Bob's Winter Classic Start: Latest Chapter in Flyers Goalie History, But for the Best

Bob's Winter Classic Start: Latest Chapter in Flyers Goalie History, But for the Best

Peter Laviolette showed us last season and playoffs that he likes to go with the hot hand, which is a turn of phrase that obscures a more important truth—Lavvy rewards effort and benches malaise. For whatever reason, Ilya Bryzgalov has lapsed into a second major slump of the first half of the season, and while he was solid in between them, he wasn't the show stopper the Flyers were seeking when they inked him to a 9-year, $51 million deal this summer.

The good news is, as much as Lavvy may be sending a message to an underperforming player, his decision to start Sergei Bobrovsky also rewards someone who is playing well. This isn't merely change for the sake of change, nor a wakeup call to Bryz. Based on recent play, Bob gives the Flyers the best chance to get two points today. He confirmed that in his win over the Penguins to close out 2011.

We'll find out today whether it was the right decision in the short term, but will the long-term implications be positive or negative? One thing's for sure, it drew a reaction from Bryzgalov. Not necessarily the one the coach was hoping for…

What will the short- and long-term implications be?

As you know by now, Bryz broke the secret to the media yesterday. He did it with some self-deprecating humor, which is a story in itself.

Part of the story of Bryzgalov's stay in Philly so far has been broken confidence, with his "Lost in the Woods" quote marking one of the defining moments of the season. While self-deprecation can be enjoyable and endearing, it's not really something you're looking for in a goalie. In the crease, confidence reigns supreme.

Confidence does not appear to be something Bryzgalov has right now. We've talked a bit about his on-ice body language lately, a topic I'm not too fond of overanalyzing but couldn't help but observe. Yesterday, it was his spoken language that grabbed attention. Bryz posted a picture of a thermos and joked with the media that that's how he was preparing for his time on the bench.

Deflection? Certainly. And Bryz has so far been deft at keeping fans on his side despite being the ultimate target for Philly hockey criticism—a highly paid disappointment. His off-ice persona is interesting, amusing, and seemingly sincere. But as the pages turn on the calendar and expectations ratchet up, no amount of HBO footage will save him if his on-ice play does not improve significantly.

Lavvy's decision to start Bob sends a consistent message to his team. Play well and you will be rewarded. It also sends a message to Bryz and others that a big contract doesn't mean they'll start. If both messages are received loud and clear, this could prove to be a turning point for Bryzgalov. This is the right time to have that happen, rather than in four months.

However, Bryz's initial reaction—breaking the story rather than allowing it to be released when Lavvy wanted it to be—would indicate that the message may not yet have been received. The coaches have some work to do in getting Bryz's head on straight, and the player has the most work to do of all. The later into the season we get, the less funny the jokes will be.

On the other hand, Bryz's reaction could have been far, far worse. Being
benched in the highest profile game of the season can't be easy, and
joking about it is a much better response than complaining or
criticizing.

Messages aside, the spectacle of the Winter Classic will reach its height today at 3PM. However, the spectacle for the players needs to have ended yesterday. Alumni Game, family skates, marriage proposals—they're all fantastic, and it's refreshing to see athletes enjoy the lead-in to the Winter Classic. But it's about the two points in the standings for them now. Bob is the safer bet to get them two points today.

The front office will be scrutinized for the decision to give Bryzgalov the bank, not just this year but for years to come. That was a given the day they inked him. But they deserve credit for not doing what a lot of people thought they would in trading away Bobrovsky. In short, they made a risky investment, but they insured against it as well.

Injuries aren't the only reason a contending team needs a backup who can play like a starter. Goalies are often among the biggest headcases in all of sports. When they're off, they're way off. When they're on, they're nearly unbeatable. Bryz will get his swagger back. Until then, we can be glad that the Flyers can lean on the goalie a lot of people wanted to be the starter before free agency even began.

All this being said, we'd obviously prefer there to be no big story in goal as the league's attention turns to the Flyers.

