is that they keep him on the team and he's an extra CB. Best case scenario has Sheppard going in a trade for either the WR we all want the Eagles to obtain (Roy Williams from Detroit? Larry Fitzgerald?) or to package up Lito and their first round pick to move up in the draft.

The Chris Clemons signing is a bit more straightforward. He will move directly into Jevon Kearse's spot in the DE rotation. As a matter of fact, he can probably have Kearse's number 93 if he wants it; it's not like anyone is using it anymore. Clemons fits in with the small, fast DEs that the Eagles seem to prefer over those DEs that are built a bit more stout to handle the run on 1st and 2nd down, but are quick enough to speed rush on 3rd down.

Next of the shopping list for the Eagles should be a WR. By the way, the one player I thought the Eagles might reach out to for a return, Donte Stallworth, signed a 7-year deal with Cleveland last week. As most of the free agent WRs have signed, it looks like a trade or the draft will probably be the way to go, unless they want to go with someone that has been hurt recently, like Javon Walker.

Flyers Beat Ottawa; Phils Prospects Get Knocked Around

The Flyers beat the Ottawa Senators 3 - 1 on the strength of two fluky Mike Knuble goals.

The Flyers put in a solid defensive effort, along with a solid checking game that ultimately squeezed the life out of Ottawa. Ottawa, just coming off of a coaching change, did not come in and look like the top team in the Eastern Conference.

Marty Biron set a good emotional tone after Ottawa scored their first goal and Jason Spezza hung out in front of Biron and stood and celebrated like he just found a $20 bill. Biron (rightly, so) shoved Spezza, and in the ensuing melee, Spezza speared Braydon Coburn and ended up getting tossed.

As it stands this AM, the Flyers are in the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference standings. They play in New York all weekend, with a game against the Isles on Saturday and in the Gah-den to face the New York Rangers in an NBC game.

Joe Savery, Josh Outman Get Smacked Around

Anyone looking to Josh Outman or Joe Savery to offer a challenge to Adam Eaton's hold on the 5th spot in the starting rotation had better hope this was an aberration. Savery, last year's 1st round pick for the Phils, gave up 5 earned runs in one inning of work and Outman (love that name) got raked for 4 runs in just short of two innings of work.

I usually don't put too much stock in early Spring games, but in this case, I think many Phils fans (myself included) were sort of excited to see Josh Outman, and to a lesser extent, Joe Savery, pitch well this spring, so that they could be candidates for use in the event of injuries or the eventual Adam Eaton meltdown.

Programming Notes

If the Eagles make a signing today, I'll do an additional post today. There are alot of rumors that Asante Samuel will sign when he visits the Eagles today.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sixers Win; Eagles Cut Kearse

The Sixers beat the Orlando Magic at home last night by a score of 101-89. Andre Miller had a phenomonal game, putting up 26 points, while adding 9 assists. He was especially effective in the first half, when he put up 22 points, in driving the Sixers to a 61 - 42 first half league.

Willie Green and Andre Iguodala both submitted fine efforts, scoring 26 and 24 points respectively.

As it sits this AM, the Sixers (26-32) are in the 7th spot in the Eastern Conference, a mere 1.5 games behind the Washington Wizards. Contrast this with the Allen Iverson-led Denver Nuggets out West, who have a far better record than the Sixers (34 - 23). If the playoffs started today, the Nuggets would be on the outside looking in, sitting in the 9th spot out West.

Eagles No Longer Have Their Freak On

Today, the Eagles cut ties with "The Freak", Jevon Kearse. Kearse never played a full season for the Eagles, was constantly banged up, and never was able to put up a double-digit sack season. The 24 sacks he recorded in his 4 years with the Eagles were probably the most expensive sacks in the history of the NFL, what with the huge $65 million dollar contract he signed back in 2004.

Kearse was never as dominant as he was in his early years with the Titans, but on the other hand, the attention he did command at his end of the line did enable the end of the other side of the defensive line to have some success. Both Derrick Burgess and Trent Cole, players similar in style to Kearse, enjoyed great seasons playing on the opposite end of the line from Kearse. On some level, Kearse should probably at least get some credit for that (but it shouldn't be overstated either).

Kearse was enjoying a good start to the 2006 season, when he tore up his knee against the Giants in an overtime loss. He was out the remainder of the 2006 season and was never the same last season, eventually losing his job to Juqua Thomas.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Flyers Stand Pat; Myers Tabbed for Opening Day

The Flyers stood pat on the day of the NHL trade deadline. I mostly agree with the non-moves; this team isn't ready for a big run such that they can give up young assets for a handful full of promises from pending unrestricted free agents like Marian Hossa or even Brian Campbell. The only way it would have made sense is if they had guarentees that they could sign the players in question, and I think both guys are content to go into free agency this summer.

The Flyers did lose a player yesterday, technically speaking. Brian Boucher, playing down with the Phantoms on what was only an AHL contract, was allowed to sign an NHL contract with San Jose. Good for Boucher for getting back to the big leagues and good for Paul Holmgren for giving him an opportunity. I thought that Boosh was ready for a return to the NHL based off of his AHL performance this year and thought he'd be a good backup to Biron, such that you could include Niitty in a deal, but apparently that was not to be.

By the way: bold move by Pittsburgh, in picking up Marian Hossa. They have to be the odds on favorite to win the East at this point, although they have huge defensive holes.

Brett Myers: Phillies' Opening Day Starter

Once again, Brett Myers will be the Phillies' opening day starter. I like this move for several reasons; not the least of which is that the Phillies hustled Myers into embracing the closer role last year when a lot of young starting pitchers might have told the Phillies to go screw themselves. The Phillies are a better team with Brett Myers in the starting rotation, period.

(Picture from the; Len Redkoles/Getty Images)

The Sixers

The Sixers haven't played since last weekend, but will face Orlando at home tonite.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Flyers Beat Sabres; Acquire Prospal, "Lose" Forsberg

Unbelievably, the Flyers beat the Sabres last night in a shootout by a score of 4 - 3. You read that right; "in a shootout". Even more unbelievably, they came from 3 goals behind to beat a team that owned them in recent history, in the Buffalo Sabres.

No, wait, it gets better. The winning goal during the shootout? Scored by Danny Briere!

Maybe this is the karmic series of events we've been looking for to get out of this losing streak. Maybe it's all a mirage. It was at least fun to watch the Flyers play competitively again.

Marty Biron still looked shaky throughout the shootout, but he did manage the poke check on Tim Connolly and was there to whisk the puck away when Derek Roy skated in too fast and mishandled the puck.

Jeff Carter played (in my opinion) his best game as a Flyer. He was strong on the puck and (for once), he finished a chance on a breakaway and in the shootout. R.J. Umberger, showing up to the scene of his most infamous moment, also got on the score sheet, with a goal scorer's goal, picking to the top corner against Ryan Miller on the power play.

If Umberger and Carter played like this regularly, I'm not sure we'd be talking about a 10 game losing streak. Regardless, the Flyers are off the schneid and next play Thursday against Ottawa.

Photo: (AP Photo/Don Heupel)

Live Long and Prospal

After the game, the Flyers announced a trade, where they acquired 33 year old Vinny Prospal in exchange for AHL defenseman Alexandre Picard and a conditional draft choice.

Prospal, who came up with the Flyers, is having his best year offensively, but is due to be a free agent and, more or less, publicly called out his coach last week. He'll be a top 6 forward on this team right now and, if they make the playoffs, he'll help their power play. It will help that he knows John Stevens, as they actually played together when both were players on the Phantoms.

The oddity of this deal is that the Flyers gave up Alexandre Picard, an offensive defenseman, who was, at one time, touted to be their best defenseman in the organization. Clearly, his stock has fallen in the eyes of the organization to be given up for what will probably be a rental situation with Vinny Prospal. I heard Stevens himself extol Picard's virtues during a season ticket holder Q&A a couple of years ago, so including Picard in this deal surprised me a little.

Peter Forsberg Signs with the Avs

Yesterday, Peter Forsberg performed a 180 degree turn on his intentions and returned to the NHL yesterday, signing a 1 year deal with the Colorado Avalanche.

