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.

NFL Playoff Wrap: Packers, Steelers off to conference title games after dramatic wins

NFL Playoff Wrap: Packers, Steelers off to conference title games after dramatic wins

ARLINGTON, Texas -- This time it was a catch, and another win for the Green Bay Packers.

Call it a "Half Mary" from Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers threw a 36-yard pass to a toe-dragging Jared Cook on the sideline, and Mason Crosby kicked a 51-yard field goal as time expired, sending the Packers to the NFC championship game with their eighth straight win while thwarting a huge Dallas rally in a 34-31 victory in the divisional round of the playoffs Sunday.

The throw on the run from Rodgers to Cook -- confirmed on review -- wasn't nearly as debatable as Dez Bryant's famous catch that wasn't in the Cowboys' divisional round loss to Green Bay two years ago.

Cook kept both feet inbounds with a knee just above the ground out of bounds.

And it came after the Cowboys tied the game twice in the final 5 minutes behind rookie sensations Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in their playoff debut.

It was the third field goal of more than 50 yards in the final 1:38 -- two from Crosby and one from Dallas' Dan Bailey. And Crosby had to make the winner twice after Dallas coach Jason Garrett called timeout before the first attempt.

Rodgers, who sparked last week's wild-card win over the New York Giants with another Hail Mary before halftime, is headed to an MVP showdown with Atlanta's Matt Ryan next Sunday. It will be his third NFC title game -- all on the road.

Green Bay's win was the first by a road team after 12 straight home victories in the playoffs dating to last season.

The Cowboys (13-4) almost became the third team in the Super Bowl era to win in the playoffs after trailing by 15 points in the fourth quarter. The first was Dallas in 1972, when "Captain Comeback", Roger Staubach, rallied the Cowboys for a 30-28 win over San Francisco.

Instead, Dallas ended up with its fifth straight loss in the divisional round and a 21-year drought in trips to the NFC championship game.

Prescott got the Dallas rally going with a 40-yard touchdown toss in the first half to Bryant, the first playoff TD for the star receiver.

Then he set the stage for the first tying score on a 6-yarder to Jason Witten, also the first postseason touchdown for the 14th-year tight end.

Rodgers led the Packers to a go-ahead 56-yard field goal from Crosby with a big boost on a pass interference penalty against rookie Anthony Brown that wiped out an interception from Jeff Heath, whose pick earlier in the game helped Dallas rally.

The Cowboys answered with a 52-yarder from Bailey (see full recap).

Steelers hold off Chiefs to set up rematch with Pats in AFC title game
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Who needs to reach the end zone when you have Le'Veon Bell chewing up yards and the clock, and Chris Boswell setting an NFL playoff record with six field goals?

Throw in a stingy Pittsburgh defense for most of Sunday night, and a multitude of mistakes by Kansas City, and the Steelers' 18-16 victory sent them into the AFC championship game.

The Steelers (13-5) needed to hold off a last-ditch threat by the Chiefs (12-5) before advancing to face New England next Sunday night for a spot in the Super Bowl. The Patriots won at Pittsburgh 27-16, but Ben Roethlisberger was injured and didn't play.

Spencer Ware's 1-yard touchdown run took Kansas City within 18-16. The Chiefs at first converted the 2-pointer to tie it, but tackle Eric Fisher -- the first overall selection in the 2013 draft -- was penalized for holding. The next try failed.

With 2:43 remaining, Justin Gilbert misplayed the kick return and was tackled at the Pittsburgh 5. Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for 7 yards on third down and Pittsburgh then ran out the clock, securing a ninth straight victory for the Steelers. The Chiefs have not won a home playoff game since 1994, losing five in a row.

The scoring started furiously in the opening minutes, then the game became a kicking exhibition by Boswell, who also had six field goals in the regular season against Cincinnati. And Bell put on a virtuoso running performance, patiently finding holes and then exploding through them. He added a team-record 170 yards rushing to the 167 he had in a win over Miami last week.

