Broken Twigs: The Casual Flyers Fan Off-season Recap

Broken Twigs: The Casual Flyers Fan Off-season Recap

Ain’t nothing wrong with taking the summer off from the Flyers. The players all retreat to their mill towns to pave roads and paint highway rest stops to earn some extra cash and you have artificially flavored beer to drink on the beach. No worries.

But hockey is officially officially back now. It was just officially back last week when a bunch of prospects you don’t know, and most likely will never have to take the time to get to know, had a little camp at the Skate Zone. But the real deal starts today – full MFing training camp. So what do you need to know about this year’s team that's different from the club that didn't make the playoffs last year? This:

1. Ron Hextall is back.
You may have seen this throwback’s name in the headlines this summer. It’s because he left the Kings and is now the Assistant GM here in Flipadelphia. He’s not like Dwight Schrute either, he’s really the Assistant GM, not the Assistant to the GM. This is the first step to Hexy becoming the the full-time GM once Paul Holmgren gets called back to the mother ship. People even say that his finger prints are all over this Cleary deal. Isn't it weird that the Flyers brought a former player back to work for them?? So weird. No word on whether or no Bob Froese has accepted the offer to come back Hexy up as Assistant Assistant GM.

2. Whoa whoa whoa what Cleary deal?
The Flyers have probably (illegally?) promised to sign 34 year old forward Daniel Cleary to a 3 year deal. They don’t have cap space at this particular moment because hockey likes to be all dramatic and rulesy, so he’s officially coming to Philly on a tryout. This means no Simon Gagne.

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3. Why no Gagne?

Because we already signed a bunch of dudes this off-season! Jiminy Christmas, you don’t know anything! Tampa Bay captain Vincent Lecavalier was bought out by the Lightning and we scooped him up. We also signed free agent defenseman Mark Streit. Just like a Philadelphia fan should be, everyone is cautiously optimistic about these high profile signings of relatively old, but nonetheless talented players. There’s kind of this “maybe Homer knows something we don’t know” vibe about the whole situation. That attitude is furthered by our goaltending situation.

4. Because Bryzgalov is so weird? I know that much…
Bryzgalov is gone. He and Briere were bought out. There were about 700 articles devoted to the millions of dollars Bryz is going to be making off the Flyers for the next decade and a half, but everyone agrees the Briere signing had its benefits but didn’t make sense in the new new NHL. So what we have in net this season is former Calder (Rookie) Trophy winner Steve Mason, who was Bob’s (who won the Vezina for best goalie in the NHL this summer) back up in Columbus and free agent signee and Stanley Cup winner Ray Emery.

5. Wasn’t Ray Emery a Flyers before?
Yes he was. Then he had a career-threatening injury. Now he is back to platoon with Mason after successfully doing the same in Chicago last year. Someone else who was a Flyers before was Adam Hall.

6. Who is Adam Hall?
Don’t worry about it. Wears Mike Richards number on the 4th line. Is good at faceoffs. Oh yeah, people be creamin’ ‘bout how good we’re going to be at faceoffs this season. Especially when Claude Giroux returns to full strength.

7. Oh yeah didn’t he get hit with a golf club at the Olympics?
Yeah no. He broke a golf club and it went up into his finger and resulted in him missing Canada’s Olympic Training Camp. He says he’ll be 100% for the season opener.

8. The Olympics are this winter? But it’s 2013.
It is 2013, you’re right. But most of the winter is actually in 2014. And the Olympics are in Russia so all the games will be played in the middle of the night and in the morning here in the Eastern Time Zone. Also, this means that there will be a 2+ week break in the NHL season, so the schedule will look a little different than you’re used to. Something else that will look a little different is our opponents. The Hurricanes, Caps, and Blow Jobs (there I said it) are joining our Division this season and there are now only 2 Divisions per conference. Detroit is also joining our Conference. Also our Division is called the Metropolitan Division and despite some early cracks at the name everyone already seem to be comfortable with calling it The Metro Division, so be sure to save your mis-guided ice cream jokes for the proper audience.

