The Philadelphia sports scene is already overcrowded. But here's one more thing.
The Philadelphia sports scene is already overcrowded. But here's one more thing.
Sports teams love celebrating those people who are important to their success, the icons of their franchise who connect with the fans and leave their mark. Usually these are players, but they can also be coaches and managers, team executives, or (most germane to this article) announcers. And we’ve had a very good one in this town for a long time who, as far as I can tell, has not gotten the formal recognition he deserves.
I’m talking about Flyers public address announcer Lou Nolan.
Philadelphia teams are big on history, and we’ve all seen them trot out the usual suspects year after year to remind us of the “glory days”. It’s fun; it’s fine. But it’s legitimately exciting when someone gets a major honor, like Eric Lindros did earlier this year when the Flyers retired his number #88. And the Flyers, maybe more than the rest of the teams in this city or any other, love a pre-game ceremony that will excite the fans and, more importantly, sell some tickets and create buzz.
I’m not saying that bestowing some kind of honor on Lou Nolan would reach “Gritty level” of front page headlines, but it’s simply overdue for a fellow that has been the Flyers’ PA man since 1972. Lou has been part of our sports soundtrack for just as long as Phillies’ announcer Dan Baker. He pre-dates Merrill Reese. And he started just one year after Harry Kalas. He’s been with the Flyers’ franchise for over 90% of their existence, handling the mic for all eight of the team’s Stanley Cup Final appearances. It has to be an oversight that his name isn’t up in the rafters of the Wells Fargo Center yet.
Now, how to proceed? The Flyers do have their own Hall of Fame, and Lou is a no-doubter for that club as far as I’m concerned. The best comparison here is the great Gene Hart. He was inducted into it in 1992 while he was still broadcasting for the team and was at the 25-year mark. And I do realize that the radio/TV play-by-play that Gene Hart did so well is not the same thing as public address, but maybe that could also work in Lou’s favor.
As the voice who informs the fans who are attending the game, his words have the power to excite or infuriate, depending on the news he has to deliver. And he has always done it in the best possible way. When giving “bad news” like an opposing team’s goal, Lou is straightforward and professional, deadpan but clear. Many other PA announcers around the league do it very hurriedly, and some even intentionally mumble in a way that enrages me personally because it is their job to properly announce the goings-on of the game, whether good or bad when viewed from the perspective of the home team. Announcers like this either don’t have any pride in their work or they think that their schtick is bigger than the game. Washington Capitals PA announcer Wes Johnson is particularly terrible in this regard.
On the other side of the ledger, while Lou does get excited over Flyers goals and the like, I have always found it to be at an appropriate level. He does not stretch out players’ names to 18 syllables like some around the league do. So, while it is obvious that Lou is an ardent supporter of the home team, one can plainly see that he is also a professional who can be objective. As someone who has always been enamored with the field of sports announcing, I find his tone and inflection to be close to ideal.
Returning to the matter at hand, hopefully the Flyers will soon come to their senses and induct Lou into their Hall of Fame. It would be great for him to get a “night off” from his normal emcee duties and let Jim Jackson or someone handle a ceremony where Lou gets to enjoy and finally reflect on his legacy.
But while the Flyers Hall of Fame would indeed be a suitable honor for Louis James Nolan, I have my sights set higher. Give the man his own banner. Slap his name and a microphone on a big orange tapestry and hoist it up. There is precedent.
Dave Zinkoff was the 76ers’ public address announcer for 22 seasons, and he filled that same role for 16 years with the Warriors before that. In 1986, three months after he passed away, the Sixers “retired” his microphone with a banner at the Spectrum. Zinkoff was a Philly icon, and the honor was surely a deserved one. It was just a shame it came posthumously. Lou has been a part of the sports landscape for even longer than Zinkoff was. Not to be too morbid, but he is 72 years old. Let’s get this thing done.
With hockey season just underway, there is still plenty of time to make a plan in the coming months to honor the man who has spoken to the fans at every Flyers game for over four decades. The man who justifiably yelled at said fans when they were acting stupid and throwing bracelets on the ice a few seasons ago in the playoffs and then uttered the most disgusted “way to go” when a delay of game penalty was issued. Lou had earned the right to do that.
