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

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The Degenerate: Week 15 The Friday Pick: The Hype Machine

We had an easy winner last night on the Falcons -12, they smoked the Jaguars 41-14. After watching that game I’ve come to the following conclusions: the Jaguars stink, their offense is terrible, and their once vaunted defense has been shredded in two of the past three games. Something to remember for the final two games of the season. Atlanta looked pretty good, they could really make some noise in the playoffs. Maybe a sleeper team, like Green Bay was last season.

BREAKING: Some people like Tebow

Enough about last night,  let’s get to the pick. I’m not making a pick in the Eagles / Jets game this week. Everything in me wants to say the Eagles will cover the three point spread but I am not sure which Eagles team will show up on Sunday. Will we see the 2nd, 3rd and 4th quarter Eagles from last week, or will we see the team that stunk up Seattle two weeks ago. I don’t know and I’m not going to put any money on it to find out (jk, for amusement purposes only). But you know they’ll win, and keep us sucked in for one more week of false hope.

But if you follow the NFL you may have heard about this other game out in Denver that is getting as some buzz. Some guy named Tebow is playing against the Patriots. This is pretty much the NFL’s dream match-up. The two most polarizing stars (Tebow and Brady) playing head to head. The Patriots are in first place in the AFC East, they are in the midst of a 10-3 season and a five game winning streak. The Broncos are riding a six game winning streak and they lead the AFC West at 8-5. Game of the year? In terms of hype, it probably is.

I broke down the match-ups and made a pick in this one…

Bet #1: (a.k.a. the “Tom > Tim” pick) – New England Patriots -7 over Denver Broncos

Brady and Belechik always find a way.

I know, you’re all saying “you’re picking against Tebow? You’ll be sorry.” You don’t have to tell me about the legend of Tebow. I picked the Jets four weeks ago against the Broncos in Denver when Tebow pulled a “Tebow” (it used to be called an “Elway”) and led a 4th quarter rally to win 17-13. I watched as he floundered for three quarters and then did a 180 in the 4th quarter and played like a man possessed.

But it’s not going to happen this week. Not against the Patriots.

You may hear the stat that Brady is 1-7 vs. Denver. But that was against a different Denver team, a different Denver coach, B.T. (before Tebow). That stat is meaningless this weekend.

This line has moved up all week, it opened at New England -5 and has been bet up to New England -7, even hitting -7.5 in some places today. Everyone is on the Patriots; wiseguys, marbles (squares), that guy in accounting who always corners you at the coffee machine and asks you who you like, etc. As of Friday morning 85% of bets are coming on on the Patriots. Wow. And you know what, I still like New England.

Yes, Tim Tebow and the Broncos have been winning, no question, the proof is right there in black and white. The 4th quarter comebacks, the overtime wins, the “how the hell did that happen” fumbles from the opposing teams in crunch time. Heck, ESPN did a whole Tebow special this week. The guy is everywhere, you can’t escape him. It kind of reminds me of another QB who burst on the scene and started winning games and turning heads….. Tom Brady.

Now this one goes a little overboard

Tim Tebow is Tom Brady 2.0, with a healthy dose of Jesus thrown in. I’m an Eagles fan, so ever since the Super Bowl in 2005 I have had a personal dislike for Tom Brady, but you have to respect his record. He wins, and he has been doing it for 10 years. And I’m banking on him to do it again this week.

Here’s how I think it will happen… the pattern since Tebow started this hot streak has been that the Broncos manage to keep the game close through three quarters, and then let Tebow do his thing in the 4th quarter (please don’t call it ‘Tebow time’, I might have to smack you). This week I expect the Patriots to do all they can to jump out to a big lead early and take ‘4th quarter Tebow’ out of the mix.

If you look at the Denver final scores it makes you think that they are a defensive juggernaut that can shut down teams and keep the score low. But they’re coming in with the 18th ranked defense, 23rd v. pass, 12th v. rush. They are allowing 23.3 points per game. Two weeks ago they got lit up by Christian Ponder for 381 yards and three TD’s, but the Broncos still managed a 35-32 4th quarter win. So they can get scored on.