On the surface, I am happy he's not coming back to Flyers. I think the risk of him coming back and being hurt or unavailable for games at a stretch like he was with the Flyers is just too much to deal with on a team that already has a full plate (ton of injuries, plus getting Briere sprung).

On the other hand, Forsberg did yesterday what Forsberg has done since he signed with the Flyers; he did what was best for Peter Forsberg, leaving the Flyers wanting for more.

At the risk of being called childish by Bill Meltzer, the following are the facts about Peter Forsberg's time in Philly, and it's a time that Forsberg probably won't mention when he's inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame:

1.) Peter Forsberg, in pretty much open defiance of the Flyers management, elected to play in the Turin Olympics despite recurring groin problems leading up to the Olympics. Forsberg was grudgingly allowed the benefit of the doubt by Flyers management, but by putting his energy into a gold medal run for Sweden instead of getting right physically for the NHL playoff run, Forsberg put himself (and another international medal; he already had a gold from 1992) ahead of the Flyers organization.

2.) Anyone else remember when he refused to take a shot during a shoot-out early in his captaincy when told to do so by then-coach Ken Hitchcock? He got off very easy for that. Could you imagine Mark Messier begging off of a shot in a shoot-out?

3.) The Forsberg Drama '06-'07: The whole thing with Forsberg's foot and finding the right orthopedic insert makes me want to destroy my ABBA CD collection. The Flyers foot the bill to fix foot problems of Forsberg's that were congenitive in nature (i.e.--his feet were always that way). Following the surgery, there were trips to foot specialists in North Carolina (11/2006), Cleveland (see here for reference), and Phoenix (12/2006) to see orthotics specialist Ernesto Castro to essentially find a boot skate to fit his foot.

All the while, he missed games, while the Flyers drown in a sea of losses. Even Peter Forsberg at 80% could have helped, but he chose a different path. Tim Panaccio called Forsberg's situation, at the time, "a soap opera reminiscent of the Eric Lindros' concussion days", but the difference here is that Lindros never really had the respect of his teammates (read Jonesy's book if you don't believe me), whereas Forsberg commanded the respect of the Flyer lockerroom. In Forsberg's absence, the Flyers obviously struggled.

The implication with Forsberg, when he was here, was that he was uncomfortable with the status of being the lead dog and that because the Flyers were so bad, the motivation for him to play at less than 100% simply was not there. That might be an unfair characterization, but Forsberg's actions left many open to make that characterization. I'm sure I'm not the only person who heard various people in the electronic media (Al Morganti and Glen Macnow, I'm looking at you) call Forsberg a "diva" or "prima donna".

So, with the way the Forsberg era went down in Philly, is it any wonder that folks here, upon hearing that he wasn't going to sign here when healthy, were a little bitter, what with Forsberg being given the benefit of the doubt by the Flyers at every turn here?

Whatever. The page has been turned and I do think the Flyers are better for it. But if the Paul Holmgren, or a Flyers fan feels Forsberg jobbed the Flyers in some way, I do think they are justified in their feelings.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Flyers' Trade Deadline Day 2008

The 2 -1 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers last Saturday did more than extend a losing streak. It was in this game where the Flyers lost captain-in-waiting Mike Richards for up to 3 weeks with what is being diagnosed as a torn hamstring. The Flyers' already slipping playoff hopes took a huge kick to the family jewels with this news. If there is one player who does almost absolutely everything for this team, it's Mike Richards. He plays in every conceivable situation on the ice; sometimes to his own detriment as I believe his game suffers just a bit with all of the additional ice time he's logged this year.

With the loss to Florida, the Flyers are now in the 9th spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs; 1 point out of the 8th spot and 3 points out of the 7th spot. A couple of good weeks (which they are due just based on luck alone) and they could be right back in the playoff hunt. The one thing that will hold this team back, however, is injury: Gagne is done for the year, Lupul has a high ankle sprain, Richards has a torn hamstring, Hatcher has a bum knee.

Now, what should GM Paul Holmgren do at the deadline? Is he a buyer or a seller? Tough to say, but here is what I would do:

1.) I would stand firm in not trading young assets such as VanRiemsdyk, Claude Giroux, Ryan Parent, and Steve Downie. The only way I would consider trading one of our really young players at this point is if you can a lead-pipe cinch of an all-star player in return. The only player out there like that that is still reasonably young is Marian Hossa, and the Flyers wouldn't be able to fit his next contract under the cap. Notice I did not list Carter or Umberger in the untouchable list.

2.) Find out what it would take to get Alex Tanguay. They need a wing to play with Danny Briere; Tanguay wants out of Calgary. The only catch is figuring out what it would take. I would consider trading a player like Carter or Umberger to get Tanguay only if Calgary threw something else in the mix trade-wise, like a high draft pick or a young player off of their roster. Tanguay doesn't like the pressure he's under to score with Calgary and hates Mike Keenan.

3.) Find out what Jason Smith's intentions are for next year. Press him for a decision. If he can't or won't decide, move him now. He has value as a rental during the playoffs because of his grit and determination. I have read in various places that Smith wants to sign with Calgary in the offseason because he has a home out there.

Nothing personal with Jason Smith; I like him as a player, but you hate like hell to see your captain walk away as a free agent after one year. Start over now if you have to at captain with Mike Richards.

4.) This is a good opportunity to figure out the goaltending situation. My preference would be to trade Niittymaki and get what you can for him. He's a free agent in the offseason, and you are not going to spend a ton of dough to keep both Niitty and Biron on the roster. I would trade Niittymaki to a team looking for a goaltender (Tampa?) and make Brian Boucher, playing well with the Phantoms, the back-up goaltender for the rest of this year and next.

5.) If you do not include Carter or Umberger in a deal for an Alex Tanguay, it is imperative to play these two guys a ton for the rest of the year to figure out what you are going to do with them long term. Carter, especially, because it is thought that he has more upside than Umberger.

Carter should take over Mike Richards' line during the time he is out and let's see what he could do over a 3-week period. Maybe even play Carter with Briere, since Carter supposedly has this great shot and Briere seems to only want to dish at this point. The Flyers need to know if Carter is a legitimate top-6 forward or not.

Other players from Carter's draft class are heavily counted on already in the NHL by their teams, so it is now time for Jeff Carter to stand up and be a player or just another guy on the team (Mike Richards, Eric Staal, Thomas Vanek, Dion Phaneuf, Brent Seabrook, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Patrice Bergeron, Shea Weber are some of the players part of the 2003 NHL draft class. All of these players are ahead of Carter, in terms of success and development, and half of them were drafted after Carter).

As for Umberger, I've always been ambivalent about him as a player, but others seem to think he's got some value (the Flyers' announcers seem to really like him). He's older than Carter; Umberger will be 26 in May and we should have seen more from him by now. Same deal with Umberger as with Carter as far as I'm concerned; put him in an expanded role and see how he handles it.

Both Umberger and Carter are going to look to get paid this off-season (as restricted free agents), but in my opinion, neither has done enough to deserve to be paid much more than they are getting now.

So what would all of these moves mean? It really means standing pat; I don't know if the Flames are even willing to deal Tanguay, but his name has been out there in rumors and the Flyers definitely have a need for another 1st or 2nd line forward.

Otherwise, I don't believe there is really anything out there, trade-wise, to push the Flyers into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference. In light of that, it's better to see if the Flyers can sink or swim with what they have in house and to jettison some components that may or may not be part of the future.

(Photo courtesy of; Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Random Attic Find: 1984 Phillies Game Program

What drove me into the attic to find this nugget? It was perhaps the depressing news of the weekend that both the Flyers' Mike Richards (torn hamstring) and Phillies' new closer Brad Lidge (tweaked knee), players both of their respective teams depend on, are injured and perhaps out for an extended period of time. Or it could be that I've got my priorities screwed up and would rather look at boxes of old crap that my wife would prefer I throw away or sell.