I got to interact with Lou a little bit when I worked as a freelancer at the Whatever-It-Was-Called-Then Center about a decade ago. It was easy to see that he was well-liked by those in his orbit. Couple this with the excellent work he has done for so long, and the Flyers should do their best to put him in a place of honor in the very near future.
So, let’s make it happen. I’ll take full credit when they decide to do it.
Earlier this week, the Phillies announced that next season they will be holding a trio of special “retirement nights” at the ballpark to honor Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. All of these are well-earned, and hopefully the Phils pack the park for these days regardless of how they’re doing in the standings. These three players were the core of the 2008 World Series championship team, and they each deserve one final sendoff from the fans that they played in front of for over a decade apiece.
At least, one final sendoff until their inevitable Wall of Fame inductions in the near future. And every alumni event that the Phillies trot them out for. And the “All Citizens Bank Park Team” that they’ll probably put together when the park turns 25 years old next decade. And maybe a jersey retirement ceremony or two. Ok, maybe not one final sendoff, but these nights in 2019 figure to be nice at least. I’ll give them that.
But the Phillies also slipped a number of other event/giveaway nights under the radar this week, and we here at PhillySportsComplex wanted to make you aware of them…
March 31 vs. Braves: Danny Tartabull Night
The Phillies play their third game of the season and are kind enough to acknowledge former outfielder Danny Tartabull, who played exactly that many games for the team in 1997 after signing a $2 million contract before “getting hurt” and never playing again. Danny will poke his head out of the dugout for three seconds to acknowledge the fans who he never played a home game in front of.
April 8 vs. Nationals: Bryce Harper Day
In his first game against his old club, the Phillies’ Bryce Harper gives a pre-game speech while PhanaVision plays all his career highlights with a Phillies jersey superimposed over his Nationals one. The wheels are put in motion to destroy any evidence of him ever having played for Washington as he begins a Hall of Fame career in Philadelphia.
April 27 vs. Marlins: Rod Barajas Night
All fans are treated to a life-size stand-up of former Phillies catcher Rod Barajas to commemorate the time in 2007 against the Marlins when he stood at home plate like he had a load in his pants as Hanley Ramirez slid between his legs to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth.
May 13 vs. Brewers: Domonic Brown Career Remembrance Night
Phillies honor Domonic Brown on the fifth anniversary of that one awesome six-week stretch he had that was the only thing he ever did in his career. After a highlight reel, Domonic Brown himself takes a victory lap that culminates with him jumping into the stands, never to be seen again.
June 8 vs. Reds: Phillippe Aumont Retirement Night
On 6/8, the Phils will hang a banner to commemorate Aumont and his career 6.80 ERA.
June 27 vs. Mets: Kids Run the Bases
Scott Kingery will be able to slip in amongst them unnoticed and get a rare thrill.
July 12 vs. Nationals: Jonathan Papelbon Night
Phillies all-time saves leader Jonathan Papelbon will greet all fans with their choice of a crotch grab, string of profanities or choke hold.
July 18 vs. Dodgers: Aaron Nola Tote Bag Giveaway
All fans get a lovely canvas bag emblazoned with Nola’s face. You can carry him the same way that he has to carry the whole damn team.
July 31 vs. Giants: Gabe Kapler Birthday Celebration
All fans are treated to a travel-size bottle of coconut oil upon entering the park. Everyone has to switch seats every two innings.
August 4 vs. White Sox: Alumni Day
The Phillies bring back beloved former members of the organization. Chris Wheeler is also there for some reason.
August 13 vs. Cubs: “Come Back Ruben” Night
Sensing that the season will be a lost cause by this point, the Phils have pre-emptively scheduled a night for fans to come show their support for the team to bring back Ruben Amaro Jr. in place of Matt Klentak. Not in a million years did we think this would happen, but here we are.
August 27 vs. Pirates: Penn Medicine Odubel Herrera Bobblehead Night
Odubel’s empty head helps promote awareness of MRI screenings.
September 1 vs. Mets: Billy Wagner Day
Former Phils closer Billy Wagner will sign autographs until his arm snaps and he breaks down crying.
September 14 vs. Red Sox: Give Curt Schilling Money Night
Seriously, anything you can spare, he needs it.
September 29 vs. Marlins: Fan Appreciation Day
The Phillies fire Andy MacPhail, Matt Klentak and Gabe Kapler. Fans are happy for the only time in 2019 after a 71-91 season.
