Thursday, July 31, 2014

"That 90s Show" comes to Flyers HOF

Thanks to
Two-thirds of the famed "Legion of Doom" line, plus a franchise-altering defensive presence will be honored this season with induction into the Flyers' Hall of Fame.

Eric Lindros and John LeClair will be inducted on Thursday, November 20 prior to a home date against the Minnesota Wild, while Eric Desjardins will be feted before the Thursday, February 19 game against the Buffalo Sabres.  

"We are very pleased and excited to add Eric Desjardins, Eric Lindros and John LeClair to the Flyers Hall of Fame," said Flyers President Paul Holmgren on Thursday. "Desjardins was a seven-time Barry Ashbee Trophy winner as the best Flyers defenseman and a keystone on the blueline that led the Flyers to great success over many years in Philadelphia.  Lindros was a great Flyer during his years here. He won the Most Valuable Player for the 1994-95 season and helped the Flyers reach the Stanley Cup Final in 1997.  John put together multiple 50-goal seasons. He was a well-respected, hard-nosed left-winger that just knew how to score goals. He had a great career as a Flyer. All three players are among the greatest in the history of the Flyers and are very deserving to join our Hall of Fame."

The franchise's Hall of Fame has lost steam since the dawn of the new Millennium, having inducted only four members since 1999, the last of which was iconic enforcer Dave Schultz in November of 2009. Aside from Ron Hextall, who was memorably given the wrong bust during his February, 2008 ceremony, Lindros, LeClair and Desjardins are the first members to be enshrined whose careers in Philadelphia began during the decade of the 1990s.

Holmgren has begun a process of healing with Lindros in earnest, by opening up the books and embracing one of the best half-decades the franchise had ever produced.

Lindros memorably made a return to the city which provided his first NHL home back on December 31, 2011 when the Flyers alumni played against the Rangers' alumni as a prelude to the 2012 Winter Classic between the two long-time rivals. The Oshawa, Ontario native currently ranks eighth in club history in goals (290), tied for fifth in assists (369) and places fifth in points with 659 over just 486 games. 

"I am honored to be inducted into the Flyers Hall of Fame, a hall full of diversity," said Lindros, a Toronto-area resident at age 41 and recently married. "What made this news even more special is to hear that I will be entering alongside John who I had the good fortune of playing with for most of my time in Philly. I look forward to seeing old friends and to be back in the Wells Fargo Center alongside the Flyer Faithful."

LeClair and Desjardins were acquired by the Flyers from the Montreal Canadiens on February 9, 1995, along with Gilbert Dionne, in exchange for Mark Recchi and a third-round pick in the '95 draft. The Vermont product recorded 25 goals and 24 assists for 37 points in 49 games over the rest of that season, and then went on to produce one of the best four-year stretches of any player in Flyers history by recording 371 points (195 G, 176 A) in 322 games, including consecutive seasons of 50, 51 and 50 goals respectively from 1995-98.  He remains one of two Flyers, along with Tim Kerr, to post 50-or-more goals in three or more consecutive seasons. Over his 10 seasons here, LeClair recorded 333 goals and 310 assists for 643 points in 649 games.  He ranks seventh in scoring on the Flyers all-time list, ranks fifth in goals scored, places fourth in power play goals (102), and shares third place in hat tricks with Lindros (11). 

"I'm very excited and very honored," said LeClair, a resident of Haverford. "The time I spent in Philadelphia was just terrific, and the experiences I had playing in the city and with the fans were some of the most exciting moments."

From the time of the deal with the Canadiens through the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals, Lindros and LeClair joined Mikael Renberg to form the Legion of Doom line, which combined for 225 goals and 490 points and also claimed countless battered bodies in the corners and behind the net.

Desjardins became one of the highest-scoring defensemen in Flyers history, recording 396 points (93G, 303A) over 738 career games. The Quebec native ranks second in franchise history among blueliners in goals, assists and points, behind only 2001 Flyers HOF honoree and 2011 Hockey Hall of Famer Mark Howe.  Two of his best seasons came in 1998-99 and 1999-2000, the first of which saw him record 51 points (15G, 36A) in just 68 games.  The following year, Desjardins posted 55 points (14G, 41A) in 80 games.

The genial Desjardins became a reluctant captain from March of 2000 when it was infamously stripped from Lindros, until October of 2001 when he resigned from the post and Keith Primeau assumed the mantle. 

"This means a lot to me," added Desjardins. "After spending so many years with the Flyers and being retired for almost nine years now, it’s a great feeling. It is something you don’t think about when you are playing but once you’re retired and an honor like this happens, it is very special."

The deluge represents a clear break from the past. While Bob Clarke and Ed Snider may have lingering feelings of resentment for the way Lindros, his injury issues and his family had an adverse effect on the running of the franchise, Holmgren seems to be less affected and more eager to embrace that period of team history. 

It was Holmgren, along with then-Comcast Prez and Chief Operating Officer Peter Luukko, who made a public appearance when Lindros and LeClair held an afternoon fundraiser for Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in Center City roughly a week before Christmas in 2011. 