9. What does that mean for the playoffs?
In the Eastern conference, the top 3 teams (out of 8) in each Division make the playoffs. So that’s 6 of the 8 spots in the East filled. Then it’s the top two point earners regardless of Division that get the wild card. Emphasis is on divisional play, kind of like baseball.

10. What else should I know to impress the bartender at The Locust Bar? I mean my friends.
- The Flyers HAVE to trade a defenseman before the season starts. Everyone’s money is on Big Mesz, but I could see Coburn coming in as the Charlie Kelley in this situation. A good rule of thumb when trying to anticipate Paul Holmgren's next move is to smoke a pound of crank and then have a Magic 8 Ball tell you.
- Ent Mike Knuble refuses to retire and is coaching/skating with the Grand Rapid Griffins in the AHL again. But no one wants him, probably because he is immobile, so he is going to retire.
- There’s not much chance of any young guys spending any significant time in the NHL this season, so no new names! We've got a full roster once Cleary is added and then we re-sign Jay Rosehill and traded that AHLer Danny Syvret to the Rags for some former Baskin Robins Employee of the Month sounding dude called Kris Newbury.
- If the Flyers don’t blow Kimmo will probably sign for the 2014-15 season instead of retiring. (In rereading that I almost changed the order of words to make it sound less like the Flyers needed to blow Kimmo, but in the end I thought it might actually work better that way, because they better buy some chap stick if they want to keep that old cat around!)

- Matt Read is going to be a UFA at the end of the season, take that for what it’s worth. What's worth is the Flyers might have to sacrifice him to the Salary Cap Gods. If he has a bang up season he'll test the free agent market for sure. Unless The Hextall-Clarke-Holmgren Sucubus can trick him into taking gaurunteed money sometime early in the season.
- Rusty Fedotenko and Kurtis "Don't Call Me Kurt" Foster are off in Russia getting their Putin on.
- Bookend Jody Shelley retired and is doing play-by-play for the BJs.
- Flyers have a new BEHIND THE SCENES show that isn’t very behind the scenes and doesn’t have awesome music and slow-mo like 24/7.
- To that end, the Flyers selected a giant defenseman (7'4!) from the Quebec league with the 11th pick in this year’s draft. Don’t expect to see him contribute until 2015 and you’ll be all set.
- Speaking of giants, everyone's favorite Derian Hatcher impersonator, Hall Gill, was invited to Flyers training camp on a tryout and has a Mark Bell’s shot in hell of making the team.
- Goalies have smaller pads, there’s talk of 3-on-3 OT before a possible shootout, and hybrid icing is being tested in the preseason.

I think that’s the summer in a nutshell. As you might remember from previous Octobers where you had no idea who half the team was, GM Paul Holmgren has an itchy trigger finger in the summer and this one was no exception. We’re bringing in 3 decent 33+ year old players on multi-year deals and going with the second cheapest goalie combination in the league. Seems like we're primed for a run at the Cup after a year in the basement. So take that Forsberg alternate jersey out of the attic, sit back and enjoy the Flyers worst to first resurrection, baby.

But before that know that if you like you can now hit snooze on your fandom until Wednesday October 2nd when the season really really REALLY gets started with a home game against the Leafs. Get there early, as the Flyers are inducting Kyle Calder into the Flyers Hall of Fame before the game.

Frank Reich learning from Doug Pederson, adjusting to new system with Eagles

Frank Reich learning from Doug Pederson, adjusting to new system with Eagles

Despite rain forcing the Eagles’ first full-squad practice of training camp inside, new offensive coordinator Frank Reich liked what he saw out of his offense.
 
Speaking to reporters after practice at the NovaCare Complex on Thursday, Reich was pleased with how the offense’s preparation off the field translated during practice.
 
“Overall, what we’re happy about is how you take it from the meeting room to the field and minimize the errors. Make plays that are there,” Reich said. “There were very few mental errors. [The offense] looked sharp today.”
 
