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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Phillies fans demonstrated their appreciation for Ryan Howard’s career by giving the Big Piece a well-deserved emotional farewell during his final days as a Phillie.

Although the Sixers are associated with “The Process,” Eric Fisher says the Flyers’ process of bringing along their young players slowly, which requires more patience from fans, is more likely to bring about long-term success.

The Greek God of Wrestling has a more favorable opinion of Battleground than most of the critics. Achilles Heel also reveals the announced matches for SummerSlam, expresses sympathy for Randy Orton and concern for Global Force Wrestling.

Archive for February, 2019

Flyers Notebook: Time to trade major parts

Posted by Eric Fisher On February - 20 - 2019 ADD COMMENTS

Even though the Flyers have fought their way back into the playoff picture, general manager Chuck Fletcher should trade prominent players who might not be part of the Flyers’ future, including well-respected forward Wayne Simmonds (pictured).

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Let’s be realistic. As great as it would be for the Flyers to make the playoffs, it’s extremely unlikely they would make much of a postseason run.

If the Flyers were to snag the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, their first-round opponent would be almost certainly be the Lightning. The chances of the Flyers getting past the Lightning are slim and none.

The point is that the Flyers’ resurgence should not affect general manager Chuck Fletcher’s plans as we approach Monday’s NHL trade deadline. The only concern should be the future.

This means that Fletcher shouldn’t be reluctant to trade anyone who isn’t part of the Flyers’ future. That list includes Wayne Simmonds.

If Fletcher has determined that the Flyers aren’t going to re-sign Simmonds, who will become an unrestricted free agent after this season, he should trade the well-respected right wing. I’m not pushing for the Flyers to trade Simmonds. I’d like to see them work out a contract to keep him around. But if they’re not close on terms of a new contract, Simmonds should be traded.

The Flyers shouldn’t break the back to re-sign Simmonds. He is 30 years old and his production is declining. After peaking with 32 goals and 60 points during the 2015-16 season, Simmonds’ totals have declined each year. He has 16 goals and 27 points through 60 games this season. After reaching double digits in power play goals for five straight seasons, Simmonds has just five this season.

Simmonds’ production on the power play is important because he’s not better than mediocre at even strength. Although he can be a force along the board and around the net in the offensive zone, Simmonds’ defensive deficiencies decrease his value as a 5-on-5 player. Simmonds has been a minus-player since being acquired from the Kings in 2011. The last two seasons, he’s been minus-18 and minus-16, and this season he is minus-17, which is worst among Flyers forwards. Sometimes plus-minus rankings can be misleading, but it’s not misleading when those numbers are consistently bad for three straight seasons.

On the other hand, Simmonds brings intangibles that are difficult to measure. He stood up for Claude Giroux last Sunday, challenging Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha to a fight in the first minute of the second half of a home-and-home weekend series after Mantha pushed Giroux’s head into the boards late in the first game.

Simmonds has a lot of value to contending teams. He brings toughness and an ability to score on the power play. He also brings an attitude that is valuable during the demanding Stanley Cup playoffs. Unless they can lock Simmonds up to a contract that isn’t an increase over the $3.975 million he makes this year, they should trade him for younger players and draft picks before next Monday’s trade deadline. Who knows? Maybe they can bring him back some day at a lower salary.

Michael Raffl also will be an unrestricted free agent after this season. The versatile forward can play on one of the top lines or on the fourth line. Raffl isn’t going to pile up points – he has four goals and eight assists this season – but he’s been a “plus” player during his entire NHL career, including a plus-minus ranking of plus-5 this season, best among Flyers forwards. As is the case with Simmonds, if the Flyers aren’t going to re-sign Raffl, they should get what they can for him now.

A wild card to be traded is James van Riemsdyk. With 15 goals and 14 assists, JVR hasn’t lived up to the five-year, $35 million contract he signed last summer. Remember, former GM Ron Hextall signed JVR to that free-agent contract, so Fletcher doesn’t have any stake in having JVR succeed. If a team were willing to take on the rest of JVR’s contract while giving the Flyers younger pieces in return, the Flyers should be listening.

All of the Flyers’ goalies except Carter Hart should be available. Brian Elliott, Michal Neuvirth, Mike McKenna and newly acquired Cam Talbot all become unrestricted free agents after this season. The only one who seems to be in the Flyers’ plans for next season is Talbot, so anything the Flyers get in return for Elliott or Neuvirth is a bonus (McKenna isn’t going to bring anything in return in a trade). And if anyone wants to take defenseman Andrew MacDonald’s $5 million salary off of the Flyers’ hands for next season, make Fletcher an offer.

