High Noon: Which Flyers Will Survive Yesterday's Waives? Plus, Schenn Sent to Phantoms, Praise for Read

High Noon: Which Flyers Will Survive Yesterday's Waives? Plus, Schenn Sent to Phantoms, Praise for Read

With all the new faces at the Skate Zone this year, it's been a
pretty exciting camp for the Flyers. Amidst massive roster turnover came
some interesting position battles, and a few weeks ago, it became clear
that some good players would not make this team. Some would head to
Glens Falls to at least begin the season playing for the Phantoms, while
others would be gone entirely.

As Thursday's season opener approaches, the regular season roster
picture became clearer with a handful of rather notable moves on
Tuesday. We'll know even more come the noon hour today, when we find out
which of the players the Flyers exposed to waivers were claimed, and
which will stay in the organEYEzation.

So who could be moving? Fourth line center / talented penalty killer
Blair Betts and defensemen Matt Walker and Oskars Bartulis were waived,
and can be claimed by other NHL teams before noon on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Brayden Schenn, the highly touted young forward acquired as
part of the deal for Mike Richards, gets to hang on to the title "best
player not in the NHL" a little longer, as he will begin the season with
the AHL Adirondack Phantoms.

A look at what those moves could mean to the roster below.


Schenn's Falls
First,
the Schenn move, which has little if any controversy or even surprise
to it. His being sent to the Phantoms isn't a demotion so much as it is a
strategic move, perhaps toward a better immediate and long-term on-ice
product, but certainly a better salary cap situation. CapGeek.com points
out
that spending any time—even one day—in the minors this season
knocks Schenn's cap hit from $3.11 million to $1.705 million.
In other words, Schenn could have scored 10 goals and stayed completely
healthy throughout the preseason and he'd be en route to Glens Falls
right now anyway.

How long he stays there, we don't know. But his cap hit is suddenly
much better for the remainder of the season when he does get recalled.
It won't kill Schenn or the Flyers for him to get some more time in the
minors either, both to get an ailing shoulder up to speed and to get
some more pre-NHL seasoning. Of course, it may hurt his odds at winning
the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie, which betting site
Bodog.com had set as its highest. 

Despite trading away two centers (counting Jeff Carter there because
it was still his natural position) and possibly losing another one
overnight, the Flyers are still pretty deep up the middle. For now, it
looks like they'll be keeping first-round draft pick Sean Couturier on
the NHL roster to start the season. That may change after 10 games, the
point at which he can be returned to his junior team without counting
against the Flyers current cap year.

Gambling on Losing Betts
One player the Flyers may not be able to
yo-yo back after dangling him over the hands of the league's waiver
grabbers is Blair Betts. Despite battling nagging injuries, Betts has
been a stalwart defensive forward for the Flyers, anchoring their fourth
line and penalty killing units. Now, those coveted skills and his
attractive $700k salary are likely headed for another club. 

When the Flyers signed Max Talbot away from the Pittsburgh Penguins
this off-season, the departure of Betts became a possibility. Talbot
kills penalties and can man the fourth line pivot. He's only 27 years
old and has obviously come up big at key playoff moments, so his allure
is understandable. However, Talbot loses more faceoffs than he wins
(48.6% last season), and the faceoff circle isn't a place the Flyers
appeared able to take a step back.

Talbot also costs more than Betts ($1.75 mil per the next five
seasons), and he was a minus player last season to Betts' plus-7 if you
put stock in that stat. We were, perhaps naively, hoping there'd be a
way to keep both players; while Talbot will be asked to fill some of
Betts' previous roles, he's not necessarily an exact fit, perhaps
ideally used as a wing on either the third or fourth line.

However, the Flyers were looking for someone even more versatile
than a fourth-line center who could kill penalties. They wanted someone
who could replace the energy Ian Laperriere brought to the table,
something Dan Carcillo couldn't consistently do (particularly when he
wasn't playing regularly). Talbot may be coming into a firestorm in
Philly in that many fans don't like his contract, think he's a bit
overrated, and now he likely has Betts' shoes to fill.

But, we need to give this some time before coming to our
conclusions. Fourth line centers are often more replaceable than they
seem, as we learned when the Flyers exposed Glen Metropolit to waivers a
few seasons back due to cap constraints. Metro was missed for the rest
of that season, but was replaced by Betts in the next year's camp,
having been let go by the Rangers.