Before coming to Philadelphia this offseason, Reich spent the past two seasons as the Chargers’ offensive coordinator.
 
Joining a new coaching staff means learning a new system, and Reich has noticed some unique aspects of head coach Doug Pederson’s offensive attack.
 
“This West Coast-hybrid system obviously has a very long winning track record,” Reich said. “How it’s adapted in the run game now with some of the zone-read stuff and all the different ways you can scheme wide receiver throws, when you get a heavy box, I think that’s what Doug did really well in Kansas City.
 
“Of course, I went up against it six times in three years playing against that team (with the Chargers), so I saw it firsthand,” Reich said. “It’s fun now to be on the other side of that.”
 
Now working alongside Pederson, Reich thinks what the Eagles were able to do this offseason to build a talented roster was huge for what they’re trying to accomplish.
 
“Every time we had a chance to get something done from a personnel standpoint, we got it done," Reich said. "So that fires you up as a coach."

One of those moves was trading up to draft quarterback Carson Wentz with the second overall pick in April’s draft. Although he was running the third-team offense Thursday (see Day 4 notes), Wentz stood out, making some good throws and ending the day with a deep completion across the field.
 
Reich took notice and was encouraged by the rookie’s performance, but he and the rest of the Eagles’ coaching staff are focused on the team as a whole as opposed to just one player.
 
“We’re eager to see how we develop as a team first and foremost, and certainly that’s going to include great individual performances and days,” Reich said.
 
With a new coaching staff in place, Reich isn’t the only one adjusting to a new situation. Starting quarterback Sam Bradford, who had to learn former head coach Chip Kelly’s system last season, is getting used to Pederson’s offense this time around.
 
“I’ve seen a lot of football, I’ve seen a lot of different systems,” Bradford said after practice Thursday. “Obviously, this one’s new. It’s different, but I think there’s some carryover from some past systems that I’ve been in, so it’s nice to know that everything isn’t brand new and there are some things that are familiar.”
 
Bradford and Wentz are adapting together to the Eagles' new offense. Fellow quarterback Chase Daniel is more familiar with it, having studied and played in Pederson’s offense with the Chiefs. But Reich knows it’s been a learning process for the Eagles’ quarterback group.
 
“The guys have learned it real fast, they’ve studied it hard and they feed off of each other. They challenge each other,” he said. “I give them a lot of credit, they’ve picked it up very quickly.”
 
In terms of fulfilling his own role as a coach on Pederson’s staff, Reich is dedicated to going along with how Pederson runs the team.
 
“You commit yourself to whatever way the head coach wants to do it,” Reich said. “It’s been a really good thing for me as a coach learning from him.”

Jon Dorenbos far more than just Eagles' long snapper

Jon Dorenbos far more than just Eagles' long snapper

Most long snappers in the NFL are pretty anonymous.

Mike Bartrum spent seven years at that position for the Eagles with very little fanfare.

Over the last few weeks, Jon Dorenbos has turned himself into something much more than a football player, let alone a long snapper. Dorenbos is now a celebrity.

Thanks to a successful stint on the NBC show America's Got Talent, Dorenbos has shown off his ability as a magician. With another mind-blowing trick on Tuesday night's show, it was announced on Wednesday's results show that Dorenbos has made it to the semifinals. 

With each passing stage, Dorenbos gets closer to the $1 million grand prize — but not without a few anxious moments.

"It's a waiting game," Dorenbos said Thursday of the judges determining his fate. "Because it's a variety show there's a lot of completely different acts. I think the important thing is, at least for me, is don't try to compete with them. Be who you are and focus more on what makes you unique and what makes you interesting and try and highlight that and then hopefully the act follows."

A big part of what makes Dorenbos unique is his tragic back story. When Dornebos was 12, his father killed his mother at the family's home in Seattle. Dorenbos was left with a lot of confusion, but channeled that into something positive.