If  Holmgren remains steadfast in bringing the franchise up to speed in honoring its best players, the '90s feature others worthy, like Mark Recchi and Rod Brind'Amour -- though in the latter's case there might have to be some overtures from the franchise in order to get him to sign off on a night. Renberg, who was the other puzzle piece to the Legion, endured injuries and a frustrating second stint with the franchise from 1998-2000, and has yet to reunite with his former teammates. 

Taking a page from a conversation I had with Bill Meltzer early last season, Holmgren should also strongly consider a dual ceremony for Brad McCrimmon and Jim Watson. The first six Flyers HOF ceremonies, from April of 1988 through April of 1993, celebrated at least two franchise greats. Since Kerr's night in march of 1994, the club has chosen to honor a single player each time. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hartnell's heart still intact despite heel turn

Like it or not, Scott Hartnell is a Blue Jacket.

While acknowledging that the fans who once feted him in Orange and Black can be tough on those who return in enemy colors, he admitted that the ties no longer bind, towards the end of his introductory press conference, held Tuesday morning in Ohio's capital.

"I don't know ... Mike Richards when he came back with L.A. for the first time, I think they cheered him right off the bat," Hartnell said with a sly smile when asked the million-dollar question about Philadelphia's hockey faithful. He kinda had the puck for 10 seconds going up the ice and there were some boos going on. I'm sure that'll happen. That's part of the game. That's the fun of the game. I'm sure I'll be as hated (in Philly) as in Pittsburgh ... it means you're doing the good things if you're hated, so hopefully I could be just as hated there that I am in Pittsburgh."

Unlike the exoduses of Richards, Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne, Flyers fans will have plenty of time to let the 31-year-old know exactly where he stands. A packed house in full throat will get their first chance to acknowledge Hartnell the villain come November 14, and then again only eight days later. The last of three home dates against their Metropolitan Division rivals will occur on February 17.

"Seven years is a long time, and on the deal I signed there a couple years ago, I thought I would retire there. So it was a hard few days. I was emotional to begin with. Kimmo Timonen is my best friend, we played together in Nashville and got traded there together. To play against him for the first time, that would be a little shocking. I'm excited about going into Philly for the first time and getting two points."

However, in that same presser, Hartnell reassured those who know him for his charitable ventures, that it won't change despite the move seven hours to the West. #Hartnelldown lives.

"I'm going to start in Columbus here, we're going to take 10 or 12 kids from hockey programs and come up to Minnesota hockey camps," he stated. "Mr. Snider, we had a couple kids come up from Philadelphia all the way to Minnesota and they trained with players like myself, Wayne Simmonds, T.J. Oshie. It's pretty cool for those young kids who never left Philadelphia to experience a pro training camp, so to speak.

"I never thought in a million years that I'd have a foundation. I've done things before in Nashville and Philly without recognition, but this foundation is pretty cool. To give back to the sport of hockey and less fortunate kids ... and just kinda have fun doing sports ... and to be active and fit and have fun is all part of the deal."

Hartnell might have had his heart ripped out once the Flyers notified him he wouldn't be part of their plans going forward back in late June. That doesn't mean he's about to totally turn against his former club and city now that he's building a future with Columbus. He had a couple of now former teammates who vouched for his new location.

"It took about three or four days when I got the call from Philadelphia that the trade went through. I didn't want to involve my teammates in getting into the middle of it. I did talk to Mase and Jake and they said you'll love the city. You're going to love the fans. And just watching the playoffs last year, they seemed to be as loud as anywhere."

Bullard and Prospal, ships passing in the night

On this date 23 years ago, the Flyers made a deal which seemed unremarkable at the time, but eventually provided the franchise with a center they'd been looking for to match the skills of the declining Pelle Eklund.

The rights to Mike Bullard, then a veteran of 11 professional seasons, were shipped to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a third-round draft pick in 1993. That pick ended up becoming Vaclav "Vinny" Prospal, who is one of the more than three dozen players to take more than one turn in the Orange and Black.

At the time, Bullard had spent the 1990-91 season in Switzerland, lighting up its top division with 41 goals and 78 points in only 41 games. He was not offered a contract the year prior though the Flyers still held his rights. With new GM Russ Farwell angling to make over the roster into something a bit younger, Bullard (along with Ilkka Sinisalo and Ken Linseman) were left to seek employment elsewhere.

Carrying a rightful reputation for carousing and perhaps an undeserved one for not bowing to authority, Bob Clarke picked up Bullard from the St. Louis Blues in a straight-up swap for Peter Zezel on November 29, 1988. It was Bullard's fourth stop since November of 1986, when he was traded to Calgary from Pittsburgh for Dan Quinn a day after cursing out Pens head coach Bob Berry. Despite a 103-point season with the Flames in 1987-88, he was moved to the Blues.

The burly winger had brought offense -- five seasons of at least 30 goals, two of at least 40 and one of 51 -- to a club desperately trying to turn itself out of a tailspin. For a franchise in transition and a rogue on his last chance, Bullard performed well here, picking up 50 goals and 113 points over 124 games from 1988-90, including 23 in his 54-game stint for the remainder of the 1988-89 season.

Two of his iconic career moments occurred during the Flyers' memorable run to the Wales Conference Finals in the Spring of '89. One was sweet and the other sour.

