52

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 Chip Kelly’s control over personnel, the “miracles” at Wells Fargo Center on consecutive nights, the Baseball Hall of Fame voting and the officiating during the Cowboys-Lions playoff game.

Nick Foles keeps saying he’s going to clean up his mistakes. But his actions haven’t backed up his words. As Eric Fisher “discovers,” this isn’t a new problem for Foles.

Perhaps playing his final game as an Eagle, Mark Sanchez threw two touchdown passes as the Eagles finished their season with a 34-26 victory over the Giants, matching last season’s win total but missing the playoffs.

Archive for the ‘Flyers’ Category

Flyers Notebook: Flyers should be sellers

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

The Flyers should be sellers before next week’s NHL trade deadline, and high-profile players such as captain Claude Giroux and center Brayden Schenn should be made available for the right price.

*****

Do the math. The Flyers have 63 points. They are two points behind the Maple Leafs for the final wild card position. The Islanders and Panthers  are one point ahead of the Flyers. The Flyers have 23 games left in the regular season.

The Panthers have played two fewer games than the Flyers. The Flyers have played one more game than the Maple Leafs and Islanders.

It’s certainly not impossible for the Flyers to make the playoffs. But it’s a difficult road. It doesn’t help that two of the Flyers’ next five games are against the Capitals, including Wednesday night (8 p.m.), and another game is against the Penguins. By the time that five-game stretch is over, the Flyers probably won’t have gained any ground. A best-case realistic scenario is that they will maintain their current position. Basically, they’d be treading water, except they’d only have 18 games remaining.

Three games into that five-game stretch is the NHL trade deadline. That means that general manager Ron Hextall has to decide whether it’s more important to make the playoffs this season or to build for the future.

What’s the upside to the Flyers making the playoffs? It will be a good experience for the younger players, such as Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny. A strong finish to the regular season should help the Flyers’ confidence.

On the other hand, the Flyers still have trouble scoring goals, which was their downfall during last season’s hard-fought first-round playoff series against the Capitals. I think it’s time to start moving pieces.

Whom should the Flyers try to trade? Let’s start with the easy ones. Veteran defensemen Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz all have contracts that expire after this season. Streit and Schultz are nearing the end of their careers. Del Zotto, who is a minus-13 in 32 games, has been inconsistent and injury-prone as a Flyer. None of them appears to be in the Flyers’ future, so Hextall should try to get something in return for them rather than let them leave without getting any compensation.

Teams looking for a boost for the playoffs might be willing to part with draft picks and possibly a prospect for these defensemen. Streit is a liability in his own end, but he can quarterback a power play. Schultz is steady and reliable, and could fill in nicely on a third pairing. Del Zotto is more of a wild card, but teams may take a shot that Del Zotto lives up to his promise. As for Andrew MacDonald, his contract ($5 million per year for 3 more seasons) makes him virtually untradeable.

Speaking of unrestricted free agents, goalies Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth both fit into that category. Neither one has demonstrated that he deserves to be the No. 1 goalie, and the Flyers have plenty of young goalies in their system. The Flyers should certainly listen to offers for either one. Anthony Stolarz could move up from the Phantoms to be the backup for the rest of the season.

And that brings us to the big names. Well, let’s start with a mid-sized name. Matt Read, who is likely to be exposed in the expansion draft anyway, should certainly be made available. Dale Weise, whom the Flyers signed to a four-year contract last summer, should be available to teams looking for a veteran fourth-line forward for the playoffs.

But the Flyers should also listen if teams inquire about Claude Giroux and Brayden Schenn. Giroux only has 12 goals this season. More alarming is that his plus/minus rating is minus-20. Giroux, 29, has five years remaining on a contract that pays him $8.275 million annually (all salaries courtesy of capfriendly.com). The contract is an impediment to making a deal, but if a contender could add Giroux, it should boost their chances in the playoffs. The Flyers should strongly consider trading Giroux if there is a legitimate offer.