Either way, contemplating the sporting past seemed preferable to contemplating the present for the home teams.
Today's attic find is a game program from a 1984 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates played on June 9th, 1984. It's also one of the only games I can recall ever seeing Steve Carlton pitch in person. The Phils won by a score of 6 - 5, with Garry Maddox going 4 - 4. The only reason I was able to find the date of this particular game was that I actually kept score of the game. Knowing the final score, it was a simple matter of finding the exact game date, which can be found amongst the extensive records kept by

I used to enjoy keeping score of games and if there was one job I would have liked when I was a kid, it was statistician or official score keeper. It would annoy my father to no end if I had to go to the bathroom or wanted to get something to eat if he had to keep score in my stead. The ironic thing is that it was my Dad that taught me to keep score. The sort of insanity on the part of my Dad would increase as I got older, but this isn't that sort of blog.

I had turned 13 the previous fall and this was the summer between catholic grammar school and high school. As I got older, I found out it was terribly uncool to keep score at the baseball games and the summer of 1984 was probably my last summer of keeping up with the practice. After all, it's tough to keep score at games and look cool. Eventually, the focus in going to games turned to trying to buy beer illegally at the Vet (or other locales), all the while trying to impress the girls who were bored enough to come with us to Phillies games in the first place. Most of the time, it was just a bunch of guys in the upper bowl of the Vet telling dick jokes (not unlike most of the blogs I frequent today), trying to get our one friend's older brother to buy us beer (which he did....for a price).

I have made a vow to myself to attempt to keep score at one game this year that I attend in person in an attempt to capture that innocence just for a couple of hours.

I scanned in both pages I kept score on and they appear below. You'll note a couple of autographs on the one page; it's Pirates catcher Tony Pena and Pirates starter (and former Phil) Jose DeLeon. If I recall, these were really good seats; 200 level (remember: Vet seating meant 200 level was good) on the 3rd base line overlooking the visitor's dugout.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Ryan Howard: $10 Million Dollar Man

The Phillies' Ryan Howard won a $10 million dollar binding arbitration case against the Phillies hopefully ending weeks of speculation as to exactly how many yachts Howard could water ski behind in addition to countless hours of hand wringing by fans unaware that no matter what happened to Howard, he's Phils' property for the next 4 years whether he likes it or not.

Howard, not eligible for free agency for another 4 years, will now be buying drinks for everyone in Clearwater. Please line up now.

Flyers Lose Ninth Straight

Personally, I'm relieved that they are losing. I wasn't interested in paying playoff money anyway.

Has anyone seen Danny Briere?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sixers Crush Knicks; Gagne Done For Year

The Sixers cranked up their running game and simply kicked the ever loving crap out of the Knicks last night by a score of 124 - 84.

Willie Green poured in 21 points on 9 of 14 shooting and Thad Young scored 20 points off of the bench for the young Sixers. Reggie Evans started at power forward last night, in order to give the Sixers a veteran defensive presence against Zack Randolph and Eddy Curry, but it hardly mattered.

The Sixers jumped out to a quick lead in this one simply by pressuring the ball and running. The Knicks looked slow and disinterested. You read blogs and such about how bad this Knick team is and how Isaiah has ruined everything he ever touched, but last night was just embarassing if you were a Knick fan. The Knicks are at 14th in the Eastern Conference and judging by what I saw last night, that is purely on merit. They suck.

The Sixers, on the other hand, played their new found running style to perfection last night. On the strength of 16 steals, the Sixers surged with 36 fast break points after playing a lack luster game at Minnesota the night before. They are all alone in the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference by a game over Atlanta.

As mentioned yesterday by Phil Jasner in the DN, Mo Cheeks got his deserved one-year extension. Mo has done nice work to this point; hopefully, GM Ed Stefanski can give him some talent to work with.

(Picture from Yahoo! sports - H. Rumph Jr.)

Simon Gagne: "Lindros'd" For the Year

After being examined by Dr. James Kelly yesterday, it was determined that Simon Gagne should sit out the rest of the year in order to allow for his brain to heal from the 3 concussions he's sustained this year.

This obviously sucks for the Flyers to lose an elite two-way forward of Gagne's status, but if there is a silver lining to be taken, it's that the Flyers now know they need to get some offensive help before next week's trade deadline hits. I doubt seriously they'll be a player in the Mats Sundin or Marian Hossa sweepstakes, but a lesser forward like Brad Richards, Alex Tanguay, or even Ruslan Fedotenko may be something to look at as the Flyers will have Gagne's money off of the cap for the rest of the year.

Vandermeer Traded

The Flyers dumped Jim Vandermeer on the Calgary Flames for a 3rd round pick in the 2009 NHL Entry draft. The Flames got robbed. I loved Vandermeer's toughness in his first go-round with the Flyers, but he was just a turnover machine in his most current stint. Vandermeer may develop into a solid 5th or 6th defenseman, but he's going to have to regain his confidence. Right now, he looks like a confused player.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Sixers Lose; Can Marty Biron Stop a Breakaway?

Both of the winter sports teams lost last night. The Sixers never could get into any sort of rhythm and did not get their running game going in dropping a winnable game to the woeful Minnesota Timberwolves by a score of 104 - 88. The Sixers started out slowly and never recovered. Al Jefferson provided a glimpse as to why the T-Wolves had to get him from the Celtics when they traded away Kevin Garnett, as Jefferson scored 19 points (on 9 of 14 shooting) and grabbed 14 points in a fairly dominant performance.

Andre Iguodala had 17 points for the Sixers in a losing effort. The Sixers come home tonite to face the New York Knicks.

Potential good news off of the court: Mo Cheeks may be getting an extension. I think he's earned at least another year, maybe two. He's done a really good job with the hand he's been dealt. This team will get to a point, however, where they will outgrow the type of coach (laid back) that Cheeks is, but for the state of the team right now, he's the right guy.

Flyers Lose. Again.

The Flyers dropped another game in their march towards saving many season ticket holders some money on playoff tickets by dropping a 3 - 2 decision to the Ottawa Senators that was decided by a shootout.

I felt this was the best game the Flyers played in a long time. The game reminded me of the type of game they played early in the year where they allowed a lot of long shots that Biron handled easily followed by opportunities in transition.

Once again, however, the Flyers lost in a shootout. I don't know what it will take for the Flyers to actually win a shootout. I give John Stevens credit for at least trying something different in giving rookie Claude Giroux an opportunity in the shootout as well as Kimmo Timonen.

By the way, has anyone ever seen Biron make a save on a breakaway? I mean, has it really happened? I don't think I've seen Biron stop one single breakaway since he's been a Flyer. Usually, during the shootouts, it's been the opposing shooter who lost control of the puck or just flat out missed the net. But I don't believe Biron has actively made a save on a breakaway at all this year (whether during the game or during the shootout). Biron simply does not engender confidence during shootouts, which is , I guess, a change of pace from Antero Niittymaki, who doesn't engender confidence (for me) during the 65 minutes it takes to get to a shootout.

Off the ice, the Flyers managed to make a minor deal yesterday that should help them get through the next 3 weeks where they won't have Derian Hatcher. The Flyers traded a 3rd round pick to the LA Kings for defenseman Jaroslav Modry. He's 37 years old, so this trade will give Jim Dowd someone to talk to. He's a good veteran to have around during the stretch run. Not the "WOW" acquisition some Flyer fans are waiting in vain for, but not bad either.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Start of the 2008 Phillies Season....

With Spring Training pretty much underway for the 2008 edition of the Fightin' Phils, it's time to list the areas on this team worthy of questioning and concern.

One area I will not list, however, is the Ryan Howard contract situation. The Howard contract is much adieu and hand-wringing about nothing. Howard is going to get paid either way, whether he gets his long term contract or if he goes to arbitration. I would prefer he sign a long term deal with terms amenable to both player and team, but it is not unique for high profile players to go through the arbitration process and not sour the relationship between player and team.

Specifically, I'm thinking of players such as Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, etc. who have all gone through the arbitration process, yet didn't pout.

Furthermore, whether Howard likes it or not, he is Phillies property for the next 4 years. I believe this will all work out for the Phils, and yes, for Howard too.