Back to Talbot for a minute. I recall a lot of fans not liking the
Lappy signing because one of the Flyers' big problems the previous
season was taking too many penalties, resulting in too much time on the
kill. Lappy knew his way to the box, but the concern was largely washed out when we saw what a contributor he could be. Now the team is looking for the guy who can replace him, playing
valuable minutes while also serving an agitating role and throwing down
when the situation calls for it, plus chipping on offense here and
there. I'll miss Betts if he gets snatched up, and there's a good chance
he will, but I'm reserving judgment on Talbot and even fostering some
optimism that he can be a key role-player here. We'll revisit that as
the season moves on I'm sure.

In any case, the current penalty killing situation bears monitoring,
as does the defensive role of the forwards at even strength. Richards
was a huge strength in both regards, and Carter was underrated
defensively (not a popular opinion, I know, but he was no sieve in his
own zone). If Betts is gone, Claude Giroux will probably have to play
more PK minutes than he otherwise might have, which doesn't hurt the PK,
but does use some more of our most talented player's nightly ice time
in non-attacking situations. Matt Read and Wayne Simmonds will also see
time on the killing unit, which also lost the talents of Darroll Powe. 

Back End of the Blue Line
While Matt Walker's $1.7mil salary made
him a candidate for a cap relief waiving, the team's recent confidences
in him as reported by Tim Panaccio made it seem like they might hang on
to them. Of course, they could just be trying to draw a suitor to take
that money on. Andreas Lilja is slotted in as the sixth d-man, but
presumably either Oskars Bartulis or Walker will be kept on as the
seventh if one or both clear. We'll wait on commenting further until we
see how the waivers shake out, but Paul Holmgren expressed some degree
of confidence to Panotch that both guys might clear.

Bob McKenzie's Read on Matt Read
Matt Read has earned a spot with
the Flyers with his impressive camp and preseason showings. He's also
earned acknowledgement from one of the most respected hockey voices
around, with TSN's Bob McKenzie picking him to be this year's Calder
Trophy winner
. While I don't see that happening, as these awards usually go to guys
who stand out either in the crease or on the stat sheet, and I don't see
Read racking up quite that many points, it's pretty encouraging to see
McKenzie throw some confidence behind his ability to contribute at the
NHL, and then some.

Plus, two of the new Flyer faces have been mentioned in this post as
possible Calder Trophy winners, and neither of them is the guy the
Flyers got high in the first round of the 2011 draft, who is also
drawing praise.

Penn star receiver Justin Watson ready to keep doing it all in 2016

justin-watson-penn.png
Photo: Dave Zeitlin

Penn star receiver Justin Watson ready to keep doing it all in 2016

As Penn football players spread out around Franklin Field to take photos and do interviews for the program’s annual media day, Justin Watson hung by the track, playing a quick game of tag near the hurdles.

“Come and get me, J-Wat!” cried out Vhito DeCapria, the precocious 5-year-old cancer patient the team adopted last year through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation and who’s now back for his “sophomore” season.

Watson, known as “J-Wat” to most, smiled and played along. Being Vhito’s favorite player is just one of the many hats he wears. He’s also one of the team’s hardest-working, smartest and most versatile players — and he enters his junior season as perhaps the top wide receiver in the Ivy League, if not the entire FCS.

“Does he do anything to surprise me?” senior quarterback Alec Torgersen said from media day Monday. “Not anymore. He did at the beginning when he first got here. But now it’s just expected of him. I expect him to make those crazy one-handed grabs. I expect him to catch every ball I throw to him. When he doesn’t, I get disappointed.”

Torgersen has had plenty of opportunities to throw Watson passes — and not only last season when the star receiver caught 74 balls (fourth all-time at Penn) for 1,087 yards (second all-time) and nine touchdowns (third all-time). Throughout the summer, the two friends worked together at the same internship downtown. They ate lunch together every day and, at 5 p.m., they hopped on a subway back to Franklin Field, where they worked out in the weight room and practiced back-shoulder fades and option routes.

“A lot of college quarterbacks and receivers can’t have that type of chemistry but I think us being here all summer really helped,” Watson said. “It’s been cool doing that. It’s a special thing that’s definitely going to help us in the fall.”

In truth, Watson is actually more than just a receiver. Last season, he was also used on running plays, gaining 154 yards on the ground, including a 79-yard scamper that sealed Penn’s huge upset at Harvard. Watson finished with a staggering 249 all-purpose yards that day at Harvard Stadium, helping the Quakers win the game that effectively led to them sharing a piece of the Ivy League title. And he said he was all set to play another position by taking direct snaps in the team’s regular-season finale vs. Cornell before getting hurt.

