Are 2013-14 Flyers pulling in too many different directions?

Are 2013-14 Flyers pulling in too many different directions?

A new season is dawning for the Flyers, and with any new season comes hope. The road to the Stanley Cup Playoffs is a long one, and there surely will be bumps along the way, but if the Orange & Black can return to the postseason, anything can happen in the NHL.

Are the Flyers a playoff team? I think so. They are healthier than they were heading into last season, their young players have another year under their belts, and they only built on to the roster over the offseason—unless you’re of the belief Danny Briere’s and Ilya Bryzgalov’s modest contributions will be sorely missed.

But are the Flyers a Cup contender? Sure. Anything. Can. Happen. GM Paul Holmgren could swing a monumental trade at the deadline that alters the landscape of the Eastern Conference. Either Ray Emery or Steve Mason could theoretically get hot in net at the right time. Brayden Schenn and/or Sean Couturier could elevate their game to superstar levels. We just don’t know.

But as the Flyers stand today, on Day 1 of the NHL season, do they look like a Cup contender? I’d have to venture a no. To me, they look like a team that’s stuck in between too many opposing philosophies at work.

In June of 2011, Holmgren sent Mike Richards and Jeff Carter packing only one year removed from a Finals appearance. The deals signaled a youth movement that for all intents and purposes is still ongoing. Jakub Voracek (24) and Wayne Simmonds (25) are just now starting to establish themselves as core contributors for this franchise, while we wait patiently for B. Schenn (22) and Couturier (20) to join them.

To complete the picture, Claude Giroux (25) was named captain prior to the 2013 campaign. At that point, Flyers management could have decided to sink or swim with these kids—a pair of whom might be a year or two away from truly blossoming yet (and several others in their minor league system)—watching players grow and picking up more draft picks.

Clearly that was not the direction the organization decided to go in based on their offseason. The Flyers’ additions of Vincent Lecavalier (33) and Mark Streit (35) look like win-now moves, which flies in the face of the very concept of a youth movement. They bring tremendous veteran leadership and one can only hope a couple quality seasons left in the tank. They would be tremendous players to have for a Cup run.

But if that’s not where the rest of this team is at, the moves are perplexing and perhaps demonstrate some confusion over what the next step was supposed to be. By the time everything comes together, Lecavalier and Streit could be another year or three older and further in decline, perhaps even detriments to the Flyers’ progress. They’re here now though, and likely give the club some polish as a playoff contender, but a championship?

That vision doesn’t even align with the situation the front office has created in goal, where the Flyers once again own a timeshare. It’s not a question of whether they were justified in moving on from Bryzgalov—they were—or if a tandem of Emery and Mason is a decent stopgap for one season—it is. But can either man carry an NHL team through the trials of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Again, my best guess is no. Emery’s comeback has been amazing, and he posted incredible numbers in Chicago last season, but while facing fewer shots against per start than any entire club in the league on average—it won’t be that easy in Orange & Black. Mason has looked good since his arrival, but it was only seven games. History suggests he’ll come back down to earth.

The Flyers are stuck in a holding pattern at goaltender, either until 2012 second-round pick Anthony Stolarz is ready (and he’s probably a ways off) or somebody else becomes available. Either way, that person is not in Philadelphia right now. Veterans are. And so are a bunch of players that are still developing.

It’s an odd mix to say the least. If the front office goal was to put a legitimate championship contender on the ice this season, I’m not sure they achieved that, or could have for that matter. They tried anyway, and now I’m not sure what they have.

If nothing else, the journey should be fun to watch. Giroux wants to get back in the conversation with the Ovechkins and Stamkos and Crosbys and Malkins. The young core is exciting, and I do want to see what Lecavalier and Streit do to give the Flyers a makeover. I’m just not certain all of the pieces fit.

But then I guess we won’t know until they fall away.

Inside Doop: Union inch closer to playoffs after tie in Toronto

Inside Doop: Union inch closer to playoffs after tie in Toronto

The Union left the country for a big game over the weekend and did not return to the United States with a win as they hoped.

But they did come back with a hard-earned point against the top team in the conference as well as the first MLS goal from their marquee summer signing, while inching closer to the playoffs. Here’s a look at Saturday’s 1-1 draw with the Toronto FC and what lies ahead with three regular-season games left.

Three thoughts about Saturday’s game
1. It took Alejandro Bedoya almost two months to score his first MLS goal … but what a goal it was. After collecting a pass from Fabian Herbers midway through the first half (just barely avoiding being offside), the U.S. national team starter took one dribble and fooled goalkeeper Clint Irwin with a clever chip over his head and into the net. You don’t see those kind of chip goals often and when you do, they’re usually delivered by big-time playmakers — the kind of guys the Union don’t usually have but do now with Bedoya. Head coach Jim Curtin’s decision to play Bedoya at the No. 10 attacking midfield spot with Tranquillo Barnetta injured also paid big dividends and showed the Union have more midfield options going into the playoffs … and into next season.

2. Coming into the game, a big storyline centered around center back Ken Tribbett, who got the start at center back about a month after getting pulled at halftime vs. Toronto. Another centered around right back Keegan Rosenberry, who was trying to bounce back from a rare off game in Portland the previous week. But, in the end, both players had some very good moments and helped limit the Toronto attack for much of the game, especially in the first half. Much of that had to do with another Curtin lineup decision as the Union head coach put two defensive-minded midfielders in front of the backline: Warren Creavalle, who also had a great hustle play that nearly led to a second goal right before halftime, and Brian Carroll, who’s now made two straight starts after missing six straight games with Plantar fasciitis.