First, following a surprise 4-1 victory over the Penguins at the Civic Arena in Game 7 of the second round, Bullard finally responded to the formerly friendly fans turned hecklers who jibed him for the entire series by "gesturing" to them with single digits on each hand raised. He scored two of his three tallies that postseason against his former franchise, with the final one being a power-play goal which put Philly ahead 3-1 only 40 seconds into the third period.

Then, in Montreal the day before Game 5 of the Wales Finals at the Forum, and with the Flyers trailing 3-1 in the series, Jay Greenberg described the scene in Full Spectrum:

"(Holmgren) told his team the Canadiens couldn't keep it up. He wanted the Flyers to be loose, but Bullard took him too literally, seeking relaxation in the Montreal night. When Pat Croce saw Bullard come in well after curfew, Holmgren took the opportunity to make a point. As he charged up the troops the next day, the coach suddenly wheeled around on Bullard and picked him up by the throat.

"You, out late drinking the night before a playoff game!" Holmgren grunted.

"Urrrgh," said Bullard.

"One of the scariest things I've ever seen," admitted Mark Howe later on.  

"Clarke talked Holmgren out of benching Bullard. The veteran center felt lucky to be alive and Holmgren wanted the Flyers to feel the same way."

Bullard had been goose-egged the entire series, and that did not change over the final two contests until the season concluded. His three goals and 12 points were accumulated in the first 13 games through two rounds.

From his days as the best player on a historically desolate Penguins franchise, Bullard was dogged by the label that he couldn't come through when it counted. He tallied six points in six games for Calgary in a first-round loss to Winnipeg in '87, then produced just two assists in six games the next year before a Marty McSorley spear put him out of commission during an Oilers' four-game second-round sweep.

Prospal arrived in North America, having been born behind the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia, at the age of 18, after Russ Farwell used the pick, at No. 71, to take the skinny puck-mover from Ceske Budejovice.

His play during the first three years with Hershey steadily improved, from 35 to 45 to 51 points in 1995-96, but things took off once the Flyers decided to abandon their affiliate agreement with the Bears in favor of creating the expansion Phantoms to play at the Spectrum.

All Prospal did, at the age of 22, was finish second on the club (behind Peter White) with 95 points and dish out a team-high 63 assists for a club which saw four players record at least 50 helpers. In their first year of existence, the Phantoms ran away with the Mid-Atlantic Division, but their dreams of Calder Cup glory were short-circuited in a Game 7 second-round loss to Hershey -- now an affiliate for the defending Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.

Why the Phantoms lost could be directly attributable to Prospal's absence, not due to injury but to a call-up to the Flyers in early March of 1997 due to the loss of Dale Hawerchuk with recurring hip issues that helped end his career. He scored twice in his second NHL game, and went on to add three more goals and 15 total points in 18 appearances before adding four points (1G, 3A) in a five-game, first-round victory against the Penguins. There was little question Prospal would be the heir apparent.

Then, things went off the rails.

During a practice before an anticipated second-round meeting with the Buffalo Sabres, Prospal suffered a badly broken wrist when trying to absorb a hit during a fight for the puck along the boards. Video of the unfortunate circumstance was recorded by Channel 6 and broadcast that night, as Prospal was lost for the remainder of that postseason. He went scoreless in six, and then eight straight games under Wayne Cashman the following season, then missed four games due to injury just prior to the All-Star break, when a bombshell exploded in front of a national audience and thousands of jaws dropped in unison.

One day before the game, scheduled for Vancouver, and during the skills competition, ESPN broadcasters broke news that Bob Clarke swapped Prospal along with Pat Falloon and a second-round pick in the 1998 draft to the Ottawa Senators for struggling former second-overall selection Alexandre Daigle. It was a devastating move for a team that had risen to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.

That wrong wasn't righted until Paul Holmgren dipped into the well of ex-Flyers talent and pulled Prospal from the Lightning at the 2008 trade deadline for defenseman Alex Picard and a 2009 second-round choice. A puck mover for the trigger man Danny Briere on the power play, Prospal had 14 points (4G, 10A) in 18 regular-season games, then added 13 points over 17 playoff contests to stoke the surprise run to the 2008 Eastern Finals.

As Bullard did 19 years before, Prospal enjoyed prosperity in the opening rounds before being shut down to the tune of one assist over a five-game loss to the Penguins. His 12 points represented one of the top scorers through victories against Washington and Montreal.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Nick Foles: Day 1, Year 2

By John McMullen

Philadelphia, PA -- Seeing is believing or so the idiom tells us.

The exception who proves that rule is evidently Nick Foles.

Peyton Manning earned his record fifth MVP award in 2013 after perhaps the best statistical season in NFL history, breaking multiple NFL passing records, most notably the single-season marks for touchdowns (55) and passing yards (5,477), while piloting an offense which led the NFL in scoring (37.9 points
per game) and totaled the most points (606) in league lore.

Manning, however, didn't lead the league in passer rating. That honor belonged to the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, who put together the third-best mark in history, 119.2, four-plus points better than Manning's 115.1.

Foles threw a gaudy 27 touchdowns of his own (29 if you add the playoffs) versus just two interceptions in his second NFL season. He tied an NFL record with seven scoring tosses against Oakland in November of last year and snared an MVP award of his own, the 2014 Pro Bowl accolade.