For areas of genuine concern, I submit the following:

1.) Can Myers transition back into the starting rotation? I believe he can; he prepared all last off-season as if he were a starter. It's a shame he lost a year of his career to being in the bullpen last year. They need him as a starter, period.

2.) Can Shane Victorino be a full-time centerfielder? In case you missed it, the Flyin' Hawaiian got hurt last year and frankly, was platooned down the stretch in right field. I am more concerned about Victorino being the full-time centerfielder than any other of the eight starting positions. That includes the always shaky catching situation. I like Victorino, but I like him more as a platoon player than as a full-time starting player. I suppose this is a natural progression in Victorino's career. He's proven folks wrong before.

3.) Who will be the Phils' 5th Starter? Adam Eaton? Kris Benson? Who knows? Eaton this year, can't be worse than Eaton last year? Can he? My guess? Eaton wins this job by virtue of the fact that the Phils are paying him so much.

4.) Can JRoll duplicate his MVP year? Jimmy Rollins acheived a career best in just about every meaningful statistical category. Can he do it again? Is it asking too much? I think JRoll will be coming back to Earth a little bit, but not by much.

5.) Can Kyle Kendrick duplicate his work last year? Kendrick came out of nowhere last year to go 10-4 with a respectible 3.87 ERA. Will the rest of the NL catch up to Kendrick?

No Foppa This Year

According to all reports, Peter Forsberg will not return to the NHL this year.

All through this process I believed that Forsberg was going to come back to Philly if he was going to go anywhere. The Flyers treated him really well when he was here and he enjoyed living in the city. Furthermore, there is nothing an aging hockey player enjoys more than the easier travel schedule playing in the Eastern Conference gives you.

That Forsberg is not coming back does shock me (such a big fuss was kicked up, afterall), but at the same time, I'm a little relieved.

The Flyers, right now, do not have the infrastructure in place to have a player like Forsberg simply parachute onto the scene and not screw up the rebuilding process for this team. All things being equal, if the Flyers were playing consistently and their main weakness was needing a forward who could play the power play and take a big faceoff, I'd have been more enthusiastic about Forsberg.

But the fact is, this team needs help on defense. They have some skill at forward (even with the injuries); they need someone on defense to get them the puck. That is where their bigger needs lie.

Maybe if the Flyers somehow get a Dan Boyle for this year and sign him long term, maybe Forsberg gets better over the summer and you look to have him back starting in training camp; just not right now.

(NOTE: I am breaking my unofficial one post per day policy today, when I should have a Phillies post up by 1pm. As I said yesterday, I'm Flyer'd out right now and won't post about them until tomorrow.....that is, unless they make a big trade.)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Flyers Give Back to Fans By Sucking Again

The Flyers capped Fan Appreciation day at the Wachovia Center by finding yet another way to lose en route to dropping a 5 - 3 decision to the Canadiens. The loss was the Flyers' 7 straight and there is little relief in sight.

The injury bug has also bitten the Flyers so bad at this point (Denis Topelko got knocked out of the game with a concussion and Steve Downie already missed this game with a concussion) that there is a very credible rumor (I consider Eklund from to be credible) that Claude Giroux will be an emergency callup from junior hockey for the Tuesday night game against Ottawa.

The effort was there in this game and in the last game against Montreal. I am at the point right now in thinking that this Flyers team, as currently constituted, is simply not good enough to compete at a high level in the Eastern Conference. I don't believe this to simply be another slump during a long season or to be an issue of injuries (although injuries definitely play a part).

The trends amongt players that the Flyers are counting on to be among their core are too much to ignore: Carter with 1 goal in the last 11 games; Umberger with 2 goals in the last 10 games; Richards with 2 goals in the last 14 games. Daniel Briere is now a mind boggling -21 for the year.

I'm not totally ready to start trading everyone and firing John Stevens just yet. But I do think there are moves that they could make that would help.

1.) Someone needs to sit John Stevens down and explain just how badly Jim Vandermeer is playing right now. Vandermeer was on the ice for the first goal last night and was directly responsible (in my mind) for the second goal, where he got goaded into a non-fight with Montreal's Josh Gorges leaving rookie Ryan Parent to deal with a 2 on 1 that Niitty allowed a defenseman (Montreal's Bouillion) to pick the top corner on him. Accountibility only seems to be something that happens to guys like Stefan Ruzicka or Lasse Kukkonen in John Steven's world; not towards Jim Vandermeer or Antero Niitymaki.

2.) The whole world knows you gave a wheel barrow full of money to Mike Richards for the next decade to be one of the cornerstones of the team, so he's not going anywhere. Figure out what you really think about RJ Umberger or Jeff Carter. Specifically, are either of them top 6 forwards in this league? Carter has great raw skills and Umberger does some nice things on the ice (especially against Pittsburgh) but I would hate to fall into a trap where we wait around forever for these guys to come around. I believe both are restricted free agents this summer; I would consider trading either of them now rather than wait till later to find out they have flaws in their respective games that will never be worked out.

3.) Enough screwing around with the goaltending; this isn't the AHL. Who is THE guy? Is it Biron, the guy that carried you through the first month of the year? Or is it Niittymaki, the homegrown organizational favorite of the head coach? Figure it out and get rid of the other one and make Brian Boucher, down with the Phantoms, the backup goaltender. Better yet, include whoever you plan on trading in a deal with Tampa to get Dan Boyle. Tampa desperately needs a goaltender and either Niittymaki or Biron would be an improvement over what they have now.

4.) Find Danny Briere a linemate to play with, so that you can get your money's worth from this guy. Moving him to wing was a good start; now get him a center to play with, whether it's someone currently on the roster or someone else.

I'm a little Flyer'd out for now; I'm glad spring training is starting back up and that the Sixers get back into action shortly, so I can take my mind off of the smoldering wreck this season is becoming.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Flyers Drop 6th Straight

The Flyers were shutout by the Montreal Canadiens by a score of 1-0. This is the 3rd time the Flyers had been shutout in the last 9 games and the 2nd time they've been shutout in their current 6 game losing streak.

All-in-all, this is the best game the team has played during their current winning streak, but it still wasn't enough.

And no, I don't believe Canadiens goaltender Carey Price did anything special in this one either. Offensively, the Flyers are as bad as it gets right now. They had opportunities in this game in and they just couldn't get it done. At the beginning of the 3rd period, they had a 5 on 3 power play, only to be thwarted by their own seeming indecision on how to proceed with the power play. They managed 34 shots in the game, but it's hard to say how many Price was truly tested on. Also: these guys miss the net entirely too often; it doesn't matter how shots you have, it's how you use those shots. They'll get another shot at the Habs today at the Wachovia Center.

The Flyers' moribund offensive output will not be helped if Joffrey Lupul is out for an extended period of time. Lupul hurt his ankle early in this game and did not return. Lupul's absence will probably mean the return to the lineup of Kyle Greentree.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Random Attic Find: 1983 Sixers Team Photo

This team picture of the 1983 World Champion 76ers was an insert in the Philadelphia Daily News after they had won the championship.

The way this team cut their way through the NBA, there was very little doubt that they were going to win the title. How good was this team? They won 65 games during the regular season and when they lost, I can just remember feeling abject shock. You know when you tuned in to watch on Prism or Channel 48 (I think it was 48), you knew the Sixers were going to win. Moses Malone gave them the low post presence and rebounding that they lacked in the past. He took heat off of Doc, who was then free to do his thing. The only thing you have to say in reference to this team is "Fo-Fo-Fo" and everyone knows what you're talking about.

Some of the things I think of when I look at this picture:

1.) If Andrew Toney wasn't one of the most underrated athletes to come through Philly, I don't know who was. It was sad the way his time ended here. I found this article on NBADraft.Net and the author does a fantastic job of describing how good and well-respected Andrew Toney really was when he played. If it wasn't for the Sixers' doctors not knowing how to fix stress fractures, what today is considered an eminently fixable injury, Toney would have probably gone down as one of the greatest ever in Philly.

