The Flyers’ moves don’t always work out, but the Flyers always deserve credit for trying. Whether through trades or free agency, general manager Paul Holmgren is going to do what it takes to try to improve the team.
The Flyers were busy Friday and Sunday, bookending the NHL draft by trading goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and forward James van Riemsdyk. Bobrovsky was sent to Columbus in exchange for three draft picks. Van Riemsdyk was traded to Toronto in exchange for defenseman Luke Schenn.
The inconsistent van Riemsdyk, selected No. 2 overall in the 2007 draft, showed flashes of becoming a premier power forward, most notably during the 2010-11 playoffs, but he never became that player. JVR, 23, still has an opportunity to become a force at power forward. His upside is higher than Schenn’s, but Schenn, 22, fits the Flyers’ needs better.
Schenn (6-foot-2, 229 pounds), the fifth overall pick of the 2008 draft, is a hard-hitting defenseman who is also adept at moving the puck. His is also right-handed, which adds balance to the Flyers, whose defensemen are almost exclusively left-handed. This makes on obvious difference on the power play, but having a right-handed defenseman also enables the Flyers to move the puck out of their own zone a little differently, making them more difficult to forecheck.
The Bobrovsky trade does “Bob” a favor by giving him a better opportunity to play, but the Flyers’ motives aren’t entirely altruistic. They received a second-round pick, something they did not have, and a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft, as well as a fourth-round pick in the 2013 draft.
With the second-round pick (No. 45 overall) acquired from the Blue Jackets, the Flyers selected goalie Anthony Stolarz, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound prospect from Edison, N.J. If Stolarz develops into a better goalie than Bobrovsky, this deal will be considered a steal.
As with the JVR-Schenn trade, the Flyers found a team with needs that made them a good trade partner. The Blue Jackets need a goalie who can play right now. The Flyers, with Ilya Bryzgalov locked up with a long-term contract, can afford to allow a goalie such as Stolarz three or four years to develop before being ready for the NHL.
As with the selection of Stolarz, it may take a couple years to evaluate the Flyers’ draft. Will first-round pick Scott Laughton, the 20th overall selection, develop into a solid two-way center, like former Flyer Mike Richards? Will any of the four defensemen they drafted (Fredric Larsson, Shane Gostisbehere, Reece Willcox, Valeri Vasiliev) become a mainstay on the Flyers’ blue line? Only time will tell. But it appears the Flyers chose value over positional needs in the first round, then filled out their defensive depth with the remainder of the draft. (They also selected left wing Taylor Leier in the fourth round.)
You can rest assured that the Flyers are not done. They will almost certainly add a defenseman. Whether that means re-signing Matt Carle or picking up another player in free agency, which begins Sunday, remains to be seen. Another trade is also a possibility.
There’s no doubt the Flyers will do whatever it takes this summer to try to improve. You may question the wisdom of their moves, but you can never question their commitment.
RUDE RECEPTION: The crowd at Pittsburgh’s CONSOL Energy Center vociferously booed Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren from the time he stood up from the team’s table to the time he announced that Scott Laughton was the team’s top pick. Laughton also was booed heavily as he put on a Flyers jersey and hat:
Penguins fans continued to boo every Flyers selection, although not as loudly, on the draft’s second day. Obviously, they have not gotten over the Flyers eliminating their beloved Penguins in the first round.
PENNSYLVANIA IS HOCKEY: The NHL draft will return to Pennsylvania in 2014 when the Flyers host the event at Wells Fargo Center. College Hockey’s Frozen Four will also be held at Wells Fargo Center in 2014. The Frozen Four will be held in Pittsburgh in 2013. This continues the string of major NHL events in Pennsylvania, which includes Winter Classics in both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
It will be interesting to see if Flyers fans boo the Penguins’ representatives and draft picks at the 2014 draft as loudly as Penguins fans booed Holmgren and Laughton. The dilemma is that the Penguins’ GM is Ray Shero, son of legendary coach Fred “The Fog” Shero, who guided the Flyers to their two Stanley Cup victories.
UTLEY IS BACK: Chase Utley will play for Class AAA Lehigh Valley on Tuesday. If all goes well, he will return to the Phillies’ lineup this week, perhaps as early as Wednesday.
Utley batted .156 (5 for 32) in nine games with Class A Clearwater, so let’s be careful not to burden him with unrealistic expectations when he returns. His presence in the lineup should help, but it’s not fair to expect him to be the team’s savior.
I’d be a lot more excited about Utley’s return if he could pitch middle relief. Ron Opher, my PhilliesPhanatics.com cohort, suggests that the Phillies bring back Wilson Valdez, who could play second base when Utley’s knees make him unavailable and could pitch middle relief when Utley’s in the lineup.
RACE TO VICTORY LANE: Last week I asked “Who will be next to win a game, Cliff Lee or the Philadelphia Union?” The correct answer was the Union, which beat Sporting KC, 4-0, on Saturday for their first MLS win since April 14, ending their MLS winless streak at seven games. Lee lost Sunday night to Tampa Bay, and he remains winless this season.
FEELING A DRAFT: The 76ers begin an offseason of transition Thursday at the NBA draft. The Sixers, who are still looking for a new president/general manager to replace Rod Thorn, can’t afford to make a mistake with the 15th pick in the draft. You can read more about the Sixers and the draft in my column, which should be posted on the site Tuesday.
CRYSTAL BALL: I couldn’t complete the prediction sweep. More accurately, Oklahoma City couldn’t complete the sweep for me. Before the season, I correctly predicted the Los Angeles Kings would win the Stanley Cup. The Thunder were my preseason pick to win the NBA championship, but the Miami Heat prevented me from having an NHL-NBA sweep.
KING JAMES: Congratulations to the Miami Heat for winning the NBA championship. Regular readers know that I am not a big fan of LeBron James and Miami’s Big Three, but I have to give the devil his due. (That didn’t come out right, did it?)
Seriously, the Heat were in dire straits against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, but James put the team on his back with a 45-point performance in Game 6 to force Game 7. James continued to excel through Game 7 against the Celtics and all five games of the finals, shedding his “choker” label. Credit should also go to veteran Shane Battier for his consistent contributions, as well as to point guard Mario Chalmers, rookie Norrie Cole and sharpshooter Mike Miller, who played his best game of the season in the title-clinching Game 5 of the finals.
SNOOZE ALERT: If you’re suffering from insomnia, there are still three games remaining in Euro 2012, the soccer (or futbol) championship of Europe. I watched long stretches of the quarterfinal game between Italy and England on Sunday. In summary, Italy controlled play and almost nothing of note happened until Italy won the game on penalty kicks, which is the dumbest way to decide the outcome of a game in all of sports.
Italy did have a goal taken away for an offside violation, which is another stupid soccer rule that needs to be revised. So I stand corrected: something happened. Barely.
For non-soccer aficionados, this borefest included two 15-minute overtime sessions. I can’t imagine, for example, an overtime session in a Stanley Cup playoff game that approached the boredom level of these overtimes. I can’t even imagine a regular-season game between the Wild and Flames containing so little action and excitement.
Eric Fisher, who has been covering sports for more than 23 years and was captain of his high school soccer team, has discovered what most American kids eventually learn: it’s a lot more fun to play soccer than to watch soccer.