"Those numbers from last year won't do anything for me this year," Foles said Saturday after the team's first practice of training camp. "They do absolutely nothing.

"I had a great coach once tell me that one play won't affect the next play, good or bad. And that's the same thing for one season: you can't let one season affect you, good or bad. The next year, you start off clean. Everybody is starting off fresh. Everybody is 0-0 and everybody has got high expectations. That's just the way I think. If you play in a new year, it's a new year."

A new year in which Foles remains on the outside, looking in at all those elite lists.

So, why are so many taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to the University of Arizona product?

Some point to the pedigree. Foles was no top-10 can't miss prospect. He was a third-round selection in the 2012 draft, a 6-foot-6 guy  with prototypical size but under whelming arm strength and below average foot speed.

Of course many consider Joe Montana to be the best quarterback who ever lived and he was also a third-round pick, as was last season's Super Bowl-winning signal caller, Russell Wilson so you can scratch all that.

Others point to Eagles coach Chip Kelly and his history in college at Oregon where it seemed like the innovative offensive mind was all about having a movement-based signal caller, not a statuesque, pocket thrower with a mediocre fastball.

Part of that narrative was fueled by Kelly's own hesitation to believe what was going on with Foles in 2013. Remember Kelly picked Michael Vick to be his QB until the now familiar injury and consistency problems with him left a crack open in the door for Foles, who promptly kicked it in with his play on
the field.

Kelly signaled his acceptance of Foles in the 2014 draft when he had the opportunity to select Johnny Manziel, who Kelly recruited heavily at Oregon, and turned his nose up at the former Heisman Trophy winner.

"He's still young," Kelly said when talking about Foles on Saturday.  "He had an outstanding season last year that everybody was excited about. But he knows as an individual he can still get better."

Getting significantly better on and off the field is important to some like Pulizer-Prize winning authors who leave the lights on Friday night.

Buzz Bissinger took things off the rails by claiming Foles is too "chickens#$%" to be star in the NFL.

Bissinger took aim at Foles in Philadelphia Magazine, lambasting him for being the anti- Manziel, avoiding the limelight and any kind of self-promotion at all costs in favor of spending time with his family.

That, along with Foles' privileged background and the fact the Texas native refused to talk to Bissinger for the piece left the writer questioning the manhood of a 245-pound man whose job description includes getting hit by Jason Pierre-Paul and Brian Orakpo.

"You try to make it all about me and you lose track of what it's really about," Foles said when asked about Buzz's bizarre take, "and that's the Philadelphia Eagles and this city."

Foles is a gym rat, who doesn't drink and turned down at least two rather high-profile sponsorship opportunities in the offseason, preferring instead to focus on his job and his new wife.

When asked what his greatest love besides football was in the Eagles' training camp media guide Foles responded with "Family and Faith." When asked about his pregame ritual, the signal caller responded "Reading the Bible."

To professional cynics like Bissinger and yours truly for that matter, that kind of thing doesn't often play that well but Buzz and I will part paths there because he jumps to the inane conclusion that Foles can't succeed
because he's a teetotaling fan of some pretty successful fiction who wants to stay home at night.

"I don't agree with it," Foles sad of Bissinger's conclusion. "A quarterback and a leader - it's not necessarily what you do in the limelight. Handling yourself in the appropriate manner is very important for the organization for yourself and your teammates. I've always believed that you need to be who you

And who Foles is happens to be a guy who thinks football first until it's time to go home to the wife.

Ask the Cleveland Browns if they would rather have that or the overgrown 14-year-old who is more concerned with taking selfies of himself with Justin Bieber and Playboy models instead of learning Kyle Shanahan's playbook.

"If you're a guy who loves to go out and be at everything, and you can be a great player as well, that's awesome. That's naturally what you want to do," Foles said. "That's out of my norm. I've always been sort of a laid-back, Texas boy. I love being with my family. That's what I stick to. I love football. I love getting better."

Friday, July 25, 2014

Crystal Ballin: Predicting the path of the 2014 Eagles

by Hal Greenblatt
Phanatic Football Writer 

Well, well, well…here we are again. Another football season is upon us as the Philadelphia Eagles begin training camp today just a couple blocks from their home field.

As the Eagles embark on Year 2 of the Chip Kelly era, expectations, as they have been for many years here, are sky high. In Kelly’s first year, he helped guide the revamped Birds to a 10-6 record and an NFC East championship. Although the team lost in the first round of the playoffs, at home to the New Orleans Saints, it appears Kelly’s Eagles are built for the long term.

Last season, the Eagles finished with the NFL’s second-ranked offense. The speed demons who challenged the play clock averaged 417.2 yards per game (2nd) and scored an average of 27.6 points per game (4th). LeSean McCoy led a vaunted running attack that was the NFL’s best, as the team ran for 160.4 yards per contest and McCoy himself led the league in rushing with 1,607 yards and nine touchdowns. Nick Foles led a passing attack that ranked ninth in the NFL with 256.9 yards per game. Foles’ personal numbers were also outstanding, as the Arizona product threw for 2,891 yards, 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions, while starting just 10 contests.

