Tag Archive | "Flyers"

Conroy: The Philly Sports Top Ten

Vick

Michael Conroy is a freelance sportswriter and Flyers fan, and a guest writer for Spike Eskin Dot Com. You can find him on Twitter @MichaelConroyPM.

Spring is here in Philadelphia, and the local sports landscape is barren as can be. So I thought now is as good a time as ever to re-examine who the most important athletes in Philly are right now. I based my rankings on how much of an impact each athlete could potentially have on our sports world in the next year. Who holds the keys to the city? Before we answer that question, let’s recap a few key points from last year’s list.

Last Year’s Most Important

How much difference can one year make? You don’t need to look much further than last year’s number nine most important athlete in Philly. For one, he is no longer a member of the Philadelphia sports scene. In fact, he’s about as far from Philadelphia as the league he belongs to would allow him to go. I’m speaking, of course, of Nnamdi Asomugha. I referred to him last year as a “money pit.” This was partially meant as a joke at the time, but Nnamdi proved this label fairly accurate during his last campaign with the Eagles. There’s a lot to regret about how the whole relationship played out in the end, but Eagles fans can find solace in the fact that we no longer have to watch him try to cover someone or ring out Kurt Coleman ever again. Count your blessings.

Another pair of highlights from last year’s list were Andre Iguodala and Evan Turner. This time last year, most of us had thought that Iguodala would have been dealt for something of value and Turner would have blossomed into a beautiful shot-making butterfly. Neither of those things came to fruition and the Sixers faithful are looking at one of the ugliest roster situations in all of the NBA. Good thing Jrue Holiday opted to sign that extension months ago. I’m not entirely sure he would make decision today.

The List

Enough about last year. It’s time to figure out who holds the position of “Most Important Athlete” in all of Philadelphia Sports.

 

10. Ilya Bryzgalov

This is quite the fall for last year’s number two most important athlete and, to be honest, I struggled even ranking the Flyers’ embattled goaltender. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure that any goaltender should make this list so long as the defense remains so ineffective. Bryz hasn’t exactly gone above and beyond as you’d expect from a goalie with his talent, but I’m not sure Bernie Parent, himself could hold up against the mind-numbingly consistent one-on-one situations the Flyers have allowed.

To say that his contract is a problem is lenient. His potential buyout may be the only means of creating the cap space needed to fix the defense. Steve Mason’s exemplary play towards the end of the season may make the decision a bit easier.If he is not bought out and remains with the team, it will be difficult to expect anything better from the Flyers in 2014.

9. Jrue Holiday

It’s difficult to put any member of the 76ers on this list for a very simple reason. The 76ers are not important and won’t be for a few years, save a move or a series of moves that would shock us all. The team gutted themselves involuntarily in the trade for Andrew Bynum. While I was and still am completely okay with that, the state of the franchise on the basis of meaning anything to the NBA is downright bleak.

The reason I’ve included Jrue Holiday has little to do with the position of his franchise. Jrue took massive steps this year, making his first ever all-star game. He became one of the top (uninjured) point guards in the Eastern conference and showed all of us Sixers fans the difference between genuine growth and whatever the hell it is Evan Turner’s doing.

Jrue is also important as an asset. If he does not weather the storm of futility that will be the next 3 years of 76ers basketball, a trade involving the young point guard could net a hefty gain. Whatever the Sixers do in the next few years, at least Philadelphia will have Holiday’s box score to follow.

8. Brayden Schenn / Sean Couturier

So the Flyers have this very highly touted prospect. He is a Center and can play both ways. He came to the Flyers as a result of a trade and performed well above expectations in his playoff debut. Last year, however, Philadelphia witnessed a bit of a downturn in his performance on the ice. He is not the shimmering ray of potential that he once seemed to be. I think it’s time we started seeing some more concrete production out of this young forward. He’s going to have to earn his reputation back.

Was I talking about Brayden Schenn or Sean Couturier? You’re not sure? Neither am I, but I’m not so sure it matters anymore. These were the keys to the Flyers’ rebuild just one off-season ago and Philadelphia simply needs to see more production from them on the ice in 2014. Otherwise, the Flyers might have to rebuild all over again.

7. Claude Giroux

The leader always gets the credit when his team’s doing well. It’s only fair that. having been only the second Captain in the past 17 seasons who failed to lead the Flyers to a playoff berth, he takes some blame. I could make excuses such as his line mates being in flux for most of the year or his wingers missing open shots by embarrassing margins. I could even say that the Flyer’s abysmal defense forced Claude Giroux to focus less on his offensive game than he’d like.

As the Captain, however, there can be no excuses. Giroux set out to lead his team to the playoffs this season and he failed. That’s the way he has to look at it. It’s the way his team must look at it. Whether fair or unfair, the burden of the “C” is undeniable. Claude Giroux is the Captain and undisputed leader of the Philadelphia Flyers for the foreseeable future. This is his story to write and it began with an ugly stumble.

6. Lane Johnson

Lane Johnson or “Lame” Johnson, amirite? No? Okay we’ll move on.

This is more about this year’s draft class as a whole than Johnson on his own but the lineman represents one of the first true football decisions of a new coach. With his first ever first round selection, Andy Reid took Donavon Mcnabb. The two are now synonymous, seminal parts of Philadelphia sports history. Will this be the case for Chip Kelly and Lane Johnson? It’s difficult to compare situations as there is no greater football bond than that between a coach and his quarterback. Nevertheless, this was Chip Kelly’s first draft class and their level of success in the NFL can tell us a couple of things.

