Monday, April 23, 2012

Claude Giroux Starts It and Finishes the Penguins

Win the opening faceoff, lay out Sidney Crosby, score a goal 32 seconds in, finish off the favored Penguins emphatically. Ladies and gentlemen, Claude Giroux very well may be the best hockey player in the entire world.

While that topic may be debatable, what is not is that Giroux was the best player on the ice pretty much every game in this series, and he was far, far better than Sideny Crosby and Evgeni Malkin combined. Sure, he had help, particularly with the remarkable defensive play by Sean Couturier, Max Talbot and Eric Wellwood, but Claude dominated from the first shift on yesterday, disposing of the Pens and helping the Flyers become the first Eastern Conference team to advance. The man does it all, and he does it all without embellishing, whining and histrionics. He just goes out there and dominates. And the world just saw him dominate the two players many people consider the two best in the world.

Friday, April 20, 2012

It's Friday, Time to Dance

The NFL draft is coming up here pretty soon, so why not jam out to one of the greatest college football players of all time rapping. That's right, the Herschel Walker rap.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ageless Wonder

I have to take a moment to give a shout out to Jamie Moyer. On Tuesday night, the Souderton native became the oldest pitcher ever to win a Major League baseball game, at age 49. His line: 7 IP, 6 H, 2 BB, 1 K, 2 R, 0 ER. Pretty impressive.
On the season he is 1-2 with a 2.55 ERA. Despite the 1-2 record, he has yet to give up more that 3 ER in a start this year. When you consider the fact that this man had Tommy John surgery last year, at the age of 48, a surgery which has derailed the careers of men half his age, these feats become even more remarkable.

For his career, Jamie is now 268-206 with 2411 K's, a 4.23 ERA, and a 1.32 WHIP. He currently ranks 35th all-time in wins, 37th in strikeouts, 40th in innings pitched, and 34th in fielding percentage as a pitcher. He is one of only 29 players to appear in a game in four decades.
I have always been a Jamie Moyer fan, as we share the same hospital as our birthplace, and he graduated from the same high school as my mother. Here was this local kid defying the odds and winning in the major leagues without overpowering stuff. I became even more of a fan when he helped his hometown team, my favorite team, win the World Series and produce the first championship for the city of Philadelphia in my lifetime. It was glorious. It is astonishing that this man has lasted in the big leagues since 1986 (he got his first win against Steve Carlton), that he is still pitching effectively at age 49, after returning from Tommy John surgery at age 48. Not only are his on the field feats remarkable, but Jamie is also known for his charitable contributions off the field. He has given southeastern Pennsylvania plenty to be proud about.

Phils Waste Lee's Gem

Cliff Lee's stat line last night: 10 IP, 7 hits, 0 walks, 7 strikeouts, 0 runs. And a no decision. Yes, that says 10 scoreless innings. And the Phillies lost the game 1-0. They couldn't score one freaking run while their pitcher shut down the Giants for not 7, not 8, not 9, but 10 innings. It was an absolute shame.
Cliff Lee was brilliant. He had all of his pitches working, commanding them beautifully. The few times he got into trouble, he calmly got himself out of it, either by inducing a double play or by getting a big strikeout. We've grown accustomed to seeing great pitching performances around here recently, and Cliff's outing last night is right up there with the best of them.

Unfortunately, the offense could manage only 4 hits of their own and went 0-4 with runners in scoring position. Some of the credit for that has to go to Matt Cain, who pitched a gem of his own (9 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 4 K, 0 R), but the Phillies offense was a concern coming into the season and that has manifested itself several times already in the young season. And wasting a performance like Cliff's last night is just unacceptable.

The Phils had a great opportunity to get a run in the 11th, getting their closer into the game, and putting Cliff in line for the 10 inning shutout and the win. Carlos Ruiz doubled to lead off the inning, rookie Freddy Galvis sacrificed him to third. Go-ahead run on third with one out. You have to find a way to get that run across. Instead pinch-hitter Jim Thome struck out, and pinch-hitter John Mayberry grounded out. Inning over. The Giants go on to score in the bottom half, game over, gem wasted.

Now I'm not gonna claim to have all the answers here. If I did, then I would be managing, but that's Charlie Manuel's job. I just refuse to believe that this lineup is this poor offensively. And Charlie is supposed to be a hitting guy. So they have to find a way to get some consistency and put a few hits together in the same inning. If they don't, I fear we will see far too many masterful pitching performances go to waste this season.