Schenn is an enigma. He leads the NHL in power play goals (14), yet he is not among the top 50 goal scorers in the league. Think about that for a moment. How is it possible to lead the NHL in power play goals yet not be among the top 50 scorers? By being terrible at even strength. Schenn has just four goals that weren’t on the power play. He only has 15 points that aren’t on the power play. His plus/minus rating is minus-20.

Schenn, 25, is under contract for three more seasons at $5,125 per season. If a team makes a good enough offer, which involves a package that must include at least one top prospect on the wing, the Flyers should strongly consider letting someone else find out if Schenn will ever develop into the top player everyone thought he would be when the Flyers acquired him from the Kings.

The Flyers should also listen to offers for center Sean Couturier, although I would be more reluctant to trade him than Giroux or Schenn. Let’s begin with the fact that Couturier is the Flyers’ best defensive center. The fact that he’s only a minus-3 on a team with a minus-25 goal differential is impressive. That fact he has that rating while frequently matching up against the other teams’ best centers is remarkable.

Those who want to trade Couturier frequently point to his offensive production. He certainly has a lot of room to improve, but his numbers, relatively speaking, aren’t so bad. None of his nine goals and only two of his eight assists have come on the power play. That means he has more non-power play goals than any Flyer except Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek. Yes, he has more than Giroux (7) and Schenn (4). Couturier has as many non-power play points (15) as Schenn (15) and nearly as many as Giroux (19) despite playing 13 fewer games than Schenn and 16 fewer than Giroux. A solid case can be made that Couturier is the Flyers’ best center at even strength. At $4.33 million for five more seasons, Couturier also has a salary cap-friendly contract.

The only players who should be safe from trade speculation are Simmonds and rookies Provorov and Konecny. It would take a tremendous haul to pry Voracek or Shayne Gostisbehere away from the Flyers, but everyone else should be fair game as the Flyers become sellers at the trade deadline.

 

LEADER IN THE CLUBHOUSE: If the Flyers trade Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds should be next captain. He is a terrific player and he leads by example. Simmonds, who is currently an assistant captain, epitomizes what it means to be a Flyer.

*****

OUTDOOR FUN: The Flyers will face the Penguins at Heinz Field on Saturday (8 p.m.) as part of the NHL’s Coors Light Stadium Series. It would be wonderful if this became an annual tradition, perhaps at Penn State’s Beaver Stadium, or with a rotation between Heinz Field, Citizens Bank Park and Beaver Stadium.

*****

GRAND ACHIEVEMENT: Penguins center Sidney Crosby notched the 1,000th point of his career Thursday during a 4-3 overtime victory over the Jets. After registering No. 1,000 with an assist, Crosby later assisted on the tying goal and then scored 21 seconds into overtime to complete a three-point night.

*****

BEING A MAN(NING): Brandon Manning deserves a lot of respect for the way he handled himself Thursday in Edmonton. Manning is public enemy No. 1 there for breaking young star Connor McDavid’s collar bone last season, which led to a spat earlier this season in Philadelphia. Manning played a composed game before, when the time and score were right for it, obliging the larger Patrick Maroon by engaging in a fight.

On a side note, the penalty for embellishment called on Manning after Oilers forward Milan Lucic japed him in the groin with his stick from behind is one of the worst calls of the year.

*****

DETENTE: The Flyers Alumni are in the midst of a tour of Russia, which is ironic, considering the Flyers were vilified in Russia after defeating the Soviet Red Army team at the Spectrum in 1976. The alumni are participating in clinics and are playing three games. There are rumors that Russian president Vladimir Putin may play in the final game. A hard hit reminiscent of the Ed Van Impe check that caused the Russians to walk off during the 1976 game could spark an international incident.

*****

ALUMNI REMATCH: Given the success of the Flyers Alumni vs. Penguins Alumni game at Wells Fargo Center, the teams will have a rematch on March 18 at Santander Arena in Reading. Proceeds will benefit the Flyers Alumni Association and Reading Royals Charities, with the alumni funds going toward a $2 million pledge to support the construction of the Edward M. Snider/Flyers Alumni Ice Hockey Rink.