The Phillies have a lot in store for 2019, and if anything else comes up, check here first for info!
It's not just the Big Three who get their due in 2019.
Published November 19, 2018
Well, here we are. Rock bottom. Or at least, what feels like rock bottom when compared to the ecstasy that we all experienced nine months ago. But in an effort to find some silver linings (since we are nothing if not positive as a fanbase around here), I’ve compiled a quick list of good things to come out of this season despite the Eagles’ horrid play. And hey, at least I’m generating some takeaways, unlike their defense…
- The Eagles will save some money on that next contract for Carson Wentz thanks to his turd of a game on Sunday and the lack of clutch play that has defined his season. Yes, the raw numbers are good, but get back to me when the guy plays a full game at the level we’ve all talked ourselves into expecting from him at this point. Other than that, we’ve got our franchise QB!
- Worse record equals a higher draft pick next year. Now they can get that offensive lineman they really need. Or defensive lineman. Or running back. Or help in the secondary. Or towel boy, I don’t know. Anybody would be an upgrade.
- We’ll all collectively save a ton of money by not having to buy any championship gear after the season. We can all have a nice vacation next summer!
- Easier schedule next year after the Eagles somehow manage to finish last in this awful NFC East this season.
- The Phillies are now almost assuredly deluding themselves into thinking they can “steal the city back” from the Eagles if they strike right now and sign Bryce Harper or some other big name free agent(s).
- No more sentimentality of keeping dead weight around because of their contributions to a Super Bowl winner. Whoever didn’t get the job done this year, get rid of them.
- Doug Pederson will be forced to buckle down this coming offseason and leave the book writing to the experts.
- Eagles stuff will be marked down 40% at Forman Mills come January. So if you want a Ronald Darby jersey with a hole in it, this is your chance!
- We need seasons like this to humble us. We don’t want to become total a-holes like Boston fans, after all.
- It’s more fun to listen to Merrill Reese’s disgust at how badly the team is playing than his excitement when things are going well anyway. The calls into WIP are more entertaining too (not that anybody should listen to WIP, but it happens).
- We now proudly hold the “worst loss by a defending Super Bowl champion” record. It should stand for a long time.
- If you find it hard to stay up late for those prime time games, don’t worry, the Eagles won’t be having too many next year.
Remember, you can’t take away what happened last year. Just breathe. It’ll be ok. It’s not like Chip Kelly is coming back.
You're now free to spend Sundays with your family.
Published November 10, 2018
“Dad, we don’t like the Cowboys right?”
“No, we despise them.”
“What is despise?”
“We really don’t like the Cowboys.”
“Oh, because they are bad, right?”
“Yes, they are bad at football.”
“Are they bad people?”
“Are they bad people?”
This conversation between my 5-year old son and I demonstrates that the hatred I have for the Dallas Cowboys is so ingrained in me that I’m forgoing all logical parenting tactics. After this exchange, my wife gave me a sharp look. Yes, I just told a 5-year old that a bunch of professional football players were bad people. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. Dallas sucks.
I hate the Dallas Cowboys. Hate them. Everything about them. The “America’s Team” moniker, the star, the absurd notion that they have the best offensive line in football every year. Hate it all. Much like many Philly fans, this hatred is rooted in the simple fact that the Cowboys used to be very good, while Philly was not very good. But the original and perpetuating reasons why I hate the Cowboys are no longer relevant.
Like the Hatfields and McCoys, I was raised from birth to dislike the Cowboys and everything about them. I feel it is my responsibility to pass this on to my children. My household will not support the Cowboys, ever. My wife is a loyal Seattle Seahawks fan. I can deal with that. I’ve been asked “What if she was a Dallas fan?” My response is that in that universe, we would not have even dated, let alone get married. We would not exist like the Oakland/Kansas City family in those cute holiday commercials. That’s not a thing here.
It doesn’t matter if we are on our way to a Super Bowl victory, a middle of the road season, or a 2-14 slog. When a game against the Cowboys comes around, it is huge. I get almost as much satisfaction from a Dallas loss as a Birds win. This is fact and it will never change.