First, we will see if it was Howie Roseman or Andy Reid who botched so many draft choices in recent years. If Lane Johnson spends the next two seasons on the bench or struggling to stay afloat, Chip Kelly may survive but Roseman should be on the hot seat. Second, and more importantly, Eagles fans can learn just a little bit more about what makes a #4 overall caliber player in the mind of Chip Kelly,

5, Domonic Brown

He’s finally arrived! Or, wait..no nevermind he didn’t. Oh wait, yeah he definitely did! Can we make up our mind on this guy? Let me rephrase that question. Can this guy make up his mind on this guy? In all seriousness, I cannot tell whether Dominic Brown is a good player or not. One night, he’s a butcher in the outfield who doesn’t look comfortable with a routine fly ball. The next night, he’s flying through the sky like a tiger, lunging to make a Sportscenter top-10 highlight reel catch. Then there’s the matter of his batting which may be half as predictable as his fielding.

At the moment, it seems he’s put together a few good games in a row, but Phillies fans still can’t totally trust him. With such cornerstones as Ryan Howard and Chase Utley losing a bit of “it” every day, the fate of the Phils appears to rest solely upon the shoulders of this confusing young player. That scares me.

4. Lesean Mccoy

Kenjon Barner flourished in Chip Kelly’s system. He ran amok in the Pac-12. This could be a huge year for Lesean Mccoy as he enters his prime under the direction of one of the most progressive offensive minds in football. Mccoy is arguably one of the best backs in the league already, despite a down year in 2012. The opportunity is there for Lesean Mccoy to assert himself as the number one running back in all of the NFL. His success could also mean good things for an offensive line that has less pass protecting to do and a quarterback who has proved incapable of efficiently running a passing oriented offense.

3. Cole Hamels

Cole Hamels isn’t the most important athlete in Philadelphia but he sure as hell should be. He’s the home-grown, MVP ace of the only team to bring Philadelphia a championship since 1983. He gave us all a damn parade. As far as I’m concerned he can have at least the money his contract is worth and be terrible for the rest of his career and I wouldn’t be angry with him. I realize I’m in the minority here, but when you really sit down and think about it, Cole Hamels is an icon in Philadelphia sports and we rarely speak of him as such.

He chose to remain with this declining team last season and leave money on the table. He chose Philly over Los Angeles, over the Dodgers. He’s Philadelphia royalty and number three on my list.

2. Jason Peters

Boy, did the Eagles ever miss Jason Peters last season. The old adage goes:”You don’t know what you have until it’s gone,” and it’s completely applicable in Jason Peters’ situation. The offensive line went from being one of the most impressive units in all of football in 2011 to an absolute mess in 2012. Again I say, what a difference a year makes…

When we last saw Jason Peters, he was arguable the best player at the second most important position in his sport. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll ever see that player again. His twice-torn Achilles and a year off from the game will likely prevent a full return to power. It’s not all bad news, though as 80% of what Peters was could make 100% of the difference for the 2013-2014 Eagles team and bring stability to a unit that sorely needs it.

I don’t know how far the Eagles can go in 2014, but it’s not out of the question to think that, with a new coach and scheme, a healthy Philadelphia team could catch the league by surprise. Playoffs?! Playoffs?! Don’t talk about playoffs!

Your winner…(long pause)…and STILL reigning champion is

1. Michael Vick

Football is stupid. Every single year, stupid things happen that simply cannot be explained. Whether this is due to the uniquely small sample size of the NFL regular season or the presence of extreme parity throughout the league, you can depend on having ample cause to scratch your head in the coming football year. Don’t kid yourself. A potential third act in the Michael Vick experience is in play here.

Perhaps the Eagles’ presumed starting quarterback’s 2010 season represented the “A New Hope” portion of this trilogy. Then his 2011-2013 years saw the “Empire” strike back. Is Philadelphia due for a “Return of the Jedi” scenario? Does that make Chip Kelly the “Yoda” figure in this narrative? But then who’s the “Han Solo” here? I’ve gotten totally off-track with this analogy haven’t I?

Anyway you slice this number one ranking, you can’t avoid a depressing thought. There really isn’t a great pool of competition this year. Also, when considering the parameters of this list, you’d have to admit that Michael Vick possesses the most potential to affect the world of Philadelphia sports in the coming year. If he can recapture some of that post-reinstatement magic once more, the Eagles can make a significant run. An NFL playoff game in South Philadelphia would blow anything that’s happened in the past 1,210 comparatively flaccid days.

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Conroy: The Flyers, A New Hope

Giroux

Michael Conroy is a freelance sportswriter and Flyers fan, and a guest writer for Spike Eskin Dot Com. You can find him on Twitter @MichaelConroyPM.

Three days ago, if there was one word in the English dictionary that would aptly describe the state of professional sports in Philadelphia, that word is hopeless. The juggernaut that was the 2008-2011 Phillies collapsed into rubble last season and the Reid-era Eagles were finally laid to rest. With the 76ers almost out of ways to avoid a total rebuild, the Philadelphia sports scene had descended into darkness.

Suddenly, out on the cold, foggy horizon, a bright orange light appeared. News started to trickle out in bits and pieces on twitter. Countless sources began to indicate that the NHL lockout was nearing an end. Dawn was breaking for Philadelphia sports fans. Miraculously, on Saturday afternoon, the Philadelphia Flyers’ 2013 season was saved.

The most relevant professional sports team in Philadelphia will begin their season this weekend. They will do so against the Penguins, cross-state rivals, Stanley Cup favorites, and employers of two of the best four hockey players in the world. For the first time in months, a meaningful sporting event will take place in Philly and fans are responding. Already setting a record for attendance at Sunday’s practice session, (we talkin’ bout practice) Philadelphia seems ready to embrace this spirited sprint of an NHL season.

Setting aside those emotions, the Flyers’ opening week of action offers little opportunity to shake off the rust. The team will play three of their first four games within the division. All three of those division opponents qualified for the playoffs last season and will be looking to establish an early advantage in the Atlantic division. Of course, this presents as much of an opportunity for the Flyers as it does an obstacle. If the team can get off to a fast start, they can quickly create some breathing room for themselves in the playoff hunt.

Reliably, the Flyers have managed to create some conflict surrounding the goalie position even before the season has begun, re-acquiring the ageless Brian Boucher from the Carolina Hurricanes. Cosmonaut, philosopher, and Chinese tiger law enthusiast, Ilya Bryzgalov will have his work cut out for him dispelling any controversy when he makes his first start of the season against the NHL’s top scoring team.