Thus far Fletcher has traded fringe pieces such as Dale Weise, Jordan Weal, Christian Folin and Anthony Stolarz. The feeling I have is that he will move a more prominent piece or two before next Monday’s NHL trade deadline. And the Flyers moving back into the playoff picture shouldn’t alter that outlook.

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THE GREAT OUTDOORS: Outdoor games used to be a bigger deal when there was only one of them – the Winter Classic – each season. But Saturday’s game (8 p.m.) against the Penguins at Lincoln Financial Field is still a big deal.

The game is a big deal because the Penguins are one of the teams the Flyers are chasing in the Metropolitan Division standings in a bid for a wild card playoff berth. It’s also a big deal because it’s the Flyers’ final game before the trade deadline. And, of course, it’s a big deal because the opponents are the hated Penguins.

Hockey in an outdoor stadium is a unique experience. The fans are further from the action, but it’s still pretty cool to see hockey played before such a huge crowd.

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ALUMNI ON ICE: One night before the Flyers and Penguins face off at Lincoln Financial Field, the Flyers alumni will battle alumni of the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation on Friday (7 p.m.) at the University of Pennsylvania’s Class of ’23 Arena.

The Flyers alumni team will be coached by team president Paul Holmgren, Bill Barber and Bob Kelly. Brian Boucher will be the goalie. Forwards include the recently retired Scott Hartnell, Danny Briere, Brian Propp and Dave Brown. Defensemen include Kimmo Timonen, Brad Marsh, Kjell Samuelsson and Jim and Joe Watson.

Given all of the anticipation and excitement when Fultz was drafted, it’s clear that he was a bust. In fact, he may have been the worst draft pick in Sixers history.

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INTO THE FIRE: It didn’t take long for Brian Elliott to see action upon his return. Elliott was called up for Tuesday’s game against the Lightning after a conditioning stint with the Phantoms. After going months without NHL action, Elliott was quickly thrown into the fire after rookie Carter Hart was pulled 10:23 into the first period after allowing three goals. Elliott only allowed one goal against the high-flying Lightning, which should help remove question about his health as we near the NHL trade deadline.

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NET GAIN: The Flyers traded Anthony Stolarz to the Oilers for veteran Cam Talbot in exchange of goalies. The thought process is that the Flyers want a veteran goalie to back up Carter Hart. Talbot and Hart worked together last summer.

Talbot, who spent two seasons backing up Henrik Lundqvist with the Rangers before spending three-plus seasons with the Oilers, could become an unrestricted free agent after this season. The Flyers will likely try to re-sign Talbot, assuming he works out the rest of this season. With Hart in place as the goalie of the future, Stolarz, a 25-year-old with a long injury history, didn’t have much of a future with the Flyers.

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BAD CALLS: The Flyers haven’t had a very good experience with referees during the past week-and-a-half. While trailing the Wild, 3-1, the Flyers saw Robert Hagg called for a high-sticking penalty even though the Wild player was struck by his teammates’ stick. To make matters worse, Hagg was assessed a double-minor for high-sticking.

Near the end of the third period in the Flyers’ next game, Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha wasn’t penalized for pushing the head of a prone Claude Giroux into the boards from behind. The NHL should have considered suspending Mantha for this dangerous play, but he wasn’t even assessed a minor penalty. To make matters worse, Mantha scored the tying goal to force overtime, where the Flyers were able to pull out the victory.

During Tuesday’s loss to the Lightning, the Flyers apparently pulled within one goal after Sean Couturier scored on a goal-mouth scramble with 47 seconds left in regulation. The referees ruled the goal did not count because the Flyers were guilty of goaltender interference. Replays made it fairly clear that goalie Louis Domingue’s momentum took the puck over the goal line and that Couturier’s digging for the puck did not push Domingue over the goal line, but the NHL did not overrule the call on the ice.

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DROUGHT IS OVER: Scott Laughton’s goal during Saturday’s 6-5 win over Red Wings ended a drought of 26 games without a goal.

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MYERS MAKES DEBUT: Defenseman Philippe Myers made his Flyers debut on Sunday during the Flyers’ 3-1 victory over the Red Wings. Myers was solid, although the Flyers dressed seven defensemen so he wouldn’t have to play too many minutes.

