Congratulations Simon Gagne

Congratulations Simon Gagne

I've been told I attended my first Flyers game at the age of 2. Of course, I don't remember it.

See, my Dad used to take my Mom to games all the time until she revealed, after they got married, that she didn't like going. This remains an amusing story to almost everyone but him.

Anyway, you can imagine he was pretty quick to get me into hockey once that bombshell dropped and I finally came along. And aside from just being a fan of the teams in this city, there's always been something special about the Flyers for that very reason. I assume this isn't an uncommon story for a great many of you read this site, who were introduced to sports by your father or mother, or are now introducing something to a son or daughter as a parent yourself.

Simon Gagne has held the mantle of "my favorite hockey player" since shortly following his rookie debut -- even if there was a brief period of overlap between he and Paul Kariya -- and serves as a prominent fixture in so many of my most cherished Flyers memories. Some of the reason the following moments stand out is because he was involved; that said, he was so talented as to make himself involved.

-- Game 6 of the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals. Flyers down 3-2 in the series. Skating with the captain and JR:

 
(Note: Gagne's first goal of the game might actually be one of the most impressive of his career.) 

-- Game 4 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Semis. Flyers down 3-0 in the series and on the verge of elimination. His first game back since undergoing surgery after taking a shot off his foot against the Devils in Round 1:

 
-- Game 7 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Semis. Flyers had come back from down 3-0 in the series only to find themselves down 3-0 in Game 7. You may remember Peter Laviolette's "one F---ing goal" timeout tirade. Just as they came down from 3-0 in the series, they did it on the scoreboard in Game 7:

 
The first clip remains the one I revisit the most, though some of that is surely due to differences between Gary Thorne and Joe Betinati. Anyway, it's just a small smattering of the big playoff moments in which Gags was involved as a Flyer.

If you look back through the team's history, you won't find his name at the top of any of franchises' most important lists, but you'll find him on those lists nonetheless. Sure enough, never at the top, but always included with the Flyers' greats is Simon Gagne. Pick twelve forwards in this team's history for an all-franchise team, and you might have to go out of your way not to include him, even if he might have to cede his No. 12 to someone else on the team.

Speaking of lists, there's the very real possibility he could have had his name on another, had he only wanted it. The Derian Hatcher-Peter Forsberg-Jason Smith era was a very strange time for this team in terms of leadership; it also constitutes the prime of Gagne's career. But every time Gagne was asked about the captaincy by the media, and probably the team, he deferred, citing whoever held the title as the guy in charge, even if that guy, Keith Primeau, couldn't play anymore. He never did wear the C, always an A, but was a leader in his own way. Just think of how many injuries he fought through in that one playoff run alone.

That brings us to, of course, the injuries themselves (and we're not just talking about those of the nagging groin variety). It's impossible to discuss his career without thinking about them, and, over time, it got harder to think about them without revisiting Primeau and Eric Lindros. Another Flyer, another leader, with a persistent history of concussions. Those issues followed him out of town to Tampa Bay and, of course, to his current team in Los Angeles. Gagne was absent from the Kings' lineup from late December until Game 3 of the Finals with his latest head injury. Now he's calling on the NHLPA to establish a concussion support group so that he can aid players like himself, and perhaps even receive some help in his own right.

This all leads us back to Games 3-6 of this year's Finals, when he just didn't look like the same guy. Granted, after missing six months and being thrown right back into the Finals, it's going to be tough to get in the flow. But Gagne hasn't looked the like the same player since he left Philadelphia, and his ever-growing injury history isn't helping either. As an ode to a veteran, or perhaps just because they felt they were better with him than without him, even if they were doing just fine (14-2 in the playoffs) without him, he got back on the ice. 

Fast forward to when the Kings finished off the Devils in Game 6 and, yes, he nearly dropped the Cup. There was almost something fitting about it. It's as if he and the Flyers fans had waited so long for him to hoist it, that neither he nor us knew what to do when it finally happened. 