I lived in San Antonio for a time. During this period I made the 6-hour drive to Dallas as I went to two Eagles games in JerryWorld. The first was a Sunday late afternoon game I attended with my father. The Eagles won, and it was a 3-point game early in the 4th quarter. People were getting up and leaving. Befuddled, my dad asked, “Where are you going? It’s a 3-point game.” They had to beat traffic. The second game was a Week 17 game for the NFC East title. The Birds won, and a friend of mine and I celebrated joyously into the night in Dallas. No one had anything to say. Nothing. This would have never happened in Philadelphia.
One of the things that irritates me the most about the Cowboys is that the hatred is not reciprocal. You see, unlike the Hatfields and McCoys, there isn’t a blood feud between the Eagles and Cowboys. Sure, there are local Cowboy fans that you saw wearing Dallas Starter jackets when you were a kid (who are now definitely among the trolls that call WIP). Those guys hate us. But in Dallas? Their most hated rival is the Redskins. Who cares about the Redskins? I’ll tell you who: losers in Dallas.
This week, I had a sense of anticipation and giddiness for Sunday Night Football that is only beaten by the leadup to a playoff game. I cannot wait for the cameras to show 500 shots of Jerry Jones as he frustratingly gazes over the field. I am overjoyed at the prospect of seeing Jason Garrett fail to adjust his gameplan to the situations on the field. I’m salivating at the thought of Dak Prescott getting tossed around like a doll.
The absolute best part about this is that we’ve just won the Super Bowl. Yes, the Super Bowl itself is the crowning achievement. Great secondary prize: Dallas not being close to a championship. Winning a Super Bowl with prospects for more while Dallas continues to struggle and peak at mediocrity is tantalizing. Carson Wentz leading our team while Dallas is stuck with Dak Prescott makes me cackle like a Disney villain.
Have I given a logical reason for hating the Cowboys? To the outsider, no. I probably sound like a raving lunatic. But any true Philadelphia Eagles fan that is reading this will understand. Maybe it cannot be explained. So to summarize, I’ll just say this: Dallas sucks.
How 'bout them...ah, never mind.
The Chicago Blackhawks axed long-time head coach Joel Quenneville on Tuesday, a man who had led their organization to 3 Stanley Cups in the past decade. But after a playoff miss last year and a middling start to this season, Blackhawks brass felt it was time to pull the plug.
Quenneville currently occupies second place on the NHL’s all-time coaching wins list, and his services will be in high demand across the league as teams look internally to figure out if a.) their current coaching situation is suspect enough to merit such a big change and b.) they can afford the mammoth price tag that will come along with Quenneville.
“Coach Q”, as he is widely known, is in complete control of the situation. He’ll only take a job in a place of his choosing at what he considers the right time and the right salary. He has nothing left to prove and won’t feel hurried to jump immediately back into the fray if things aren’t to his specifications.
Well, coach, have I got a place for you.
Remember that team you beat in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final to capture your first championship? Well, they’ve had a tough go of it in the near-decade since, winning only two playoff rounds in that time. But they do currently boast a roster that has a tantalizing mix of veteran stars and young talents.
Quenneville could do a lot with the Flyers right now, and the team could desperately use what he would bring them. Of course, there is a bit of an obstacle in the way: Dave Hakstol.
What to do with the man who was Ron Hextall’s hand-picked choice to lead this team back in 2015?
Fire him and scoop up Quenneville, that’s what.
You have to strike while the iron is hot, and Coach Q won’t be out of work for very long. Hextall HAS TO at least give this consideration or he’d be doing himself and the whole organization a disservice. But, in the end, I am fully prepared for another team to pull the trigger on the move this week while the Flyers stay the course.
In a way, I can’t blame Hextall if he continues the patient approach that has marked his time as GM. But this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make a huge upgrade behind the bench. Even if you like Hakstol (why?), you have to agree. If you’re concerned about “team chemistry” or some other sports mumbo jumbo, Quenneville’s track record more than makes up for such nonsense.
But you can bet that if Hextall gets asked about it, he’d cite something about the team gelling right now. And he’s actually right. The team’s west coast trip this week was a big success. They needed it badly, and they played like it. Maybe it even saved their coach’s job for now. But in the end, that might be a bad thing.
Can’t you just envision a scenario where a team in a similar situation to the Flyers makes a play for Quenneville this week and then rides the big change into a successful season while the Flyers fall back into their uneven play and miss the playoffs? I sure can.
