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Points for Pelicans center Anthony Davis on Sunday, setting All-Star Game record

Eric Fisher’s weekly column on a variety of topics. This week Eric serves up opinions on an awful week that included trouble for Claude Giroux and Lane Johnson, how to make the World Cup better and Nerlens Noel’s debut.

Jakub Voracek is performing like an elite player, leading the NHL in assists. In addition to examining Voracek’s performance, Eric Fisher highlights Michael Raffl’s success on the top line, Steve Mason’s winless streak and Shayne Gostisbehere’s brief initial stint in the NHL.

Mo’Ne Davis and Philadelphia’s Taney Dragons are the media darlings as the Little League World Series begins. But Eric Fisher says the Dragons’ success or failure should not be played out on national television.

Archive for the ‘Fish ‘n Chips’ Category

Fish ‘n Chips

Posted by Eric Fisher On February - 20 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

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Sometimes there is too much of a good thing.

I remember how thrilled I was to see the Flyers play in the Winter Classic in Fenway Park in 2010. It was exciting two years later when the Flyers hosted the Rangers in the Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park.

Next Saturday the Flyers will face the Penguins at Heinz Field, the site of the 2011 Winter Classic. It’s a cool idea, but this game, even against the hated Penguins, isn’t generating anywhere close to the level of excitement as the Flyers’ two Winter Classic appearances.

Perhaps the relative lack of excitement is because the Winter Classic was a fresh idea. The Fenway Park game was the third Winter Classic. The Citizens Bank Park game was the fifth. Playing hockey in a stadium was a novel idea at the time.

Perhaps the lack of excitement over Pennsylvania bragging rights is because this is the third outdoor NHL game in 2017. The Maple Leafs and Red Wings squared off on Jan. 1 in the NHL Centennial Classic, which celebrates the NHL’s 100th anniversary. The Blackhawks and Blues battled one day later in the Winter Classic.

How many of you remember either of those games? For the first five or six years of the Winter Classic, almost everyone remembered who played in that game.

It will be fun to watch the Flyers and Penguins play outdoors as part of the Coors Light Stadium Series, but the uniqueness of outdoor hockey games has worn off.

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FAKE NEWS? ESPN’S Ramona Shelburne reported that the Sixers were very close to sending Jahlil Okafor to the Pelicans about 10 days before New Orleans acquired DeMarcus Cousins and Omar Casspi in exchange for former Philly guard/forward Tyreke Evans, former Saint Joseph’s guard Langston Galloway, rookie guard Buddy Hield and first- and second-round selections in this year’s NBA Draft. According to Shelburne, the Sixers turned were offered a similar package except that it didn’t include Hield, the sixth overall pick in last year’s NBA Draft.

If Shelburne’s report is true, Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo should be fired. The Sixers are not going to get more than that for Okafor, especially now that three of the four teams reportedly interested in the young center – the Pelicans, Nuggets and Trail Blazers – have acquired centers. That leaves the Bulls, if they’re still interested, bidding against themselves, which will keep the price low.

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ARMS RACE: The Phillies have so many quality starting pitchers at spring training that there is talk of some of them moving to the bullpen. Wait a moment. The Phillies have too many quality starters? When did this happen?

The Phillies have done a terrific job in acquiring young pitchers in exchange for established pitchers such as Cole Hamels and Ken Giles. They also have put a priority on drafting pitchers. Sprinkle in a few veterans and you have a solid rotation.

Barring injuries, the rotation will consist of Jeremy Hellickson, Clay Buchholz, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez and Aaron Nola. If Hellickson and Buchholz get off to strong startas and are moved at the trade deadline, the list of pitchers in line to fill their spots includes Alec Asher, Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin, Adam Morgan, Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta and Mark Appel. With so many young arms, the chances are good that at least two or three of them will develop into solid major-league starters.

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EAGLES GO TO MARKET: Speculation about the Eagles’ potential free agent targets will continue to build until March 7, when teams can begin negotiating contracts with free agents. Teams can begin signing free agents on March 9, which is also when trades can be made.

It remains to be seen how active the Eagles will be in free agency. They certainly have numerous areas of need, but will they spend the money for top free agents at receiver and cornerback or will they find the cost too expensive, causing them to rely on the draft for their primary acquisitions.

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FEELING A DRAFT: Don’t forget that the NFL Draft is April 27-29 in Philadelphia. Before we get to the draft, though, there is the NFL Scouting Combine, which takes place Feb. 28-March 6 in Indianapolis.

