Flyers Descend on Tortured Hockey Haven Toronto

Flyers Descend on Tortured Hockey Haven Toronto

My annual Eagles road trip in 2011 took me to Buffalo, and I don't really feel like talking about what happened there. But as you might imagine, we didn't pick Buffalo because we were interested in spending a weekend there. Instead, we wanted to check out Toronto, which isn't terribly far away. We booked roundtrip travel to Buffalo, but drove a rental across the border, stayed downtown, and did a bunch of touristy stuff I'd highly recommend. 
Toronto is a pretty cool city and a place I'd love to see again soon, hopefully catching a Maple Leafs game the next time around. The major arenas are situated close together, right on the shore of Lake Ontario with the CN Tower looming overhead. After a trip up to the top of the needle, we were in need of some liquid refreshment and a good TV so we could watch some college football. We followed up on a recommendation for the city's best sports-watching experience and checked out Real Sports, which is just across the street from the Air Canada Centre, where the Leafs will host the Flyers tonight. 
Below, a look at Real Sports, Xfinity Live, and what's become another lost Maple Leafs season. 
At Real Sports, we caught a glimpse of what is hopefully to come in south Philly at the end of this month. There are some retail stores inside the complex, sports gear, etc., but its centerpiece is a a huge high-end sports bar with an enormous TV screen and countless others all around the room.
The prices were high, but the beer was great and the atmosphere lively. Early in the afternoon, many seats on the floor tables in front of the huge TV were still empty, or more accurately, they were reserved. (We found this odd, as others were being turned away or made to stand in the bar area for hours.) That night, there'd be a Maple Leafs game, and fans had reserved tables for both before and during it. By 6, the place was packed, with every other person wearing a Leafs jersey. 
Say what you will about the team (it's not hard for Flyers fans to conjure their hate for Toronto), but their gear is pretty fantastic, and a room full of it was quite a site. There were two floors and multiple viewing areas, including private party spaces and a balcony bar. Overall,  Real Sports was pretty impressive. Even the rest rooms had a flat screen TV over each urinal and larger TVs in the sink area, some playing college football while others played the last game between the Leafs and that night's opponent, the Ottawa Senators. 
Hopefully Xfinity Live draws a similar crowd when it opens up. After seeing Real Sports, I wondered if it wasn't in some way the inspiration for XL (think 'XL' catches on?). From what I've been told, it will blow Real Sports out of the water, which after seeing some of the expected amenities, it certainly may. However, XL could still have a bit more challenge drawing non-gameday crowds in south Philly, which isn't next door to the city's most popular tourist attraction. 
ETERNAL FALLBack to the Leafs, and the city that, to be honest, deserves better. Maple Leafs hockey is number one in Toronto, and it's not even close. Imagine how painful it must be to have the team be so bad for so long… 
A promising start to the current season has gone up in flames, costing head coach Ron Wilson his job earlier this month. Amazingly, Wilson was given an extension in December. Perhaps a victim to his club's overachievement, he was canned just over three months later. 
The Leafs slid to fourth place in the division, 12th in the conference, and appear likely to miss the playoffs for the seventh straight season. Yes, since the lockout, the hockey team from the largest city in Canada has not made the playoffs once. 
And yet, they're still among the league-leaders in attendance. Of course they are. 
Tonight the Toronto fans will see their club host one of the hottest teams in the league, as the Flyers come in on a four-game winning streak. Ilya Bryzgalov will start his 11th straight game, facing Jonas Gustavsson, who is starting his fifth in a row. James Reimer has hit a rough patch, and new head coach Randy Carlyle is staying with the Monster for now. 
One of the bigger surprises of the Leafs' early surge was the play of former Flyer Joffrey Lupul, who was among the league's leading scorers before getting hurt. Loops separated his shoulder in a loss to the Bruins on Tuesday, and he'll miss 3-4 weeks, which is likely the end of the line for Toronto. Colby Armstrong was also hurt that night (broken nose), but he's expected to be ready to go against the Flyers. 
Toronto has won only one of their last nine games, and only two of their last 14. They're in a complete free fall, which hopefully continues tonight. 
The Flyers will again be without Kimmo, Mesz, and Kubina, which so far hasn't been a problem, but the Leafs do pack some scoring punch, so Bryz could be busy if there are any issues on the back end. 

Source: Phillies, Rangers in 'pretty deep' trade talks about Vince Velasquez

Source: Phillies, Rangers in 'pretty deep' trade talks about Vince Velasquez

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies lost, 2-1, to the Atlanta Braves on Friday night.

The big news from this game, however, was that Vince Velasquez might have made his last start with the Phillies. A major league source told CSNPhilly.com that the Phillies and Texas Rangers are “pretty deep” in trade discussions involving Velasquez. The Rangers, the source said, also have some interest in Jeremy Hellickson, who pitches for the Phillies on Saturday night, but he appears to be a secondary target.

It would take top talent to get Velasquez, a 24-year-old right-hander with a power arm. The Phillies acquired him over the winter from Houston as the centerpiece in the deal that sent Ken Giles to the Astros.

The Rangers had several scouts at the game, including Scott Littlefield, one of their top talent evaluators.

The Rangers’ interest in Velasquez was reported earlier in the week by Jon Morosi of MLB Network.

Apparently there’s more than just interest. Stay tuned as Monday’s trade deadline approaches.