There is one move that I know I would make if I was in position to do so. I would switch Ruiz and Galvis in the order, moving Freddy to 7th and Chooch to 8th. Hitting 8th in a National League lineup is an animal all its own. Because it means hitting in front of the pitcher, it involves more than just going up there and hitting. You get pitched to differently in the 8 hole. Sometimes you absolutely have to find a way on base in order to turn the lineup over. During last night's broadcast it was mentioned that the Phillies have had the pitcher lead off an inning 15 times. I don't have the numbers for other teams so I'm really not sure where this ranks among the other teams, but it seems a ridiculously high number to me. That's 15 times where you are basically starting an inning with one out. Freddy's bat has been improving since his dreadful start. But he is young and inexperienced. He doesn't have a veteran eye and doesn't work many walks. And he hits into a lot of double plays. Frankly I think he loses sight of the fact that sometimes his job is to turn the order over. Meanwhile Chooch has hit 8th for the Phils for basically his whole career, has a feel for the spot and for the responsibility that spot holds. He is more patient and has a more discerning eye, and an understanding for what you need to do at that spot in the order. I'm not saying this move will suddenly awaken the sleeping Phillies offense, but something has to be done, and this seems like one move that can easily be made that may help alleviate some of the offensive issues.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Break Up the Band: The Sixers Stink

The Sixers fooled us all, myself included. Their incredibly hot start and deep, young roster had me thinking that the team was good and would remain good all season long. Now, I wasn't so naive as to think the team could continue at its early-season rate, particularly as the schedule got tougher and opposing teams became more familiar with their teammates, but given the depth, young legs and continuity on the roster in this condensed schedule, I thought this team would remain among the top four or five teams in the East.

I was wrong. Dead wrong. As it stands, the Sixers are just two games over .500, free falling down the standings and in serious danger of being eliminated from the postseason. Currently, they have just a one-game lead over the Milwaukee Bucks for the 8th and final playoff spot in the East. They've lost four in a row and look completely lost, from the head coach all the way down the roster.

It's reached the point where making the playoffs doesn't even benefit the squad anymore. They're right back where they've been for years now, toiling in mediocrity, which in the NBA is far, far worse than being terrible. Last night's pathetic effort, combined with an overall pathetic month, has made it abundantly clear that the playoffs would be a colossal waste of time and do more harm than good. Getting swept by the Bulls or Heat isn't' worth the slippage in draft spots.

The thing that's most disturbing about all of this isn't that the Sixers are a fringe playoff team. Truthfully, that was kind of the expectations heading into the season. The most disturbing thing is that since that torrid start, the Sixers have devolved into a mess of players who do not know their roles, minutes or even expectations from coach Doug Collins. This was supposed to be another season of development, a season in which the young players took a step forward and the team started to learn how to win on a more consistent basis.

That's how it started out … only to completely reverse course. Collins did a masterful job using his full roster and coaching a team-oriented brand of ball in the early going. He used his entire bench, giving his young players meaningful minutes and watched the Sixers flourish. Then, as the schedule got tougher and the young guys went through growing pains, Collins has completely changed his style. He no longer trusts his young guys, the same guys who busted their asses to get this team off to such a hot start. He's taken the keys completely away from his young point guard, confusing Jrue Holiday on both what his current role is and what his job will be moving forward. He's toyed with Evan Turner since day one, showing preferential treatment to the far inferior Jodie Meeks. He's turned his back on his rookies, given free reign to career bench player Lou Williams, and now coaches like he's afraid.

The offense, which once shined with a sharing-the-ball style, has turned into a laughingstock. Andre Iguodala refuses to attack the rim. Elton Brand works his tail off, but he only has so many miles left in his legs. Spencer Hawes has proven that his early-season renaissance was a fluke, becoming the underachieving, soft player he's been most of his career since returning from injury. Jodie Meeks sees the floor way too much. Thaddeus Young still doesn't get any plays run for him, despite being a guy who seems to always bring energy. And Lou Williams now thinks he's Kobe Bryant or Allen Iverson, dribbling the ball for 15 seconds each possession and looking shot first, shot second, shot third … pass 8th. The team is a complete and utter mess.

That is why I am now fully on board with the plan laid out over at Liberty Ballers: Tank the rest of the season, don't re-sign Lou and Hawes (or Meeks), trade Iguodala, amnesty Brand and part ways with Collins.

This may all seem a bit drastic, but it's really in the franchise's best interest. Lou Will is a valuable player for a team that needs a big scoring punch off the bench. He's the poor man's Jason Terry, if you will. So let him go do that somewhere that could use him in that capacity. In Philadelphia, Lou thinks he is the best player on the team, a superstar even, so he comes in and chucks and chucks and chucks. Sometimes, he is capable of carrying the offense that way. Most of the time, he is not. He's just not good enough to be the main scoring cog on a good team. So let him go be a complimentary bench guy somewhere else. Because as long as he's here, he'll continue to believe he's the most talented guy on the roster.