2.) Speaking of underrated, was there a more underrated coach in Philadelphia sports history than "The Kangaroo Kid" Billy Cunningham? He accumulated 454 wins, 3 division titles, and our last championship. We'd be building statues today to a coach in the current Philadelphia sporting climate who put together a resume as impressive as that one. Ironically, the closest to acheiving that honor today is Andy Reid, who is only a world championship away from cementing his case for one of the greatest coaches this town has ever seen, but he's also currently under the most fire of any coach in town.

3.) If it wasn't for Norman Braman, former Sixers' owner Harold Katz would be considered the worst owner in Philadelphia over the last 35 years.

4.) Great red tube sox that Mo Cheeks is sporting in the team picture. And yes, I did own socks like that back in the day. I noticed that wearing socks high came back at one time in the NBA, but I have not noticed the tube socks with the stripes make it's way back into the fashion zeitgeist.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Flyers Drop 5th Straight

In what has become a an annoying trend lately, the Flyers softness in their own zone cost them another game, dropping one this time to the Eastern Conference worst Tampa Bay Lightning by a score of 5 - 3. Marty St. Louis had a goal and two assists for the 'Ning as he continues to haunt the Flyers no matter how bad Tampa is these days. Mike Richards had 2 assists for the Flyers.

The announcers would have had you believe that lucky bounces cost the Flyers this game. To be sure, there were some lucky bounces, but typically, you make your own luck and I thought the Flyers allowed Tampa to be lucky.

Take the first goal; Jim Vandermeer outright whiffed on a clearing attempt/pass behind his net that can only attributed to lack of concentration. The whiff ended up a turnover which ended up in our net. By the way: Vandermeer almost committed the same exact mistake in the neutral zone after the Flyers had pulled their goalie. I don't believe the Flyers can go into the playoffs with Jim Vandermeer as one of their top 6 defensemen and expect to be successful.

The backbreaking goal was the Martin St. Louis goal just after Tampa had scored on the tail end of a power play. Kimmo Timonen blocked a pass from Lecavalier, but did not get great help from the forwards that were out there (RJ Umberger, I'm looking at you). The puck went straight to Dan Boyle, who, while avoiding a passively drifting Umberger, lasered a pass to St. Louis, who deftly tipped the puck passed Biron. I found Umberger's lack of effort in furthering the clear or playing defense in that particular play disturbing.

All in all, I thought the team definitely played better, but there are still deadly lapses in their game. Maybe the passing of this weekend will have a positive effect on this team as the Peter Forsberg situation becomes clearer. Regardless, the more the Flyers screw around, the further they are falling in the Eastern Conference standings

Did you notice?:

- Steve Downie's shorthanded goal was a great shot. He will probably play PK in the future, because of his puck-hunting skills and underrated hockey smarts.

- Prospect Ryan Parent played in place of Derrian Hatcher, who needed to have his knee drained. Hatcher having knee problems makes sense; he's been terrible lately. Parent didn't look particularly out of place and I can't help but wonder if the Flyers aren't showcasing Parent for a trade, because allegedly, Alexandre Picard is the Flyers' best defenseman at the AHL level (Picard is also a known Stevens pet project).

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sixers Win 5th Straight

The Surging Sixers continued their winning ways, pummelling the hapless Memphis Grizzlies by a score of 102 - 88. Andre Iguodala led the Sixers with 29 points, 8 assists, and 8 rebounds in a dominating performance. According to the Sixers website, this winning streak is the longest since the end of last year, where they won 7 straight (from 2/26/07-3/10/07).

Andre Miller also played a significant hand in this win, chipping in 14 points and 11 assists. He was mentioned in trade rumors in the print edition of Sports Illustrated this week (I'll include a link once I find the same online rumor) as perhaps going to Cleveland. Not sure how feasible that is, as I'm not sure what Cleveland would give us back that we would want.

Speaking of point guards, would it be such a horrible thing if, somehow, the Sixers could get Memphis' Kyle Lowry somehow to be an understudy for Andre Miller. Always loved Lowry's game at Villanova. Lowry had 6 assists for the Grizz in the losing effort.

Last night also marked the return of Marc Iavaroni to the Philadelphia area. Iavaroni was the 5th starter on the Sixers' 1983 Championship team, a team near and dear to me personally (and the name sake of my little Keebler tree on the internet). Phil Jasner wrote a nice article about Iavaroni and how he was integrated into that team, which had already been through the wars (and lost). The thing I always remember about Iavaroni is that he enabled Bobby Jones to come off of the bench (mentioned in Jasner's article) and also the way PA announcer Dave Zinkoff always drug out the Iavaroni's last name when he scored or announced him as part of the starting lineup. Now, "Zink" had that distinctive style that he applied to everyone's name, but I guess Zink's style lent itself more to an Italian surname. I wish I could track down a wav file or something, Zink pronounced his name something like "EYE-A-VA-ROWWWWWWWWW-NI", loudly enunciating each and every syllable. The stuff you remember from your childhood can be just weird.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Flyers Lose Again; What Now?

The Flyers continued their losing ways, by dropping one to the woeful Islanders by a score of 4 - 3. The loss was their fourth straight, and I personally, can only think of one good game that they've played since the All-Star break (their shutout win over Anaheim).

You simply can't watch their games recently and pick out one thing that's wrong with this team right now; they are woefully out of synch for some reason. They seem to sag at just the wrong time and then, as if by sheer will, the puck ends up in their net.

Last night, they even went the extra mile and gave up 47 shots on goal; they were outshot in every period, up to an including the third period, when they entered the period down by a goal and some sort of extra offensive push would be demanded.

What gives with this team? Some thoughts:

1.) During last Thursday's game, it was implied by the broadcasters that the team was bitten by the flu bug in explaining the team's phlegmatic play. The same excuses sort of continued through the weekend, but at this point, I don't buy the flu. That's a bullshit excuse at this point and doesn't explain the entire team looking badly.

2.) Maybe they miss Simon Gagne. Gagne is an elite player in the league; good both offensively and in his own end. Even when Gagne did come back, he was very tentative and a shell of what he is when his head is right (pun intended). The type of two way play that Gagne provides has been missing from quite a few players lately; notably Danny Briere (now a -18 for the year!). Maybe they address some of what Gagne brought at the trade deadline; maybe they don't.

3.) These are the dog days of the season and older defensemen like Derian Hatcher and Jason Smith are simply worn down. Hatcher has been a minus player in 3 of the last 4 games.

4.) There is always the school of thought at this time of year about concern for the trade deadline. I think it's fairly obvious that the Flyers have some chips to trade and they definitely have the ability to make a move; with or without Forsberg coming on board. Perhaps this is making the team play tight and trying to do everyone else's job; including their own.

I think there is something to a combination of the trade deadline theory and possibly, a Peter Forsberg angle as well. Chuck Gormley, excellent Flyers beat writer from the Courier-Post, points out today in a rare blog entry, espouses this very thought:

You might have seen a quote from Marty Biron in one of my recent stories saying the players aren't talking about it (JD add: "it" refers to Forsberg's return). With all due respect to Marty, he's lying. Guys in the dressing room ARE talking about it, Someone asked me every other day what's going on with Foppa. Jim Dowd is wondering because his job's at stake. Mike Knuble's wondering because he'd like to play with the guy instead of getting traded to Detroit to make room for him.

Sometimes, from what I understand, players hear stories about who is coming to the team and they begin to lay upon the imminent arrival of that player some sort of savior complex, such that they stop focusing on their job and what they can do and begin focusing on what the player, who is not even here yet, may or may not mean to the team. This is common around the trade deadline, but in the Flyers' case, there is an even weirder circumstance because of the Peter Forsberg dilemma (or as Gormley skillfully calls it "The Foppa Soap Opera").

Forsberg's decision is supposed to come this weekend and not a moment too soon.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Andre Miller Dazzles Mavs; Peter Forsberg Concerns

Andre Miller led the Sixers last night to a 84-76 wins over the Dallas Mavericks last night in one of the most satisfying wins of the season for the Sixers. He was truly dominant in this game as his poked and prodded his way through Dallas' defense en route to 21 points, 8 assists, and 7 rebounds.