3. Saturday’s game didn’t end without some late fireworks from the league’s hottest player, Jozy Altidore. Riding an eight-goals-in-nine-games streak coming in, the U.S. national team star struck the post in the 87th minute and was taken down in the box by C.J. Sapong in stoppage time on what initially looked to be a clear penalty. If you look at the replay from Sapong’s perspective, however, you could probably make the case that Sapong was going for the ball before getting impeded by Altidore. Either way, the idea of a ref not making a call that would likely decide a game (on a play that wasn’t a real goal-scoring opportunity) took some guts, especially as he got lambasted from the home team and its fans.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. The brutal three-game road trip ends Saturday as the Union, after a loss in Portland and tie in Toronto, take on the rival New York Red Bulls (7 p.m., The Comcast Network). As conservative as it might sound, another point would probably make it a mildly successful trip considering the caliber of opponent. Either way, the Union’s playoff hopes and seeding will likely come down to their final two home games against Orlando and the Red Bulls. At this point, the best they can likely hope for is to hold off Montreal, D.C. United and New England for the No. 4 seed in the East, which would ensure them an opening-round home game. Luckily for them, Montreal and New England both lost this weekend, and although D.C. picked up a big win, they did so against another team in the playoff hunt in Orlando.

2. Another week means another question about captain Maurice Edu’s health. It’s now been more than two months since he returned to the practice field and almost a month since he started playing rehab games with the Bethlehem Steel. With only three games left in the season, it’s hard to see him becoming a starter after being out so long with a stress fracture. It also doesn’t help his case that Carroll and Creavalle are both playing well at his position. But if Edu’s healthy, there’s no sense not utilizing him as a midfield reserve or even as an emergency defensive replacement. The question, as always: is this the week he finally makes his season debut?

3. While Curtin’s lineup decisions played well in Toronto, one interesting one was not playing Roland Alberg. With Barnetta out, many Union fans probably expected Alberg to start at the No. 10 position — or, at the very least, come off the bench. But with the Union never falling behind, Curtin probably didn’t feel the need to bring in such an offensive-minded player. It was an understandable move considering the context but one that was surely disappointing for Alberg, who despite having nine goals in just over 1,000 minutes, has played only 19 minutes over the last three games and has started only once since the beginning of August. By now, you have to wonder what role the dynamic Dutchman will have in the playoffs — if he has one at all.

Stat of the week
With his seventh assist, the rookie Herbers moved into the top 10 in franchise history in career assists. He’s tied for ninth all time with Barnetta, Alejandro Moreno and Conor Casey.

Quote of the week
“I kind of even surprised myself.”

— Alejandro Bedoya, on his first MLS goal

Player of the week
Gotta give it to the guy who scored one of the best goals of the Union’s season, right? The Union now hope there’s more to come from Bedoya during the final stretch of the 2016 season.

Nerlens Noel on Sixers' frontcourt logjam: 'I don't see a way it can work'

Nerlens Noel on Sixers' frontcourt logjam: 'I don't see a way it can work'

CAMDEN, N.J. — Nerlens Noel is standing his ground.

After saying that the Sixers' entering the season with three starting-caliber centers (himself, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid) "doesn't make sense," Noel didn't back down from his stance during the team's annual media day.  

"I don't see a way it can work," Noel said Monday. "It's just a logjam. You have three young, talented centers that can play 30-plus minutes a night." 

The Sixers attempted to play with two bigs in Noel and Okafor last season but had little success. Now that Embiid is finally healthy, the fit to the puzzle doesn't figure to get any better.

Reports swirled during the offseason that the Sixers were looking to trade either Noel or Okafor to add backcourt help to the woeful franchise, but nothing came to fruition.

"Things need to get situated," Noel said. "I think things obviously need to be moved around, someone needs to be moved around. It's just a tough situation. I can't really say too much because I have no say in the matter, so obviously that's for who can handle the situation in the right manner.

"I've gone through a whole lot. Probably the most, arguably, that any player has gone through in the NBA in losing. It's a tough situation to still be in. Year by year, to see things get more difficult to show your value. Year by year, it's always been something. It's really at a point where it's just a lot."

Bryan Colangelo said he understands Noel's viewpoint. However, the Sixers' president said he is in no rush to trade any of the centers and will wait the situation out.

"It’s not disappointing. It’s understandable," Colangelo said. "I think Nerlens actually did a pretty good job sizing up what we have, which is a lot of depth and a lot of talent at that position."

Despite each of the three centers being early in their career, Noel, who is in the final year of his rookie contract, doesn't want to hold off to see if the trio can actually mesh on the floor.

"I can't say I do really understand that (wait-and-see approach)," Noel said. "If you have a group of players, I just don't think it makes too much sense to just still come into the season with such a heavy lineup at the center position. I don't know what there is to wait and see."

Noel made sure to express that he has no issues with Okafor and Embiid and said they are some of his closest friends on the team. But when asked whether he was happy to be a Sixer, Noel deflected.

"I feel good," he said. "I'm all right, I'm in a good place right now."

Sure sounds like it.