High Noon: Which Flyers Will Survive Yesterday's Waives? Plus, Schenn Sent to Phantoms, Praise for Read

High Noon: Which Flyers Will Survive Yesterday's Waives? Plus, Schenn Sent to Phantoms, Praise for Read

With all the new faces at the Skate Zone this year, it's been a
pretty exciting camp for the Flyers. Amidst massive roster turnover came
some interesting position battles, and a few weeks ago, it became clear
that some good players would not make this team. Some would head to
Glens Falls to at least begin the season playing for the Phantoms, while
others would be gone entirely.

As Thursday's season opener approaches, the regular season roster
picture became clearer with a handful of rather notable moves on
Tuesday. We'll know even more come the noon hour today, when we find out
which of the players the Flyers exposed to waivers were claimed, and
which will stay in the organEYEzation.

So who could be moving? Fourth line center / talented penalty killer
Blair Betts and defensemen Matt Walker and Oskars Bartulis were waived,
and can be claimed by other NHL teams before noon on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Brayden Schenn, the highly touted young forward acquired as
part of the deal for Mike Richards, gets to hang on to the title "best
player not in the NHL" a little longer, as he will begin the season with
the AHL Adirondack Phantoms.

A look at what those moves could mean to the roster below.


Schenn's Falls
First,
the Schenn move, which has little if any controversy or even surprise
to it. His being sent to the Phantoms isn't a demotion so much as it is a
strategic move, perhaps toward a better immediate and long-term on-ice
product, but certainly a better salary cap situation. CapGeek.com points
out
that spending any time—even one day—in the minors this season
knocks Schenn's cap hit from $3.11 million to $1.705 million.
In other words, Schenn could have scored 10 goals and stayed completely
healthy throughout the preseason and he'd be en route to Glens Falls
right now anyway.

How long he stays there, we don't know. But his cap hit is suddenly
much better for the remainder of the season when he does get recalled.
It won't kill Schenn or the Flyers for him to get some more time in the
minors either, both to get an ailing shoulder up to speed and to get
some more pre-NHL seasoning. Of course, it may hurt his odds at winning
the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie, which betting site
Bodog.com had set as its highest. 

Despite trading away two centers (counting Jeff Carter there because
it was still his natural position) and possibly losing another one
overnight, the Flyers are still pretty deep up the middle. For now, it
looks like they'll be keeping first-round draft pick Sean Couturier on
the NHL roster to start the season. That may change after 10 games, the
point at which he can be returned to his junior team without counting
against the Flyers current cap year.

Gambling on Losing Betts
One player the Flyers may not be able to
yo-yo back after dangling him over the hands of the league's waiver
grabbers is Blair Betts. Despite battling nagging injuries, Betts has
been a stalwart defensive forward for the Flyers, anchoring their fourth
line and penalty killing units. Now, those coveted skills and his
attractive $700k salary are likely headed for another club. 

When the Flyers signed Max Talbot away from the Pittsburgh Penguins
this off-season, the departure of Betts became a possibility. Talbot
kills penalties and can man the fourth line pivot. He's only 27 years
old and has obviously come up big at key playoff moments, so his allure
is understandable. However, Talbot loses more faceoffs than he wins
(48.6% last season), and the faceoff circle isn't a place the Flyers
appeared able to take a step back.

Talbot also costs more than Betts ($1.75 mil per the next five
seasons), and he was a minus player last season to Betts' plus-7 if you
put stock in that stat. We were, perhaps naively, hoping there'd be a
way to keep both players; while Talbot will be asked to fill some of
Betts' previous roles, he's not necessarily an exact fit, perhaps
ideally used as a wing on either the third or fourth line.

However, the Flyers were looking for someone even more versatile
than a fourth-line center who could kill penalties. They wanted someone
who could replace the energy Ian Laperriere brought to the table,
something Dan Carcillo couldn't consistently do (particularly when he
wasn't playing regularly). Talbot may be coming into a firestorm in
Philly in that many fans don't like his contract, think he's a bit
overrated, and now he likely has Betts' shoes to fill.

But, we need to give this some time before coming to our
conclusions. Fourth line centers are often more replaceable than they
seem, as we learned when the Flyers exposed Glen Metropolit to waivers a
few seasons back due to cap constraints. Metro was missed for the rest
of that season, but was replaced by Betts in the next year's camp,
having been let go by the Rangers.