End to End: Which 1 move will Flyers most likely make at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline?

End to End: Which 1 move will Flyers most likely make at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline?

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End this week are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

Today’s question: Which one move is most likely at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline?
 
Dougherty
There has been a lot of chatter about why the Flyers should sell at Wednesday's trade deadline. They won't be buying. Sell is the wrong word here. The Flyers are not selling and changing course. They are not trading Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and starting over. Instead, the next logical step in the rebuild is to shed an expiring contract and open up a spot for a kid.

It just so happens the Flyers have three expiring contracts on defense, and one player comes to mind who would be attractive to contending teams and also paves the way for a defenseman at Lehigh Valley to gain some valuable NHL experience the rest of the season.

That player is Mark Streit, a 39-year-old puck-moving defenseman who can help a team's power play and provide some veteran leadership to boot. Streit has a modified no-trade clause in his contract, meaning he has a list of 10 teams he can be traded to, but that should not be a roadblock in moving him. He'll be a free agent on July 1 and a playoff run is far more attractive than wasting away the final two months of the season in mediocrity.

Streit does have a high cap hit ($5.25 million), but the Flyers could retain some of it. He comes off the books on July 1 and a rental for an acquiring team anyway. The cap hit would not be a deal-breaker here. That is an easy hurdle to clear in this situation.

There are valid arguments against trading Streit, and moving, say, Michael Del Zotto, another attractive expiring contract. Streit is a veteran voice in the Flyers' room and respected within the organization. He's still a valuable piece here. In a perfect world, general manager Ron Hextall can shed both Streit and Del Zotto and open up two spots on the blue line, clearing the way for two (2!) Phantoms defensemen to get some experience.

But, trading Streit is the one move I see as most likely to happen before Wednesday's deadline. Acquire a draft pick for Streit and call up Robert Hagg or Sam Morin. In this scenario, the bet here would be on Hagg. And remember, it's not selling, it's the next step.
 
Hall
Before the season, I was a big believer in trading one of the Flyers' goalies at the March 1 deadline.

Now, it makes even more sense in a season that appears to be headed for not much of anything.

Why hold on to two goalies set for unrestricted free agency when you'll almost certainly lose at least one for absolutely nothing this offseason? 

Michal Neuvirth turns 29 next month, as does Steve Mason in May. Both are having down seasons, but are still tradable and capable goalies -- whether it be in a starter's role or backup duty.

Is either goalie the Flyers' future when the team is ready for contention?

The orange and black are stocked with goaltending prospects in Anthony Stolarz, Alex Lyon, Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom. Stolarz got a small taste of the NHL earlier this season and could more than hold down the second-string fort the rest of 2016-17. When the offseason comes, then you worry about what's next between the pipes.

But right now, one of the most rational decisions for the Flyers at the trade deadline would be moving a goalie. Neuvirth currently carries a more reasonable cap hit at $1.625 million, while Mason is at $4.1 million. Make a tough decision and start prepping more for the road ahead.

I think a trade can and should be done by Wednesday.

Paone
Thanks to injury and Dave Hakstol's recent emphasis on defensive structure, Del Zotto hasn't been in the Flyers' lineup much recently. Del Zotto is now healed from the lower-body injury that kept him out for a couple of weeks, so the part about an emphasis on defensive structure is important here when talking about his status with the Flyers.

Del Zotto has never been a defense-first type player. His strength is clearly his offensive ability. But unfortunately for Del Zotto, that's just not what the Flyers need out of their defensemen these days. So it should be no surprise he has slid down Hakstol's depth chart as the need for his role has decreased dramatically. But there are plenty of teams out there, contending ones, too, that could use some offensive punch on the blue line and on the power play. Del Zotto has played in only 30 games this season with four goals and six assists and is a role player these days, but there's a role for him somewhere out there. It's just not in Philadelphia anymore.

