Flyers Are Special When It Comes to Developing Defensemen

Flyers Are Special When It Comes to Developing Defensemen

There is plenty of blame to go around this offseason for the Flyers missing the playoffs, but for much of the year defense was their biggest pitfall. The back end was prone to turnovers and complete meltdowns that often led to rushes the other way, a situation no goaltender could possibly thrive.

The thing is, the front office tried to address the problem. The Flyers traded for Chris Pronger in 2009, but his career was cut short by post-concussion syndrome, leaving the club in a bind. They tried to sign Ryan Suter last summer, and gave Shea Weber a huge offer sheet in attempt to steal him away from Nashville. No luck.

Both efforts exposed the Flyers’ real problem though: they haven’t been developing any blueliners on their own. Tim Panaccio wrote at length about the organization’s crippling problem, but the crux of the issue is so powerful in its simplicity.

The Flyers are the only NHL club without a single active defenseman that they drafted since the decade began playing regular minutes for them – not someone else.

Think about that. Thirteen Flyers drafts. Not one every-day player on the Flyers' blue line to show for it.

I would rather not think about that, thank you very much.

Panotch points to the front office’s reluctance to draft defensemen, instead taking the “best player available” approach. He further finds the lack of focus placed on building up the back end from in-house is an approach that dates back to the 1980s. As such, you find very few examples in recent history that the team drafted and developed into a top player.

Honestly, you have to go back to 1990 to find a defenseman drafted and developed by the Flyers who lasted here a significant amount of time and established himself on a No. 1 pairing.

That one player would be Chris Therien, who lasted a decade.

Since Therien was taken with the 47th pick (in the third round), the Flyers have drafted 198 players, including supplemental picks.

Of those 198 players, only three remain as surviving defensemen playing somewhere in the NHL:

It’s a fascinating albeit long read that makes you wonder why there is so little value or at least emphasis placed on the position.

The good news is the Flyers have some promising, young D-men who contributed this year and helped stabilize the back end toward the finish. Erik Gustafsson and Oliver Lauridsen earned more than lip-service opportunities to make the team next season through their performances, outplaying several veterans in the process – at least from this vantage point. Lauridsen was drafted by the team in 2009, while the team signed Gus as a free agent out of Northern Michigan University in 2010.

It’s too early to say whether either player will pan out though, much less become a top blueliner. Perhaps the Flyers should change up their strategy a bit with the 11th pick in the draft this summer.

>> Why haven’t the Flyers drafted and kept top defensemen? [CSN]

Crash kills Nebraska punter, former Michigan State punter

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Crash kills Nebraska punter, former Michigan State punter

WAUKESHA, Wis. -- Nebraska punter Sam Foltz and former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler have died in a car crash in Wisconsin after working at a kicking clinic, a sheriff's department official said Sunday. LSU kicker Colby Delahoussaye was injured in the crash.

Waukesha County Sheriff's Lt. Thom Moerman said speed was likely a factor in the single-vehicle crash that happened around 11:45 p.m. Saturday.

The 24-year-old Sadler, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, was driving. He and 22-year-old Foltz, of Greeley, Nebraska, both died at the scene. Delahoussaye, 21 of New Iberia, Louisiana, was also a passenger. He was treated at Waukesha Memorial Hospital and released. A statement from LSU said his injuries were minor and that he was scheduled to return home Monday.

Moerman said in a statement that Sadler lost control on the wet pavement, left the roadway and struck a tree.

The University of Nebraska said Sunday the team will skip this week's planned Big Ten media days in Chicago because of Foltz's death. Officials with Michigan State didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Foltz was a three-year starter for the Nebraska team and last year he was named the Big Ten's punter of the year. Foltz graduated from Nebraska with a degree in agronomy in May. He led the Big Ten in punting last year at 44.2 yards per kick and ranked fifth in school history (42.6).

Nebraska Coach Mike Riley said Foltz was respected on the team, and had a positive influence on everyone he interacted with.

"The young men in our football program are hurting but I know that their strength of character and resolve will bring us together and we will honor Sam every day moving forward," Riley said.

Several hundred friends and teammates of Foltz gathered outside Memorial Stadium in Lincoln Sunday afternoon to remember him. Several players talked about how hard Foltz' worked and his faith in God.

"Sam was a kind and thoughtful young man who was a leader on the playing field, in the classroom, and in his community," Nebraska Chancellor Ronnie D. Green said in a statement. "He was an exemplary student-athlete who grew as a player and as a person on his path to recent completion of his degree in agronomy from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and anyone who knew him can testify that he had an enduring influence on those around him."

Sadler was a four-year starter and four-time academic All-American at Michigan State. He finished his college playing career after the 2014 season. He drew something of a cult following during his playing days because of his sense of humor and wit.

"I just asked my waitress what sport she thought I played. Her answer? Disk golf. Time to reevaluate my life," Sadler once tweeted.

He helped get his own mock Heisman Trophy candidacy rolling one season by pushing the hashtag (hash)sadler4heisman. He would also regularly exchange funny lines on Twitter with the (at)FauxPelini account, a popular parody of the former Nebraska and current Youngstown State coach Bo Pelini.

"Mike impacted so many people not only as a football player, but also from an academic standpoint and in the community as well," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said in a statement. "The world has lost a rising star who dreamed big and was accomplishing those dreams, one after another. He was one of those people that brightened your day."

Dan Tracy with Kohl's Kicking said both Sadler and Foltz had been working at a weekend clinic at the camp in Wisconsin. Tracy said the camp ended early Sunday after an announcement about the deaths.

A statement from kicking camp director Jamie Kohl said the staff was mourning with the players' families and football programs.

"We mourn today with all of the people who were better men and women for knowing Sam and Mike," Kohl said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with them."

Andres Blanco fractures left index finger, likely heading to 15-day DL

Andres Blanco fractures left index finger, likely heading to 15-day DL

PITTSBURGH --- Utility infielder Andres Blanco suffered a fractured left index finger in the fifth inning of Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates and is expected to be placed on the 15-day disabled list Monday.

Blanco was injured when Pirates right fielder Gregory Polanco slid into his hand during a play at third base. Blanco was making his second straight start at third in place of Maikel Franco, who was out with a sore left wrist after being hit by a pitch Friday from Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole.

Franco took over at third for Blanco, who hit a solo home run off Pirates rookie right-hander Jameson Taillon in the first inning. Blanco is hitting .271 with four homers in 75 games this season.

Meanwhile, catcher Cameron Rupp was not in the lineup after being hit in the left ear flap of his batting helmet on Saturday by a pitch from Pirates rookie right-hander Tyler Glasnow. Carlos Ruiz started behind the plate.

Rupp passed Major League Baseball’s concussion protocol both Saturday and Sunday.

"If you get hit in the head, you probably want to take a little bit more precaution than if it was another part of your body,” Rupp said.