As for Hawes, well, he's just not that good. Sure, he's still a skilled big man who can pass, but he's not much more than that. The Sixers aren't going anywhere with him as their starting center, so there's no need to bring him back.

Andre Iguodala is a wonderful defender, unselfish player and brings a whole hell of a lot to the table. What he is not is a franchise player, a leader or the guy fans want to see around these parts anymore. His game is incredibly valuable. He can be a key starter on any number of teams. But his time has come and gone in Philadelphia. Watching him brick two free throws in the fourth quarter of a six-point game against Orlando on Saturday only confirmed this. The boos rained down, and rightfully so. Andre Iguodala is a really good basketball player. He's just not as good as he thinks he is. He does, however, have a lot of value, even with his absurd contract, and can bring some talent back in a trade. The time has come to pull the trigger.

Elton Brand is near the end of his career. He still battles hard every game and gives it his all on both ends of the floor, but the amnesty clause was instituted for players and contracts like Brand's. It just doesn't make sense to keep him around any longer.

Finally, that brings us to Collins. As much as I like Doug as person, as a coach even, I can't look past the fact that this season he's taken away opportunities for this franchise's two most important players. Evan Turner spent a season and half on the bench and in Doug's doghouse, finally got a chance and made the most of it, only to be relegated back to yo-yo status. Meanwhile, Jrue Holiday has had the ball taken away from him in favor of Lou Williams or Andre or even Evan. Doug has seemingly lost all faith in him. Ditto Thad Young. The coach doesn't seem to know how make the Evan/Jrue backcourt work, the same backcourt that was supposed to be the foundation for years to come. Worse yet, he hasn't even really given it a chance. That shortsightedness is stunting both players and the franchise, to be honest.

The Sixers have to find out what they have with Evan and Jrue and determine where they go from here. Doug doesn't seem interested in doing that. The only way may be to trim the roster, give those two guys the keys and continue to bring in young talent through the draft. If Doug's not willing to do that, then it's time to get a young coach willing to take the bumps and bruises and do what's best for the long run.

Right now, nothing is working. We all thought this team was moving in the right direction. Now, I'm not so sure. Because the team that we all thought was pretty good early on has proven lately that they're the same old mediocre Sixers — and nothing is more debilitating in the NBA than mediocrity.

Friday, April 6, 2012

My 2011-12 Flyers Regular Season Awards

Last night, I was in attendance at the Wells Fargo Center for the final home game of the regular season for the Flyers.

Heading in, the game had playoff seeding implications, provided that the New York Rangers did their part and defeated the PIttsburgh Penguins, giving the Flyers a chance at the four seed and home-ice advantage in the first round. Naturally, given how much of a gigantic thorn in the side New York has been all season long for the Flyers, the Rangers rested Vezina front-runner Henrik Lundqvist with the Eastern Conference's top seed already wrapped up and proceeded to get trounced 5-2. I cannot stress this enough: I fucking hate the New York Rangers. The Penguins too. Oh, and the Devils.

Speaking of the Devils, with the Flyers having essentially no shot at the four seed once the Pens took a 3-1 lead into the third, I thought to myself that it wouldn't even be that bad if the Flyers, who were already trailing 1-0 after 2 pretty boring, lifeless periods, lost the game and then again on Saturday, giving the Devils the chance to catch and surpass the Flyers as the fifth seed. That way, Philadelphia would avoid a very talented and dangerous Pittsburgh team in the first round, instead going against the much favorable match-up of the Florida Panthers. Of course, there's a flaw in that plan as well, given that the extremely talented yet underachieving Capitals are charging hard and can overtake the Panthers for the three seed. Plus, it's never a good idea to go on a losing streak heading into the playoffs, and the Flyers have been really good in Pittsburgh this season and ever since the new building opened out there.

Anyway, it was all moot, as the Flyers came back yet again behind third-period goals by rookies Marc-Andre Bourdon and Matt Read, winning 2-1 and securing a date in Pittsburgh to open the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.

It was a fun third period, but the highlight of the night may have been the team awards ceremony prior to the puck being dropped. Honestly, it's nearly impossible to argue with any of the winners. In the most obvious selection of the night, Claude Giroux earned the Bobby Clarke Trophy for the Most Valuable Player for his brilliant season that has seen him rise to truly one of the absolute best players in the entire NHL. He also took home the Toyota Cup for most points in the three stars race. Also unsurprisingly, Kimmo Timonen was named the Barry Ashbee winner for outstanding defenseman.