New face, Luke Schenn will be a key component in making life easier for his goalie, joining a defense that struggled for long stretches of their 2011-2012 campaign. With Chris Pronger likely to retire, the defense needs find some consistency if the Flyers are going to make a deep postseason push. The experience of returning veterans, Kimmo Timonen and Nicklas Grossman should go a long way to stabilize that unit.

Goaltending and defense important as they may be, it’s no secret what the bread and butter of this Philadelphia Flyers team is. Led by their soon-to-be captain, Claude Giroux, the offense is poised for a breakout season. With exciting young talents like Matt Read, Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and Wayne Simmonds the unit has become impressively deep and dynamic. The only true question regarding the Flyers offense is who will have the pleasure of playing right wing on the top line with Giroux. It looks like Brayden Schenn will get the first crack at it. Last year, Scott Hartnell flourished on the top line, posting a career best 35 goals. Whoever seizes that top line spot could enjoy similar success.

The 2013 Flyers make their debut at 3PM this Saturday before a national audience. The excitement is mounting for what is sure to feel like a playoff game at the Wells Fargo Center. From the dull, lifeless ashes of 2012-2013 Philadelphia sports, a new hope has emerged.

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Conroy: Flyers A Model Of Off-Season Failure

Michael Conroy is a freelance sportswriter and Flyers fan, and a guest writer for Spike Eskin Dot Com. You can find him on Twitter @MichaelConroyPM.

“There’s no earthly way of knowing

Which direction we are going.

There’s no knowing where we’re rowing

Or which way the river’s flowing.

Is it raining?

Is it snowing?

Is a hurricane a blowing?

Not a speck of light is showing

so the danger must be growing.

Are the fires of hell a glowing?

Is the grisly reaper mowing?

Yes! The danger must be growing

For the rowers keep on rowing.

And they’re certainly not showing

any signs that they are slowing!”

The Philadelphia Flyers are becoming known for their annual controversial personnel decisions. This stigma was sharply reinforced in June when Paul “Homewrecker” Holmgren sent the still young and talented winger, James Van Reimsdyk packing for Toronto in exchange for Luke Schenn, an under-acheiving defensemen.

Most casual hockey fans view this as a logical exchange in a surplus of offense for much needed defensive help. This is not the case. Holmgren managed to lose a top line scoring wingman in Jaromir Jagr and a top four pairing defensemen in Matt Carle. The Flyers would be a better hockey team today if, on July 1st,  Holmgren had simply re-signed Carle and then went to Beijing for a month without his cell phone.

The best argument in defense of the Flyers’ moves to date is that they were swinging for the fences in trying to land Zach Parise and Ryan Suter; that the potential reward for connecting with either player was worth the risk of striking out. It’s the best argument, but it’s not a good one.

In hockey, the effect of adding any one player to a roster is less significant than in most sports. More importantly, I feel the need to point out that Parise and Suter were top shelf free-agents but not necessarily top shelf players. Zach Parise had an incredible playoff run and Suter has been a solid top pairing Defensemen in the NHL for years, but neither of them is a transcendant talent. Neither is a game-changer. And when you pay a HOCKEY player 100 million dollars, they damn well better be.

I’m not sure which hard-headed, swagger wielding gentleman was the driving force in the decisions to forego re-signing Carle and/or trading JVR, but whether it was Paul Holmgren or Ed Snider, the other is just as guilty for allowing it to happen. I’ve been lauding the moves from the past off-season for a calendar year now, defending the overhaul that took place to many skeptics. The young, exciting talent that the team possesses was the selling point. The promise of that young talent growing and flourishing  as they developed a tighter grasp of the Flyers’ system made me giddy. Finally, there was a clear trajectory in sight; a blueprint for a championship…and then I woke up.

With recent rumors swirling about potential trades for the 30 year old forward, Rick Nash and slightly above-average Bobby Ryan, the Flyers’ front office couldn’t have sent a clearer message to their fans. There is no plan. Philly’s professional hockey team knows how to do one thing well; field a respectable team. They do it every single season and there’s something to be admired in that.

Still, when you lose your patience as quickly as this organization has, there will always be a clearly defined ceiling for what you can accomplish. The best way to win a Stanley Cup is to cultivate a winning environment; an effective system and then allow your players to become comfortable in it.

The Flyers don’t seem to be interested in development, patience or following a plan. Like a dog chasing cars, the organization just wants to collect shiny things and show them off. Any championship that comes as a result of such lust would just be a bonus. There’s no better explanation for the contradictory decisions of the Flyers’ management of late.

With such names as Matt Read, Sean Couturier, and even Brayden Schenn being tossed around in trade discussions for players of Rick Nash’s caliber, confusion and rage have overwhelmed even the most reasonable fans. How could there even be a discussion, after what these players showed as rookies, about shipping them out? What more could a player, in his first professional season, have possibly shown to earn the trust and commitment of his general manager?

This franchise has been treating the idea of a young player getting better all on his own like folk lore. It’s finally reached a boiling point. I realize that only Van Reimsdyk has actually been moved to date, but the frustration that is building in me and many Flyers fans is due in large part to the intentions of the franchise coming into focus. It’s being made painfully obvious that if this core of talented, fiery skaters remains on the team through the 2012-2013 season, it will be because the front office couldn’t find a productive way to spend them like cash. They will remain Philadelphia Flyers for any reason but the right one.

What else have the Flyers said about themselves in recent years? I’m ready to accept the possibility that this organization had no idea Claude Giroux would be as good as he is. Maybe they happened upon this “asset” through sheer dumb luck. Who’s to say even his contract isn’t on the table next season, when a fresh lot of potential trades become available? Could you honestly put such a move past this front office?

The reputation the organization has developed for being disloyal, for finding value in change for the sake of change is palpable around the NHL. I would not be surprised if this reputation played a significant role in the decisions of Parise, Suter, Carle or Jagr.