Defensively, however, the Eagles were amongst the worst in the NFL. The prevention unit ranked 29th overall, giving up an average of 394 yards and just shy of 24 points per game. Against the pass, the Birds ranked dead last in the league, giving up 289.8 yards per game and a whopping 25 touchdowns. The front line was much better versus the run, allowing just 104.2 yards per game, which ranked the unit 10th out of 32.

With that, it is time to take an in depth look at the 2014 schedule to make a bold (and most likely inaccurate) prediction of how the Eagles will finish without the benefit of seeing a single practice.

Week 1: Jacksonville Jaguars (September 7)

After watching the mockery of football that Jacksonville played last year, many pundits would be quick to write this game up as a win for the Eagles. What many may not notice was how competitive the Jaguars were over the final eight games of the season, winning four of those games and losing two by seven points or less.

Despite the work that Jags head coach (and Eagles target) Gus Bradley did in his first year, the Eagles will start the season 1-0 at home behind a renovated and excited Lincoln Financial Field crowd.

Prediction: Eagles 27 – Jaguars 13 (1-0)

Week 2: at Indianapolis Colts (September 15)

The Birds travel to Lucas Oil Stadium for a Monday night showdown against Saint Andrew of Luck and the Colts. Last season, the Colts sported a 6-2 at home record with wins over both Super Bowl entrants, Seattle and Denver. Although Kelly always has his teams prepared, this time Eagles will fall on the road.

Prediction: Colts 34 – Eagles 30 (1-1)

Week 3: Washington Redskins (September 21)

In a game that will be completely overhyped thanks in part to the return of wide receiver DeSean Jackson, the main story will be the return to prominence of Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III. There is no doubt that Jackson will help the Team with the Nickname that Shall not be Spoken, but if the ‘Skins want any chance to compete with the Eagles, it will be a healthy Griffin leading the way.

In the final analysis of DeSean Bowl I, it will be the play of the Eagles defense that steals the show. Jackson will put up big (albeit hollow) numbers, as the Eagles improve to 2-1 on the season and 1-0 in the NFC East.

Prediction: Eagles 30 – Washington 17 (2-1)

Week 4: at San Francisco 49ers (September 28)

A cross-country road trip following an emotional divisional game sets the Eagles up for a let down. The game will be dependent on how well the Birds defense can keep 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the pocket. Expect no Hulk-out from Jim Harbaugh on this Sunday afternoon.

Prediction: 49ers 23 – Eagles 16 (2-2)

Week 5: St. Louis Rams (October 5)

If this game were in St. Louis, I would have the Eagles bookmarked for a loss. The Rams are an underrated team with a very strong defense. The key for the Rams success will come with the health of quarterback Sam Bradford.

This game has all the makings of an early-season trap, but I think the Eagles will pull out a hard fought defensive battle. No word on whether Tony Dungy will have a comment on Michael Sam’s actual performance by this point.

Prediction: Eagles 24 – Rams 20 (3-2)

Week 6: New York Giants (Sunday Night Football – October 12)

Chip Kelly’s teams tend to show up and put on special performances on national television. In what will be another heated division battle, Kelly’s Birds will remain undefeated in the division. The Giants recently lost offensive lineman Chris Snee to retirement. The loss of Snee is a huge hit to an already unstable offensive line. I expect the Eagles to have their first big win of the season and be the first team to officially pave the way for Tom Coughlin’s retirement.

Prediction: Eagles 38 – Giants 24 (4-2)

Week 7: BYE (October 19)

Week 8: at Arizona Cardinals (October 26)
The Eagles entered the bye with a 4-2 record and two weeks to prepare for a talented Cardinals team. Arizona boasts one of the league’s best defensive units, which includes perhaps the best defensive back in the league in Patrick Peterson. Arizona will be without standout linebacker Daryl Washington, who was suspended for the year following another substance violation.

Arizona, playing in the “Toaster,” finished with a 6-2 record at home last season, and will display little reason for anyone to think they will not continue to be strong at home in 2014.

Prediction: Cardinals 27 – Eagles 17 (4-3)

Week 9: at Houston Texans (November 2)

Bill O’Brien is a good coach. He will do very good things with the Texans. The one thing he does not have to worry about in Houston will be the defensive. All-pro JJ Watt will be teamed with first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney. Houston will not be nearly as bad as they were last year, but I do not see the Eagles falling for the trap game after a loss to Arizona the week before.

Prediction: Eagles 20 – Texans 13 (5-3)

Week 10: Carolina Panthers (Sunday Night Football – November 10)

Ron Rivera did a tremendous job to turn downtrodden Carolina into the NFC South division winners last season. Quarterback Cam Newton may be the most dangerous signal caller in the league with his dual throwing and running abilities. Last time Newton played in Philadelphia, he led the Panthers to a victory, while throwing and running for a combined four touchdowns.

This year’s Panthers team will not be nearly as dominant as last seasons. Carolina lost some key defensive pieces as well as former receiving stalwart Steve Smith and will be facing the requisite tougher schedule. The Panthers will be offensively challenged and that will affect the result of the game.

Prediction: Eagles 24 – Panthers 20 (6-3)

Week 11: at Green Bay Packers (November 16)

I’m going to go ahead and assume that Aaron Rodgers will be healthy. That’s all that needs to be said. Lambeau Leaps aplenty for the other squad sporting green.