Another established Flyer, Scott Hartnell, won the Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy for most improved player, and I couldn't agree more. Scottie went from a talented but infuriating player who took way too many stupid penalties and couldn't' stay on his skates to a much more disciplined agitator and one of the top goal-scorers in the NHL — a guy whose teammates absolutely love him. Great to see Hartnell finally put it all together and stop making so many boneheaded decisions. Of course, it probably helped being on a line with Claude and the legendary Jaromir Jagr, who won the Yanick Dupree Class Guy Memorial Award.

It's still kind of weird seeing Jagr don the Orange and Black, but man am I glad he's here. The guy, even on the brink of 40, is still one of the most incredibly gifted hockey players alive. He just makes the game look so easy all the time.

And finally, fellow newcomer Wayne Simmonds deservedly was named the Gene Hart Memorial Award winner for the Flyer with the most heart. Hard to argue with that. I mean, the guy scored a goal with his face, then took on the Pens' toughest guy a day later.

I have no quarrels with any of these selections. All the choices were pretty spot on in my estimation.

However, I'd like to add a few of my own awards, based on what I've seen from the Flyers in year one of the post-Richards/Carter era.

Most Impressive Rookie

OK, this is admittedly one of the toughest things to gauge on this particular team, because the Flyers have played approximately 8,000 rookies this season. Everyone from Zac Rinaldo to Brayden Schenn, Eric Wellwood, Marc-Andre Bourdon, Erik Gustafsson, Kevin Marshall (traded), Brandon Manning, Ben Holmstrom and Harry Zolnierczyk have at one point in the season played a significant role for Philadephia. But two players have been here since day one and have thrived: Sean Couturier and Matt Read.

I'm not sure I can remember two Flyers rookies more fundamentally sound, defensively responsible and all-around impressive from an understanding of the game standpoint. I mean, these guys gained Peter Laviolette's trust so early that the two became a penalty-killing duo almost immediately. Not only that, but a top-two penalty-killing duo, going on as the forward pair on every PK with Max Talbot and Claude Giroux as the top forward pairing. That's nearly unheard of, two rookie forwards killing penalties together. But that's how good Read and Couturier are. And it's what makes this decision so damn hard.

Now at face value, at least statistically, it's pretty clear that Matt Read has the edge. Incredibly clear, actually. Read leads all NHL rookies in goals with 24 and looks like he's going to finish that way, and he's fourth among rookies in points with 47. Hell, only Hartnell, Giroux and Simmonds have more goals on the team than Read. The man is squarely in the discussion for Rookie of the Year, no question about it. Factor in that he kills penalties and is a plus-12 on the season, and I have absolutely no problems with anyone selecting Read as Philadelphia's top rookie this season.

However, my pick is Sean Couturier.

I know, I know. Read has 20 more points and plays in all situations as well. No arguing that. Read is fantastic, and like I said, I wouldn't even object to anyone who picks Read as the Flyers' top rookie. Not in the least. But I went with Couturier for a number of reasons.

For starters, as impressive as Read has been, there are times when he will get lost defensively, as he did last night on Buffalo's goal, or occasionally make a mental lapse here or there. That's obviously to be expected from a rookie. Here's the thing, I honestly don't recall Couturier making any mental errors this entire season. He undoubtedly has. Everyone does. But they are so few and far between that it's different to recall them. I've never seen a rookie so composed and poised at all times.

Further, Couturier is arguably the Flyers' best defensive forward on the entire roster, inarguably in the top three along with Giroux and Max Talbot. Peter Laviolette knows this, putting that trio out routinely here down the stretch with a lead in the final moments of a game. He's grown so much that Couturier is now night in and night out going up against the opposition's top line and best players, often alongside Talbot. Against the Penguins last week, he was in Evgeni Malkin's shirt all game long, showing no fear and never backing down. He saw ice time against Crosby and handled him as well. And he's become the type of shutdown defensive forward that the Selke Trophy was instituted for. He's just an insanely awesome defensive player.

And it's not like he's devoid of offense. While he's nowhere near Read's numbers, he still has very impressive ones for a rookie, especially for a rookie who was buried with less-than-skilled players on the fourth line early in the season and for a guy who has to take on the opposition's best night in and night out. Couturier has 13 goals and 14 assists, good for 27 points. Even more impressively, given how often he kills penalties and takes on the best offensive talent the opponent has, he's skated to a plus-19, a mark bested by only two rookies in the NHL: Gabirel Landeskog and Carl Hagelin, who are both at plus-22. That plus-19 rating puts Couturier behind only Hartnell's plus-21 on the Flyers.