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ASSISTANCE PROVIDED: Center Sean Couturier has two assists in each of the Flyers’ last three games. He has two points in four straight games, registering a goal and assist during the Flyers’ 4-2 loss to the Penguins.

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HEATING UP: Oskar Lindblom has three goals in his last two games. Travis Konecny has three goals in his last three games. Konecny has quietly moved up to second in goals (18) on the Flyers, passing Claude Giroux (17) and trailing only Sean Couturier (24).

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BLUES MAKING RUN: The Blues, like the Flyers, struggled during the first half of their season and fired their head coach. Like the Flyers, the Blues have turned their fortunes around. The Blues have won 11 straight games, establishing a franchise record. The Blues are coached by former Flyers player and coach Craig Berube, who should shed the “interim” before his head coaching title before this season ends.

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LIGHTNING WHITE HOT: The Lightning’s 5-2 win over the Flyers on Tuesday extending their winning streak to seven games. They accomplished that win without their leading scorer (Brayden Point) and their top defenseman (Victor Hedman) while giving their top goalie (Andrei Vasilevskiy) a rest. The Lightning have 96 points this season, 17 more than any other NHL team.

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CRUCIAL STRETCH: The Flyers have an opportunity to gain or lose significant ground in the playoff race during the rest of February. The visiting Montreal on Thursday (7:30 p.m.). The Canadiens, who are eight points ahead of the Flyers in the Eastern Conference, occupy one of the wild card spots. The Flyers then play the Penguins, also eight points ahead of the Flyers, on Saturday (8 p.m.) at Lincoln Financial Field. The Flyers host the Sabres, who are tied with the Flyers with 63 points but have one game in hand, on Tuesday (7 p.m.) before visiting the Blue Jackets, who are six points ahead of the Flyers and occupy the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, next Thursday (7 p.m.).

Heel Turns: Process of Elimination

Posted by Achilles Heel On February - 16 - 2019 ADD COMMENTS

The success of WWE’s Elimination Chamber event Sunday (WWE Network, 7 p.m., kickoff show at 5 p.m.) depends on the two elimination chamber matches. Everything else plays a supporting role.

The WWE Championship match inside an elimination chamber should be terrific. With Daniel Bryan defending the title against AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Jeff Hardy, Randy Orton and Kofi Kingston, there isn’t a weak link in the entire match. Everyone can more than carry their weight.

This match received a wonderful buildup with a gauntlet match on Smackdown. The star of the match was Kofi Kingston, who is replacing Mustafa Ali in the elimination chamber because Ali sustained a concussion. Kingston lasted 60 minutes before being eliminated by Styles. Orton, who was in the match for about 5 seconds, hit on RKO on Styles for the pin, meaning he will be the final entrant in the elimination chamber. There should be some tremendous action, with innovative moves possible from Kingston, Hardy and Styles and innovative brutality possible from Orton and Joe, but the Greek God of Wrestling predicts that Bryan will emerge victorious.

The elimination chamber match to determine the first WWE Women’s Tag Team champions is less of a “sure thing.” There is a question about whether fans care enough about the teams participating to stay with a match that is guaranteed (based on teams entering every five minutes) to last 30 minutes. (On a side note, unless larger pods are created, it could get claustrophobic inside the pods, particularly for Nia Jax and Tamina.)

Bayley and Sasha Banks will start the match against Corey Graves’ favorite team, Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville. The starting teams lost triple threat matches on Raw and Smackdown, respectively. The other entrants are The Riott Squad’s Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan, the team of Jax and Tamina, The Iconics (Billie Kay and Peyton Royce) and Carmella and Naomi.

The best part about the women’s elimination chamber match is the outcome is wide open. Bayley and Banks would be the most popular champions. Jax and Tamina would get heat as physically dominant champions, although Achilles Heel still believes Jax is going to wrestle a male at WrestleMania. Carmella and Naomi would dance a lot as popular champions. The other three teams would all receive a boost from being champions. The Greek God of Wrestling doesn’t like his pick, but he fears that the Iconics are going to win.