Prediction: Packers 38 – Eagles 27 (6-4)

Week 12: Tennessee Titans (November 23)

I don’t believe in Titans quarterback and former Washington Huskies QB Jake Locker. Tennessee also finds itself in rebuild mode, as it jettisoned former franchise running back Chris Johnson in the offseason. A long season is in the making for the ex-Oilers, which will include a bad loss on the road to the Eagles. LeSean’s running performance will underscore Johnson’s absence on the other side.

Prediction: Eagles 33 – Titans 17 (7-4)

Week 13: at Dallas Cowboys (Thanksgiving - November 27)

It’s not December yet, and Tony Romo tends to put up amazing numbers during the Thanksgiving game. As much as it pains me, the Cowboys will come away with the win following a short week for the Birds. No Bounty Bowl III here folks, just good, clean Texas football with “America’s Team” winning.

Prediction: Cowboys 27 – 21 (7-5)

Week 14: Seattle Seahawks (December 7)

Something just feels fishy about this game. The Super Bowl champions traveling cross-country to Philadelphia in December. Seattle, traditionally not the best road team, faces an Eagles club that has improved while playing at the Linc. Seattle, like Philadelphia, has this game sandwich between a division rival (San Francisco for Seattle, Dallas for Philadelphia).

This game has a feeling of a Philadelphia miracle. Somewhere in the distance, Freddie Mitchell’s ears will perk up.

Prediction: Eagles 17 – Seattle 16 (8-5)

Week 15: Dallas Cowboys (Sunday Night Football - December 14)

The Eagles will not lose to the Cowboys twice. Plus, it’s another national broadcast. Foles will avenge his poor performance against Dallas at home from the 2013 season. Plus, like Reggie Jackson in October, so shall Romo be in December.

Prediction: Eagles 33 – Cowboys 17

Week 16: at Washington Redskins (December 20)

DeSean Bowl II will go to the home team, but it will not be because of the fleet feet and elegant hands of the former Eagles wide receiver. While the Birds secondary tries to double team Jackson, it will be Washington’s tight end Jordan Reed who will lead the Future Potatoes to a victory, and an outside shot at dethroning the Eagles as NFC East champions.

Prediction: Redskins 27 – Eagles 20 (9-6)

Week 17: at New York Giants (December 28)

Just like last season -- when the NFC East crown was on the line during the last regular-season matchup -- the Eagles will prevail against a division rival in hostile territory. As it has been many times during the Andy Reid era, playing in the Meadowlands becomes an advantage when the pressure is on. Coughlin rides into the sunset an angry man.

Prediction: Eagles 27 – Giants 14

So there you have it. Your Philadelphia Eagles will finish the 2014 regular season with a 10-6 record and will repeat as NFC East division champions – the first time the club has gone back-to-back since winning four in a row from 2001-04.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Shea Weber is Why Vinny Lecavalier is Still Here

The Philadelphia Flyers' 11th all-time transaction involving the Nashville Predators was the signing of restricted free agent defenseman Shea Weber to an offer sheet worth a reported $110 million over 14 years.

It also may be the last one for a very long time. 

That move, engineered by then-GM Paul Holmgren, was aimed at gaining back the losses of Chris Pronger to injury as well as free-agent blueliner Matt Carle who signed on with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and occurred two years ago last Thursday.

It gave the Preds braintrust the unenviable task of deciding whether or not Weber was valuable enough to retain at the risk of their long-term salary-cap structure, and it gave them only a week to do it.

On the Flyers' end, Holmgren gambled that the Preds couldn't possibly risk retaining Weber for that very reason, and seemed perfectly content to cough up four first-round draft picks in consecutive seasons for the chance at landing the closest living facsimile to Pronger.

According to a Frank Seravalli piece in the Daily News on July 19, 2012, which cited a report from Nick Kypreos of Canada's Sportsnet, the Flyers structured the deal in a manner which effectively hamstrung their former favored trading partner, front-loading the deal to the tune of $14 million a year for the first four seasons of the pact and $12 million for the next two thereafter.

Three weeks earlier, Poile witnessed Ryan Suter walking out the door and signing with the Minnesota Wild in the second of twin mega-deals, and, faced with seeing his defense decimated, he remained steadfast in stating he'd match any offer to keep Weber.

With sands from the hourglass quickly slipping downward, one day shy of that seven-day window, Nashville GM David Poile, backed by the club's CEO Jeff Cogen and President Tom Cigarran, moved to match the offer sheet and retain the skater who was most responsible for keeping the franchise in the thick of the Western Conference.

In a statement issued shortly after the announcement of Weber's retaining two years ago today, the organization explained its rationale:

"The decision to enter into the largest contract in franchise history was made by all parts of the organization, including ownership, hockey operations and business operations.

As the organization analyzed the overall situation and worked toward a conclusion, the decision boiled down to three questions:
  - Was Shea Weber the individual that this franchise wanted to lead our team, a team that would compete for the Stanley Cup every year, for the next 14 years?
    - Would matching the offer sheet be in the best long-term interest of the team and organization?
    - Would a decision not to match the offer sheet send a negative message to current Predators players and other NHL organizations, a message that the Predators would only go so far to protect its best players and be pushed around by teams with "deep pockets?"
The answer to each of the above questions is clearly “yes.” The organization spent the last several days analyzing all aspects of the offer sheet, from economic implications to the impact on the team hockey operations puts on the ice.