I see Tom Brady throwing on Sunday, and throwing alot. Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez should get plenty of looks this week. If you have any Pats receivers in fantasy, they should give you some good stats. Denver comes in with the 23rd ranked pass defense, New England has the 2nd ranked passing offense. That adds up to Brady having a big day (I’ll say 300+ yards and 3 TD’s). New England is putting up 30 points per game, and I think they continue that trend this week by putting up a good number of points against Denver.

Gronk has been on fire lately.

And knowing that Tebow has a history of 4th quarter comebacks I expect Brady and Belechik to keep their foot on the pedal and not give the Broncos a chance to pull out a last minute win.

Yeah, I know all about the Patriots bad defense, (29th overall, 28th v. pass, 21st v. rush) but I trust that Belechik can put together a scheme to shut down Tebow. I’m not sure what that scheme will be (spy Tebow with a LB? rush him alot to throw off his rhythm? play contain and not let him run?). You know Belechik and his staff have been thinking about it for a few weeks. They’ll have something up their sleeves.

The Pats defense is below average, but Tebow does not have great passing stats. His 83.9 QB rating is right around the league average. But 48.5% completion rate? Worst in the NFL for starters. 117 yards passing per game? Another one where he ranks at the bottom. He’s been sacked 23 times in 11 games, and has eight fumbles (three fumbles lost). If you send in the pressure, he can be beaten.

Tebow is a running QB, his rushing stats are similar to Mike Vick and Cam Newton. But when he is contained and not allowed out of the pocket that will take away his ability to scramble and get yards. He’ll get his 50/60 yards, but limiting his ability to make something out of nothing will go along way to beating the Broncos.

I think the Patriots will mimic the gameplan of the Lions when they played the Broncos in week and came away with a 45-10 win.

Lions DB Chris Houston said this after that game, “We sent the rush and we were out there on an island most of the time and the D-line just got to him, got a lot of sacks and made him throw the ball up.” And that’s what going to happen on Sunday. Bring the heat to Tebow, make him beat you with his arm. Now the Patriots DB’s are not world-beaters but I think they are capable enough to contain the Broncos receivers. Denver is 26th is pass protection, so even though the Patriots D-line is sub-par this season, they could bring the pressure to Tebow.

How about Belichick figures out how to contain Tebow, Brady slices up the Broncos defense and the Patriots come away with an impressive win. I’m saying Patriots 31-20.

This line cold get over 7 by Sunday, I would only bet this at 7 or less. It’s not worth it at 7.5, that hook on the 7 is huge. Buy a half point if you need to get it down to 7.

The Line: New England -7, O/U 46
The Pick: New England -7
Game Trends (via Covers.com): Patriots: 5-12 ATS against the Broncos since 1988.

Fantasource

 

 

 

Season Record: 19-16. You can see all my picks for the 2011 season documented here.

Questions, comments, links to share, etc… You can get in touch with me multiple ways:

Follow me on Twitter: @Fantasource
Email me: fantasource@gmail.com
Or just let me know your thoughts in the comments

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Photoshop Fun: Ivan Drago Pronger

 

Follow Matt Mac on twitter @_mattmac. 

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Without A Doubt, Flyers’ Couturier Fit For The Long Haul

Within the next five games, the Philadelphia Flyers will have to make a crucial decision with their lineup. That decision is whether to keep rookie Sean Couturier on the main roster or pack him up and ship back to juniors. Read the full story

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Chris vs. Chris: Flyers Season Preview or Can They Win The Stanley Cup?

Chris DiFrancesco (our Flyers expert) and Chris Johnson (Top Ten expert) go head to head and dissect the upcoming Flyers season. They see it differently.

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JVR Looking To Elevate To The Next Level For The Flyers

He’s no longer that young kid who was drafted with the second overall pick in 2007.

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