Flyers Notebook: ‘Ghost’ deserved to disappear

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

Less than one week ago, Shayne Gostisbehere was honored by the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association as its pro athlete of the year. Perhaps that indicates how slim the pickings were in that category, although that comment might be a bit unfair to Gostisbehere.

Gostisbehere had a terrific season, which also happened to be his rookie season. After being called up from the Phantoms due to injuries, Gostisbehere scored 17 goals and registered 29 assists in 64 games. He led Flyers defensemen in both categories, and ranked fifth overall on the team in points. He was a finalist for the Calder Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the NHL’s top rookie.

Gostisbehere was on top of the world when he was a Calder Trophy finalist. By contrast, he was down in the dumps last Friday while receiving the Pro Athlete of the Year Award.

The award was presented after the first game of a three-game benching. (Reports are that Gostisbehere will return to the lineup Thursday against the Islanders.) Despite an outcry from some quarters, the benching was warranted.

Let’s compare Gostisbehere’s statistics to last season. In 48 games this season, he has four goals and 17 assists. The assists aren’t too far off his pace of last season, but his goal-scoring is significantly down. He doesn’t even lead Flyers defensemen in goals. His last goal came on Nov. 25 against the Rangers.

The most disturbing number, though is Gostisbehere’s plus/minus rating. The plus/minus rating can be misleading. Unfortunately, in Gostisbehere’s case, his minus-19 rating – the worst on the team – is not misleading.

At his size, Gostisbehere is going to have some problems along the boards and around the net. He can minimize those problems, but he’s not going to be a shutdown defender, particularly low in his own zone.

Gostisbehere’s equalizer is supposed to be his skating and his ability to move the puck. Instead of moving the puck smoothly out of his own end, however, Gostisbehere has been turning the puck over with alarming frequency. That’s one reason he is minus-11 during January.

It has been argued that Gostisbehere should not have been benched because the Flyers should concentrate more on their future than making the playoffs. Gostisbehere is part of the Flyers’ future. Nick Schultz is not.

But when you’re minus-11 in one month and your team has a surplus of defensemen, you deserve to be benched.

Even though he’s struggling this season, Gostisbehere has been missed during his three-game absence. The power play has struggled in his absence. Gostisbehere leads Flyers defensemen with 12 power play assists. Teams have tried to take away Gostisbehere’s space and the back-and-forth magic he had with Claude Giroux that made last year’s power play so effective. But Gostisbehere has still been the Flyers’ best defenseman on the power play.

On the other hand, the Flyers have been better defensively without Gostisbehere in the lineup. They’ve only allowed three regulation goals during his three-game absence, and their 3-1 victory over the Canadiens in the first game of Gostisbehere’s benching may have been their best defensive effort of the season. The steady and reliable Schultz seems to fit the defensive style head coach Dave Hakstol has installed recently better than Gostisbehere.

The downside to having Gostisbehere out of the lineup is the Flyers have been shut out during their past two games. His skating ability and puck movement are missed.

The Flyers need Gostisbehere in the lineup, but that should not be misconstrued as an admission that the benching was a mistake.

*****

KONECNY INJURED: Hopefully, Shayne Gostisbehere has a better return to the lineup than Travis Konecny. The rookie forward sat out two games with Gostisbehere, and then returned to the lineup Monday during a 2-0 loss to the Blues. Konecny sustained a “lower body” injury during the second period. He is expected to miss 4-6 weeks.

Konecny is inconsistent and has admitted that, at times, he tries to do too much instead of making the simply play. But the Flyers will miss his creativity and energy.

*****

MISPLACED ANGER: During a town meeting for season ticket holders earlier this week, the complaints about Shayne Gostisbehere being benched were reportedly accompanied by complaints about Andrew MacDonald being in the lineup. Perhaps this was a reaction to MacDonald being on the ice for both goals during Monday’s 2-0 loss to the Blues.