Most importantly was the reaction to whatever decision the organization reached and the impact it would have on our fans, sponsors and marketing partners. We wanted to insure that our decision reflected not just the feelings of these groups but also conveys a strong message to them that our actions would speak for us and demonstrate our commitment to them. It was absolutely essential that they understand and believe that we are doing everything possible to ice a Stanley Cup competing team each and every season.
With this decision behind us, we continue to focus on our mission: Develop Bridgestone Arena into the number one sports and entertainment facility in North America with a Stanley Cup-winning Nashville Predators team as the centerpiece. With Shea Weber in the fold for the next 14 years, we are closer to this mission, and will continue to contend for the Stanley Cup on an annual basis."

In business and in life, relationships are built on trust. In his zest and zeal to grab the best player available and fill a need, Holmgren effectively sprayed anti-aircraft fire and drilled hundreds of holes into whatever respectful relationship Nashville's front office had with Philadelphia

This was the same Poile who acquiesced to taking a washed-up Danny Markov in the Summer of 2005, and who graciously gave up four players (Scottie Upshall, Ryan Parent, Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell) in return for a shot at Cup glory with a near-washed-up Peter Forsberg through a pair of deals four months apart in 2007.

Poile entered into these agreements, and the others -- dating back to a simple cash transaction for Sergei Klimentiev in January of 1999 -- knowing the Flyers front office is nothing short of a viper pit. He'd been the GM of the Washington Capitals for more than a decade when both clubs were fighting to replace the Islanders as the class of the Patrick Division, then fighting off the remaining clubs to stay at the top. He has a pretty good idea of how Bob Clarke and Holmgren operate in the Flyers mold.

All's fair in wheeling and dealing when two gentlemen looking to upgrade their team pick up a phone, but if one side feels badly burned about a move made in bad faith, it can corrupt things far into the future. Word gets around quickly when it's a group of only 30, and it's telling that the Flyers and Predators have not made a single transaction in the two years since the Weber debacle when there was a period of four deals between the clubs in less than three years split between the Clarke and Holmgren eras.

Vinny Lecavalier might have been a signing directly attributable to Peter Laviolette's presence here last Summer, and Laviolette's presence as the Predators' new head coach, coupled with the club's lack of scoring presence even after the James Neal trade, might mean that Lecavalier would be a great candidate to head to the Music City. Social media had him all but packed up and ready to move once the Mike Fisher injury was announced, but in the real world, where your word is bond and either breaking it or circumventing it to one's overwhelming advantage has consequences, that means (bleep) all.

Why should Poile stick his neck out any further for another highly-paid forward after Weber, now clocking in at a hefty $7,857,143 cap hit and $14 million salary, is responsible for a little over 22 percent of Nashville's current allotment this season? Why should he do it with Philly just because it might be a good fit for a player who might be useless here?

Same goes for any of the other 28 General Managers who consider Poile a close ally and can't stand to deal with the Flyers because of it, even if they think they have the Orange and Black over a barrel. Lecavalier's cap hit is $4.5 million for the next four years, his salary is $6 million this season before a slow decline, and you know other teams expect the Flyers to ask for the galaxy and all its brightest stars in return -- whether it's actual bodies or high draft picks. 

Looking back to the Summer of 1997, Clarke and the Flyers essentially turned the Tampa Bay Lightning to mush with their offer sheet in Group II free agency to acquire Chris Gratton. Giving up the draft picks was nothing to an established "large-market" franchise, and the return of Mikael Renberg and Karl Dykhuis couldn't plug the leaks that sprang from losing Gratton, the Bolts' best player. 

Clarkie did it again in September of 2006, artificially driving up Ryan Kesler's value by procuring an offer sheet for the Vancouver forward at one year for nearly $2 million which the Canucks chose to match in protest.

Shifting gears back into the present, it's not hard to figure out why Poile isn't chomping at the bit to have a confab with new free-thinking Flyers GM Ron Hextall about gaining some veteran help up front. The sins of those who came before have stained the purchasing power of the Stanley Cup champion and Manitoba native, as far as Nashville is concerned.

Matching Weber's offer sheet ended up becoming an unintentional master stroke of revenge for Poile.

Faced with no other option once the gambit failed, Holmgren has been forced to keep Kimmo Timonen around longer than he should have, necessitated the signing of Mark Streit last July, then permitted the logic of a trade for and the undeserved contract extension given to Andrew MacDonald. The wailing of Flyers fans for the health of Pronger, the return Carle and the lamentations of failing to develop their own homegrown defensemen must be music to Poile's ears.

There may be those who think that Hextall hasn't done much during his first offseason in the captain's chair, but as long as he's not engendering the displeasure of another club's front office, and endangering future trade prospects out of avarice, he's way ahead of the game.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Birds' T Johnson handed a four-game suspension

New York, NY -- Philadelphia Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson was hit with a four-game suspension, without pay, by the National Football League on Wednesday for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances by taking a medication he says he failed to check out properly.