The cynic in me could say that the Mavs played the night before this game; they were perhaps tired. Or that maybe Andre Miller was putting on an audition for the point guard needy Dallas Mavericks.

I think the cynic in me, while right alot of the time, is wrong on this occasion.

When the Sixers are going poorly, they drop these types of games, whether the opposition played last night or not. And as for Miller, the NBA's co-player of the week, he's put up these types of numbers before and he's been nothing, if not consistent, for the Sixers. Seeing these performances makes me wish we had him a few years ago to put next to Allen Iverson.

I'm sure Miller would like to be playing for a contender (who wouldn't?), but I'm not even sure that Dallas is a good fit, trade-wise for the Sixers. I'm sure there is some NBA dork out there who plays with the NBA trade machine on who could find a good trade suitor for Miller's services, but I'm pretty sure Dallas isn't it.

Regardless of any cynical questions, this was a real good win for this young team.

Tell Me Again: Why do the Flyers Need Peter Forsberg?

Look, I'm all in favor of trying to make the hockey team better. I know how moribund the offense has been lately.

But really: Do we need to go through this whole Peter Forsberg "thing" again?
The way I see it, the following are reasons that GM Paul Holmgren should tell Forsberg's agent that the Flyers aren't:

1.) You've committed 20 years and $121 million dollars for Danny Briere and Mike Richards to be your number 1 and 2 centers. Now, we want to throw a 35 year old Peter Forsberg in the mix? Which of these huge investments do we now want to move out of position? Is the plan to put Forsberg with a grouping of 3rd line pluggers and trade away Jeff Carter? Please tell me that's not the plan, because I am so not on board with it.

2.) Do we really need to have to wonder every time this guy skates off of the ice whether or not his foot is sitting in his boot properly? Is it that we'd like to revisit the whole transglobal trek he took last year to find the proper boot insert? Don't we, as Flyers fans, already know too much about skate boot technology? Do we not already know where the skate boot experts are?

3.) At 35 years old, will he even be what he was the first year here with the Flyers? Unless he is juicing or superhuman, I don't think so.

4.) Last I checked, the Flyers could use another a puck moving presence on the blueline, and MAYBE, a cheap, veteran rental player who can score a little bit to play with Jeff Carter, not an aging Swedish diva.

If Forsberg does come over here, I hope I'm wrong, because the Flyers definitely have some holes right now and I'm hoping that whatever Forsberg does have left, he can at least help mask those holes. But as it stands right now, I don't think Peter Forsberg is right for what ails this Flyers team.

Update: This video, courtesy of, does not change my mind, but Foppa looks like he's moving pretty good:

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Flyers Are In Trouble

The Flyers completed just a horrible weekend yesterday, losing to the pretty boy yinzers from Western PA by a score of 4 - 3. This game, coupled with the loss on Saturday to the Rangers, dropped the Flyers all the way to 6th in the Eastern Conference.
Could the mere spector of Peter Forsberg rejoining the team be enough to jinx this season?

Worse than losing the game, they lost Simon Gagne to a mild concussion in the first period. This is about the worst thing that could have happened to the team yesterday. Gagne was playing very tentatively to this point anyway, so I guess it shouldn't be too big of a surprise that he got hurt again, because that is what typically happens when you play tentatively.

But to lose their top winger, when their number 1 centerman, Danny Briere, is already in a slump, is a development they could have done without. Furthermore, this puts the Flyers in a bit of a fix with respect to the rapidly approaching trade deadline. Scottie Upshall, last week considered to be trade bait, will now need to be an important part of the stretch run, as the team can now not count on any significant contribution from Simon Gagne if he does return.

Some items from yesterday's game:

- Loved how Downie punked Ruutu in the fight and then mocked him by dropping his hands and skating away. Downie is going to be a lot of fun to watch in these games against the Pens.

- Umberger had two more goals yesterday against the Pens. Wouldn't it be nice if he played like that all of the time and not just against the Pens?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Sixers? Playoffs?!?@ Playoffs??

Ummm...don't look now, but the Sixers, after beating the LA Clippers last night by a score of 101-80 are only a 1/2 game out of the 8th and final playoff spot in the NBA Eastern Conference.

How bad is the East if the Sixers have a shot at the 8th spot?

Don't get me wrong; I like a lot of the Sixers' young players, but this team lacks lots of elements you need to be successful in the NBA: any sort of 3-pt. threat, a consistent inside scoring threat, the lack of good perimeter defense, etc, etc. I could go on and on. And alot of the issues are mostly due to lack of talent and the poor construction of the team, in general.

But the fact that the Sixers are this close to a playoff spot is a testament to the young talent on this team as well as coach Mo Cheeks. Cheeks, not thought of as an elite coach in this league, seems to be making the best of the state of flux that the Sixer organization is currently experiencing.

The real trick is to figure out what is best for the franchise: making the playoffs this year or to continue to trade away assets in order to rebuild for this summer? That is the question for GM Ed Stefanski.

The Flyers

The Flyers lost again to that paragon of goaltending Stephen Valiquette and the NY Rangers by a score of 2 - 0. The Flyers' offense is simply non-existent right now. Simon Gagne is still trying to find his game as there were several occasions where he lost puck battles or simply looked disinterested in getting into a prolonged puck battle.

Defensively, I thought the Flyers played about as well as you could. The first goal was a miscommunication between the defense and the goaltender, but otherwise, they were solid. Derian Hatcher was an absolute beast in this game, playing about as physically as I've seen from him in a long time. The team, in general, possibly from being frustrated at not scoring consistently, seemed to have a collective burr under their saddle. A huge fight in the 2nd period occurred, punctuated by Steve Downie beating Fedor Tyutin like he stole something. Mike Richards seemed to be searching out a fight for most of the 2nd period, first trying to go with Sean Avery and later, he finally did go with Brandon Dubinsky.

But other than the spark from the fight, the Flyers' offense has been largely dormant of late. You sort of wonder how much this has to do with the Peter Forsberg rumors that have been circulating about, because the way they are playing offensively reminds me of how they played last year when Forsberg was flying all over the globe searching for a new skate boot.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Downie is Here to Chew Bubblegum and Kick Ass

.....and he's all out of bubblegum. The only highlight of the day for the Flyers (photo courtesy of Getty images on

Random Attic Find: Flyers '84-'85 Yearbook

The Flyers play today at 1pm vs. the Rangers (Family Outing!) and the Sixers play the Clippers tonite at 7:30pm.
When going through some stuff in the attic, I found a bunch of old games programs and memorabilia and such.

This particular item is the pre-cursor to what is now called a media guide. It contained profiles of all the players on the team, the front office, and all of the team records.

Another cool item these media guides have is the "players in the system" section, listing the stats for players the Flyers either drafted or had playing for them in the minors. Some of the more notable names from 1984-85:

Per-Erik Eklund (aka - Pelle Eklund)
Ron Hextall
Scott Mellanby
John Stevens
Rick Tocchet
Peter Zezel
How well did the Flyers draft back then? All of these guys not only made the team, but most were the core of the Flyers success in the mid-80s. The only person on this list who did not play at the NHL level a good deal is John Stevens, who is now the coach of the team.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Sixers Win; Jeff Carter; L.J. Smith

The Sixers beat the Kazaam-less Miami Heat by a score of 101-84. Andre Iguodala had 25 to lead the Sixers to go along with Andre Miller's 21 points and 7 assists. Honestly, Miami is a rotting corpse of a franchise in every sense of the word. Dwyane Wade should call A.I. for some ideas on getting traded out of that situation.

The real story of the night was focused around the Rodney Carney-Dwyane Wade dunk tete-a-tete, that saw both men throw down some fantastic dunks over the other one. Wade got dunked on first and obviously didn't care for the experience much as he drew a technical foul for taunting after dunking over Carney. The has all the video.

Jeff Carter Trade Rumors

Rumors out of the Canadian Press (specifically Darren Dreger on have Jeff Carter as one of the top 10 tradeable commodities in the NHL as the trade deadline approaches (it's on February 26th).