The Steelers became first team to win a playoff game without a TD since eventual Super Bowl champion Indianapolis in the 2006 AFC divisional round at Baltimore.

Using a no-huddle attack almost to perfection early on, the Steelers drove deep into Kansas City territory. But they bogged down inside the 5 and Boswell made a 22-yard field goal.

The Chiefs were just as efficient on a six-play march capped by receiver Albert Wilson lining up in the backfield, then slipping uncovered into the end zone for a 5-yard score.

Pittsburgh's answer came on a 52-yard heave to All-Pro Brown, who somehow was covered by linebacker Justin Houston. That led to Boswell's second field goal, a 38-yarder. He added a 36-yarder to cap a 14-play drive on which Pittsburgh again barely huddled.

A clean game up until then turned to, well, turnovers, on successive series. Bud Dupree pounded Alex Smith, whose pass shot high into the air and was caught by linebacker Ryan Shazier.

The Steelers got to the Kansas City 5, where Frank Zombo leaped to deflect Roethlisberger's throw, and All-Pro safety Eric Berry -- burned for 26 yards on the previously play -- picked it off in the end zone.

Boswell's fourth field goal, from 45 yards, made it 12-7 at the half. His 43-yarder, setting the franchise record for a postseason game and tying the league mark of five, came on Pittsburgh's first series of the second half. A 43-yarder midway in the fourth quarter gave Boswell the NFL record.

Kansas City's Cairo Santos got in on the kicking act with a 48-yarder to make it 15-10. At that point, 10 seconds from the end of the third quarter, the Chiefs were outgained 333 yards to 150 (see full recap).

Best of NBA: James Harden's 12th triple-double paces Rockets' rout of Nets

Best of NBA: James Harden's 12th triple-double paces Rockets' rout of Nets

NEW YORK -- James Harden had 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in his 12th triple-double of the season and the Houston Rockets easily ended their first losing streak of the season by beating the Brooklyn Nets 137-112 on Sunday night.

Held to 105 points in losses to Minnesota and Memphis, the Rockets bounced back with 104 after three quarters and handed the Nets their 10th straight loss.

Eric Gordon led the Rockets with 24 points and Trevor Ariza added 23. Houston made 21 3-pointers and had five players with at least 16 points.

Houston shot just 40.8 percent during its two losses, well below its 46.8 season average, while being held nearly 10 points below its season scoring average. But the Rockets had no trouble bouncing back against the Nets, who allow an NBA-worst 114.3 per game (see full recap).

DeRozan leads Raptors past Knicks
TORONTO -- DeMar DeRozan had 23 points, Norman Powell added 21 and the Toronto Raptors used a dominant third quarter to beat the New York Knicks 116-101 on Sunday.

DeRozan also had five rebounds and five assists before coming out late in the third quarter.

The Raptors improved to 27-13, taking the lead for good late in the first quarter. They led by 38 points in the third in winning their third straight game overall and fifth in a row against the Knicks.

DeMarre Carroll added 20 points, and Jonas Valanciunas had 12 points and 16 rebounds.

Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 18 points, Justin Holiday had 17, and Derrick Rose added 16. The Knicks are 2-10 in their last 12 to drop to 18-23 (see full recap).

Hawks stay hot by beating Bucks    
ATLANTA -- Kent Bazemore scored 24 points, Mike Dunleavy added 20 and the Atlanta Hawks beat the Milwaukee Bucks 111-98 on Sunday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 33 points and was a tough matchup in the paint for Milwaukee, which dropped 2 1/2 games behind the fourth-place Hawks in the Eastern Conference.

Atlanta has won eight of nine. The Bucks have dropped three of five.

Dunleavy, in his second game since arriving in a trade last week with Cleveland, had his first 20-point performance since a first-round playoff game for Chicago on April 30, 2015.

Antetokounmpo has scored at least 30 points in eight games in a breakout season (see full recap)