Is there any way to project the Flyers’ success over the next few seasons? Will they be a young, talented team with a bright future, or an aging, overpaid team with maybe one run left in them? Is there any way for the season ticket holders to know? Does the organization, itself, know?

I’m convinced this franchise cannot answer one of those questions. For your sake, I hope you take care in choosing which jersey to invest in. Whoever you eventually decide on, cornerstone or not, may have a bad week; Some blockbuster, headline-grabbing trade may present itself and the name on the back could become just another reminder of a guy who won a cup somewhere else.

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McDonald: From One Flyers Fan To The Others … Relax

Stephen McDonald is special to spikeeskin.com. Born in May 1975 Steve has been a Flyers fan from birth. Every time he gets out of bed the stiffness and soreness are a reminder that the Flyers haven’t won a championship in a long, long time (Steve wrote this not me (Spike), so get off my case. I’m not making fun of the Flyers and their robot fans.) Follow Steve on Twitter @_spmcdonald.

On Monday night June 11th the Los Angeles Kings became the first 8th seed to win the Stanley Cup, the first in the 45 year history of the franchise. They proved that in the post-lockout (and possibly pre-next-lockout) NHL, the hottest team entering the playoffs can ride the hottest goalie and overcome the odds to make a championship run.

Much has already been said and written about the departures of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Rhea Hughes from WIP suggested that he Flyers brass has egg on their face after the LA win. I don’t necessarily disagree. Her comment got me thinking why it didn’t work out for two clearly talented players here in Philadelphia.

Mr. Snider said last week he wished them well, I believe him. Moving Richards and Carter was not as much about them not being good enough to win the cup as it was building a better team. After years and years of skimping on goaltending the Flyers boldly reshaped the roster.

It was time to bring in a legitimate top tier goalie. Ilya Bryzgalov was the best goalie available so the Flyers went after him. In order to acquire Bryzgalov they needed to redistribute their cap money to fit his large salary. As they looked at the roster and the jigsaw puzzle that is the salary cap they had to make a decision. I don’t think it was as simple as; “can the team as currently constituted with Richards and Carter as the center pieces win a championship?” I think it was more along the lines of, “We have a vision now of what we think is needed here.” Richards and Carter were still valuable commodities and they needed to get younger/cheaper to act on the new vision. These guys were not totally buying into what the team was doing (see dry island) so they were moved before no trade clauses became a factor. Giroux, JVR and company can move us forward with a better goalie.

The Flyers have stated every year they have been in existence that the goal of each season is to win the Stanley Cup. It hasn’t’ happened in 37 long years but you have to admit, they never sit on their laurels. They are truly trying to win every year and have reinvented themselves several times in that pursuit. Those are steep expectations but reasonable and all teams should be focused on winning.

We as a fan base are no longer rational when it comes to what we expect from the Flyers. I anticipate backlash from these comments, but I do feel at this point we have lost touch with reality.

Winning isn’t the goal anymore with the fans. Perfection is. Every soft goal, every shoot out loss, every losing streak is scrutinized and elevated to the level of a crisis. It’s no wonder Bryzgalov, and Richards before him had trouble dealing with the pressure cooker that is being a Flyer.

Everyone loves Bernie Parent. He’s an affable ambassador of the team and a legitimate hall of fame goalie who was instrumental in bringing the city its only two hockey titles. Only God saved more, right? In today’s snarky world of blogs, twitter and overall sarcasm what would have happened if Bernie let up a weak goal in a key game? Are we to assume he never blew a game? If 45 microphones and cameras asked him to painfully reconstruct every short-side goal that he would have “liked to have back” would he have stood tall and endured it all or crumbled? What if they asked him after every game? Would he still be the hero he is today?

Richards was infamous for his snarly demeanor with the media. Was he always that way or was the incessant criticism ultimately too much for him to handle? The guy has won on every team at every level, except for the Flyers. I know I know he made millions of dollars, whatever. Doesn’t mean he has the personality to withstand that kind of, well, abuse.

Athletes and others love to blame the media. The media are hired by their respective employers to cover the teams and write the stories that wait for it; people want to pay to read. Whether it’s buying a newspaper or frequenting a free blog that keeps track of hits to sell advertising, activity is the goal. The reporters ask the questions that the masses are interested in hearing. When they don’t they are criticized as apologists (see Dave Spadaro). So I don’t necessarily blame the media. I blame the new culture of sports in Philadelphia. The job of the media is to keep us informed whatever the topic. If they wrote an article about how hard Mike Richards works in the weight room instead of why the team got shut out for the third straight game despite multiple power play opportunities, no one would read it. We’d instead turn our ire to the reporter.

We are the problem. I’m not advocating what former Governor Rendell may refer to as the Wussification of our town. I’m just thinking that we should relax. Mike Richards probably didn’t have to deal with this in LA because no one cares about hockey there like they do here. He also wasn’t made the captain of the team and expected to have all the answers on and off the ice. He could relax and lend his talents on the ice to winning a championship. He was expected to play a supporting role. And guess what whether we like it or not he did a good job at that. And maybe he did it every day with a raging hangover because he drinks too much and chases skirts all over town. No one knows and it doesn’t matter because he won. Mike Richards the Flyer was good enough to win the cup. He wasn’t willing to deal with the misplaced pressure of being the leader of the Flyers and therefore was no longer a fit.

We get caught up in negativity all too much. I do feel strongly that a teams’ goal should be to win championships every year. The goal should not be perfection every minute of every game and every day for the entire season. We have the right to hold athletes and teams accountable. We pay their salaries with our ticket purchases and all that good stuff. But the bottom line is unless Mr. Snider and Homer bring robots in here we may be damned to repeat the last 37 Stanley Cup free years unless we all just relax.

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The Philly Five Power Rankings – CHOOOOOCH!

