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?

Flyers, Brayden Schenn agree to 4-year contract

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Flyers, Brayden Schenn agree to 4-year contract

The Flyers and restricted free agent Brayden Schenn agreed to a four-year contract Monday morning to avoid arbitration.

According to TSN's Bob McKenzie, the contract carries a $5.125 million annual average value, which is closer to the $5.5 million Schenn asked for in arbitration than the Flyers offered. Schenn turned down a two-year deal with an AAV of $4.30 million Friday, according to CSNPhilly.com Flyers Insider Tim Panaccio.

Schenn, 24, is coming off a career season in which he scored 26 goals, 33 assists and 59 points, all career-highs.

(More coming …)

Are the Eagles the most boring team in the NFC East?

Are the Eagles the most boring team in the NFC East?

If the Hinkie Era in Philadelphia has been good for one thing (it’s been good for more than one thing), it’s showing us that being the worst or least talented team is completely different than being the most boring team. Being the most boring team is far worse than being the worst team. 

What sports really boils down to is the entertainment factor. That’s it. If there’s a compelling storyline and something happening worth watching, it’s doesn’t really matter who’s winning or losing.

When it comes to the NFC East, differentiating “boring” and “worst” matters. It matters because the entire division is complete garbage. It’s unlikely that any of these four teams is going to win a single playoff game this year, let alone the Super Bowl. In fact, the NFC East hasn’t even had a repeat division champ in over a decade. It’s just a bunch of average teams fighting for a wild card spot, with an occasional anomaly like a 12-4 Cowboys season or a Giants Super Bowl victory after going 9-7.

What matters most in the NFC East, as of late, has been the stories. It’s a bit of a bummer to think about this now because, just one year ago, the Eagles weren’t just the most exciting team in the division--they were probably the most exciting team in the entire NFL. There were so many storylines: the power struggle between Chip and Howie, the explosion of the roster, the unknown surrounding Sam Bradford, the excitement of the rushing champion switching allegiances from the Cowboys, the supposed genius of the coach who we hadn’t realized the league had caught up to yet, the national pundits picking the Birds to win the Super Bowl. There were different and exciting things happening and it was just an exciting time to be a fan.

It’s crazy how quickly things change. One exhausting year later, almost no one (besides us) is talking about the Eagles. No one cares about Doug Pederson, Sam Bradford, and what’s going on at the NovaCare Complex anymore.

Which begs me to ask the question: Have the Eagles really become the most boring team in the NFC East? I really hope not, but folks, it’s not looking good.

Let’s just a quick look at some of the storylines floating around the division at the moment:

The Redskins

It might be because they’re fresh off of a division-winning season (albeit a 9-7 division-winning season), but the Redskins probably have the East’s most exciting team heading into camp.

Think about it. If anything, over the past few years, the Redskins have been fun to watch only for the fact that they’ve been the joke of the league. A totally incompetent owner wrapped up in defending his team’s racist name, a general manager being publicly accused of his affair with a reporter, and a prima donna quarterback hated by his teammates have been the sparks leading the dumpster fire.

Today, they’re compelling to watch for different reasons. They were able to pick up Josh Norman in the offseason, 2015’s best cornerback. This not only means the team’s secondary will improve in a division with some of the league’s best wide receivers, it means fans will get to watch the Norman vs. Odell Beckham Jr. rivalry unfold twice a year--a rivalry so intense it led to suspensions last season.

The team was also able to finally convince it’s delusional owner that the aforementioned prima donna quarterback was no longer worth a spot on the roster and they cut him in hopes to rebuild a healthy locker room.

His replacement, Kirk Cousins, had a pretty good final stretch of the 2015 season, putting up some pretty good numbers against a slew of teams with losing records. Because he beat a bunch of terrible teams and led his team to 9-7, Redskins management decided to hit him with the franchise tag, an action that will cost them about $20 million dollars. It makes sense. If he fails, they get to let him walk without spending anymore. If he succeeds, then it’ll be worth it and the team can work to extend him long term.

Redskins fans will be watching in hopes that all of these pieces will fall into place accordingly and carry them through an exciting season to another division title. The rest of us will be watching for the reason that it’s all likely to crash and burn. We’ll be watching nonetheless.

The Giants

As much as I hate to say it, the Giants will never be boring to watch so long as they have one player on their team: Odell Beckham Jr. I can’t stand the guy personally. Can’t. Stand. Him. I can’t stand the corny dances he does on the field before games, I can’t stand his severe lack of sportsmanship and respect for other other players on the field, I can’t stand the stupid flashy one-handed catches where it’s just as reasonable to use two, and I can’t stand his stupid face.

All of that being said, the dude is arguably the most exciting player to watch in all of football and rarely plays a game that lacks one electrifying play or another. He single-handedly saved Tom Coughlin an extra year after emerging mid season as a rookie and hasn’t really let up since. Seeing his rival Josh Norman twice a year now only increases that.

Let’s also not forget that the Giants probably made the biggest splash in this year’s free agency. The team managed to spend nearly $230 million in contracts over seven total players headlined by Janoris Jenkins, Olivier Vernon, and Damon Harrison. This is all in addition to the signing of their new head coach Ben McAdoo, who Eagles fans shouldn’t forget was one of our top choices for Pederson’s job.