That's remarkably impressive, and as a guy who absolutely loves defense in every sport and particularly loves defensive-minded forwards in hockey, I'll take Couturier slightly over Read. But like I said, I wouldn't even try to argue against Read. Hell, he has the most goals among NHL rookies. He's probably the "right" choice. He's just not mine.

Of course, Couturier also gets a boost in that he's become my new favorite Flyer this year, joining Claude and Kimmo.

Rookie Most Likely to Become a Star

While the Flyers have a slew of talented rookies who will be really good players for a really long time, headlined by Read and Couturier, none have flashed more potential than Brayden Schenn. This is no surprise. Schenn was the main cog in the Mike Richards trade, L.A.'s top prospect who is a talented two-way forward.

Schenn's season started out slow, with injury problems limiting his action. But since he's returned and become a mainstay, boy has he been impressive. Schenn is a Richards-like player who seems to have even more speed and skill than the former Philadelphia captain. Just like Read and Couturier, he responsibly backchecks, but furthermore, he brings a physical nature the other two don't quite have. Over the past month, Schenn has thrown more big hits than any forward on the team, including Zac Rinaldo and Scott Hartnell.

Furthermore, his offense is finally coming around. He joined Couturier and Read as a double-digit goal-scorer, netting 11 in 53 games, and you can just see we haven't even begun to reach the tip of the iceberg. Lately, he's shown the hands and skills of a top-line forward, and he's been rewarded with top-line minutes. Often playing alongside Simmonds and Read of late, he has been a focal point of one of the better lines the Flyers roll out there. And last night, with the Flyers stalling in a miserable second period, Laviolette shook up the lines, putting Schenn with Hartnell and Jagr, while moving Giroux around and double-shifting him.

You can just sense that Schenn has that something special.

Most Unheralded

With names like Giroux, Hartnell, Briere, Jagr and Bryzgalov, not to mention rookies making headlines, injuries to key defensemen (Chris Pronger, Andrej Meszaros, etc.) generating concerns and discussion, and fellow newcomer Wayne Simmonds thriving, it's easy to understand why Jakub Voracek doesn't always get the same acclaim as many of his teammates. But Voracek is perhaps the most versatile player the Flyers have. His speed creates havoc for the opposition. He's a top-line forward who has 19 goals and 31 assists. He kills penalties. He mans the point on the potent Philadelphia power play. And he does anything and everything Peter Laviolette asks of him. Honestly, he's this team's Swiss Army Knife. The guy is a flat-out good hockey player, and he deserves more attention than he gets from the media. Luckily, the fans around here realize how good this 22-year-old is.

Most Reliable (Yet Maddening) Defenseman

This one is definitely a tie for me. I think we've been spoiled here as Flyers fans with the play of Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle, two very good veteran, yet still young, defensemen. It doesn't help that they've been overshadowed by their defense partners, Kimmo Timonen and Chris Pronger, for their general all-star level play. Both are incredibly outstanding and remarkably talented. Coburn is a workhorse, the type of guy who can be both physically and strategically dominant when he's on his game. And he's often on his game. He and Carle see the ice as much as any Flyers, and they are both fast, smart, steady defensemen. They really are reliable and just plain good.

However, they both drive Flyers fun crazy from time to time. In Coburn's case, it most often has to do with his penchant for missing the net. Honestly, I don't think there's a defenseman in the history of the NHL that misses the net more from the point than Braydon Coburn. When he unleashes a shot from the blue line, I don't think he has any idea where it's going. I'm not sure anyone does, but we know where it usually is not going: on net. I love the guy as a player, I really do, but it drives me insane watching him miss the net time and time again. Probably why he's not a forward. No control with his shot.

Carle, on the other hand, drives Flyers fans nuts for his streaks of inexplicable turnovers. From time to time, Carle will get a case of the yips and just give the puck away egregiously in his own zone. It's hard to fathom, because there are stretches where Carle rarely ever even makes a mistake with the puck, but then there are those times where he gives it away so horribly that fans shudder. Again, really good player and I'm thrilled he's a Flyer, but those turnovers are killer.

Most Bizarre Season

We all knew Ilya Bryzgalov was an eccentric, and he came to Philadelphia with a reputation as a moody guy. Goalies are weird, we know. But no one could have expected the craziness of the first year of his 9-year mega contract with the Flyers.