Ten days have passed since the last Philly Five. It doesn’t sound like much but since then the Sixers and Celtics have played four games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals (series tied 2-2), the Phillies knocked out 10 games (went a healthy 7-3) and Pat Burrell danced shirtless at a bar after his retirement ceremony. Who gets into the Five this week? You probably won’t be surprised at our choices.

So without further ado, here is the Philly Five for May 21, 2012…

The Chooch is Loose

1) Chooch – Carlos Ruiz is the best catcher in baseball up to this point in the season. I mean, even Tim McCarver said it on Saturday night. So it has to be true.
Let’s break down his season: .355 BA (#1), 21 runs (#1), 7 HR (#2), 29 RBI (#1), 2 SB (#2, Yadier Molina has 4!?!?).
Yes, the hitting is great, but you can’t talk about Chooch without talking about his game management, his handling of the best pitching staff in the majors. And he’s been the fan favorite for a few years, and now Chooch is finally getting some love around the league.

He’s got the stats, he’s got the memes (IceCreamForChooch.com, #VoteForChooch, #Chooch2012). Now let’s get him to Kansas City.
Vote Here. DO IT!

2) Sixers – Ok, can we just forget Wednesday night, Game 3, even happened. That was a hot mess. Sixers fell behind big and never even made a dent in the deficit after halftime. But hey, those red t-shirts were pretty nice.

You Say You Want a Revolution?

But last Monday night in Boston? Wow. And what about that epic comeback on Friday night? That is a game we will be talking about for a looooong time around here. Down 15 points early, everyone writing us off, everyone on Twitter was doing an “I told you so” to all us Sixers believers.

Then the boys managed to fight and fight and chip away at that Boston lead by playing smothering defense, making clutch shots, and finally they were able to pull away in the final 2 minutes to ice the game.

I know that a loss on Friday would have put the mail in the coffin, but we won. And we proved to everyone who wrote us off that this young Sixers team can pull together and get the job done. Some nights it’s Iggy who takes over, some nights it’s Lou off the bench as the spark. Evan Turner even made a splash in the postseason. Great to see him getting in people’s faces on Friday, letting them know “we’re not going anywhere”. And the most unlikely of heros, shutting down KG, playing inspired ball, is the kid from Temple. He played so well that I gave him #3 this week…

3) Lavoy Allen – I could have listed a few players here, but I’m going with Lavoy. The pride of North Broad and Pennsbury High School. Allen came into the playoffs pretty much an unknown player, but after handling KG for the series, the league has noticed. Celtics fans had dismissed him for 3 games, but after Game 4 I think even they are turning into believers (“Ok, Maybe Lavoy Allen Is A Defensive Problem For Garnett” – CelticsBlog.com).

I even got into the fun on Twitter (hey, this got 24 retweets and counting, a personal record. Let me gloat a little)

Lavoy has had a fabulous series, and on Friday night he held Garnett to 9 points (3-12 FG). He’s leading the team in field goal percentage (58%), and giving us 8.5 ppg and 6.5 rebs. But more noticeably he has 10 offensive rebounds, which is a part of the game the Sixers sorely lacked coming into the playoffs.

From scrub to star

My lasting memory of Allen for this series will be Game 2, when he got an inbound pass late in a tight game with almost no time on the shot clock and nailed a clutch jumper. Cold blooded.

Back in August, in an idiotic attempt to rank all the NBA players prior to the season, ESPN actually selected Allen as the worst player in the league. Seriously. Whatevs, Lavoy is getting it done when it counts. He ended the regular season just hoping to be on the 12 man roster next season, now the question isn’t will he make the team but will be be a starter?
So, props to Lavoy. Good work, rook. Now let’s do it again on Monday night.

4) Sixers Fans – back in November there weren’t many of us. When I told people I had Sixers season tickets they were mostly like “why?” And I didn’t really have a good answer. But I saw that this team had potential, and I like watching hoops. And the 10,000 people who showed up on a random Wednesday night to watch them play the Hawks or Bucks in February always knew that this team was special.

This season started off great, but in January and February when the big names came to town we were usually on the losing end. I mean, besides the Lakers and Bulls games in February, we dropped most of the big games we played. Clippers? Chris Paul drops a shot at the buzzer to win. Mavericks? We fight hard but Dirk was just too much for us. Thunder? We almost had them, but Durant went off like the MVP he is and got his team the win. The Heat? Well, we won’t talk about the Heat. They owned us. But the fight was there.

And now it is paying off. Defense and some hot shooting is winning us games. Let’s hope that we can keep the streak going. Keep your chins up Sixers fans, this is the beginning of a new era.

12 for 12

5) Jonathan Papelbon –Not much else to pick from this week, so I went with the closer. He improved his save streak

up to 12 for 12. He came in on Friday night with a 6-4 lead against his old mates, and sent the Red Sox packing. We didn’t have too many highlights from the Red Sox series, but Paps getting a save on Friday night was nice to see.

When we got Papelbon last fall alot of Red Sox fans were happy to see him go. The common refrain from them was “Yeah, he’s funny and you’ll love his personality. But wait until he starts blowing saves and see how you like him then.” Ok, we’re still waiting for that.

The Gas Face:
999) Phillies Media Relations – So the Phillies 2 biggest stars, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, are hurt. And no one really knows how rehab is going. So an intrepid, longtime Phillies writer, Bob Brookover, heads to the Clearwater complex to see what’s up with Howard. And what do the Phillies do? They throw him out. No reporters can watch the rehab. Frank Fitzpatrick also raises some questions about how the Phillies treated Howard’s injury in the first place. Then Ruben goes all “Baghdad Bob” and tries to deny there are any problems whatsoever.

Everything is fine, I assure you

I understand that the Phillies want to keep rumors to a minimum, and stick to the company line on injuries and rehab progress. But the fans are curious, and when it seems like Ruben and the team aren’t being honest with the information, then I am all for someone trying to dig for the truth.