I sort of agree with Dreger; I would not be surprised if Carter was traded if only because the organization has already made long term commitments to both Danny Briere and Mike Richards, who will be your top 2 centermen for the next 5 years (and longer in Richards' case). Carter would actually be better off moving to wing, but he has shunned this move in the past for various reasons. Carter is not a natural playmaker at center and his shot would be just deadly off of the wing, but for whatever reason, he's been unable to make the move wing. As a matter of fact, the ill-fated Kyle Calder move was expressly made for Jeff Carter's benefit; Calder is known to be a very good passer for a wing and the thought was that Calder and Carter would develop some chemistry (which never happened).

The Flyers need help on defense, in my opinion, and Jeff Carter could be the piece of the puzzle which could bring someone like Brian Campbell or Dan Boyle (Note: The Flyers would have to throw something else in for either of these two d-men). Rob Blake would be a nice addition, but he's hurt.

Eagles Franchise L.J. Smith

The Eagles placed the franchise tag on TE L. J. Smith yesterday, and in all likelihood, will keep the TE for one more year.

I have no problem with bringing Smith back for another year; he's not a bad player and there really isn't much out there in the free agent market to replace him. Potential FA Dallas Clark will almost assuredly be back with Indy as Peyton Manning's security blanket. Next year, Brent Celek should be more than ready to take over the starting TE role.

The funniest thing I've heard is from L. J. Smith's agent; who stated that the tagging of Smith as a franchise player "verifies he's one of the top players at his position."

You could make the case that he's not even the best TE in the NFC East, let alone in the NFC. As a matter of fact, he's probably the worst TE in the NFC East if you look at it objectively. I would rank TE's in the NFC East as follows:

1.) Jason Witten
2.) Chris Cooley
3.) Jeremy Shockey/Kevin Boss
4.) LJ Smith/Brent Celek

This is a win-win deal all around; the Birds don't have to worry about the position for this year and Smith will get one more chance to stay healthy and prove himself so he can get the long term contract that he wants.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Ron Hextall Night

"......a teammate is defined by the Orange and the Black and not the name on the back"

-- Ron Hextall 2/6/2008

Ron Hextall, a true Flyer, was inducted into the Flyer Hall of Fame last night between the 1st and 2nd period of the game between the Flyers and Caps. Ron Hextall embodied everything Philadelphia fans love about their sports heroes: tough, gritty, and passionate. But most of all, it can be summed up by his hatred of the feeling of losing. Winning is great, but to avoid the pain of losing means that you would do anything on the ice if it meant you would win. Even learn to stick handle like a forward, argue like a coach, and fight like a goon. And yes, make the occasional 10-bell save. Hextall could do all of those things.

Especially in his prime.

His Flyer career is really split up into two parts; both parts included a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. Both parts were equally bittersweet.

In his first act, he was part of the Dave Poulin-led Flyer teams, who were the perpetual underdogs. Those teams found ways to win. Those teams were always among my personal favorite, because even when the hockey establishment thought the Oiler dynasty would roll right through them, nobody told the Flyers. Especially rookie goalie Ron Hextall. He jumped, dove, and lunged his way into hockey immortality by being one of the only players from a losing team to win a Conn Smythe trophy as MVP of the playoffs (ironically, the other to do it is a Flyer as well; Reg Leach). He even went on to score a couple of goals during Act 1; of course, we all knew with the way that he handled the puck that this was inevitable. He continued to push, hack, slash, and bang those pipes and embody the Flyer spirit.

This first act ended with the groin injuries that robbed Hexy of his flexibility and Hexy's inclusion in the monumental Eric Lindros deal.

Act 2 in Hextall's Philadelphia story would begin 2 years later, with Bob Clarke, his spiritual godfather, coming back to Philadelphia as GM. Clarke reacquired Hexy for Tommy Soderstrom. Before you knew it, the chants of HEXY, HEXY filled the Spectrum again. It was good to have him back; it felt right. His second act was not always a solo act; sometimes Garth Snow was around to help. He wasn't completely the same; no more fights for, well, just because he felt like it. His reflexes weren't what they were before, either. In the old days, when he was out of position, his God-given reflexes made up for it. Not anymore. But the intensity and the will to win was still there. He gave up the occasional soft goal at the wrong time; the Detroit series was no fun at all. What people forget is that those Flyer teams and specifically, that Detroit series, is that they probably would not have been in the lofty positions they occupied through the mid-90s without Hextall.

Last night's ceremony inducting Ron Hextall into the Flyers Hall of Fame was special and I was glad I got the chance to catch it. They even got him to do that little song he used to play off of the goal posts with his stick just one more time.

Unfortunately, the 2007-2008 version of the Flyers did not follow up the ceremony with a spirited effort. As a matter of fact, it was tough to find any spirit with this team until mid-way through the 3rd period as they lost to the Capitals 4 - 3. The score was not indicative of how this game progressed; the Flyers played with little energy and almost no passion.

It was a shame that on a night where the Flyers honored one of their own who personified passion and energy that the current edition of the Flyers could not sum up those qualities when they needed them.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Super Tuesday Indeed; Flyers and Sixers Win

While America seemed to either going to or monitoring the polls in what is probably one of the messiest, least understood process in American politics (the system of primaries and caucuses), the home teams were busy winning their respective games.

The Flyers, behind a late goal by Steve Downie, beat Atlanta by a score of 3 -2. This game had some interesting moments when action was back and forth, but Atlanta mostly played a patient game of laying back and waiting for Flyer mistakes. As a result, the Flyers had to do the same; it was very similar to last Tuesday's game against the Kings in both tempo and score.

One thing from yesterday's previews of this game in the media bothered me.

Alot was made in previews of yesterday's game and in today's reports in the papers about how well Antero Niitymaki plays against the Atlanta Thrashers, and specifically, his countryman Kari Lehtonen (check here, here, and here). I guess there was some sort of rivalry with Lehtonen when these two were younger back in Finland, but who cares? Unless they've changed the game such that the two goalies now can simply shoot on each other, air hockey-style, I don't understand the relevance of matching goalies up against one another. That's as dumb as swapping out your starting QB for your backup simply because your backup beat the other team's starting QB back in college.

As for Niitymaki's playing well against Atlanta, well, what are the odds of that? They made the playoffs last year for the first time in their short 7 year history! That means there are plenty of goalies with good records against the Thrashers. This was simply another excuse for Stevens to get his boy Niitymaki some extra playing time. At least Biron will be going tomorrow night against the Caps on Ron Hextall Night.

The Sixers Comeback

The Sixers, who choked up a 20-point lead to lose on Monday, came back at home last night against the Washington Wizards and won by a score of 101 - 96. The guy quickly becoming one of my favorite Sixers, Thaddeus Young, had another good night, scoring 17 points and grabbing 9 boards.

Cheeks went with a younger lineup and it paid dividends. They pressed defensively and guys were generating easy offense off of it. It sounds simple, but with the young legs Cheeks had on the court often come the mistakes typical of inexperience. The risk worked out last night. Specifically benefitting was Rodney Carney, who had a couple of sweet open court dunks. I don't know about Carney's future as a player on the Sixers, but he does look so smooth when he runs the floor.

Other heroes in the Sixers win were Andre Iguodala with 20 points and Andre Miller with 11 points and 14 assists. Miller has had double-digit assists in two of the last three games, but before that, it had been more than a month (12/30 vs. Portland) since he had a double-digit assist night.

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Philadelphia Holy War

Ever since my 2 years spent at St. Joe's University before transferring to Penn State, I've always enjoyed Big 5 basketball. I admit I wasn't one of those kids who grew up sneaking into the Palestra to catch some Big 5 triple-header. I blindly followed the Villanova Wildcats because that's who the hot team was in the middle 80s when I was growing up. Mostly, it was because they were the most successful local college basketball team. Occasionally, we would root for the Temple Owls (Terence Stansbury and Nate Blackwell were tremendous), but mostly, it was all Villanova, all the time.

Fast forward to my freshman year at St. Joe's. I was blissfully unaware I was supposed to dislike Villanova University. This was all explained to me before the first SJU-Villanova game I attended as a student. It wasn't tough to understand.

