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The dark days of spring continue. Wells Fargo Center is dark this spring, just as it has been in three of the past five years.
The Sixers missing the playoffs is almost taken for granted. They missed the playoffs for the fifth straight year. It used to be taken for granted that the Flyers would make the playoffs every season, but they missed the playoffs for the third time in five years and haven’t won a playoff series since 2012.
When will this situation change? Could it change next year? Possibly, but it’s equally possible that both the Flyers and Sixers miss the playoffs again.
The Sixers can argue that they’re on the upward swing. After four straight seasons of declining records, the Sixers reversed that trend this season. Of course, it’s difficult to get worse when you only win 10 games the previous season.
The Sixers improved by 18 wins this season after their nearly historically bad 10-72 record last season. But they were still 13 wins shy of being in a tie-breaker for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. They were 14 wins away from a winning record, which would have earned them a playoff berth.
The Sixers have only one winning record in their past 12 seasons. All of their young players will have to play well and remain healthy – a major “if” – in order for the Sixers to achieve that goal.
The Flyers have more pieces in place than the Sixers, yet they also are far from assured of returning to the playoffs next season. Their goalie situation is uncertain. Michal Neuvirth could be plucked away in the expansion draft, Anthony Stolarz was injured this week – and there’s no guarantee he’s ready to be a starting NHL goalie – and all signs indicate that Steve Mason will be permitted to walk away as an unrestricted free agent (unless Neuvirth is selected in the expansion draft, causing the Flyers to re-sign Mason).
Furthermore, the Flyers are committed to bringing up their young defensemen. The decision to let Michael Del Zotto, as well as veteran Nick Schultz, leave as unrestricted free agents, opens up two roster spots for next season. Sam Morin, Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers are in contention for those roster spots. They are all promising players, but it’s tough to compete in the NHL with two rookies and second-year player (Ivan Provorov) on your back line.
Complicating matters further for the Flyers is they play in the best division in hockey. The Capitals, Penguins, Blue Jackets and Rangers all exceeded 100 points this season The Flyers, at best, will once again be competing for a wild card berth next season.
It appears that the dark days of spring may continue for another year or two.
DRAFT ANTICIPATION: Every time I drive past the Philadelphia Museum of Art and see the construction progressing, my excitement for the upcoming NFL Draft (April 27-29) grows stronger. At least that’s what happens after I’m done cursing at the traffic nightmare created by the reduced lanes due to the construction of the stands and set around the Art Museum’s famous “Rocky” steps and Eakins Oval.
TRAFFIC NIGHTMARE: The Penn Relays and the NFL Draft will be held at the same time. This could cause a traffic nightmare in Philadelphia. With the Benjamin Franklin Parkway around the Art Museum and Eakins Circle closed, several entry points to Center City (Kelly Drive, Martin Luther King Drive, a bridge from the Drexel area) will be closed off, as will access to those roads and the Vine Street Expressway in the other direction. The Penn Relays will bring increased traffic to the Schuylkill Expressway and the bridges across the Schuylkill River from the University City area, especially on Sat., April 29.
SOUL CHAMPIONS: The Philadelphia Soul begin defense of their Arena Football League title tonight (Saturday) at Tampa Bay. It’s not often that we have a defending champion from Philadelphia, so let’s savor the moment.
UNION TROUBLES: Friday’s 2-0 loss to New York City FC extended the Union’s losing streak to four games. If we include the end of last season, including a playoff defeat, the Union (0-4-2) are winless in their last 14 games.
The Union only had two shots on goal – and none in the second half – during Friday’s defeat. A loss to Montreal, the only other winless team in MLS this season, next Saturday (1 p.m.) at home may seal the fate of head coach Jim Curtin.
REMEMBERING HARDIN: What was interesting in the wake of Wayne Hardin’s death on Wednesday were the varying perspectives from around the country. In the Delaware Valley, Hardin, who died at age 91 after suffering a stroke, was lauded as the winningest coach in Temple football history, posting an 80-52-2 record in 13 seasons as head coach. The Owls lost close games to Penn State in 1976 (31-30) and 1978 (10-7) and defeated California, 28-17, in the 1979 Garden State Bowl.
Around the country, however, Hardin, who was inducted into the College Hall of Fame in 2013, was remembered for different reasons. He was memorialized as the “legendary” Navy coach in several publications. After four seasons as an assistant coach at Navy, Hardin become head coach in 1959. Navy finished the 1960 season ranked fourth in the nation and moved up to second in 1963. Hardin finished his tenure at Navy, where he coached Heisman Trophy winners Joe Bellino and Roger Staubach, with a 38-22-2 record in six seasons.
Other stories emphasized Hardin’s influence on Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, widely considered the best coach in the NFL and one of the best in NFL history. Belichick’s father, Steve, was a member of Hardin’s staff at Navy. Matt Rhule, who left for Baylor in December after a successful tenure as Temple head coach, called Hardin a mentor and a friend in a statement released after Hardin’s death.
What’s clear, regardless of the perspective, is that, in addition to his accomplishments at Temple and Navy, Hardin had a tremendous influence on the lives of numerous players and coaches.
MODRAK CHANGED EAGLES: Tom Modrak, who helped turn the Eagles’ fortunes around at the turn of the century, died Tuesday of a rare neurological disease, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Modrak was the Eagles’ director of football operations from 1998-2001, presiding over the end of the Ray Rhodes era and establishing the foundation for the Andy Reid era. In Modrak’s first draft (1999), the Eagles selected Donovan McNabb with the second overall pick. They also drafted, in order, linebacker Barry Gardner, guard Doug Brzezinski, offensive lineman John Welbourn and safety Damon Moore, all of whom were starters at some point in their career.
The Eagles were 3-13 in Modrak’s first season, which was Rhodes’ last season. They were 11-5 in his final season in Philadelphia. Reid was put in charge of player personnel, and Modrak was dismissed among stories of tension with Eagles owner Jeff Lurie and team president Joe Banner.
Prior to working for the Eagles, Modrak spent 19 years with the Steelers, moving from a scout to being in charge of the Steelers’ scouting department. After being forced out in Philadelphia, where the Eagles, with many players he acquired, became regulars in the NFC Championship Game and reached the Super Bowl in 2005, Modrak worked for the Bills for a decade. In 2012, he was hired to run the BLESTO scouting combine, which he continued to do for the rest of his life.
Eric Fisher, who has been covering sports for more than 28 years, is getting increasingly excited about the upcoming NFL Draft.