And this wasn’t some bloggers who showed up with a Flip Camera looking for a scoop, this was a veteran sportswriter trying to find out information that the fans want to know. How hurt is Howard, and what is he up to? When is he coming back? Dennis Deitch had a good take on this on Sunday,

..and this is true, Smug Ruben is only palatable when they are winning. And we’re not winning, at least not lately. And the natives are growing restless.

Do you agree with the Five this week? Disagree? Did I miss anyone? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter (@Fantasource).

See you all next week! We’ll be in the Eastern Conference Finals by then, right?

You can follow me on Twitter (@Fantasource) or email (fantasource@gmail.com)

Fantasource

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The Flyers 2011-’12, An Autopsy

The Flyers 2011-’12, An Autopsy

Michael Conroy is a freelance sportswriter and Flyers fan, and a guest writer for Spike Eskin Dot Com. You can find him on Twitter @MichaelConroyPM.

A lot has been said about the disappointment most of us are feeling about the end to this Flyers season. That feeling is understandable. This team was so captivating all season long, so likeable, they truly did suck you in. You really wanted to see this cast of characters succeed. But on Tuesday night, to our collective dismay, the Philadelphia Flyers played their final game of the year.

They were beaten four straight times and truthfully, they deserved to be. The Devils proved over and over (and over) again to be the superior team. As Philadelphia sports fans, most of us awoke on Wednesday morning desperately seeking answers. WHO IS TO BLAME? Why did this team fall so short of their potential?

I, however, awoke asking different questions. Is anyone really to blame? Did this roster actually fall short at all?

The Philadelphia Flyers began this season by trading almost every cornerstone of the team away. This led some to speculate that we may be in for a rebuilding season of sorts. The Flyers were also introducing a goalie into a far less disciplined defensive scheme than he
has ever played in; a scheme minus its most important defensive player.

All that considered, maybe the Flyers over-achieved.

Still, as I glanced at the day’s Inquirer from across a busy convenience store, I could see that my optimism was not shared. The “Bryzaster”
headline let me know exactly what I was in for. This fanbase was looking for a scapegoat to slaughter and in this town, nothing’s quite as sweet as the blood of a goalie.

The Flyers’ goaltender has become, to us, that first guy they question in a Law and Order episode. You know that guy; the one who is out on parole and is un-cooperative before eventually leading the police on a lengthy chase. We chase down that man until he trips over something or one of us heads him off with a vehicle of some sort. It’s only after we get the ex-convict back to headquarters that he is revealed to be innocent.

Indeed, Ilya Brygalov was an issue that the Flyers needed to overcome to win their first series against the Penguins. He was not the goalie the Flyers paid him to be this season or post-season and I don’t believe that is debatable. But this isn’t all on Bryz.

The incredible saves that crazy Russian made to keep the Flyers in some of those games versus the Devils go a long way to absolve him of most of the blame. Given the circumstances, I’d say that Bryzgalov played well for most of this series. We, as a fan base, can not charge him solely with the crime of ruining the season.

If you’d like a more viable candidate for “Ruiner of all Things Sacred and Beautiful” as it pertains to the Flyers, I may be able to provide you with a solid lineup to choose from. To effectively single out any of these players,though, we must also accept that this season, we were trying to have our cake and eat it too.

When rookies on this team were playing out of their minds against Pittsburgh, we attributed that mostly to them being too young to understand
the gravity of the situation and that’s what allowed them to perform at such a high level. Maybe those same rookies were just too young to understand the gravity of the situation and that’s what prevented them from performing at a high level against New Jersey.

Untimely penalties, incessant turnovers at the blue-line, sloppy checking and misplaced aggression buried this team often this year. Those are
trademarks of a young team and when the Flyers ran up against a team that took advantage of those mistakes, they struggled mightily. When you remove the emotional and unlikely triumph over the cup favorites, we certainly could accept this ending.

This season took us for a wild ride. There were twists and turns, we laughed and cried but in the end the team ended up right about
where we thought they’d be. I don’t think we could have expected anything more. When you fill your roster with young exciting talent, your roster becomes filled with YOUNG exciting talent. That seldom wins championships.

That all being said, losing still sucks. It really sucks, but let’s try to keep this in perspective as best as we Philadelphians can. This was not a choke-job; this isn’t the “wrong mix of players” and the Flyers don’t need to draft a clutch quarterback. This team had a great season.

Those sloppy, inexperienced rookies are brimming with potential. What do you say to a little optimism this off-season? Let’s bask in the glow of what this team could be for a little while. There will be plenty of time to condemn them all when they come up short again sometime in the future and dammit, I just know we will.

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The Philly Five Power Rankings – Iggy, Iggy, Iggy, Can’t You See…

The state of Philadelphia sports was bleak this past week, at least for the Flyers and Phillies. But on the bright side the Sixers pulled off a sweet, sweet Round 1 upset of the  Bulls (now bring on the Celtics!).

For the Phillies it was ugly: They blew leads to the Nationals and Mets, lost five of six, couldn’t put up runs and let a games slip away with a poor bullpen performance and poor late game hitting and fielding.

For the Flyers it was uglier: The Flyers got eliminated from the playoffs, losing four straight to the Devils. And they looked sluggish and sloppy most of the game.

But we’re optimists here at SpikeEskin.com, so let’s try to look on the bright side of a really crappy sports week in Philadelphia… Yo, The Sixers!  Tuesday night’s loss in Game 5 was tough to watch. It was a slow paced game, and the Sixers really never seemed like they were going to pull it off, and they didn’t. But last night, Game 6, they jumped out to a nice 12 point lead, then gave it all back, and just when we thought the season would fall apart, Iggy got it done. So naturally he gets #1…

Philly Five for May 4-10, 2012:

1) Andre Iguodala – Well, well, well what do we have here? Game on the line, down one, two seconds left. And who is the guy with the ball? Mr. Andre Iguodala. Yeah, who would have thought that he would be the guy to grab a victory from the jaws of defeat and get the Sixers onto the second round?