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ALL-STAR AVOIDANCE: The two minutes of the NBA All-Star Game that I watched were enough to remind me why I can’t stand watching all-star games. Any resemblance between the West’s 192-182 win over the East and actual basketball was purely coincidental.

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FLAT TAX: I sincerely hope that Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving was joking when he said the world is flat and seemed to indicate that “they” are trying to convince people the earth is round. I thought we were at least several hundred years beyond real debate over whether the earth is round, or thinking that the assertion that the earth is round is some sort of conspiracy theory.

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PRESEASON KICKS OFF: In case you missed it – and I’m guessing many of you did – the Union kicked off their preseason Saturday with a 1-0 victory over Tampa Bay at the Suncoast Invitational in Florida. Chris Pontius scored the game’s only goal.

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ALMOST TOURNAMENT TIME: Is college basketball’s regular season really almost over? Some conference tournaments begin in less than two weeks. On the positive side, that means that the NCAA Tournament is less than a month away.

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GENTLEMEN, START YOUR ENGINES: There is an entire week of activities at Daytona leading up to Sunday’s Daytona 500, which officially kicks off the NASCAR season. Can Jimmie Johnson successfully defend his title? Can Dale Earnhardt Jr. make a successful return after being sideline by a concussion? Check out my NASCAR preview later this week.

Eric Fisher, who has been covering sports for more than 28 years, is fairly certain that world isn’t flat.

Fish ‘n Chips

Posted by Eric Fisher On February - 9 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

Barely one week after the NFL season ends, baseball season begins. The Phillies’ pitchers and catchers must report to spring training by Monday. The first workout is Tuesday.

The offseason seems to get shorter and shorter each year. With free agency, the hot stove league and the Hall of Fame announcement, there barely is an offseason in baseball. The same is true, perhaps even more so, with the NFL, which never seems to take a week off.

The leagues obviously want fans to be engaged all year long. They don’t want fans to go away. The fear is that some of them won’t come back.

There is a cost, however, to the 12-months-a-year news cycle. The countdown to spring training used to mean something. Fans were legitimately excited about the start to spring training. They missed baseball.

But you can’t miss something when it’s never gone. As the old adage goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Maybe the feeling is different in Chicago, where the excitement from the Cubs winning their first World Series in 108 years carries over to spring training. But that isn’t the case here in the Delaware Valley.

The circumstances are fairly good for a resurgence of Phillies interest. The Sixers’ best player mysteriously remains sidelined with what must be the worst knee contusion in history while the team goes on an extended losing streak. The Flyers have been shut out in two straight games and seem to be in their annual battle for the final wild card berth. The Eagles news centers – no pun intended, Jason Kelce – around which players they are jettisoning off the roster.

The stage is set for the Phillies to inject a healthy dose of optimism into the local sports scene. But let’s face it. Optimism means hoping the Phillies can win almost as many games as they lose this season. That’s not much to hang your hat on.

Yes, the young pitchers are worth watching. The Phillies have also added some major league-quality outfielders. But excitement? I’m not feeling it.

Perhaps there would be more excitement surrounding the start of spring training if baseball ever truly went away.

After destroying the Steelers, the Eagles only won two of their next 11 games. One of those wins was against the Falcons, the Eagles’ lone victory during a nearly two-month span from late October to late December. Yes, the Eagles were terrific against the Steelers and Falcons. But it’s disingenuous to cherry-pick that date and ignore all the defeats.

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HALL OF SHAME: There was some local outrage at the failure of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee to choose former Eagles safety Brian Dawkins or short-time Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens for inductions this year. Given the circumstances, outrage might be a little strong. But disappointment is certainly merited.

The players selected for induction were running back LaDainian Tomlinson; quarterback Kurt Warner; running back Terrell Davis; kicker Morten Andersen; defensive end Jason Taylor; and safety Kenny Easley. Cowboys owner, president and general manager Jerry Jones was selected in the contributors category.

Easley was selected by the Seniors Committee. Although it’s a different vote, perhaps the selection of Easley hurt Dawkins’ chances. Safety is an underrepresented position in the Hall of Fame. Dawkins already had competition from fellow safety John Lynch, who was recently hired as general manager of the 49ers. There was a danger of Lynch and Dawkins splitting the safety vote. With Easley already selected for induction – the Senior finalist was voted upon before discussion of the 15 “regular” finalists – perhaps the committee was reluctant to induct a second safety in the same year. Dawkins belongs in the Hall of Fame, but it’s not outrageous that he wasn’t selected for induction in his first year of eligibility.

