Does Steve Mason Spell the End for Ilya Bryzgalov in Philly?

Does Steve Mason Spell the End for Ilya Bryzgalov in Philly?

The Flyers lost out on Ryane Clowe, who wound up going to
the New York Rangers. They sat on their hands as Jaromir Jagr was shipped off
to the Boston Bruins. And according to reports, they were beat out for
26-year-old netminder Ben Bishop, who the Ottawa Senators wound up sending to
the Tampa Bay Lightning instead.

The Flyers did not come away empty-handed at the trade
deadline however, nor without a goalie, sending Michael Leighton and a
third-round pick in 2015 to Columbus in exchange for Steve Mason. With that, it
didn’t take very long for speculation to swirl over the future of one Ilya
Bryzgalov, because of course it didn’t.

Mason, 24, has been trending downward ever since his stellar
rookie season in 2008-09 when he led the NHL with 10 shutouts. He played just
46 games last season – the lowest total of his career – and finally surrendered
the starting job to Sergei Bobrovsky this year, posting a 3-6-1 record with a
2.95 goals against average and .899 save percentage.

Some have described it as ironic that the Flyers traded for
Bob’s backup. The real irony here is that they had to trade a goaltender
(Leighton) for goaltender help. But I digress.

Despite the fact that Mason has been increasingly less
impressive as the years have gone by, the natural leap is this acquisition sets
the team up to amnesty Bryzgalov in the offseason. This is fueled by several
factors, chiefly that there is some dissatisfaction with Bryz’s performance and
contract, but also that the Flyers were chasing young goalies at the deadline
to begin with.

There’s also the matter of Mason’s contract. He’ll become a
restricted free agent this summer, when at that time if the Flyers would like
to retain the player’s services they must render a qualifying offer that
matches his salary of $3.2 million, with a contract length of up to two years.

When combined with Bryzgalov’s average salary of $5.67 million,
that would be almost $9 million tied up in goaltending for the next two seasons.
That sounds like a lot.

So  a case can be made
that the Flyers are preparing to separate from Bryz, and the first step was to
acquire a cheaper option, in this case a salvage project. Paul Holmgren didn’t
exactly pour cold water all over the possibility, either. The general manager
told reporters the organization views Mason as part of the future.

“We see him as one of our two goalies, not only the rest of
this year, but moving forward," Holmgren said. "We’ll just leave it
at that for now.”

Then again, Homer was also optimistic they could reach a
deal with Mason that would pay him less than the value of the qualifying offer.
If that were true, it changes the dynamics quite a bit.

The Flyers have had to learn the hard way about going cheap
on a backup. We understood the reasoning behind it, that being Bryz is a goalie
who commands a lot of ice time, and they were up against the salary cap as
usual. Unfortunately it’s backfired. Head coach Peter Laviolette literally could
not afford to use Leighton or Brian Boucher, so Billy will be starting his 20th
straight game on Wednesday.

This trade may very well boil down to nothing more than
filling an obvious need. There’s even evidence to support that line of thinking.
Ed Snider defended Bryzgalov as recently as this past weekend, essentially
absolving the maligned netminder of the club’s issues.

“I don't think Bryzgalov has been the problem,” Snider said.
“I mean, he's had to face so many breakaways and 2-on-1s where we turn over the
puck suddenly. I think it's the team. I think we're fine in goal.”

Digging even further into the theory that ownership stands
behind Bryz is the reality that Snider wanted Homer to put an end to the goalie
carousel in Philly once and for all. You can argue whether signing the
cosmonaut to a nine-year deal – not to mention his 15-14-3 record, 2.81 GAA,
and .900 SV% this season – has truly accomplished that or not, yet where
exactly does Mason fit in with that vision?

Not to rule out the organization using amnesty on Bryzgalov
completely, if for no other reason than the Flyers might not wish to cut him
checks up to his 40th birthday, but this move doesn’t quite lend the appearance
that is indeed their intent. Bryz’s salary is not as excessive as many people
like to make it seem (8th in average salary among goalies this year), and the
front office doesn’t believe he’s the problem.

We shall see. As for the trade itself, it’s no blockbuster,
but certainly wise to pick up somebody that might be able to give Bryzgalov a
breather. Meanwhile, Mason flashed serious potential early in his career, so
who knows what could happen if he can recapture it. I’m just not convinced you’ll
ever see that for Philly on any kind of regular basis.

