Flyers Depth on Display, While Penguins Go From Bad to Worse

Flyers Depth on Display, While Penguins Go From Bad to Worse

A look at how once again, scoring depth has been the key to a strong Philadelphia Flyers team. But, another spate of Pittsburgh Penguins injuries begs the question, how deep is any NHL team?

The story underlying the success of the 2011-2012 Flyers to date is that they are once again a club characterized by great scoring depth. Yesterday's chapter saw Danny Briere score three goals, giving him 13 on the season. The game before, James van Riemsdyk was the multiple lamp-lighter, scoring a pair, including the game winner. Prior to those bursts, fans had aired frustrations about each player's lack of production, particularly that of JVR.

What a difference a game makes. While both players are still a bit off pace, they each have the talent and surrounding cast to see their numbers turn around in a hurry. JVR has a ways to go before quieting his doubters, but his brace, Briere's hat trick, and the continued progress of a handful of rookie forwards has sparked a fast turnaround to a sluggish end of 2011.

Aside from losing Chris Pronger for the season and experiencing the usual complement of players missing a few games here and there, the Flyers have been downright lucky compared to their cross-state rivals. Injuries have plagued the Penguins again this season, with Jordan Staal and James Neal joining Sidney Crosby as significant offensive contributors on the shelf today.

Neal, who has stepped up in Crosby's absence and leads the Pens in goal scoring with 21, has a broken foot. Staal could miss 4-6 weeks with a knee injury suffered after a collision with Mike Rupp of the Rangers. Neal's timetable is uncertain, but head coach Dan Bylsma places it at "weeks, not days," per the team's web site.

Penguins.com clocks the number of man-games lost so far this season to 210, on pace for 431 and counting.

The Pens were able to weather last season's storm and finish with a share of the division lead, but they've sunk to fourth place after four straight losses to Atlantic foes. On December 29, the Flyers snapped a four-game Pittsburgh winning streak, and the Pens haven't won since, losing four games and three players in a week. While they're far from dead in the water, the Penguins are at least momentarily on the ropes.

With any luck, we won't have to see the Flyers' depth tested in a similar context. But, even if they don't pile up the man-games lost quite at Pittsburgh's pace, the Pens' struggles are a reminder that the Flyers could—and likely will—still face an uphill battle in the war of attrition.

Last season, the Flyers crumbled in the second half, clearly missing Chris Pronger's dominance on the blue line. It was harder to gauge, but it is assumed his lost voice of leadership was also a key void as the team lost momentum, having peaked in January.

As opposed to last season, this Flyers team began its campaign with depth questions. Not necessarily doubts, but questions nonetheless. Pronger's current injuries are new, but his health was never a certainty. And, despite the prevailing sentiment that the haul Paul Holmgren received for Mike Richards and Jeff Carter was somewhere between solid and excellent, it was hard to say whether we'd see the potential of the lineup this season.

So far, we certainly have. Despite massive turnover in the forward lines, the Flyers are currently second in the league in goals per game. Last season, they finished in a dead heat at the top, third in total goals but just two below the league-leading Vancouver Canucks. Claude Giroux trades the NHL points leadership with Henrik Sedin and Phil Kessel on a nightly basis, leading a Flyers team that has eight double-digit goal scorers just 39 games into the season. 

Heading into the season, it was believed that for the post-apocalyptic Flyers to succeed, Giroux and JVR would have to ascend to the cornerstone positions vacated by Richards and Carter. Giroux certainly has, arguably already eclipsing the impact either player ever made on a given season. While JVR has rarely shown the dominance he displayed in the 2011 playoffs, which in part earned him a new contract, the fact that the Flyers are still as potent as ever even without him being their 1-B star might actually be a good thing. As dangerous as they currently are, they're not even scoring at their full potential. Plus, one of hockey's top young players, Brayden Schenn, has in the past three games started to turn heads as well while Matt Read continues to hang with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins among rookie goal leaders and Sean Couturier currently anchors an all-rookie fourth line that can hit, defend, and score.

From the players on the ice to the man behind the bench and the oft-criticized GM up in the press box, there's plenty of credit to go around. But we don't have to look too far back to the moment when Wayne Simmonds' knee connected with Claude Giroux's head, or more recently, to what's going on in Pittsburgh, to see how quickly the Flyers' depth could  disappear.

It's pointless to dwell on that though. For now, the story is that there is sufficient scoring depth on a nightly basis. One or two lines consistently step up, and the Flyers are in virtually every game they play, the outliers being few.

However, their depth on defense is among the best in the league even without Pronger, and yet still feels perilously thin. Fortunately, blue line anchor Kimmo Timonen was able to keep his ironman streak alive and suit up somewhat surprisingly yesterday, contributing more than 25 minutes of ice time. The back end would look a whole different everywhere from even strength to both special teams units without Timonen, so hopefully he's weathered his wrist injury.

The overall depth of the team will be tested again today, the 5 PM start in Ottawa coming just 25 or so hours after the two teams left the ice in Philly. The Senators will obviously be facing the same tight turnaround, which could make for an interesting third period.

Any guesses as to which Flyers step up to carry the scoring torch this evening? Picking the Standout Star must be as simple as throwing a dart at the lineup right now.