Owens has more justification for being upset. He certainly ranks higher among receivers all-time than Warner does among quarterbacks, Taylor does among defensive ends, and Davis does among running backs. One could argue that he ranks higher among receivers than Tomlinson does among running backs. Taylor and Davis are two I would not have selected for induction this year. Owens’ “me first” attitude should detract from his qualifications, but that attitude never seemed to manifest itself on the field, as it did with Randy Moss, a likely first-year inductee in 2018.

Owens and Dawkins may find themselves on the outside looking in against next year. In addition to Moss, players eligible for the Hall of Fame for the first time include linebackers Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher, both of whom will likely be selected. A maximum of five players can be selected, so that reduces Dawkins’ chances and makes the selections of Owens, who didn’t even make the cut for the final 10, very unlikely. Owens didn’t help his chances by blasting the Hall of Fame committee after this year’s voting.

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NO DOUBT ABOUT IT: As I wrote in “The Greatest,” my game story on Super Bowl LI, Tom Brady may have put to rest any debate about who is the greatest quarterback in NFL history. Not only does Brady have five Super Bowl rings, one more than former greatest-quarterback-of-all-time Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw, but he wins titles without great receivers.

Bradshaw had Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. Montana had Jerry Rice, John Taylor and Dwight Clark. Brady has Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman. Amendola was cut by several teams and spent less than a year on the Eagles’ practice squad. Edelman was a college quarterback – at Kent State – before being converted to receiver with the Patriots. Hogan excelled at Penn State as a lacrosse player before playing one season at college powerhouse Monmouth. Hogan was signed, without much competition for his services, as a free agent by the Patriots.

There used to be more legitimacy to those who argued that Montana or Peyton Manning was the greatest quarterback in NFL history. With two Super Bowl victories during the past three seasons, including the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history last Sunday, Brady has effectively ended that debate.

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THE WRITE STUFF: For those who think that terrific sports writing is a dying art, Inquirer columnist Mike Sielski provides us with evidence that it’s still alive and kicking. First, he wrote an awesome story about an annual road trip that Saint Joseph’s radio broadcaster Matt Martucci takes with his father, a tradition that has continued even though Bill Martucci has Parkinson’s disease.

Sielski followed that moving story one day later with an emotional tribute to former Inquirer sports columnist Bill Lyon, who received the Most Courageous Award from the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association.

In both stories Sielski writes about people who happen to be involved in sports rather than the games themselves. His ability to find the human element in sports is one reason Sielski was selected sports columnist of the year by the Associated Press Sports Editors in 2015. It’s still early February, but Sielski should already be a prime contender for that award again this year.

(In the interests of full disclosure, Mike Sielski is a friend of mine and was my intern at The Record when he was just beginning his journalism career. But I would have written this item, and written it exactly the same way, even if I had never met Mike.)

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DESERVING WINNERS: In addition to Bill Lyon winning the Most Courageous Award, the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association honored Villanova’s national championship men’s basketball team as the team of the year. Eric Lindros received the Living Legend Award, Saint Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli received the Good Guy Award and Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere received the Pro Athlete of the Year Award. In a perfect and appropriate choice, the Flyers Wives won the Ed Snider Lifetime Humanitarian Award.

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BROADSIDE HIT: Last Friday was the final episode of “Breakfast on Broad,” which aired live on CN8 on weekday mornings and would be rebroadcast on Comcast SportsNet. The show lasted less than two years.

Breakfast on Broad was a noble effort, but I never thought enough fans would have the time to watch a two-hour sports talk show in the morning. A sports talk radio show works because people generally listen while driving or while performing other tasks. Television requires more attention. How many people have two hours in the morning to sit around and watch a sports talk show?

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UNION RUMBLINGS: The Union have added some new pieces in recent weeks, but that’s not enough to get me excited about the start of their preseason, which kicks off on Feb. 18 with a preseason game against Tampa Bay. If I’m not excited about Phillies spring training, then you know I’m not excited about soccer preseason. My perspective might change, though, if I were in Florida.

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FINAL WING BOWL? Was Wing Bowl 25, which was won last Friday by Notorious B.O.B., the final Wing Bowl? With Angelo Cataldi entering the final year of his contract, there are rumblings that last Friday’s extravaganza could be the final chapter in what’s become a Philadelphia institution.

Eric Fisher, who has been covering sports for more than 28 years, ate 20-25 chicken wings during Super Bowl LI.

Classic George Steele (RIP) match, interview