“The uniqueness about Justin is not only his talent and skill on the field but his football IQ,” second-year head coach Ray Priore said. “During the course of the year, he in theory played every skill position on offense. And he didn’t even blink an eye doing it. That’s a special characteristic.”

Priore laughed when asked if he can find more ways to utilize Watson in 2016 but said he won’t put him back on kick returns, “which he probably could do.” He will, however, play safety when the Quakers line up in their “victory defense” at the end of games, “so you may see an interception.”

Watson says he’s ready for anything.

“That’s so much fun,” he said. “When you’re a kid in middle school, that’s what you do. It’s awesome to be back doing that. Anything I can do to help us win, I’ll do it, whether it’s running back or receiver. I don’t think they’ll let me throw it at quarterback after seeing my arm. But anything else I’m definitely willing and ready to do.”

In the end, though, playing receiver is what Watson loves most, saying that catching a deep ball — and hearing the crowd “hold their breath when the ball’s in the air and then erupt” — is his favorite thing as a football player. It’s also his skills as a receiver that has him earning so much attention heading into Penn’s opener vs. Lehigh on Sept. 17. Among his preseason accolades, the junior was named one of 22 players on the STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year Watch List — the only Ivy Leaguer to receive such an honor.

But if all of his records and accolades leads to opposing defenses paying more attention to him, Watson isn’t worried. That’s because he knows the team’s other receivers like fifth-year senior Cam Countryman and sophomore Christian Pearson are more than capable of having big years too.

“If you put two guys on me, we’ve got a bunch of other great receivers who will be open and will kill you down the field,” Watson said. “If I’ve got to take two or three guys every game, we’ll be 10-0 because I know everyone else will be making plays.”

It’s that kind of selflessness that has endeared Watson to his teammates, who enjoy the energy he brings to practice and how he always seems to be the first player in the training room.

“He’s an incredible player,” said Countryman, one of Penn’s leaders. “I have the utmost respect for him. When he came in his freshman year, you noticed right away the talent he had. So all of the accomplishments that he gets, I’m not surprised at all. 

“And they’ll keep coming in.”

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Following a shutout, Phillies get to face Max Scherzer

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Following a shutout, Phillies get to face Max Scherzer

Phillies (60-71) vs. Nationals (76-55)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies couldn't hit in Monday's series opener, but they did receive the positive of Jake Thompson finally looking like he can get outs at the big-league level. Thompson allowed two runs over seven innings, but the Phils were blanked by Tanner Roark for the third time this season.

The task Tuesday night is no easier.

1. Due vs. Scherzer?
When the Phillies face Max Scherzer, you can essentially chalk it up as an automatic loss. The Phils are one of the weaker offenses, Scherzer is one of the game's best pitchers, and his track record against them is nearly flawless.

Scherzer (14-7, 2.92) has faced the Phillies eight times since 2013. He's 6-0 with 1.74 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP, with 62 strikeouts and 10 walks in 57 innings. 

Scherzer had some early missteps this season, caused mostly by home runs, but he's been incredible since the middle of May, when he tied a MLB record with 20 strikeouts in a game. Since that game, he's 11-5 with a 2.40 ERA and .172 opponents' batting average in 20 starts. He's struck out 181 and walked 29 in those 139 innings. Ridiculous. Otherworldly.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, they'll be seeing a lot of Scherzer moving forward. He's in the second of a seven-year, $210 million free-agent contract with the Nationals that, to this point, he's lived up to.

Scherzer has a blazing fastball and a disappearing breaking ball. He throws strike after strike after strike, which is ironically what gets him into trouble at times. Like Cliff Lee, Scherzer is around the plate so often that hitters tend to attack his early fastballs. The result is a lot of solo home runs. But Scherzer has even corrected that issue of late, allowing just five homers over his last 11 starts.

2. Learn from Herrera
Odubel Herrera has had by far the most success of any active Phillie vs. Scherzer. He's 6 for 19 with a double, a triple and five walks. There are only six players in baseball with at least 20 plate appearances against Scherzer and an on-base percentage higher than Herrera's .458.

Herrera had a multi-hit game Monday, his fourth in his last eight contests. He's hitting .283/.361/.413 in 540 plate appearances this season, providing pretty much the same offense he did a year ago. But still, the Phillies would like to see more consistency from Herrera over the season's final month. His OBP had declined every month this year until August.