Wayne Simmonds gets engaged during Flyers' bye week

Wayne Simmonds gets engaged during Flyers' bye week

So far, 2017 has been a pretty big year for Wayne Simmonds.
 
In addition to being named to his first All-Star team this year, Simmonds clearly had big plans on how to spend his bye week away from hockey, before returning to play the New Jersey Devils on Saturday. He popped the question to his girlfriend, Crystal Corey, and she said yes.
 
Simmonds announced the engagement on his Instagram.

11,700 feet and she said YES! I Love you @cryscorey 💛#SimmondsandSimmonds

A photo posted by Wayne Simmonds (@wayne17simmonds) on

It could be good news for the Flyers, too. Simmonds is the second Flyer to get engaged this season after Claude Giroux popped the question in December after winning three in a row. The Flyers made the winning streak an even 10 after. Congratulations, Wayne!

2017 Eagles Cost Analysis, C: Cash money or Kelce?

2017 Eagles Cost Analysis, C: Cash money or Kelce?

Time to talk everybody's favorite Eagles whipping boy, or one of them in Jason Kelce, who's viewed very differently by fans than he is his peers. Case in point, it might surprise some readers to learn Kelce was named a second alternate to the Pro Bowl for 2016, which means a lot of NFL players and coaches must've been voting for him.

We know Eagles fans weren't coming out in droves. Yet if we were to go off of only the respect people around the league have for Kelce, he's considered one of the top eight centers in football. That ranking also happens to be roughly commensurate with his salary cap hit for 2017, which is currently 10th at the position, according to OverTheCap.

That's still going to be high for many critics that say Kelce is too undersized and has become too frequently penalized in recent years. It's especially high when you tell some of those same people the Eagles could save nearly $4 million by going in a different direction.

The trade or release of Kelce would free up $3.8 million to be exact, although once again, that's before we consider the cost of replacing him. And unlike other areas of the Eagles roster, there really isn't a young prospect waiting in the wings to take over, even somebody who is maybe only a year away from being ready to take over.

So if the Eagles were to get rid of Kelce, they would have to pay somebody to replace him. Granted, only 14 centers carry a higher cap number, and many starters make half of the six-year veteran's money, so there are cheaper options available — although, what kind of quality is the offense getting for that price?

Kelce is a perfect example of when the grass isn't always greener. There are some big, mauling centers around the NFL, like the Pouncey brothers, and who doesn't love that? But while Kelce isn't necessarily going to rip anybody's spine out at the point of attack, there probably isn't a better center in the league at pulling or blocking at the second and third levels. He's a unique player from that perspective, something people tend to forget.

The Eagles are not going to upgrade the position by going significantly cheaper. Kelce can hold his own in pass protection, and he's elite when the play design allows him to get into space. There's also something to be said for his knowledge of the offense, in addition to the rapport he's building with Carson Wentz.

Best case scenario, the Eagles are probably replacing him with Stefan Wisniewski, who the club paid $2.76 million in 2016. Figuring a raise, that's most of their cap savings right there, and Wisniewski is not nearly as decorated or so widely respected by his peers. There must be a reason for that.

Kelce is pretty good.

CENTERS UNDER CONTRACT

Jason Kelce
Age: 30*
Cap Number: $6,200,000

The bigger issue with Kelce is he's approaching his 30th birthday this year, although many centers enjoy lengthy careers, especially the guys who play more of a finesse game. And if the Eagles do want to start thinking about the future, it might help if they begin developing his replacement now. Kelce will be much easier to move on from in 2018 in terms of the salary cap, so if the Eagles draft somebody this year, theoretically they could move on next season. Keep in mind, Kelce was a sixth-round pick, and the club got a lot of mileage out of him, so it doesn't have to be a major investment. Plus, if that doesn't work out, renegotiation could be on the table, with Kelce's cap hit reaching $7.2 million in '18, but only $1.2 million of prorated signing bonus left on a contract that runs through 2020. The Eagles will be looking to reduce their costs, while Kelce will want some financial security.

Josh Andrews
Age: 26*
Cap Number: $615,000

Andrews joined the Eagles as an undrafted free agent out of Oregon State in 2014, and after a few years of clinging to the practice squad and on the 53-man roster as a reserve, finally saw his first action on offense this season. He played one snap at center against the Ravens in Week 15. Andrews can also line up at guard and has played special teams, though spent most of '16 inactive. He seems like a bit of a Chip Kelly outcast at this point, although it's difficult to put him in a box with so little actual experience. Is Andrews somebody who simply hasn't been given an opportunity and could fill in capably for Kelce, or will the Eagles feel the need to find competition for his roster spot?

Aaron Neary
Age: 25*

Neary originally joined the Broncos roster as an undrafted rookie, but found his way to the Eagles practice squad following his release. The Eastern Washington prospect was a two-time All-American at the Division I-AA level. At 6-foor-1, 305 pounds, Neary is considered undersized, like Kelce, which suggests this organization wants nimble centers like that. While he's probably a ways away from having any impact, the Eagles signed Neary to a futures contract at the conclusion of the season.

* Age as of 12/31/2017