Back to Talbot for a minute. I recall a lot of fans not liking the
Lappy signing because one of the Flyers' big problems the previous
season was taking too many penalties, resulting in too much time on the
kill. Lappy knew his way to the box, but the concern was largely washed out when we saw what a contributor he could be. Now the team is looking for the guy who can replace him, playing
valuable minutes while also serving an agitating role and throwing down
when the situation calls for it, plus chipping on offense here and
there. I'll miss Betts if he gets snatched up, and there's a good chance
he will, but I'm reserving judgment on Talbot and even fostering some
optimism that he can be a key role-player here. We'll revisit that as
the season moves on I'm sure.

In any case, the current penalty killing situation bears monitoring,
as does the defensive role of the forwards at even strength. Richards
was a huge strength in both regards, and Carter was underrated
defensively (not a popular opinion, I know, but he was no sieve in his
own zone). If Betts is gone, Claude Giroux will probably have to play
more PK minutes than he otherwise might have, which doesn't hurt the PK,
but does use some more of our most talented player's nightly ice time
in non-attacking situations. Matt Read and Wayne Simmonds will also see
time on the killing unit, which also lost the talents of Darroll Powe. 

Back End of the Blue Line
While Matt Walker's $1.7mil salary made
him a candidate for a cap relief waiving, the team's recent confidences
in him as reported by Tim Panaccio made it seem like they might hang on
to them. Of course, they could just be trying to draw a suitor to take
that money on. Andreas Lilja is slotted in as the sixth d-man, but
presumably either Oskars Bartulis or Walker will be kept on as the
seventh if one or both clear. We'll wait on commenting further until we
see how the waivers shake out, but Paul Holmgren expressed some degree
of confidence to Panotch that both guys might clear.

Bob McKenzie's Read on Matt Read
Matt Read has earned a spot with
the Flyers with his impressive camp and preseason showings. He's also
earned acknowledgement from one of the most respected hockey voices
around, with TSN's Bob McKenzie picking him to be this year's Calder
Trophy winner
. While I don't see that happening, as these awards usually go to guys
who stand out either in the crease or on the stat sheet, and I don't see
Read racking up quite that many points, it's pretty encouraging to see
McKenzie throw some confidence behind his ability to contribute at the
NHL, and then some.

Plus, two of the new Flyer faces have been mentioned in this post as
possible Calder Trophy winners, and neither of them is the guy the
Flyers got high in the first round of the 2011 draft, who is also
drawing praise.

500 plate appearances in, Tommy Joseph an above-average offensive 1B

500 plate appearances in, Tommy Joseph an above-average offensive 1B

BOX SCORE

Tommy Joseph is making the Phillies' situation at first base quite tricky.

Joseph on Thursday continued building on his red-hot month of May by going 2 for 5 with a game-tying homer in the seventh and a walk-off RBI single in the 11th inning of the Phillies' 2-1 win over the Rockies (see Instant Replay).

He's hit .329 in May with six doubles, six homers, 15 RBIs and a .657 slugging percentage. The only first basemen in the majors with a higher slugging percentage this month are Yonder Alonso, Justin Bour and Paul Goldschmidt.

That'll hold off the eye-popping production of Rhys Hoskins for now (see Future Phillies Report).

Extending it further, Joseph has played 148 career games with 499 plate appearances in the majors. That's just a bit less than a full season. He's hit .255 with an .804 OPS, 28 home runs and 23 doubles. He's provided above-average offensive production from first base.

Most Phillies fans know Joseph's story — big-time catching prospect acquired from the Giants in the 2012 Hunter Pence trade, series of concussions, position switch, hot start to 2016 at Triple A, promotion, production.

It was a long, winding road for Joseph, and when he was asked Thursday if he expected to be this solid 500 plate appearances into his major-league career, he brought up health.

"My goals were to be healthy, to be able to play in 162 games and that's all I really want to be able to do," Joseph said. "That's something I haven't been able to do in my career and it's something that I'm looking forward to. I'm looking forward to the challenge to go through the mental challenge and the physical challenge and I'd say that's my No. 1 goal, that's my only goal. Because if I'm able to stay healthy and stay on the field then I'm able to enjoy this great game and getting to share it with my teammates."

As for the May adjustments, Joseph said the standard things about communicating with hitting coach Matt Stairs, working in the cage and staying consistent with his approach. His timing wasn't there in April but it's certainly been there in May.

"There's no telling what clicks in a guy, it's just a matter of making a minor adjustment sometimes, possibly getting better pitches to hit," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's no telling what it is, but he just looks a lot more comfortable at the plate."