He began the season in stellar form, allowing just one goal in the first game of the season in a victory over the defending Stanley Cup champions and followed that up by pitching a shutout in his second game in the Orange and Black. It was a welcome sight, seeing as the year before, the Flyers didn't shut any team out at all. But next came a roller-coaster, where Bryz struggled for a while — often getting hurt by deflections and unlucky bounces — then started to play well again for a bit, but then plummeted so far that he was benched for the Winter Classic. He became a complete head case, questioning himself to media, becoming mercurial — and, oh yeah, not stopping the puck. At all. I mean, he was horrible. Really horrible. As bad as a goaltender can get.

But then again, he began to play a little better. Then a little better still after the all-star break. That is until it all fell apart once more. He was helpless in shootouts, giving cup weak goals left and right, and looking like a lost cause for the 2011-12 season.

However, a funny thing happened: after Bryzgalov had a horrible game in Calgary, surrendering four awful goals, the game went to a shootout — and miraculously, Bryzgalov was incredible in that shootout and finally got off the schnide. After that, he became the best goaltender in the league, tossing up shutouts left and right, breaking the Flyers' record for longest shutout streak, winning first star of the month in March and settling in as a good teammate who was now carrying the Flyers on his back. Then he got a chip fracture in his foot, missed a few games, was rusty in his first start against the Rangers and now is prepping for the playoffs. Talk about bizarre, and that's without even mentioning his breakout entertainment performance on 24/7.

My Least Favorite

Maybe it's the Philadelphia in me, but I seemingly cannot go a season without finding a player for one of my respective favorite teams that draws my ire. On this current Flyers team, that man is Zac Rinaldo.

Now, I will concede that especially of late, Rinaldo has actually played pretty good hockey. In the last game against the Penguins, his line was the best all game for Philadelphia, as he was paired with Couturier and Talbot and played really disciplined in shutting down the Malkin line. I'll also concede that Rinaldo is an aggressive forechecker and has decent speed, so he can get Lavvy's preferred forechecking style going. He also is quick to defend teammates, which is always a good thing.

However, that's all the nice things I have to say about Rinaldo. Because for the most part this season, he's been more detriment than enhancement. He's second in the NHL in penalty minutes, meaning he puts the Flyers down a man quite often. He has no discernible offensive skill, evident by his 9 points in 65 games. He isn't shy about dropping the gloves either, but he's not particularly good at fighting. Honestly, he's only won a handful of fights all season. He's just not my kind of guy, which may be surprising since I liked Dan Carcillo. The difference, in my opinion, is that while Carcillo was equally as frustrating for his penalties and boneheaded plays, he at least did have some offensive skill. I've yet to see that from Rinaldo.

Again, though, I have to admit I've been impressed with the guy here the past couple of weeks. He's played much better, is staying out of the box and even taking the top checking line role seriously when he's tasked with it. If he keeps moving in that direction, maybe I won't dislike him so much anymore.

Still, if Danny Briere and James van Riemsdyk get healthy and the Flyers avoid further injury up front, I'd rather see Rinaldo scratched than Eric Wellwood — a blazing fast rookie who is an excellent penalty killer, has shown some offensive flash and always seems to make things happen. My top 12 forwards would be, in no particular order, Giroux, Jagr, Hartnell, Briere, Read, Simmonds, Voracek, Couturier, Talbot, JVR, Wellwood, Schenn.

Most Irrelevant

Now, we all know who Mike Rupp thinks is irrelevant.

And while I can't disagree that Jody Shelley is pretty irrelevant these days, at least Jody is a great character guy and has a long, respected NHL career. Oh, and he also did this to Rupp the other night:

So as irrelevant as Shelley is, this one is a no-brainer. Tom Sestito is far and away the most irrelevant Flyer this season. He's basically Shelley with even less skill and even less fighting prowess. He has no business being in the NHL. He is awful, and I hope to never see him in a meaningful game again. Though it might not be a bad idea to run him out there tomorrow in Pittsburgh.

Finally, I want to officially endorse Paul Holmgren as the Executive of the Year in the entire NHL, and if he doesn't win it, it's a complete joke.

Admittedly, I was absolutely furious with Holmgren when he traded away his best goal scorer and then his captain on the same day, completely eviscerating the Flyers as we knew them. I was and am a Richards guy, and I was blown away that they would trade him and Carter in the same offseason, let alone the same freakin day, just two offseasons after being two wins away from hoisting the Stanley Cup. But I have to hand it to Homer, because holy hell have those moves paid off.