Phils manager Pete Mackanin said on Monday that Herrera will remain in center field the rest of the season. Mackanin had indicated several weeks ago that Herrera would see some time in the corner outfield to allow the organization to get a look at Aaron Altherr and perhaps even Roman Quinn in center field in September, but that's no longer the plan. Quinn is on the concussion DL at Double A, and the Phillies don't want to move Herrera around or do anything to affect his confidence at this point.

It still seems likely that Herrera will end up at a different position in the future because the Phillies have better defensive centerfielders.

3. Their steadiest starter
Jerad Eickhoff tonight makes his 27th start of 2016 and 35th career start for the Phillies. He's 9-12 with a 3.87 ERA this season and 12-15 with a 3.57 ERA in his career.

Eickhoff is coming off yet another quality start, his 14th. He's pitched at least six innings in 17 of his 25 starts. 

Strange as it is, Eickhoff has faced the division-rival Nationals only once in his career so far. He allowed two runs to them over seven innings with 10 strikeouts in his penultimate start last season.

Eickhoff has been much better this season at home (3.27 ERA) than on the road (4.56).

4. A night for small ball
One of the Phillies' goals this season was to manufacture runs because they don't have a ton of power. That will be especially necessary tonight against Scherzer, who's shut down every Phils hitter with pop.

Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp are a combined 5 for 31 (.161) off Scherzer. Ryan Howard, who's unlikely to play, is 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts.

Meanwhile, Herrera has gotten on base with regularity against him, and Cesar Hernandez is 5 for 18 with a double. Herrera and Hernandez will need to reach base and run tonight. Scherzer, however, does a better job than most aces of controlling the running game. He's allowed just 11 steals on 14 attempts in 60 starts with the Nationals.

5. This and that
• A loss tonight would put the Phillies 12 games under .500. Their record hasn't been that bad since June 27, which was 53 games ago.

• The Phils are 6-12 against the NL East since the All-Star break.

• It would have been difficult for Jayson Werth to play up to the seven-year, $126 million contract he got with the Nationals after 2010, but when you look back at his tenure in Washington he's had only two bad years out of six. In more than 3,000 plate appearances with the Nats, Werth has hit .269/.361/.442 for an .803 OPS that is 18 percent better than the league average over that span.

Phillies shut out, but Jake Thompson's best start yet and kudos to that one fan

Phillies shut out, but Jake Thompson's best start yet and kudos to that one fan

You knew it probably wasn't going to be a very good night for the Phillies after Jayson Werth led off the game with a home run for the Washington Nationals. After the smarting blow from our former WFC RF, the Nats picked up another run to go up 2-0 in the first, and that was plenty for the NL East leaders on a windy Monday night in Philly. The Fightins managed just four hits, one walk, and zero runs worth of offense, and Tanner Roark and the Nats shut 'em out, 4-0, for the series opener. (That's Werth's 18th homer against the Phils, btw — one off his single-opponent high of 19 against the Braves, and in about 60 fewer games.)

Luckily, the night wasn't a complete wash for the Phils: We got our best start yet — indeed, the first one that would likely qualify as "good" — from young righty starter Jake Thompson, who buckled down after the two first-inning runs, and went six scoreless from there. (Thompson had yet to pitch more than three consecutive innings without an earned run in his four starts to date.) The starter's finest inning was his last, where he notched all three of his strikeouts on the evening, including a particular beauty dropped in for a third strike on an incredulous Trea Turner to close the frame. For a 22-year-old pitcher whose early-career issues are often said to be more mental than mechanical, it could be a huge confidence boost to come through like that against one of the best offenses in the NL.

Meanwhile, the other hero for the Phils tonight came in the guise of a fan sitting on the first-base line, who responded to a Frank Herrmann pickoff overthrow by reflexively cleanly fielding the ball as it bounced near the seats. The fan-interference got Nats third-baseman Anthony Rendon, who was well on his way to third base, called back to second, incensing Washington manager Dusty Baker and earning the fan a good deal of high-fives from the fans in his section. He got booted from the stadium — and Rendon was rewarded third base anyway after Baker's challenge was supported by replay — but y'know. No one can say dude didn't do what he could, and that's all anyone can ask of a real fan.

Jerad Eickhoff vs. Max Scherzer at 7:00 tonight. Still just 9.5 games out of the second wild-card spot.