His $3.875 million cap hit is a bit steep, but he's a UFA at season's end, so it will come off the books. That should make a team much more willing to take a chance on Del Zotto and his cap in exchange for a draft pick, which Hextall values. Plus, he's not likely to be back here next year anyway, as the Flyers will likely start infusing more of the defensive talent they have in the minors into the big club. So might as well get something for him while you can. Contending teams can never have too much depth and those teams like to build depth through the trade market at this time of year. There's a fit somewhere out there for Del Zotto before the March 1 trade deadline.

Phillies 10, Blue Jays 3: Jeremy Hellickson limbers up, offense continues to hit

Phillies 10, Blue Jays 3: Jeremy Hellickson limbers up, offense continues to hit

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Jeremy Hellickson did not shine in his spring debut Sunday, but he didn’t have to.

Hellickson projects to be the Phillies' opening day starter for the second straight year, but with five weeks to go before it all starts for real in Cincinnati, he has plenty of time to put a coat of polish on his game.

The right-hander knocked off some wintertime rust with two innings of work against the Toronto Blue Jays. He gave up four hits and two runs, walked one and did not strike out a batter.

"I felt great," Hellickson said. "I wasn't really commanding the fastball like I wanted, but my arm and my body felt good."

Hellickson went 12-10 with a 3.71 ERA in 32 starts for the Phillies last season and could have opted for free agency in the offseason. However, he surveyed the marketplace and determined he'd be better off taking the Phillies' qualifying offer of $17.2 million for 2017 and trying his luck on the free-agent market next season.

So he's betting on himself.

"That's kind of how I'm looking at it," he said. "It was easy to do that just with the way I felt last year. I think I can definitely repeat or exceed what I did last year."

The Phillies can't give Hellickson another qualifying offer after this season so it's quite possible they will look to deal him in July. But that won't necessarily be easy. The Phils had talks with a number of teams about Hellickson last July and were unable to consummate a deal. It will be tougher this July as Hellickson’s salary has jumped by $10 million. The Phillies may have to eat some of that salary to get a deal they like.

Hellickson was asked if he was ready for another summer of trade rumors.

"No," he said with a wry smile. "But I know it's coming."

He's holding out hope that the Phillies will play their way into contention and the front office keeps the rotation together. He believes it's possible.

"I think we have a really good team here," he said. "Hopefully we're the ones trading for guys at the deadline.

"I've been reading some stuff saying (Aaron) Nola is a No. 5 guy. If Nola's your No. 5 guy, you have a pretty good rotation. I definitely think one through five we can give six, seven, eight strong innings every time out. Then with the guys, we signed for the back of our bullpen, it'll make our jobs that much easier. The days we don't have it, I feel like we can hand it off to those guys after five or six. We're in pretty good shape."

The game
The Phillies beat the Jays, 10-3, on the strength of 13 hits and three Toronto errors. The Phils had eight hits in Saturday’s win over the Yankees.

Cam Perkins, Pedro Florimon and Daniel Nava all had two hits. Rhys Hoskins and Ryan Hanigan both walked twice. Andres Blanco homered. Brock Stassi doubled. Nick Williams had a hit, two RBIs and a walk. Power-hitting rightfielder Dylan Cozens stole two bases.

Cozens is a legitimate stolen-base threat. In addition to belting 40 homers at Double A Reading last season, he swiped 21 bags and was only caught once.

"You've got to like his tools," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He's really an athletic guy. He's got good hands at the plate. I think he's going to hit because he doesn't have a lot of excess body movement. He hits a lot with his hands and I think in time he'll cut down on the strikeouts and he'll be an even better player. He looks like a solid defender, good hitting ability, a lot of power and some speed."

On the mound
Ben Lively and Alberto Tirado both pitched two scoreless innings and Pat Neshek and Michael Mariot had one each.

Up next
Jerad Eikchoff makes his spring debut when the Phillies host the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday afternoon.

Clay Buchholz will get the start Tuesday against Baltimore.