Iggy has had a rough season, to say the least. Yeah, he made the All-Star team, but his hometown fans were never really happy with his performance. His 4th quarter stats were terrible (I’m not looking them up because they don’t matter any more). But he played shut down D. And he did that in this series too.

Game 6: 20 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds (including the HUGE rebound on Asik’s missed FT) and the two biggest foul shots of his career. Great week for the Sixers, capped off by an great night for Iggy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vArNWGoHPk

2) Cole Hamels – Not many bright spots this week for the hometown 9, but for one night baseball in Philadelphia was fun again. Hamels pitched a gem, the Phillies got out of Nats Park without getting swept and we threw some gasoline on a budding rivalry in the process.

This is definitely NOT old school

But the big story from that game was Hamels hitting Bryce Harper with a pitch, square in the back. At first we were all thinking, “wait, that wasn’t on purpose, right? Had to have slipped.” But after the game Cole left no doubt as to his intentions to plunk Harper and show him an old school ‘Welcome to the Show’ greeting.

My only issue with the Hamels situation is not that he threw at Harper (it’s part of the game), nor that he admitted it (dumb, but whatever), it’s that he threw at a kid who was 0-7 in the series. Who really hadn’t done anything to warrant it. Did he throw at him beacusae he wanted to show him who was the boss of the division? Well, maybe Cole hasn’t looked at the standings, but we’re pulling up the rear and Washington is riding young arms and hot bats to 1st place.

Cole lit a spark with the fans, and we needed something to fire us up, so I appreciate that. But Spike had a good angle about this, did Cole do it just to get more cash on the free agent market. Was it a ‘hey look at me, I have fire in my belly’ move? Who knows. Not surprisingly Cole got suspended 5 games (really not even missing a start), and we see the Nats again in 2 weeks. The baseball world will be watching that series closely.

3) Evan Turner/Jrue Holiday – I like what I’ve seen so far from the young backcourt in this series. Turner and Holliday are looking like they could have a promising future for the Sixers. There are alot of questions about what will happen in the off-season and I expect the front office to shake things up, but what happens? What about Brand? Lou Williams is gonna get paid in free agency, will we give him enough to keep him?

Evan and Jrue. #ShowYaLuv

I don’t know what will happen, but I sure hope that Jrue and Turner are here to stay. Let them grow together, let them compliment each other games. Turner as the bulldog, driving the lane, grabbing the boards, getting scrappy. Holiday the point man, dishing the rock, taking the long jumpers, making things happen.

It has been a rocky season for Turner. He spent a good part of it in Doug Collins’ doghouse, but there were definitely times when you could see that he was a special player. I like how he takes the ball to the hoop without fear. I like how he got into the mix in that scrum in Game 5. I like that he isn’t afraid to take the shot. At the beginning of the season I was skeptical. But not anymore, I’m on #TeamET. Hopefully he can bounce back from a tough night in Game 5 and get us to Round 2.

Holiday showed me in Game 4 that he isn’t afraid to be the man and take the shots. He had a terrible start to the game, 1-14 shooting? Ouch. But he kept shooting, ending the game on a 6-9 streak including two huuuuge threes at the end to give a nice 7 point cushion.

I’m not saying they’ll be the second coming of Mo Cheeks and Andrew Toney, but knocking out the Bulls will be a nice start to this tandem’s bright future.

Photoshop by @_mattmac (cross promotion FTW!)

4) Joe Blanton – We have 3 aces in the rotation… and then we have Blanton. Over the last few years Blanton has been the butt of many jokes, he was left out of the “4 Aces” talk last year and is pretty much the forgotten member of the rotation. Seems like people have more good things to say about young Vance Worley. But Blanton is a solid pitcher. He’s not gonna win a Cy Young and he’s gonna have some stinkers. But once in a while he’s gonna toss a gem. And that’s just what he on Thursday at Atlanta.

Heavy B tossed a complete game, three hitter in a 4-0 win over the Braves. Then he comes back on Monday and goes 6.2 innings, 5 hits, 4 earned runs. He left the game in the seventh with two out, men on first and second and a 4-2 lead. Then Chad Qualls came in and did Chad Qualls things and suddenly it’s 5-4 Mets. Can’t fault Joe, he gave us 2 solid starts this week and for the #4 man in the rotation, that’s pretty good. Hopefully he can keep it up, God knows we can use all the help we can get.

5) Ilya Bryzgalov – The Flyers dropped 4 straight to the Devils to lose in the second round. But you know what, I’m not pinning it on Bryz. The Flyers looked flat and unmotivated for most of the series.

Yes, Bryz gave up a soft goal (it was pretty much as close to an ‘own goal’ as you can get without shooting it in yourself) in Game 5 that gave the Devils a 2-1 lead that they never lost, but if you’re pointing fingers you might want to point at everyone except the goalie.

Ilya and Danny, in happier times.

We can whine all we want at Claude Giroux getting suspended, and how other players did worse things and got nothing, and that Giroux has no history of anything like that, etc. But he made a dumb play in a critical game, and he got himself suspended. And the Flyers lost. I don’t know if X would have been the difference maker in Game 5, but not having your best player available is never a good thing (ask the Bulls).

The Game 3 OT winner wasn’t Bryzgalov’s fault, we had a bad line change and New Jersey took advantage and got a great scoring opportunity. And Bryz was great in Sunday’s loss in Game 4 (42 shots on goal!). He was ok in Game 5, I would have expected more in a clinching game, but it was a team effort (or lack of effort) that cost us. The bigger issue was the defense around him.

Honestly, I wanted to have someone represent the Flyers in the Philly Five this week, and Bryz was the lone bright spot I could fine. So he didn’t really have alot of competition.

But not everyone agrees with me, this guy at Hockey News actually wrote that Bryz was the 3rd worst playoff goalie in Flyers history (Roman Cechmanek was #1? Wow, blast from the past).

And we have him locked up for 8 more years, so love him or hate him, he’s probably here to stay.