>>
Flyers acquire goalie Steve Mason from Columbus [CSN]

>> Flyers trade for goaltender Steve Mason [Frequent
Flyers]

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Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg wins 14th as Nationals down Indians

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg wins 14th as Nationals down Indians

CLEVELAND -- Stephen Strasburg shut down Cleveland for seven innings and bounced back from his only loss this season, leading the Washington Nationals to a 4-1 win over the Indians on Wednesday.

Strasburg (14-1) began the season with 13 straight wins before he was beaten by the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 21. The powerful right-hander shook off that blemish, holding the Indians to only three hits as the Nationals recovered after blowing a two-run lead in the ninth and losing on Tuesday night.

Washington rookie Trea Turner drove in three runs and Daniel Murphy hit his 20th homer off Carlos Carrasco (7-4), who nearly matched Strasburg but was done in by one bad inning.

Nationals reliever Blake Treinen stopped Cleveland's threat in the ninth, getting a game-ending double play for his major league save.

Strasburg walked one and struck out seven (see full recap)

Cardinals snap Familia's saves streak, rally past Mets 5-4
NEW YORK -- Yadier Molina and pinch-hitter Kolten Wong each stroked an RBI double in the ninth inning, and the St. Louis Cardinals ended Jeurys Familia's streak of 52 straight saves in rallying past the New York Mets 5-4 on Wednesday night.

Yoenis Cespedes hit a go-ahead homer off Adam Wainwright to cap a three-run comeback in the seventh that gave the Mets a 4-3 lead. But then Familia, who hadn't blown a regular-season save opportunity since July 30 last year, finally faltered.

Jedd Gyorko drew a one-out walk in the ninth and was replaced by pinch-runner Randal Grichuk. Molina hit the next pitch to deep center field, and Grichuk scored standing up to tie it.

Molina was thrown out at third by Familia (2-2) on pinch-hitter Jeremy Hazelbaker's comebacker, but Hazelbaker stole second and scored when Wong lined a double just inside the left-field line.

Familia's franchise-record saves streak was the third-longest in major league history behind Tom Gordon (54) and Eric Gagne (84).

Jonathan Broxton (3-2) tossed a scoreless eighth and Seung Hwan Oh got three quick outs for his sixth save (see full recap)

Padres hit 3 HRs to extend streak, beat Blue Jays 8-4
TORONTO -- Adam Rosales hit a two-run home run, Alex Dickerson and Brett Wallace each hit solo shots and the San Diego Padres beat the Toronto Blue Jays 8-4 on Wednesday, avoiding a three-game sweep.

San Diego extended its club-record streak of games with at least one home run to 25. It's the longest run since the 2002 Texas Rangers set a major league record by homering in 27 straight.

Luis Perdomo (5-4) allowed four runs and six hits in 5 2-3 innings to win back-to-back starts.

Wallace reached base three times. He was hit by a pitch and scored on Rosales' homer in the third, connected off R.A. Dickey in the fifth and hit an RBI single off Joe Biagini in the sixth.

Dickerson homered for the fourth time in four games when he connected off Franklin Morales in the eighth. He is first Padres rookie to homer in four straight games.

Dickey (7-12) allowed seven runs, six earned, and four hits in 5 2-3 innings. The knuckleballer is winless in three starts and has allowed six home runs in that span (see full recap).

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Earlier this week, Doug Pederson admitted cornerback Eric Rowe had some “hiccups” during the spring, and seemed to indicate they stemmed from learning a new defense. 

Rowe says that wasn’t the problem at all.

“It wasn’t the new defense that was giving me whatever hiccups [Pederson] was talking about,” Rowe said on Wednesday as he reported for his second training camp (see Day 3 observations). “It was just, I was having trouble breaking on top of the routes, specifically the curl routes. But fade ball, deep post, digs, I didn’t have any trouble there. It was just curl routes. I just knew I had to work on it after the OTAs.”

Rowe, 23, said the problem was technical; he just needed to get his feet down quicker.

Whatever the problem, whatever the hiccups, it seems as though Rowe’s standing within the organization and on the depth chart isn’t what it once was.

Many thought he would be a starter in 2016, like he was at the end of 2015, but that wasn’t the way things were in the spring. Instead, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks took those positions, and it looks like Nolan Carroll, returning from an injury, and rookie Jalen Mills, who hasn’t yet practiced in pads, are vying for playing time, too.