The suspension was reported by media outlets last month and announced by the NFL on Wednesday.
Johnson started all 16 games as a rookie last season after being drafted No. 4 overall by the Eagles out of Oklahoma.

He said in a statement issued by the team that he "mistakenly and foolishly put a prescribed medication in my body to help with a medical issue" while he was training in April.

"In April while training, I mistakenly and foolishly put a prescribed medication in my body to help with a medical issue. I mistakenly failed to clear it with Eagles trainers and check the NFL list of banned substances. I am extremely sorry for this mistake and I will learn from it and be smarter in the future.

“I would like to sincerely apologize to Mr. Lurie, Howie Roseman, Coach Kelly and his staff, my teammates and our amazing Philadelphia Eagles fans. This will be very hard on me to not be battling with my teammates for four games - but I will be ready and better than ever when I return."

Johnson is eligible to participate offseason and preseason practices and games but will miss the first four regular-season contests against Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Washington and San Francisco.
He can return to the active roster on Monday, Sept. 29.

"We're very disappointed to learn of his suspension," the Eagles said in a statement. "We have spoken to Lane about the details of the suspension. He understood what he did wrong and took full responsibility. The key for him, however, is to learn from that mistake and move forward with his preparation for the 2014 season."

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

PA state champion St. Joe's Prep to be seen on NFL Network

Courtesy of CBS3 Philly

Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — There is a standard now in area high school football that goes beyond the area, goes beyond the state and has now reached a national level—and that standard is St. Joseph’s Prep.
The Hawks will begin this season No. 1 in every area poll, and are already ranked nationally by MaxPreps at No. 18 in the country.

What’s more, the Hawks will be featured nationally next Tuesday on the NFL Network, when Melissa Starks and the NFL production trucks visit The Prep at Temple’s practice facility on Diamond Street.
There are a lot of expectations for the Hawks—and orchestrator, head coach Gabe Infante, is well aware.

“But the message is the same, believing in the process—it’s like putting a jigsaw puzzle together, you have new pieces, you have old pieces, but you have to make sure all of the pieces fit,” said Infante, whose team finished 12-3 overall last year and are the reigning PIAA Class AAAA state champions. “Every game we play is to be the best team we can possibly become. Not last year’s team—this year’s team.”

Then Infante paused for a moment … “People ask me about defending last year’s state championship, but you can’t defend something that you don’t possess. We don’t possess the 2014 state title—we possess the 2013 trophy. If someone comes into the school and tries to take the 2013 trophy, they’re going to have a problem on their hands. That one I plan on defending. The 2014 we don’t possess. But we have some advantages.”

The Hawks actually have a lot of advantages and it begins with Infante and the core group he’s built over the last three years, beginning with the Southeastern Pennsylvania’s best player, defensive back John Reid, and monster-in-waiting Jon Daniel Runyan, who’s now 6-foot-5, 285 pounds and played his best ever in Prep’s 35-10 thumping of Pittsburgh Central Catholic in the state title game.

Add in special tailbacks D’Andre Swift and Olamide Zaccheaus, who combined to rush for over 1,500 yards last year, returning defenders Shawn Harris. Jake Strain, Brandon Noga, and transfer Benny Walls, and it’s a team that will be awfully tough to beat.

But the Hawks are thinking a little beyond Catholic League or city titles. They’re thinking big picture, playing a national schedule.

“We have to follow the process week-by-week, day-by-day,” said Reid, who had four interceptions last year and is being recruited by Alabama, Penn State, Miami and a host of other national-caliber programs. “I have high expectations of myself—and this team. We all have bigger goals than just rankings. We want to become the best players and best team we can become. Just like any other team, we want to be the best team in the country.

“But we need to keep everything within our bubble and keep the focus on ourselves. We know everyone hates us. Since I’ve been here, no one has really liked us—and I kind of embrace that part. That doesn’t matter. We have a huge target on our backs and there is a lot to prove. We don’t really worry about it. We control what we can control.”

Flyers prominently featured on national broadcasts

To the absolute surprise of no one who can observe the intimate connection between Comcast, its ownership of the Philadelphia Flyers and its oversight of the NBC Sports Network, the Orange and Black will be featured quite a bit on the national TV schedule during the 2014-15 season.

A total of 16 games, in fact.

On Wednesday, the long-standing national network still trying to make a go at attracting a wider audience to the National Hockey League announced its full broadcast slate for the upcoming season. The following are the games and particular network the Flyers will be playing to living rooms beyond the Delaware Valley. Matchups of note are listed in bold print.

October 8 at Boston (NBCSN) Season Opener

October 21 at Chicago (NBCSN)

October 22 at Pittsburgh (NBCSN)

November 19 at NY Rangers (NBCSN)

November 26 at Detroit (NBCSN)

November 28 NY Rangers (NBC) Black Friday 1 PM

December 2 at San Jose (NBCSN)

January 14 at Washington (NBCSN)

January 20 Pittsburgh (NBCSN)

February 15 at Buffalo (NBCSN)

February 22 Washington (NBC) 12:30 PM

February 24 at Carolina (NBCSN)

February 28 NY Rangers (NBC) 8 PM

March 25 Chicago (NBCSN)

April 1 at Pittsburgh (NBCSN)

April 5 Pittsburgh (NBC) 12:30 PM