Maybe an 0-4 road trip would have yielded a better long-term result than the 3-0-1 record the team did amass this past week. It sure would have made Hextall seem a lot more justified in going after Quenneville.
Now the team returns home tomorrow to start a 5-game homestand. In case you forgot, the Wells Fargo Center has not been friendly to the Flyers lately. They have followed up last year’s embarrassing three straight home playoff losses to Pittsburgh by going 2-4 in their first six home games this season.
For those of you counting at home, that means they are 2-7 in their last nine home games, and they have been outscored a ridiculous 44-21 in that time. In nine games! They’ve also given up the first goal in all but one of those contests.
It’s really easy to see them going 1-3-1 on this homestand and putting their season right back in the peril it was a week ago. But you know what? By then, it’ll be too late. Someone else will in all likelihood have taken a long enough look in the mirror to make the big move and bring in Quenneville. And we’ll all be stuck with Hakstol. Or some interim solution while the team figures things out. As nice as it was to see the team play better hockey this past week, it could end up hurting in the long run.
Again, I surmise that this is a move the Flyers absolutely should make, but ultimately will not. And there are actually a number of reasons not to, some more legitimate than others, that Hextall can lean on…
- The team’s biggest summer acquisition, James van Riemsdyk, got hurt in the second game of the season. It’s not all that fair to drop Hakstol before he can fully realize his vision for how to use JVR.
- Hakstol is the only coach that the younger guys have known in the NHL. Maybe their growth would be stunted if he were suddenly dismissed. Players like Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom are really starting to turn it on.
- The goalie situation is such a mess that it isn’t fair to blame any coach for having to navigate around it.
- Last season saw the Flyers lose ten games in a row, yet still right the ship to make the playoffs. Things aren’t nearly that dire at present. Hakstol clearly has the ability to dig his team out of a hole.
But, to that last point, can we not crawl into that hole to start with? Quenneville has shown that he can elevate a team to its highest level. Giroux, Voracek, Couturier and others are probably at the height of their talents right now. Let’s do this thing.
In the end, maybe the Flyers are unwilling to give him either the money or the control that he would want, but Quenneville makes too much sense on paper. So thank you for indulging this pipe dream of mine.
I do know one thing, though. If Ed Snyder were still around, Quenneville would be behind the Flyers’ bench tomorrow.
Can we have this, please?
Published October 3, 2018
This being Ron Hextall’s fifth year as GM, do you believe he has set this team on the right path to compete for the Cup within the next two years?
Matt Juliano: The cynic in me wants to say no, but thinking back to what he was given to work with when he started, he has done a very good job. Taking over after the botch-fest of signings by former GM and current Flyers President of Operations Paul Holmgren (don’t ask me how he got promoted), Hextall has stayed patient throughout this process. The 2014-15 version of the team had gems like Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn, Zac Rinaldo, RJ Umberger and Chris VandeVelde. This was a truly horrendous team that was in salary cap hell. As Philadelphians, we are used to trading our young players away for a veteran that’s past his prime in the hope they can turn back the clock and lead the Flyers to the Cup. That method failed for 24 years. For the first time in ages, the team’s developmental system has churned out high end defensive prospects such as Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere and Travis Sanheim. By pairing them with a potentially franchise-altering goaltender in Carter Hart and a solid mix of young and veteran forwards, their future looks bright.
Kevin Lagowski: It has been a painfully slow process, but one that looks like it is finally ready to bear fruit. Basically, the gang’s all here, as the young players we have heard about for years are all up with the big club. The Flyers also finally had good fortune smile upon them when they lucked into Nolan Patrick at last year’s draft. Maybe it was some kind of karmic retribution for missing out on Patrick Kane in 2007. All signs point to this team being a legitimate contender in the near future and for several years to come thanks to the young talent that Matt mentioned. I’m going to just ignore the fact that they’re the Flyers and agree with Matt.
Last year, the Flyers made the playoffs despite suffering through a 10-game losing streak during the season. What do they need to do to avoid such prolonged, potentially season-killing slumps this time around?