Bullpen bouncing back
It's been completely overshadowed by the Phillies' recent skid but the bullpen has pitched very well of late. The unit that was overworked and criticized in April has combined to allow just two earned runs in its last 22 2/3 innings. On Thursday, six Phillies relievers — Edubray Ramos, Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit, Hector Neris, Luis Garcia and Jeanmar Gomez — pitched six scoreless innings.

Neshek made the play of the day, diving and landing on his head to snag a pop-up bunt attempt before turning and firing to first base for the double play.

"I said early on that I think it's one of our strengths," Mackanin said of the bullpen. "And after today you can see why I have a lot of confidence in them."

Neshek, who has pitched in the postseason for four different teams, said Thursday that he thinks this is one of the best bullpens he's ever been around. It's not lip service, either. The unit was terrible in April, there's no getting around that. But some of that really did have to do with the overuse. Setup men were entering in the sixth inning. Opportunities for holds and saves were few and far between. Roles were not defined.

Stuff-wise, repertoire-wise, there is a lot to like about the Phillies' bullpen. Neris, Benoit and Neshek all offer vastly different looks and have track records of success.

While Neshek didn't totally endorse Benoit's comments from a few weeks ago that everything would settle down once the relievers knew specifically which inning they'd pitch, he did say that he too feels most comfortable coming in during a hold opportunity.

"I think my numbers show that I'm best in those situations, coming into a hold opportunity when we're ahead," Neshek said. "We haven't had much of those lately."

The horrendous start to the season for the Phillies' relievers will skew their stats all season long, but it's nice to see that at least one aspect of this team is starting to get into a groove.

With a new mentality, Vince Velasquez takes nice step in right direction

With a new mentality, Vince Velasquez takes nice step in right direction

Vince Velasquez needed 94 pitches to complete five innings in yet another short outing Thursday ... but still, it was a nice step in the right direction.

Velasquez minimized the damage against a stacked Rockies lineup, allowing one run over five innings with seven strikeouts in a 2-1 Phillies win (see Instant Replay). He avoided having that one big, meltdown inning. His pitch count still soared because the Rockies fouled off 28 pitches, but it was a promising sign that the longest at-bat of the day — 11 pitches to Charlie Blackmon — ended in a strikeout.

"Today was just huge on my part, even giving up the home run (to Trevor Story), just shutting down the majority of the guys," Velasquez said. "I gave up seven hits, but limiting the damage and getting out of the innings. These guys are just attacking.... I had a plan to attack the guys. You know, prior starts, changing game plans causes damage. So keep planning to attack and work your way around that.

"They're fouling off fastballs, it means they're late on them. I'm not changing my mentality. Why throw a curveball?"

Velasquez met with pitching coach Bob McClure last Sunday after his latest poor start Saturday in Pittsburgh. The key advice he was given was "stick to your strengths." Anybody who's watched Velasquez the last two seasons knows what his strength is: his fastball.

"Definitely. That's my go-to," Velasquez said. "[Before], I was just pretty much having second thoughts about certain pitches and again, just changing my game plan. If you shy away from that, things pretty much go away from you. That's where you get hurt. Today's mentality didn't change at all. I attacked guys with high fastballs in 0-2 counts. Story put a good swing on it and it ended up escalating out."

That was the one big mistake Velasquez made. He threw an 0-2 fastball right down the middle that Story hit out of the park. The Phillies have allowed the most 0-2 home runs in the majors this season (six) and the last two seasons combined (17). For reference, the Marlins have allowed the fewest over that span, just two.

But still, the high fastballs for Velasquez mostly worked on this afternoon. He induced 10 swinging strikes on 72 fastballs.

His off-speed stuff was a different story. The Rockies' first two hits of the day came on curveballs and they went 4 for 6 against his curve, slider and changeup. Colorado's hitters swung through just 2 of the 22 offspeed pitches they saw from Velasquez.

Manager Pete Mackanin said after Velasquez's last start that commanding his off-speed pitches is the key for him. His fastball is great, we all know that, but it just doesn't play multiple times through the order when the other team knows that pitch is coming in every key situation.

"The changeup was actually working a little bit [today]," Velasquez said. "It was down. That's just another pitch I need to work on a little bit more. But it's coming around. The curveball has a good shape to it but, again, it's just locating it."

It's important to keep it all in perspective when it comes to Velasquez. He's a power-armed 24-year-old who's still figuring things out. Most pitchers wouldn't be doing their jobs by going five innings, but with Velasquez it's a baby-steps approach — every small step in a positive direction being a sign that his dominant stuff can someday translate into consistency. 

He'll carry a 2-4 record and 5.55 ERA into his next start Tuesday in Miami.