How a Kings Cup Win Changes the Flyers' Season Narrative

How a Kings Cup Win Changes the Flyers' Season Narrative

There used to be a little derision in references to
the Los Angeles Kings being "Flyers West." We've always said there
wasn't, that it was a term of endearment. We respected the particular
group of Philadelphia expatriates who wound up together in Hollywood.
While those sentiments were and are still true, they came with a smirk
and an attempt to conceal undeserved condescension.  

With former Philly bench bosses and front office
folks in positions of power and a small rotation of former Flyers
wearing a small rotation of Kings uniform variations, the club had
certainly earned the nickname. Failing to sustain any real momentum
toward postseason glory is probably what garnered the seldom spoken
derision, even if the Flyers' own successes, while consistent, also
consistently fell short. 

That was before Mike Richards was traded to LA
though. Before Simon Gagne signed up to be his teammate again nine days
later. With former captain Richards and decade-long fan-favorite Gagne,
the Kings had undeniably were "Flyers West," but the derision began to
disappear. When Jeff Carter moved in with Richards in Manhattan Beach,
the reference was set in stone and the derision gone entirely, replaced
by a quickly rooted sapling of fear. 

Fear? Of a struggling, limping forward joining a
chemistry-challenged team that might not even make the playoffs? A team
that had jettisoned its head coach and endured Richards' weakest ever
regular season and a long-term injury to Gagne?

No, this fear was for what in retrospect now feels
to have been inevitable—that the exiled former Flyers would unite like
Voltron elsewhere and raise Lord Stanley's gift to the league less than
one year after being sent out of Philadelphia against their wishes. 

Melodramatic? Maybe. But it could happen tonight, or later this week, and it will be painful. It is already painful.

As
we said when Carter was dealt to LA, we are happy for the two players
who were drafted together and were once proud to be Flyers "for life."
Same goes for Gagne and Williams, though the latter already has a Cup
and will be known in passing as one of the franchise's "what if…?"
stories. Same goes for Ron Hextall, who was so close in 1987, a force
for the league to reckon with. Ten years later, Hexy was back in the
Finals for the Flyers, but as part of an all too familiar goalie
carousel. Now he's Assistant GM under Dean Lombardi, a man who flew
under most fans' radars during his time with the Flyers. We see you now,
Dean.  

The trades were much safer on June 23rd, 2011—both
to execute as the Flyers GM, and to accept as fans. Carter seemed
destined to live out a purgatorial existence in Columbus, and that's
being generous. Richards might do well in LA, but that was fine. They
weren't traded by a vindictive man hoping to ruin them. Paul Holmgren
had tears in his eyes in the wake of the deals, knowing full well
neither player wanted to go at all, much less be separated. Maybe Scott
Howson's need to move the publicly disgruntled Carter and Lombardi's
need for more scoring combined to alleviate Homer's guilt.  

But their reunion immediately reopened the dialog
of, what if the Flyers and Kings play in the Finals? It seemed unlikely,
with the Kings an 8 seed and the Flyers facing a treacherous path
through the East. But after the Flyers beat the Penguins, the way they
did, and the Kings marched through the top-seeded Canucks, we (and
probably the league) were a little closer to believing that pipe dream
matchup might just happen. 

Only for a moment though. And that's where it starts to get painful.

The
series against the Devils went so astonishingly bad, knocking us all
down a peg after we uncharacteristically assumed the Flyers' next real
challenge after the Penguins awaited in the Conference Finals. The
Kings, meanwhile, had clearly found their stride and continued on a
historic tear through the West
. They were the group catching fire at just the right time, as well as the team with the hot, dominant goalie. 

While our rival fans toasted another early tee time
for the Orange & Black—even those who'd met their end too—they had a
new mocking line to trot out, and we'd better get used to it. Just
after the traditional goaltending comments, be prepared to hear a chorus
of Richards and Carter digs. They came in waves as Carter scored his
second goal of the Finals on Monday night, a perfect lift of a pass from
Richards to beat Martin Brodeur and seal what now appears to be a
certain fate.  

It began to truly feel like our club is cursed. In
just one season, barring a miraculous Devils comeback, Richards and
Carter in all their bearded glory will do what many of us have never
seen the Flyers accomplish outside of the grainy footage from before our
time. They're gonna drink from that Cup this summer. 

Let's Make ExcusesWhat may or may not be
lost in all of this is that the Flyers weren't expected to contend
immediately after the summer 2011 shakeup saw their forward lines
replaced en masse. Many young faces were added, and their greatest
veteran leader was lost for the season, probably longer. I can't
remember a team with more rookies contributing key minutes up and down
the lines. The Kings' end of the Richards trade was the more "win now"
move, exchanging a top prospect and a valuable young winger for a team
captain with playoff experience. 

There is also the line of thought that the
departures also allowed a superstar to emerge. Claude Giroux became an
MVP candidate and had Conn Smythe chatter after a first series showdown
with Sidney Crosby. But perhaps in large part due to injury, he faded
along with the rest of the Flyers to a reality that we probably wouldn't
have been too upset over if you offered it last October. And, there's
no way of knowing how his development would have been effected if 18
and/or 17 had stayed. 

Doesn't Ease the PainIf the Kings
continue on this path, and it appears they will, it will be a lot harder
to shrug off the rebuilding/reloading season. The two biggest stones
the builder removed became valuable pieces of someone else's castle.
That someone already had the most valuable piece when he started making
deals, as well as high-line forward talent and defense. Despite the
excellent efforts of the Flyers' rookie corps and other newcomers, we
still don't know whether the Flyers have a championship-caliber goalie
or a long-term road block, and . 

We may never know the full extent of the reasons
that Richards and Carter were dealt. Opinions will always vary. The need
for a new direction. The need for the elusive (and expensive) #1
goalie. A different look from the forward lines. Dry Island violations,
the stuff that made the papers and the stuff that didn't. 

Whatever the reason, they were deemed the players
who needed to go in order to make the Flyers into a Cup winner. For Los
Angeles, they were the pieces that needed to be added. That stirs some
worthwhile considerations about how both teams were built with and
without Richards and Carter, what their ideal roles are and were. 

I'm trying hard not to blame or second-guess Homer's
decision because again, we don't know exactly what led to it. And, if
the Kings lost last round, we wouldn't even be having this discussion,
instead focusing on whether one off-season will be enough to get the
Flyers over the hurdle they crotched up on while running at full speed. 

What Comes Next?Last season, the Flyers'
playoff run ended in embarrassment, and Ed Snider publicly decreed that
the goaltending carousel would end. At least in part, that set the
course for the summer's surprising moves. This year's departure was
frustrating, though I wouldn't say it was quite as embarrassing on its
own. But what happens after Richards and Carter win the Cup in an
emphatically short series during which the Flyers are painted as the
long-term ex who cheated on and then broke up with them, then in the end
was the one left behind while the jilted party moved on to better
things?

Will that be an additional motivator toward
off-season moves (ie, the rebound), or will the Flyers primarily stay
the course and let a new, young core develop, tweaking only a few
areas? 
One final question. Seeing what short work the Kings are
making of every team they face… If they were going to win the Cup, are
you glad the Flyers were eliminated early, rather than have to be
another stop on LA's parade route?

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.”