Starting pitching report
Velasquez scattered seven hits and two runs over six innings. He walked two and struck out five. Velasquez battled some command issues and needed 91 pitches to complete the six innings.

He is 8-3 with a 3.32 ERA in 18 starts. He has a 2.75 ERA in six starts since a brief stint on the disabled list with a right biceps strain.

Braves right-hander Tyrell Jenkins gave up just one unearned run over six innings.

Bullpen report
Both bullpens pitched scoreless ball.

At the plate
Phillies leadoff man Cesar Hernandez reached base in his first three at-bats and scored the Phillies’ only run on an error in the third inning. 

The Braves scored two runs in the third inning on three singles, a sacrifice bunt and a walk against Velasquez. Gordon Beckham and Nick Markakis drove in the runs with base hits.

Up next
Hellickson (7-7, 3.65) makes perhaps his final start with the Phillies on Saturday night. He will face Braves right-hander Julio Teheran (3-8, 2.71).

Jeremy Hellickson set to pitch Saturday — unless he's traded

Jeremy Hellickson set to pitch Saturday — unless he's traded

ATLANTA — Even with the Miami Marlins having filled their need for starting pitching, there remains significant interest in Phillies starter Jeremy Hellickson, according to major league sources.

The Phillies have received offers for the 29-year-old right-hander, but none that they have deemed worthy of pulling the trigger on.

Hellickson is scheduled to make his 22nd start for the club on Saturday night. Will he make that start? Time will tell. Talks between the Phillies and interested clubs are ongoing.

Hellickson is coming off two strong starts in which he allowed just six hits and one run in 14 innings against the Marlins. Another strong start Saturday could add more luster to Hellickson’s stretch-run value and bring the Phillies the package they are seeking. The trade deadline is Monday at 4 p.m.

Miami had interest in Hellickson before making a deal to acquire starters Andrew Cashner and Colin Rea from San Diego in a seven-player trade Friday (see story).

Hellickson is viewed by industry insiders as being a fallback option for a number of teams. Demand for him could grow as trades are made and the starting pitching market thins as Monday’s deadline approaches.

Baltimore, Toronto, Texas, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Houston are among teams looking to add starting pitching.

Though there’s no guarantee that Hellickson will be moved, he is the most likely Phillie to go. Reliever David Hernandez is next on the list. A number of teams are looking for relief help. The feeling around baseball is that the Phils could move Hernandez before Monday’s deadline, but the return would only be marginal.

The Phillies have received some interest in closer Jeanmar Gomez, but not to the degree one might expect for someone with 27 saves. Because Gomez lacks power stuff, rival teams do not view him as a closer on a contending team.

FOX Sports reports that the Rangers have interest in right-hander Vince Velasquez, but the Phils would have to be blown away to move the 24-year-old right-hander. Velasquez started for the Phillies on Friday night.

Ben Simmons spending his summer getting bigger and better

Ben Simmons spending his summer getting bigger and better

Ben Simmons repeatedly emphasized at summer league he wanted to work on “everything” leading up to training camp.

As a point-forward who plays multiple positions, he has more than just one role to address this offseason. But what does “everything” entail? With a wide range of responsibilities on the court, Simmons is honing in on specific areas.

“I think just getting in the gym and making sure I’m getting reps up, shooting-wise, dribbling,” Simmons said earlier this week after an appearance at Sixers Camp in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The weight room as well, making sure I get my strength back and my weight up.”

Shooting
Simmons has been criticized for his reluctance to shoot. During his one season of college ball at LSU, he averaged 19.2 points off 11.7 field goal attempts per game (56 percent made). Over six summer league games (including both Utah and Las Vegas), Simmons took 22 field-goal attempts and shot 32.2 percent. He had less than 10 attempts in four of the games, and attempted 15 in the Sixers’ finale. Simmons attempted one three in summer league action.

While in Utah and Las Vegas, the Sixers encouraged Simmons to be more aggressive. At 6-foot-10, Simmons is able to get to the rim. Once there, many times he passes it off rather than finishing himself. The Sixers don’t expect Simmons to become a 30-point-per-game scorer, but he will be a key part of their offense.

“You always want him to be as good of a shooter as he can be,” Las Vegas summer league head coach Lloyd Pierce said this earlier month. “It’s not going to be his strength. His strength is going to be passing, facilitating, playmaking. That’s going to be an added bonus, whatever the percentage or the number is.”

Dribbling
Simmons averaged 5.5 assists per game during summer league (second on the team by 0.3 dimes to T.J McConnell). Conversely, he committed 3.8 turnovers.

The Sixers signed two point guards this summer, Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez, and McConnell is returning from last season. Head coach Brett Brown said after the draft he does not plan to utilize Simmons as the primary one-guard right away as the 20-year-old learns the league. But early on, Simmons will have the rock in his hands plenty of times given his natural ball-handling abilities, especially when grabbing the rebound and running the fast break.

"I think it's the hardest position to play in the NBA,” Brown previously said. “I think to just give him the ball in that capacity is borderline cruel. He needs to feel NBA basketball. And maybe he evolves there."

Weight room
After college, Simmons put on 20 pounds from his training and entered the draft at 242 pounds. He stood out among the competition in summer league play with his NBA-ready stature. Simmons said he would like to get up to 246 or 247 pounds this offseason.

“Not too heavy,” he said.

With the size of a forward and the skills of a guard, the Sixers will be able to utilize Simmons to create mismatches both in the backcourt and at the hoop.