After he handed it off, he was interviewed, while holding his son in his hands. Watching with my dad, I felt old. Simon Gagne was a 20-year-old kid who skated on All-Star line with Brett Hull and, his idol, Mario Lemeuix when I was an even younger kid. And now, he's 32, holding his own child, a hockey prodigy no doubt, and probably looking at the end of his career sooner rather than later given what we're finding out about head injuries and the fact that he doesn't have to chase that trophy anymore.

He will now have his named etched on Lord Stanley's Cup. It just won't be as a Flyer.

Union transfer contract of Michael Lahoud to Miami FC

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Union transfer contract of Michael Lahoud to Miami FC

The Union have cashed in on Michael Lahoud.

After terminating his loan to the New York Cosmos on Tuesday, the Union recalled Lahoud and officially sold the 29-year-old midfielder to Miami FC of the NASL for an undisclosed amount.

“Mike always served the club in a professional manner during his time here,” said Union sporting director Earnie Stewart, who loaned Lahoud to the Cosmos this offseason. “We thank him for his service and want to wish him the best of luck in Miami and in his future endeavors.”

Lahoud, whose prorated $115,637.50 guaranteed salary comes off the Union’s salary cap, was acquired in 2012 in a trade with Chivas USA for defender Danny Califf. He made 58 appearances with the Union before being loaned out.

Eagles' left guard job is Allen Barbre's, but backups are pushing

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Eagles' left guard job is Allen Barbre's, but backups are pushing

Allen Barbre is the Eagles’ starting left guard.

For now.

The 31-year-old offensive lineman started all 16 games at left guard in 2015, and as of Tuesday at OTAs, he was still a starter for Doug Pederson’s new-look offense.

But that could change.

There are several players pushing for the left guard spot. Among them are Stefen Wisniewski, Malcolm Bunche, Isaac Seumalo and Andrew Gardner.

“I definitely am trying to start somewhere,” said Wisniewski, a free-agent signing. “I think I would be a good starting left guard.”

Wisniewski, 27, signed a one-year prove-it deal in early April to join the Eagles (see story). After being taken in the second round of the 2011 draft, Wisniewski has started 77 of 80 possible games in the NFL. He clearly views himself as a starter in the NFL.

For the last two weeks, he’s been working with the second team at guard and center.

“Yeah, it’s weird. It’s definitely weird,” Wisniewski said. “I haven’t spent much time with the twos in five years. Probably a week or two. So it’s definitely different, but I’m just looking at it as a temporary thing, though.”

This offseason, the Eagles added veteran Brandon Brooks to play right guard, taking over for Matt Tobin, but Barbre is still slotted on the left side. In fact, to hammer the point home, the starting offensive linemen have their lockers in a row in the deep corner of the locker room, from left to right: Jason Peters, Barbre, Jason Kelce, Brooks, Lane Johnson.

So, as of late May, Barbre is still the starter.

“I really like where we're at. I like the depth at that position right now,” Pederson said last week. “But yeah, Allen Barbre is my guy and he's our starter.”

Wisniewski is the most accomplished of the backups pushing for that starting left guard spot, but he’s not alone.

Bunche, who was on the Eagles’ practice squad in 2015 after going undrafted out of UCLA, has been working with the second team at left guard during practice. And the second-year player thinks he has a shot at the starting job too.

“Oh yes. But not just that one,” Bunche said. “Throughout the season, anything can happen. That’s one thing that [offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland], he talks about it a lot, you never know when you’re number is going to be called. You just gotta stay in tune with what’s being called, the play-calling, the different techniques going into certain games. I feel I have an opportunity to take that spot if I wanted to. My mindset it to come in and get better each and every day.”

Another possible starting left guard isn’t with the team right now. Third-round pick Seumalo, from Oregon State, is back at school because of the NFL graduation rule and Oregon State’s quarters system. He would be a logical choice to compete for that starting job, but he’s missing valuable time at OTAs.

Meanwhile, Barbre, who had started just eight total games in his seven-year career before 2015, is trying to stave off his competitors. The veteran knows the team brought in a bunch of new offensive linemen this offseason (they have 17 on the roster). He just doesn’t care.

“Honestly, I wasn’t really worried about that,” Barbre said Tuesday. “Honestly, I thought I played fairly decent (in 2015), if you studied the film and you understood what went on. There was a lot of stuff that was tough on the O-line, so it made it kind of tough on us.”