The Gasface:

999) Phillies Sell-Out Streak – So the Phillies managed 3 sellouts against the Mets but every night there was a buzz on Twitter, “does the streak end tonight?”, “no way they fill it in the rain against the Mets”. But you know what? The streak continues. 233 straight sellout at home, including postseason.

But c’mon, let’s be real.  These games aren’t sellouts. We need some scrappy investigative reporter to dig into this caper. The Red Sox claim a sellout streak of over 700 games, but the folks up in Boston had had enough and did their own investigation last week and found out it was a bunch of PR garbage. Maybe we need to do the same here.

The issue with announcing the streak is over is that the media and the fans will say “well, we were fairweather fans, now we’re losing and the city doesn’t care anymore.” But that’s not true. I’ve been to many games over the past few years when the 400 level seats were half full. Does the team buy the few hundred or so extra tickets and dump them on StubHub? Do they do what the Red Sox do and count tickets given to charity as part of the sell out. I don’t know.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s really not a big deal, but the longer the team perpetuates a lie the worse they’re gonna look when the truth comes out.

(and yes, I could have given the Gas Face to the Phillies bullpen, but I did that last week. And something tells me we’ll have alot of opportunity to do it for the rest of the season).

Do you agree with the Five this week? Disagree? Did I miss anyone? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter (@Fantasource).

See you all next week!

You can follow me on Twitter (@Fantasource) or email (fantasource@gmail.com)

Fantasource

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The Philly Five Power Rankings – Dawkins, Burrell, Flyers Reign and Kendrick Falls

Welcome to the inaugural installment of The Philly Five Power Rankings. I was gonna call it ‘The Philly Phive’, but then I came to my senses.

What is The Philly Five all about? Well, I’m glad you asked. The Philly Five will be a power ranking of the five things in the Philadelphia sports world that were hot for the past week, and a few that were not. Not a real ranking system, just what got some buzz and what was a bust.

I hope you enjoy it.

Ok, enough chit chat. Onto this week’s Philly Five for April 25th…

Hot:

1) Flyers fans – It’s only the first round but knocking out the Penguins in the fashion that they did has to be a huge morale boost for the Flyers faithful. And suddenly, as the first round dust settles the Flyers are the Vegas favorites to win the Eastern Conference and 5-1 to win the Stanley Cup (for amusement purposes only). Penguins – OUT. Bruins – OUT. Devils/Rangers – both forced to Game 7’s. 2010 nemesis Blackhawks – OUT, 1997 nemesis Red Wings – OUT. It’s good to be a Flyers fan this week. Schadenfreude is nice while it lasts.

2) Pat Burrell and Brian Dawkins – I had to lump them both together because when it came to Philly sports in the late 90’s into the 2000’s, they were two of the most high profile guys in town. And now they are officially retired.
B-Dawk could go down as the most popular Eagle of all time. The heart and soul of the Jim Johnson defenses. Weapon X. We loved him and when the team let him go after the 2008 season it was mixed emotions. We hated to lose him, but glad to see him keep doing his thing in Denver.
And Burrell? Well, Pat the Bat had a rough run as a Phillie. The fans (myself included) probably gave him more grief than he deserved, but ultimately he had the last laugh. No scene was more powerful in the 2008 parade than seeing Burrell and Elvis on the front of the beer truck riding down Broad Street.
Both guys will get the Philadelphia homecoming celebrations that they deserve.

3) Claude Giroux – X went from “this kid is really, really good” to “OMG Claude Giroux just set a Flyers playoff record for points in a series, he blew up Crosby on a check then turned right around and scored a goal, and his jersey ended the regular season as the #1 seller at NHL.com. Think about the playoff series scoring record for a second. More points in a single playoff series than Bobby Clarke, Rick McLeish, Bill Barber, Tim Kerr, Brian Propp, Eric Lindros, John LeClair, Simon Gagne? And he’s only 24.

4) Phillies training staff – if they are getting paid by the body, then they are doing well. First Howard and Utley, and now Cliff Lee goes on the shelf for 15 days? Phillies fans are hoping (praying) that these guys get back to full strength. Not to mention Hunter Pence had a bum shoulder and somehow he gets miraculously healed by these guys and smacks a homer on Wednesday night.
It’s been a sluggish start for the Phillies to say the least, and losing Lee to the DL makes the job even harder. There’s no need to panic yet, but if the weeks go by and we still can’t put up any runs it could be a loooong summer. Then Hamels will leave for LA or Anaheim (but that’s a topic for September).

5) Sixers owner’s bank accounts – The Sixers (finally) clinched a playoff spot. They will either be the #8 seed v. Chicago, or #7 v. Miami. Most fans are expecting a one and done playoff run (not fun, son). But the Sixers ownership made the bold decision to jack up the price of playoff tickets for the first round. I know this because I am a season ticket holder. My $45 seats (Section 215) are now going to cost me $63, plus whatever other dumb fees they throw at me.
I realize most teams increase the price of tickets for the playoffs, but this new Sixers ownership came in with a “hey, we’re fans too” mentality. Heck, they gave alot of season ticket holders (like me) club box seats for the home opener for FREE. That was great. Last year the playoff price was the same as the regular season price for the first round and would increase if they advanced. I like that model. Earn the increase. Your fanbase is loyal, but we’re not rich, at least most of us aren’t. But enjoy your payday.

Honorable mention: Jonathan Papelbon (6 for 6), Philly Live! (Flyers playoff games have filled that place up lately), NFL draftniks (you’re time is NOW!, then we’ll see you again next April).

And then there’s the bottom…

999) Kyle Kendrick – Phillies fans suddenly remember why they love Joe Blanton so much. Ouch, KK got rocked in Arizona on Tuesday. Should of kept Happ.

See you next week. The Phillies will be over .500 by then, right? Right?

Any comments, feedback or whatnot just hit me on Twitter (@Fantasource), email (fantasource@gmail.com) or MySpace (http://www.myspace.com/583888505)

Fantasource

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Photoshop With Matt Mac: Bryzgalov Starts, But What About Bob?

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