Magic has been a big part of his life since he was 16. He's used it to help himself heal and he hopes it has done the same for others. He's shared his story of success through tragedy with kids who have been through similar situations.

"At first when I was a rookie and I was young, it was a little awkward for me," Dorenbos said of sharing his story.

"You eventually start seeing that you're not alone and we're all in this together and if we just kind of help each other out and share our experiences and how we got through stuff and you can help, maybe that's why I was put here. I can share my message through the way I perform. If that's the case then it's pretty cool, man. That's a big responsibility and a big honor."

People have constantly asked Dornebos how he manages to balance his newfound celebrity magician status with his day job of being a professional football player. When you put it in perspective, it's really not that difficult considering what he's been through.

Then again, with this training camp comes something the two-time Pro Bowler has never truly experienced with the Eagles: Competition. The team brought in undrafted rookie free-agent long snapper John DePalma out of West Virginia.

Whether it's on the gridiron or on the stage, Dorenbos doesn't sweat the competition.

"I don't really worry about [the competition]. I don't really care," Dorenbos said. "And it's in the most respectful way possible and I want everybody to have success and I want everybody to do well but if I worry about other people, then all of the sudden I'm not worried about myself. If you worry too much about other people and you don't handle your own business, then it's a missed opportunity on your own stupidity."

When it comes to scheduling conflicts, that's another thing Dorenbos doesn't really worry about. He knows his teammates are in his corner. 

Head coach Doug Pederson had the team watch his latest trick on Tuesday night. Some of his teammates shared pictures of the Eagles watching Dorenbos. He was genuinely appreciative of their support, saying he doesn't "think anything feels better than when you get the respect of your teammates."

As for America's Got Talent, Dorenbos doesn't know how long the ride will last, but he's enjoying it. Just like his football career, he's leaving it all out there and not leaving a single trick up his sleeve.

"To me, you gotta let it ride and worry about the next one later," he said, "because if you save it, then what's the point?"

Darren Sproles signs 1-year extension with Eagles

Darren Sproles signs 1-year extension with Eagles

The Eagles signed veteran running back and punt returner Darren Sproles to a one-year contract extension Friday morning.

Terms of the deal were not made immediately available by the team, but NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reports the deal is for $4.5 million. That would represent a $1 million raise from the $3.5 million base salary Sproles was set to earn in 2016. Rapoport also reports that the Eagles have moved money from the extension into this season. 

Sproles, a Pro Bowler in each of his two seasons with the Eagles, is now signed through 2017. He was due to become a free agent after this season.

Sproles skipped the Eagles’ voluntary organized offseason workouts and the given reason was to spend more time with his family in San Diego. But Sproles’ contract status certainly could have played a role in his reason to stay away.

Sproles, 33, is tied for seventh in NFL history with Dave Meggett with seven career punt returns for touchdowns.

After five years with the Chargers and three with the Saints, he has enjoyed a career resurgence with the Eagles, making his first two Pro Bowl teams and becoming only the second player in NFL history with four or more punt return TDs after his 30th birthday. The other is Hall of Famer Deion Sanders.

In his career, Sproles has 2,867 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns with a 5.0 average rushing and 473 receptions for 4,156 yards and 28 more touchdowns.

With 133 more rushing yards and 27 more receptions, Sproles will become only the 12th player in NFL history with 3,000 rushing yards and 500 receptions.

Sproles' 5.0 career rushing average is 14th-highest in NFL history among non-quarterbacks with at least 500 rushing attempts.

In two seasons with the Eagles, he has 646 rushing yards and 95 receptions, although his 3.8 rushing average last year was well below his career average.

He has two punt return TDs in each of his seasons with the Eagles and is one of only seven NFL players in history with consecutive seasons with multiple punt return touchdowns.

Sproles entered the league as the Chargers’ fourth-round draft pick in 2005. The Eagles acquired him – or stole him – from the Saints in March 2014 in exchange for a fifth-round pick.

That pick turned out to be Ronald Powell, a linebacker who played in just 14 career games and is not currently in the league.