Carter and Richards, now reunited in Los Angeles, both struggled with injuries and consistency this season. They've had the worst years of their careers. Meanwhile, the players the Flyers received in returned have thrived. For Richards, the Flyers received Simmonds, tied for second on the team in goals, and Schenn. For Carter, they got the pick that became Sean Couturier and Voracek. Holmgren also signed Bryzgalov, who finally rounded into form; the ageless Jaromir Jagr, who has help propel Giroux to one of the top-flight players in the league and turn Hartnell into a leader and potent scorer; and Max Talbot, an insanely invaluable penalty killer, character guy and all-around smart hockey player. He brought in undrafted rookie Matt Read, who only leads all rookies in goals. And then, as his blue line that was already thin without captain Chris Pronger got even thinner due to injury, he went out and got two incredibly sound, steady defensemen in Pavel Kubina and Nicklas Grossmann to fortify the defense. Since trading very little for those two, the Flyers' defense has been incredibly better, and both Grossmann and Kubina have been stellar, though Grossmann was injured against the Pens last week. Hopefully he gets healthy here for the playoffs.

No matter how you slice it, this guy has been the most aggressive and best executive in the NHL in the 2011-12 season.

It's Friday, Time to Dance

Some band I never heard of until this post has a song titled "Arvydas Sabonis" and yes, it is about Arvydas Sabonis.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Remember Us?

Remember us?

Ever since Spencer Hawes returned to the lineup on a regular basis last month, Doug Collins has completely forgotten that rookies Nik Vucevic and Lavoy Allen exist, even as Hawes struggles with consistency and the Sixers continue to get pounded inside. Just take a look at the rebounding numbers since Hawes' return.

99-78 loss to Toronto: Raptors 46 rebounds, Sixers 29 rebounds — Allen and Vucevic, 3:05 of garbage time each

99-93 loss to Miami: Heat 43, Sixers 38 — Allen and Vucevic, DNP each

95-90 win over Atlanta: Hawks 35, Sixers 41 — Allen and Vuc, DNP each

97-76 loss to Washington: Wizards 52, Sixers 38 — Vuc 9:28, Allen 3:46 of garbage time

103-85 win over Cleveland: Cavs 44, Sixers 43 — Allen 2:23, Vuc 1:27

93-76 loss to San Antonio: Spurs 46, Sixers 47 — Allen DNP, Vuc 12:44

99-86 win over Boston: Celtics 35, Sixers 46 — Allen and Vuc, DNP each

82-79 loss to New York: Knicks 47, Sixers 39 — Allen and Vuc, DNP each

105-80 win over Charlotte: Bobcats 31, Sixers 51 — Allen 1:55, Vuc 11:04

89-80 loss to Chicago: Bulls 53, Sixers 39 — Allen DNP, Vuc 14:59

In the past 10 games, as Hawes has returned and Allen and Vucevic have seen their time steadily and then infinitely diminish, the Sixers are 4-6. During that stretch, they have been abused in the paint by damn near every opponent and have been out rebounded 432-411. In the six losses, that discrepancy is even greater, being outworked on the boards 287-230. And time and time again, the opposition has had little trouble owning the paint. Yet Doug Collins never even gives his rookie bigs a look, in fact diminishing their time as a reward for all their hard work in keeping the Sixers afloat during Hawes' absence. It makes no sense at all, and honestly, the only logical conclusion is that Doug Collins is doing a terrible job right now.

What? No, I'm not putting you in!

I mean, in a crucial game agains the Knicks, New York took over in the paint in the second half. Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler owned Elton Brand and Hawes inside. Naturally, with those two rendered ineffective, Doug would turn to Vucevic and/or Allen, right? Wrong. Neither one saw the floor for a single second.

In an embarrassing, inexcusable blowout loss to the Wizards last week — by the way, that's the most disturbing trend for the Sixers, losing badly to bad teams, something they never did early in the season — the Sixers were destroyed on the glass 52-38, as Hawes and Brand got eaten alive inside by Nene and Jan Vesely. Yet Nik saw only 9 minutes and Lavoy less than 4.

Two night ago against the Heat, Udonis Haslem simply outworked Hawes and Brand on the boards, and that duo was horrendous guarding the pick and roll. Allen and Vucevic both never saw the floor.

And last night, as the Sixers got undressed and dismantled by a terrible Toronto team, Lavoy and Nik got nothing but garbage time even as Ed Davis was collecting 14 boards and the Raptors were owning the glass. Even though Spencer had a near double-double and Brand was excellent offensively, the Raptors owned the interior, out rebounding the Sixers by 17 and easily cursing to victory.