The criticism of the offensive line last season was loud, especially criticism of the guard positions, but Barbre did his best to avoid it.  

“I don’t even read it,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t even care. You guys got your jobs and I have my job. We all have different things we have to do.”

Right now, Barbre’s job is to hold onto that starting spot, while Wisniewski and the rest try to steal it away.

Jim Schwartz already gushing about Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod

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Jim Schwartz already gushing about Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod

Anyone who follows the NFL knows to avoid reading too much into spring workouts. You don't gain valuable insight into a player's game-day ability by observing his speed in shorts or run-stuffing technique when tackles aren't being made.

First-year Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz sidestepped several questions after Tuesday's OTA about how specific players are fitting into his defensive scheme, but he made an exception for one position group in particular: his starting safeties.

The Eagles this offseason spent $35 million apiece to extend Malcolm Jenkins and sign Rodney McLeod away from the Rams. Jenkins got $21 million guaranteed, McLeod got $17 million, and they rank fifth and ninth among NFL safeties, respectively, in annual average salary.

"That was money well spent," Schwartz said Tuesday. "I'm sort of violating my rule of judging too much into this time of year — saying linemen need the pads on before we can judge, rookies let's not judge yet — but both [Jenkins and McLeod] are veteran players. And you can see that right away that both are multi-dimensional. They communicate very well, cover a lot of ground. They can blitz, they can play man (coverage), they can play zone. I'd be very surprised as the year went along if they're not one of the better safety tandems in the NFL. They've been very impressive so far."

Jenkins, who has emerged as the Eagles' most vocal leader, is coming off two terrific seasons. He set career-highs last year in tackles (109) and forced fumbles (three), intercepted two passes and returned one 99 yards for a touchdown. He graded out as the best safety in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. 

McLeod ranked 10th, eight spots ahead of Walter Thurmond, Jenkins' partner last season.

"I think we all believe that," Jenkins said when asked about the safety duo's chances of being one of the NFL's best. "The way that practice has been going so far and just what Rodney adds to the secondary, I think we're real excited about that tandem and what we'll be able to do. Both of us are very versatile, both of us know the defense and can get guys lined up and can problem-solve. All the rest of it we can do, but when you have guys that can quarterback the defense and problem-solve, it gets you out of a lot of bad looks."

Jenkins had watched McLeod on tape so he knew the type of player the Eagles were adding. What stood out most to him was how "violent" McLeod played in St. Louis, how he played much bigger than his 5-10/195-pound frame. But what's impressed Jenkins most in OTAs with McLeod is how he sees the field and reads situations. Those instincts are what Jenkins thinks can make the pairing special.

"Now playing next to him, you really start to see the smarts and his football IQ, knowing different defenses, ways to adjust things, having the ability to use tools for different situations," Jenkins said of McLeod. "He's an extension of a coach on the field. Talk about a guy being able to quarterback your defense on the field, he's somebody who understands the totality of the defense and has that ability to communicate and get guys lined up. It's just good to have two guys back there now that can do that.

"I think from what he brings to the table and what I bring to the table from a football standpoint, I think our talent level can put us in that conversation (of the NFL's top safety tandems). But once we really get in tune with each other as far as calls, tools that we can use ... when you got two guys with high football IQs, you can really be special."

Jenkins and McLeod have been playing left and right safety interchangeably so far in practice. McLeod says that this voluntary workout period for the safeties has been about figuring out which of them does what better. He'll have a better idea of their specific roles once training camp comes.

Jenkins and McLeod were in constant communication on the sidelines after coming off the field for certain plays at Tuesday's practice. Jenkins was doing a lot of the talking and McLeod a lot of the listening. McLeod would explain what he saw and why he broke the way he did, and Jenkins would coach him up and advise him what to do next time they see a certain look. 

"Big competitor, man. Just from Day 1, offseason drills and things like that when we compete, even in the weight room you can just see how he gets after it," McLeod said of Jenkins. "It carries over into the field, big trash talker. He carries a swagger about him. Very smart and instinctive player.

"Me and Malcolm, I think we're gonna build something great here and you can see glimpses of it in practice now."