Villanova was on the bucolic Main Line, with it's lush lawns and finely manicured colonial mansions. St. Joe's was on City Line Avenue, which is essentially an industrial corridor, and bordering the more blue collar Overbrook. Villanova folks tended to be snobby and standoffish; St. Joe's folks were a little more earthy and real. I mean, we were tougher than Villanova people; we were taught by Jesuits. Jesuits have also been known over the years as "God's Marines" for their intelligence and toughness as well as their alleged roles in various conspiracies.

I quickly found comfort in hating Villanova insomuch as when you go to a school with no football team, you have to take your hated rivalries where you can get them. So for me, a kid that vigorously celebrated the 1985 Villanova National Championship, I now had a hatred for Villanova.

When I transferred to Penn State, my vitriol for Villanova subsided for the most part, but it still comes up when they play St. Joe's, in what is now known as "The Holy War".

Last night was a renewal of bad blood between the Hawks and Wildcats at the hallowed Palestra. It wasn't much of a game as St. Joe's took Villanova out by the woodshed and beat them by a score of 77 - 55. The game wasn't really as close as even that score indicates. St. Joe's came out running and Villanova obliged by turning the ball over repeatedly in the first half. Villanova's stagnant offense pretty much doomed them from the start and they had no answer defensively for either Pat Calathes and Rob Ferguson, who both had 20 point nights. St. Joe's shot 47% from 3-point range as a team, with Rob Ferguson shooting 5 of 6 beyond the arc.

I was lucky enough to watch the game on CSTV and the atmosphere was pretty wild. Even though the game was at the Palestra, it was a St. Joe's home game on the schedule (I was always considered that a kind of a big middle finger to Villanova, who has a history of trying to back out of the Big 5, whereas St. Joe's always embraced the Big 5). The St. Joe's kids were jumping and screaming throughout the game and they had a lot to be excited about.

The only downside to the telecast was having to listen to Tom McCarthy call the game on CSTV. For reasons I can't explain, I don't like McCarthy (not happy with his move of coming back with the Phillies). The color guy was Steve Lappas, the former Villanova coach, who wasn't that bad, and provided good insight during the game.

Did The Giants Win the Super Bowl?

I know I had a little bit to drink last night, but I could swear that the Giants won the Super Bowl.

Wait.....that actually happened?

Eli was the MVP? Really? It's all over the internet, so it must be true.

Apparently, Eli Manning has won the Super Bowl. Not only did he win the Super Bowl, but he was the MVP.


I am hoping that, somehow, this win knocks some sense into Andy Reid and the Eagle intelligentsia. I mean, this Giants team is not as good as the 2004 Eagle team that lost to New England. But they are the ones with the ring and I'm the one with a web site where I bitch about not having won a championship since I was 12.


Does this mean we have to stop calling Eli "Fredo"?

Obligatory McNabb Rumor

Donovan McNabb's name surfaced over the weekend in rumors and it probably won't be for the final time. Rumor has it that the Baltimore Ravens would be interested in trading for Donovan McNabb. Not terribly surprising, since former Eagle special teams coach John Harbaugh is now the coach of the Ravens.
The only way dealing McNabb makes any sense whatsoever for the Eagles is if they get back the Ravens' 8th overall pick and at least one starter (preferably, a defensive starter). Otherwise, it just makes sense for the Eagles to make (at least) one more run at it this year with McNabb at the helm.

Flyers Stuff

Good rumors from the most underrated writer in Philly, Chuck Gormley. Apparently, the Flyers are doing some scouting and Gormley believes a trade may involve either Mike Knuble, Sami Kapanen, and Scottie Upshall.
Most likely to go? Scottie Upshall. Don't get the feeling that John Stevens likes him very much as Upshall plays somewhat sparingly anymore. Upshall is young, cheap and needs to be a top 6 forward to suceed. Upshall is not a top 6 forward on this team as currently constituted; especially in a scenario where Peter Forsberg is concerned.

Saturday, February 02, 2008


Some athletes are born. Others are made.

And then there's Keith Jones.

Either Keith Jones is completely sand bagging people about his athletic ability (maybe) or being a professional hockey really doesn't require it's players to be physically fit (not likely).

The unlikelihood of Keith Jones ever becoming an NHL player is borne of the fact that it is unusual for a Canadian born hockey player to not play Major Junior Hockey in Canada and still make it to the NHL.

He did, however, play four years of college hockey for Western Michigan and was a better-than-a-point-per-game player in a challenging conference (CCHA). In Jones' senior year, he had 56 points in 35 games. For reference, RJ Umberger, playing in the same conference while at Ohio State and considered a big-time prospect when he was drafted, had 53 points in 43 games, so Jonesy really was a much better player than he ever lets on.

It's important to establish Jones' credentials because as you read this book, Keith Jones goes out of his way to ridicule himself and almost seems surprised that someone that was so poorly conditioned an athlete, as Jonsey allegedly was, could play hockey at it's highest level.

Jonesy begins his story at home in Brantford, Ontario and walks the reader through the timeline of his life and career. In doing so, he does it in a conversational tone that reads more like a transcript of an interview than it does a carefully crafted biography. As a matter of fact, it is difficult to ascertain what, precisely, co-author John Buccigross (hockey writer for contributed to this book. Further concerning is the fact that the book (at least the copy I had) had several actual typographical errors, but that speaks more to poor editing than it does anything else.

Of interest to Philly fans is his time with the Flyers during the end of the Eric Lindros era. Jones roomed with Lindros on the road and I would be willing to bet that if Jones wanted to dish some dirt on Lindros, he could have done so. He certainly didn't do that in this book. If you read between the lines when he talks about Lindros, however, one can sort of ascertain how Jonesy (and the other veterans on that 1999-2000 team) felt about the Big E. I guess they paired Lindros with Jones because I guess they thought Jones might loosen up the always seemingly uptight superstar, but it is obvious some of the veterans from that team found Lindros to be, at best, a really good player who had no business being the captain of a hockey team. Another interesting item: anyone thinking of hiring Craig Ramsey as a head coach may want to read this book and consider another option.

Also, don't expect to see anything about one of the best underground urban legend of the late 90's in Flyerland: the alleged tryst between Lindros and the wife of Rod Brind'Amour.

Negative criticisms aside, it's a breezy little read that I certainly recommend it for any hockey fan. The ending of the book shows a side of Jonesy that doesn't always come across in his personality as resident wise-ass in the Flyers telecasts and the 610 WIP morning show.

Furthermore, Keith Jones' profits from the book go to Alex's" Lemonade Stand, an organization that raises money for pediatric cancer research - another good reason to go out and buy the book.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Flyers shutout; Kick fans in groin

So, I go to the Flyers game and they get shut out? By a guy named Stephen Valiquette.

Really? Stephen Valiquette?

Holy crap, I wish someone could have warned me. I would have sold these tickets for some ridiculously overinflated rate.

The Flyers lost by a score of 4 - 0 in a game, where, frankly, they deserved to get shut out by someone named Stephen Valiquette. Antero Niitymaki started for the Flyers and played horribly. After giving up 2 quick goals in the first few minutes of the 2nd period, John Stevens mercifully gave him the hook. Not sure how you rationalize giving Nitty another start for awhile. He was brutal, but I'm sure you'll see him shortly becuase of his pet status with Stevens. If this were Biron, Stevens would bury him for about a week.

Calling the Flyers' offensive attack anemic would be an insult to anemic people. It was pathetic. Please someone call Simon Gagne and tell him someone is skating around the ice with his jersey number on, because I'm not terribly certain that the person in the jersey is Simon Gagne. He is playing like a guy looking not to get hurt, which is precisely what happens to guys who play not to get hurt.

So, is that all it took? Simply one day of Peter Forsberg rumors for these guys to play as if Forsberg were on the team and not on the ice, but rather in Montreal or Stockholm, to talk to the skate whisperer or something ridiculous like that?

It is sort of difficult to hang this game on any one player, with all of them sucking and everything, but Jim Vandermeer, did manage to distinguish himself with a -3. They'll try and erase the memory of this horrible game on Saturday against the Ducks.