In back-to-back days earlier this week, Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz failed to mention Rowe’s name while listing players at the cornerback spot. Coincidental omissions or a vocalized unofficial depth chart?

Rowe could possibly go from starter to deep bench player, but that’s not what he’s planning on.

“I know I had a little ups and downs in OTAs, but now the pads are coming on,” Rowe said. “I feel like it’s a fresh start for me and I’m just ready to get out here.”

Pads go on Saturday.

“Right now, I think I still stand in a good position (with the team),” Rowe said. “Football is about the game with pads on. Now we’re really about to see in a couple days when we put the pads on.”

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

He looks like a small back. He's built like a small back. He wants to play like a big back.

Wendell Smallwood, trying to make the Eagles as a reserve tailback, stands 5-foot-10, 208 pounds, but he said he’s got a surprise for defenders that think he’s one of those itty-bitty backs that dances around looking pretty … until they get hit.

“I think that’s what most people expect,” he said Tuesday. “But when I actually put my head down and fight for those extra yards and get under guys, guys start to say, ‘Hey!’ They start to feel me a little bit.

“So I definitely think that started to show my last year in college, and I started becoming more of an inside zone type of runner instead of an outside runner.”

None of this should be a surprise considering Smallwood’s position coach is Duce Staley, who during his 10-year NFL career was much more interested in running over people than around them.

Smallwood is nowhere near as big as Staley, who played at about 235 to 240. But that’s the kind of back he wants to be.

“It’s definitely important to me and it’s definitely what Duce wants me to do,” Smallwood said. “He wants me to hit the holes and hit ‘em hard and that’s the reason he got me here.

“Duce, he doesn’t like small backs. He doesn’t. I don’t think he believes in those guys. He was a big boy. Running dudes over left and right. That’s what he wants.”

Smallwood played sparingly as a freshman at West Virginia, shared time with Rushel Shell as a sophomore, then took over last year when he led the Big 12 with 1,519 rushing yards and added nine touchdowns, 26 catches and a 6.4 rushing average.

The Eagles plucked him out of Morgantown in the fifth round, and in an uncertain running back picture, he’s got a realistic chance to not just make the team but also play a role.

Just don’t expect him to play like a typical guy his size.

“I don’t consider myself a small back anymore,” he said. “People have always said that and I kind of started to agree, but then I looked at some of the guys who are around and I’m not a small back at all.

“I’m not little and the running style I like to do is suited for a big back, and my catching kind of throws people off. I definitely think I’m a mixture of both.”

Smallwood ranked 13th in Division I in rushing yards last year, and his 6.4 average was tied for ninth among backs with at least 200 carries.

He said a lot of defenders expect him to be a finesse back, a guy who likes to juke safeties and linebackers instead of bowling them over.

“Get me going downhill and I’ll get you what I can get you,” he said. “A lot of [defenders] kind of take the easy route and think it’s going to be easy and then the rest of the game they’re going low and trying to take my legs out.”

Look at the Eagles’ running back picture.

The starter is Ryan Mathews, who is talented but injury-prone. The backup right now probably is Kenjon Barner, who has 34 career carries. Then there’s Darren Sproles, whose 3.8 average last year was his lowest since 2009 and second lowest of his 11-year career.

With a strong camp, there’s no reason Smallwood can’t work himself into that picture.

The last frontier for the Northern Delaware native is blitz pickup. Something he was never asked to do at WVU.

“I don’t think I did basically any in college,” he said. “They didn’t ask me to block at all. I was mainly running routes.

“But as soon as I got here, Duce emphasized, ‘If you want to get on the field, you’re going to block. If you’re not going to block, you’re not going to play.'”

Staley’s No. 22 wasn’t available, but Smallwood is happy to wear the jersey number of another one of his favorite backs growing up, Correll Buckhalter’s No. 28, who he seems quite similar to.

It’s not fair to compare Smallwood to Staley, Buckhalter, Brian Westbrook or any other former Eagles back until the pads go on and we see what he’s really made of.

But Smallwood said he’s thrilled Staley is his coach and said there’s nobody he’d rather be playing for.

“I think he’s a great fit for me as a coach,” Smallwood said. “I need a kind of guy who drives me, tough guy, who’s not going to let up, who’s going to keep his foot on my back. I definitely need that kind of coaching.

“Just being around him growing up and seeing what he did when he was here and how he runs and him being one of my favorite backs, I was kind of star-struck to be around him, and now he’s my coach. It’s definitely a great situation for me.”