KL: The penalty killing was abysmal last year, so that obviously needs to get better. The Flyers have actually done a great job staying out of the box the last couple seasons, but that doesn’t matter much when your PK is hovering near 75%. So, let’s make that better, please. In addition, the secondary scoring has to be better. Last year, the Flyers got career years from Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier, a nice breakout from Travis Konecny, and very solid seasons from Jakub Voracek and Shayne Gostisbehere. And they still just barely made the playoffs! When these players have the odd game off or go through a cold snap, someone else has to pick up the slack. Having James van Riemsdyk on board will help matters, but players like Michael Raffl and Jordan Weal must be able to come up big at least once in a while. Maybe another year of growth from Nolan Patrick makes this all a moot point, but it’d be nice if the bottom six forwards could avoid disappearing for weeks on end.
MJ: I completely concur with your penalty killing assessment. That has been horrendous ever since good old Lappy took over as assistant coach (go figure, eh). The Flyers missed their chance to improve their PK and add to their bottom six forwards this offseason by letting Michael Grabner sign with the Coyotes. While the ‘Yotes completely overpaid for him, he was exactly the type of player the Flyers needed. The speedy winger would have slotted on their third line and would have exponentially improved their penalty killing. The Flyers have the depth this season to roll three solid lines; I just wonder how effective they will be. Patrick and Konecny need to a major leap in their second and third years, respectively. The team cannot continue to rely on Giroux, Voracek and Couturier to provide all their scoring. However, this will be all for nothing if our defense continues to have mental lapses. Radko Gudas and Andrew “$5 Million A Season” MacDonald need to go, as I have grown hoarse screaming at their defensive deficiencies. If Travis Sanheim and Robert Hagg can build off their solid rookie seasons, that will give the team two solid defensive pairings, which is something that will be needed if they plan to compete with offensively loaded teams like the Maple Leafs and Penguins.
The Flyers goaltending seems to be turning into quite the logjam, with Carter Hart joining the fray. Who do you believe will be the Flyers goaltending tandem by season’s end?
MJ: I’m going with Carter Hart and Brian Elliott. The regular season hasn’t started and Michal Neuvirth is back where he spends the majority of his seasons: injured. Anthony Stolarz is still working his way back from a brutal knee injury that cost him almost all of last season, and Alex Lyon is on the shelf for a month. With the small sample size I’ve seen, Hart looks to be NHL ready. His positioning, quickness and puck tracking are the best I’ve seen since Johnathan Quick. I know most fans are apprehensive to bring him up so quickly as he is their best goaltending prospect since Ron Hextall (go figure), but he has played on some of the biggest stages in juniors and has shined. He is the X-factor in goal that can catapult this franchise from fringe playoff team to Cup contender.
KL: By season’s end? Wow. I’m worried about all that time in between. I’m just hoping the Flyers’ netminders can remain healthy and competent enough to keep this team from taking a step back and missing the playoffs, which would continue Dave Hakstol’s in/out pattern. But the Hart/Elliott duo is the logical choice here. I don’t know why Neuvirth is even still around. And Lyon/Stolarz would be ok NHL backups playing about 25 games per year behind a guy like Hart. So, barring anything crazy like the injury run last year that led to the Petr Mrazek debacle, I will have to agree with Matt. I do think, however, that most Flyers fans want Hart up here as soon as possible with no apprehension, as Matt puts it.
Claude Giroux declined for years, then had a career year in 2017-18. So what can we expect this season?
KL: It’s not every day that you see a guy set career highs across the board in his ninth full season in the NHL, but that’s exactly what the captain did in 2017-18. Giroux was particularly magical when slotted on the left wing alongside Couturier (and with Travis Konecny on the other side), and of course his numbers were also buoyed by his usual near-elite power play production. He will not repeat his 17.6% shooting percentage from last year, but I think his numbers can come close to what we just saw. The power play has the potential to be lethal, so chalk him up for about 35 points there to start. As for even strength, ultimately, if he and the team stay relatively healthy so that he can continue his chemistry with Couturier and Konecny without Hakstol having to juggle lines, I can see Giroux posting a final stat line of about 27G-63A-90P.
MJ: Not a chance, Kevin. Last year was an abnormality, albeit a good one. Giroux has averaged around 75 points per season during his 9-year career. Considering his best season before last year was in 2011-12, I’m not believing in this fine wine tale. He turns 31 in January and we have seen him slowing down in recent years. Moving him to the wing helped alleviate the defensive responsibility that was required of him as a center, allowing him to use his full array of play making abilities. Slotting with Couturier and Konecny for most of the 2017-18 campaign, they were able to find chemistry as a line as the season went on. Teams are now going to be looking to shut down this line, which will allow the Patrick line (van Riemsdyk-Patrick-Voracek) to do more damage. Giroux had an MVP-type season last year, but this season will be Travis Konecny’s coming out party. Regression is coming for the captain. Bank on a 20G-51A-71P season.