Now listen, I'm not delusional enough to think that Vucevic and Allen are some cure-all or big man saviors for this team. Hawes and Brand are better than both of them, and they should see the floor more than the green, raw rookies — but Hawes and Brand aren't good enough to be playing the entire game without hurting the team inside anymore. They just aren't. Vucevic and Allen are young guys who showed a lot when they were given the opportunity, and now, even as the Sixers are struggling as a team and really struggling on the inside, Doug isn't giving them a chance at all. It's as if he's completely forgotten they exist, and at the same time, the Sixers seem to have completely forgotten how to win consistently.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


As you may have noticed, this week I haven't written anything original for this here website. That's because I am currently in transition, finishing up my current job and starting a new one in the coming weeks. Given my new job requirements, along with my soon-to-be expanded role over at The Sports Fan Journal, I'm not entirely sure exactly how much I can continue to dedicate myself to this space.

Having said that, I do not plan on closing the house's doors just yet, but only time will tell what this site will become. I certainly have had plenty I've wanted to say here the past week-plus, particularly in regard to the Flyers and Sixers — and I'm pretty sure there will be plenty more I'll want to say in the future — but I just haven't been able to find the time. That may continue to be the case and it may not. We'll see how it all shakes out. But I'll certainly be posting sporadically, hopefully working out some sort of schedule in the near future.

And if not, it's been a blast. I'll still be around. I mean, who else will keep the legend of Doug Glanville alive?

Play Ball

As we all know, tomorrow the Phillies will open the 2012 season tomorrow in Pittsburgh. They will begin their quest for their 6th straight NL East title. There is a bit of an odd feeling as the season begins, with injuries and the offensive ineptitude of the past two postseasons looming over the club.

Several of my friends, including the Rev and Arkansas Fred, have expressed their lack of excitement over the beginning of the season. I could not disagree with them more. On opening day, hope springs eternal, and despite the questions and the playoff disappointments of the past two seasons, the Phils have plenty of reasons for optimism and excitement.

Yes, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are out, and there is no definitive timetable for their return. Yes they are two perennial all-stars. And yes they will be missed. It will certainly be hard to replace their production in the lineup. But the Phillies have what is necessary to keep the ship afloat while they await the return of two of their main cogs. And when they do return, hopefully in the May/June timeframe, it will be equivalent to trading for two all-stars mid-season, only the Phillies won't be giving anything up for them.

The main reason to think that the Phils will be able to hold on while they wait for the team to get completely healthy is obviously the pitching staff. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels are still three of the best pitchers in the game, and still make up the most formidable staff in all of baseball. Roy is arguably the best pitcher in the game, Cliff is steady and solid and sometimes dominating, and Cole has steadily progressed towards what the Phillies expected him to be and what he showed during the glorious fall of 2008, an absolute stud. Expect big things from Mr. Hamels this season. They will go out there day after day and perform, keep the Phillies in games, and flat out win some games by themselves.

It's also not as if the rest of the Phillies lineup is full of bums. Jimmy Rollins is aging, but we all know what he is capable of. We get a full season of Hunter Pence. Placido Polanco still knows how to hit and do small things like move runners. Shane Victorino is still a spark plug. Chooch is rock steady behind the plate and knows how to handle hitting in the bottom of the order in a National League lineup. John Mayberry Jr. has shown signs of developing into a very solid major league player. And with the additions of Jim Thome, Laynce Nix, Ty Wiggington, and Juan Pierre, the Phillies have strengthened their traditionally weak bench.

Thome can still hit for power. And Pierre appears rejuvenated, adding another dynamic to the lineup. The ability of Wiggington and Mayberry to play multiple positions adds some versatility to the lineup and gives Charlie more options. Freddy Galvis has shown signs of being a solid player, being able to contribute while we await the return of Chase. And I am one of the few people who have not yet given up on Dom Brown.

And finally, during the two-game exhibition series against the Pirates the Phils showed the ability to play some small ball, something they have sorely lacked with this core group.

Sure, the Phils have some question marks and some reasons for concern. The injuries and offensive problems I mentioned above, and the fact that the Braves are a really good team and the Marlins and Nationals are quickly improving. This opening day is different in that the Phils aren't a complete lock to win the division and "only" in the conversation as World Series contenders instead of being everyone's pick to come out of the National League. This is different than we've been accustomed to the past few years.

But the Phillies still have tons of talent, tons of experience, the support of the greatest fan base in the country, and reinforcements coming later in the season. They are still a very, very good team. There are plenty of reasons to hope for and believe in another division title and another run at a championship. So let's not become like those spoiled Braves fans that we all hated while the Braves where on their run who stopped even bothering showing up to games. Let's sit back, enjoy the ride, and appreciate the fact that we are experiencing the best era of Phillies baseball ever.

John Calipari Is Good For College Basketball

John Calipari Is Good For College Basketball