The Raw Women’s Championship will be on the line when Ronda Rousey defends the title against Ruby Riott. The intrigue in this match is that Charlotte Flair, who was chosen by WWE chairman Vince McMahon to replace the suspended Becky Lynch in the WrestleMania match against Rousey, will be ringside for this match. Remember, Flair delivered a hellacious beating to Rousey at Survivors Series. There’s also the possibility of Lynch showing up. For Riott, the goal will be to look good against Rousey. Achilles Heel could see Riott becoming women’s champion down the road, but Rousey will retain the title Sunday.

The Miz and Shane McMahon will defend the Smackdown Tag Team Championship against Jimmy and Jey Uso. It’s too soon for Miz and McMahon to drop the belts, so they will retain. Bobby Lashley should also retain the Intercontinental Championship in a unique match in which Lashley and Lio Rush face challenger Finn Balor.

Braun Strowman seeks revenge on Baron Corbin a no-disqualification match. The only way in which this is competitive is if Drew McIntyre gets involved. But that should bring out Kurt Angle to help Strowman emerge victorious.

On the kickoff show, Buddy Murphy defends the WWE Cruiserweight Championship against Akira Tozawa. This match should get Elimination Chamber off to a good start. But the success of this event will be determined by the two elimination chamber matches.

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MORALES DIES AT 78: Pedro Morales, WWE’s first triple crown winner, died at age 78. Morales defeated Ivan Koloff in Madison Square Garden on Feb. 8, 1971, to win the WWWF World Championship, which Koloff had won by ending Bruno Sammartino’s eight-year reign as champion.

Morales also won the WWF World Tag Team Championships with Bob Backlund, although they relinquished the titles because Backlund was the WWF world champion. Morales then won the Intercontinental Championship from Ken Patera and, after losing it to the Magnificent Muraco, regained it from Muraco.

Morales was incredibly popular among the Latino population in the Northeast, particularly in the New York/North Jersey region. Morales held the world championship until December of 1973, when he lost to Stan “The Man” Stasiak in Philadelphia.

The Greek God of Wrestling extends his condolences to Morales’ family and friends.

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THORNTON DIES AT 74: Les Thornton, a well-respected British wrestler and ring technician, died earlier this month at age 84. Thornton held both the NBA and WWWF versions of the World Junior Heavyweight championship. The Greek God of Wrestling extends his condolences to Thornton’s family and friends.

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RESURRECTION OF REVIVAL: Congratulations to Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder, together known as The Revival, for winning the Raw Tag Team Championship from Bobby Roode and Chad Gable last Monday on Raw. Regular readers of Heel Turns know that Achilles Heel is a big fan of Dawson and Wilder.

There have been rumors that Dawson and Wilder have been unhappy with their recent direction, with some stories even saying they had asked for their release. Whatever percentage of truth there was in those rumors, instead of going through the motions, The Revival responded by tearing it up with Roode and Gable at house shows. Their reward was a well-deserved run as champions.

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YOU SOLD OUT! All Elite Wrestling (AEW) sold out its debut Double or Nothing show in Las Vegas nearly immediately. The show will take place on May 25 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. The main event features Kenny Omega battling Chris Jericho.

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IMPACT RETAINS: Johnny Impact retained the Impact Wrestling World Championship during a fatal four-way match with Brian Cage, Killer Kross and Moose at “Impact uncaged!” At the same event Taya Valkyrie retained her Knockouts Championship in a street fight with Tessa Blanchard.

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TAVEN CHALLENGES LETHAL: Matt Taven will get a shot at the Ring of Honor World Championship when he challenges Jay Lethal at Ring of Honor’s 17th Annivesary show on March 15 (9 p.m.) at Sam’s Town Live in Las Vegas. The Ring of Honor World Tag Team Championship will also be on the line, with Mark and Jay Briscoe defending against Brody King and PCO.

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ASUKA LEFT OUT: You have to feel a little bit sorry for Asuka. After winning the Smackdown Women’s Championship in a memorable match with Becky Lynch and Charlotte at TLC and then defeating Lynch in an excellent opener at The Royal Rumble, Asuka seems like the forgotten woman as Lynch and Charlotte set their sights on Ronda Rousey. Asuka is not defending her title at Elimination Chamber on Sunday and wasn’t even on Smackdown last week.

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HOUSTON HAS IT MAID: With Elimination Chamber taking place in Houston on Sunday, WWE announced that next year’s Royal Rumble will take place at Minute Maid Park in Houston. This will be the second straight year the Royal Rumble will take place at a baseball stadium. Last month’s Royal Rumble took place at Chase Field in Phoenix.

Harper hits 1st home run as Phillie