Most importantly, isn’t Gritty awesome?
MJ: Good Lord, what Jim Henson abomination has been bestowed upon my hockey team?
KL: We are all Gritty.
So it begins.
Published October 1, 2018
As we enter year 4 of Dave Hakstol’s tenure as head coach, is this season make or break for him?
Kevin Lagowski: In a word, yes. This guy got the team to the playoffs in his first season when expectations weren’t very high. But he and the team have failed to build on things since then. Last year’s 10-game losing streak had most people calling for him to be fired, but Ron Hextall gave him a big vote of confidence. This year, with that “young core” we’ve been hearing about for years basically all with the big club, there are no excuses. Missing the playoffs would be unacceptable, and he really needs to actually win a round. Even if not, Hextall will probably keep him around, but his seat would be red-hot to start the following year. If strides aren’t made, it’s time to call his four-year tenure a failure and move on. I think all Flyers fans are getting tired of seeing our division rivals win Stanley Cups while we either miss the playoffs or go out meekly in the first round. Hextall can’t possibly stand by this guy if the same thing happens again.
Matt Juliano: If Hakstol cannot get the Flyers past the first round of the playoffs, this will be his long overdue swan song. Coming to the NHL from North Dakota State, his college resume includes ZERO NCAA championships, even though both coaches before and after him did. The Flyers are too sporadic in their play to make me feel confident that Hakstol can suddenly morph into a Staley Cup caliber coach. He is about to enter his fourth year and he consistently makes costly decisions, such as last season’s bizarre loss to the Predators in Nashville (losing a challenge on an offside call, which led to a penalty, with them losing on the ensuing power play). Often he looks overmatched by more seasoned coaches, failing to make the necessary in-game adjustments. What really drives me to the whiskey bottle is his choice of coaching staff, specifically Ian Laperriere. How is he still an assistant coach that is responsible for their penalty killing? The Flyers have consistently ranked in the bottom third of the league the past four years, yet he keeps his job after the team banished Joe Mullen when the Flyers were a top power play unit! Hakstol is by no means a bad coach, but he will not be the one who delivers the long awaited third Stanley Cup to Philadelphia.
Do you believe that James van Riemsdyk will be over or under his 2017-18 totals?
MJ: He will be under. I wasn’t a fan of his signing in the summer and I’m not a fan of it now. The Flyers overpaid for a player who averages 53 points per season and does not offer a significant upgrade. His numbers are almost identical to Wayne Simmonds; they are just more expensive now given the ridiculous $7 million contract that he was handed. Here’s proof: if JVR were to reach 53 points, that equates to $132,075.47 per point. If Simmonds reached 53 points, that would only cost $75,094.34 per point. This is a waste of money and poor judgement from Hextall…but I digress. I have van Riemsdyk slotted for 2nd line duties along with Jakub Voracek and Nolan Patrick. This trio will give the Flyers an NHL caliber 2nd line, but I don’t believe in JVR eclipsing 54 points. The only possible scenario where I can see him beating last year’s output is with power play points since he makes his living around the front of the net. Still, this is a best-case scenario, one I highly doubt will happen.
KL: Hey, Hextall was just paying the going rate, with hockey circles largely agreeing that the JVR contract was a reasonable one. And we don’t all have to be on the same page for every move, but this team needed an impact free agent signing; it had been eons. Short of John Tavares, who I am still annoyed that the Flyers weren’t even in the running for, JVR was the most polished forward available this past offseason. Last year, he tallied 36 goals, a career high. I expect him to pot 30 again this year, but fall short of that mark. As for the 54 points, he will pass that. His numbers actually took a bit of a hit last year because Toronto coach Mike Babcock inexplicably shorted him on ice time for long stretches of the season. His season average ended up being 14:54 per game, the lowest since his second year in the league. He’ll get 2-4 minutes per game to do damage this season. I expect a final line of about 31G-28A-59P, and I think I’m being a bit conservative.