MacDonald has had a pretty good year. Prior to Monday, he had seven straight games in which he was not a “minus” player. Furthermore, MacDonald has been a solid partner for rookie defenseman Ivan Provorov. The verbal beating MacDonald received at the town meeting was misplaced anger and frustration.

*****

CAPTAIN ACCOUNTABLE: There is an old saying that the captain goes down with his ship. In the case of the Flyers, the ship may be going down with the captain.

Travis Konecny was benched after his bad giveaway in his own zone led to a Hurricanes goal during the Flyers’ 5-1 loss in the first game after the All-Star break, but Giroux also made a terrible giveaway that led to a Hurricanes goal. Giroux later took a frustration penalty that led to a power play goal for the Hurricanes.

Giroux is a minus-1 in three of the Flyers’ four games since the All-Star break. This is significant for two reasons. First, after allowing five goals against the Hurricanes, the Flyers have only allowed four goals in their past three games. Being minus-2 when opponents have only scored four goals is bad.

The second reason this is bad news is that this four-game stretch isn’t an aberration. As noted in my Flyers Notebook on January 18, Giroux was minus-14 as the Flyers followed their 10-game winning streak with a14-game stretch in which they compiled a 3-8-3 record.  The bottom line: Giroux needs to be better.

*****

CHANGE IN GOAL: After the 5-1 loss to the Hurricanes, Michal Neuvirth played three straight games. He was very good while only allowing one goal (on 16 shots) during a win over the Canadiens. Neuvirth was even better while shutting out the Kings during regulation in what turned out to be a 1-0 overtime defeat. He made 27 saves, some of them spectacular, against the Kings. Neuvirth was more pedestrian Monday against the Blues, allowing two goals on 16 shots.

With the contracts of both Neuvirth and Steve Mason expiring after this season, the Flyers have a decision to make. The biggest drawback for Neuvirth is his durability. A team can’t commit significant money to a starting goalie who is frequently injured.

*****

KINGS RULE OVERTIME: How scary is the Kings’ trio that produced the winning goal during Saturday’s 1-0 win over the Flyers? Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty form an awesome trio for the 3-on-3 overtime.

Carter, with 27 goals, including the overtime winner against the Flyers, has a higher percentage of his team’s goals than any player in the NHL. Tanner Pearson, with 15 goals, is the only other King in double figures. Carter has scored all four of the Kings’ overtime goals.

I’ve written this on many other occasions: although I won’t complain about a trade that brought the Flyers Jakub Voracek and draft picks that turned out to be Sean Couturier and Nick Cousins, the Flyers have never found a sniper to replace Carter. I was one of the few to say that the Flyers would miss Carter more than Mike Richards on the day both players was traded, and, year after year, Carter keeps proving my point.

*****

PLAYOFF CHASE: The Flyers enter Thursday’s game against the Islanders clinging to the second wild card berth. There are eight teams behind the Flyers, and they’re all within five points of the orange-and-black. The Islanders trail the Flyers by three points but have played three fewer games, so Thursday’s game is extremely important in the playoff race.

*****

BRUINS FIRE JULIEN: The Bruins, who have fallen behind the Senators and Maple Leafs in the Atlantic Division and are one point behind the Flyers in the wild card chase, fired head coach Claude Julien, who was in his 10th season as the team’s head coach. Julien, who was the longest tenured head coach in the NHL, compiled a 419-246-94 record with the Bruins, winning a Stanley Cup in 2011 and returning to the Cup finals in 2013.

*****

LOOKAHEAD: The Flyers, who have been shut out in consecutive home games for the first time since 1999, try to finish their five-game homestand on a more positive note against the Islanders on Thursday (7 p.m.) and the Sharks on Saturday (1 p.m.). The Flyers begin a Western Canada trip with back-to-back games against the Flames and Oilers next Wednesday and Thursday.

 
(click on logo above for 2012-13 season schedule and ticket opportunities)
Classic George Steele (RIP) match, interview