Which rookie(s) will have the biggest impact this season?
KL: I know we all want to yell “Carter Hart”, but the Flyers are hoping against hope that the goaltending isn’t so bad or injury-riddled that they need to rely on him this season. Instead, look for Mikhail Vorobyev to play regular minutes, perhaps even as the team’s third-line center. He isn’t going to set the world on fire offensively, but if he can eat up minutes and provides a reasonable amount of offense, why wouldn’t you play him over stiffs like Jori Lehtera? Also, Oskar Lindblom just barely missed qualifying as a rookie last year, falling two games short of the 25-game threshold. You can bank on him being the Flyers’ leading “rookie scorer” since he retained that status. The other name to watch is Philippe Myers. Big-bodied, right-handed shooting defensemen can be worth their weight in gold in this league, and so Myers should get every opportunity to establish himself as an NHL regular after making big strides the last couple years. He won’t be up with the big club as a seventh defenseman spending most nights in the press box. If he’s up, he’s going to play. When the inevitable multi-week injury strikes one of the defensemen, I think that Myers will take full advantage of his opportunity to seal his place with the Flyers.
MJ: Kevin, I’m going to go right ahead, grab my megaphone, head to the top of the Wells Fargo Center and scream two words: Carter Hart. He’s been impressive during the pre-season and has outplayed every other Flyers goaltender on the roster by a large margin. Although Elliott looked much improved at Boston on Saturday, that’s too little too late. Hart has the skills along with the mental fortitude needed to be thrust into the spotlight. Just look at what the Canadians did with Carey Price back in 2007. He played in 10 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs before making the jump to the NHL, posting 24 wins to go along with a .920 save percentage and 2.56 goals against. Keep in mind that Hart is a 2-time CHL player of the year and his stats were all substantially better then Price’s. Given that he expects to be the Flyers’ starter this season gives you an idea of this kid’s determination. If, for some ludicrous reason Hextall keeps Hart in the minors all season, then I would look out for Oskar Lindblom. The big Swede’s skating, which was his biggest flaw, looks much improved. I envision him on a line with Raffl and Vorobyev, who perfectly complement his playing style. The problem for the Flyers is they have a logjam of forwards right now and I doubt Wayne Simmonds gets regulated to the fourth line. Lindblom could find himself back in the minors until the Flyers can find a trade partner for Simmonds.
With Wayne Simmonds entering the final year of his contract and Oskar Lindblom pushing for a top 6 role, should the Flyers trade Simmonds or retain him and risk losing him for nothing?
MJ: As unpopular as this decision is going to be, I believe it is time to move on for both parties. For the Flyers, they are stocked on power forwards for the next couple of years with the returning JVR and promising Lindblom. Simmonds would be a 3rd line winger, which is a line often used to match up against an opponent’s top line. This is not an effective use of his talents. From Simmonds’ perspective, he wants to prove that he is still an All-Star caliber player after an injury-plagued season saw him post his lowest totals with the Flyers. In a contract season, being relegated to a shutdown winger role is not doing him any favors. He is a minus 58 in 522 career games with the Flyers. Considering the young offensive talent currently on the roster and in development, Simmonds has become obsolete. They have too many players that will be off their rookie deals soon (Travis Konecny, Travis Sanheim and Ivan Provorov come to mind) and will need new contracts. Showcase him during the first half of the season and, barring an injury, move him to a Western Conference team later in the season.
KL: I like the part you added about “barring injury”, because we all know that’s exactly what’s going to happen. If it’s to Simmonds himself, obviously he’s untradeable. But you’re really going to need him when one of the top-line forwards inevitably goes down for a while. Having Simmonds around really helps the Flyers’ forward depth, although I am a bit concerned about the line matchups, as you point out. So I say to stick with him this season, because I don’t know that any return for him would justify moving a player who is still productive when healthy, not to mention popular (not that Hextall should care that much about that). I mean, if the Flyers are 15 points out of a playoff spot as the deadline nears, you trade him. (And fire Hakstol). But I would not strip him away from this team if it looks to be gearing up for the postseason. After this year, all bets are off. I love the guy and all that he’s poured into this team, but I think it’s time to move on. Let someone else overpay for a guy with a lot of miles on him.
We'll be back on Wednesday with part 2 of this stirring debate.
The Flyers are still a thing!