Eagles fans can appreciate the sentiment behind all of these big moves, having been wooed by the romance of a couple of supposed “dream teams” in recent years. Those who watch the Giants are excited to take a big step forward. Others are excited to see them learn the lesson that great NFL teams are rarely built through free agency.

The Cowboys

Here’s the hard part. Showing some appreciation for the Dallas Cowboys. I’ll try and keep this brief.

No matter which way you spin it, the Cowboys team has some personality that people enjoy. They have Tony Romo, the quarterback that people love to hate, Jerry Jones trying to coach the team from the owner’s box, and Dez Bryant either making ridiculous plays or throwing a tantrum on the sideline. It was a spectacle when they went 12-4 and it was a spectacle when they went 4-12.

Tony Romo is projected to be the fourth oldest starting quarterback in the league this year. He broke his clavicle twice last year and has had more back surgeries that I can count on both hands. Even so, the year before last he proved that when playing healthy and to his potential, the Cowboys can be a playoff caliber team. Everyone will be watching closely to see if that happens because, obviously, America loves when America’s team does well as much as America loves when America’s team fails.

I’ve also got to admit that I’m intrigued by the potential of Ezekiel Elliott. In the long run, he was realistically awful value at the number four pick overall given the career length of the average running back, the position’s expendability in today’s league, and the plethora of good running backs in next year’s draft, but running behind their line he’ll probably be a stud fantasy player and likely Rookie of the Year candidate.

If anything else, the Cowboys are exciting to watch for the regular suspensions being dished out to their defensive line that apparently can’t stop smoking weed.

The Eagles

This brings us to the Eagles. The most exciting things happening are Fletcher Cox’s mega-contract and the fact that Howie Roseman was able to finagle his way up the draft board to get a top quarterback coming out in Carson Wentz.

I’ll admit I’m ecstatic about the Cox extension and the bold move to get a potential franchise quarterback, but with watching Cox play being nothing new and reports surfacing that Wentz will spend his rookie season redshirted, what are Eagles fans really getting excited about right now?

Is it Doug Pederson, potentially the most boring head coach hire in the history of the NFL? Is it Sam Bradford, the quarterback who has never had a winning season yet essentially said he doesn’t want to be here if he’s not going to be “the guy?” Are fans excited about the fact the team had to fire Chip Kelly, a compelling character who once took the league by storm, and basically start from scratch?

Name one guy on the Eagles roster besides their long-snapper that doesn’t have the personality of a bathtub.

I get that it’s essentially looking like a transition year to the future and in the long run, the Eagles will probably be better off, but are they the only team that doesn’t have a clear cut guy to take in the first like five rounds of a fantasy football draft?

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Eagles don’t get a single look on SportsCenter before the preseason. I think Jim Schwartz’s defense will turn some heads once real gameplay begins, but as of now, there’s really just not much to get excited about in the Eagles’ immediate future.

The Birds are certainly not the worst team in the division by any means. Hell, I wouldn’t even be completely surprised if they won it. But, right now, in this moment, they might be the NFC East’s most boring team heading into training camp.

Feel free to yell at me in the comments.

Inside Doop: Union limp home after brutal week

Inside Doop: Union limp home after brutal week

It’s time for the Union to get some rest — and try to forget what happened over the past few days.

On Saturday night, the Union suffered their worst loss of the MLS season just four days after getting knocked out of the U.S. Open Cup in crushing fashion.

What went wrong on the road trip? And how can they move on from such a brutal week? We’ll examine in the latest edition of the Inside Doop:

Three thoughts from the past week
1. Following last Sunday’s 2-2 draw with the New York Red Bulls, Union head coach Jim Curtin sort of dismissed the idea of “squad rotation” while several players praised the team’s fitness for being able to rally from two goals back to tie New York. And it was true that the Union had successfully managed busy weeks for much of the last two months. But even the most fit and deep team would have struggled with what followed for the Union, who lost in an Open Cup shootout in New England after playing 120 minutes before then leaving the country to face the star-studded Montreal Impact, who drubbed them 5-1. Curtin said he wouldn’t use the grueling schedule as an excuse, but it’s certainly obvious that it played a big role.

2. Before saying he would “tear up the tape” from the rout in Montreal, Curtin candidly stated the team was “beat by stars.” That’s certainly true as the ageless African legend Didier Drogba netted his second MLS hat trick and standout Argentine playmaker Ignacio Piatti assisted on two of those goals and also scored one of his own. Perhaps in the subtext of that statement is this: the Union don’t really have any true stars of their own (except perhaps a rising one in goalkeeper Andre Blake), and while they’ve won a lot of games this season by playing well as a unit, sometimes the talent gap can be too much to overcome.

3. There’s no sense analyzing too much of how the Impact were able to score five times in a single game. Everyone along Philly’s backline played poorly and even typically surefire midfielders like Tranquillo Barnetta didn’t do enough to slow down the Montreal attack as the floodgates opened. But the fact that it came just four days after the Union had a bad breakdown to leave a player wide open on a free kick and let New England score basically an uncontested goal is troublesome. And that came just three days after the team gave up two goals at home. In other words, you can be sure a defensive-minded coach like Curtin will work to correct some of these glaring issues moving forward. Speaking of which …  

Three questions for the week ahead
1.
For a team that’s worked tirelessly on its fitness, sometimes even training twice in the same day, this week will start in somewhat of a unique way: the Union will get Monday and Tuesday off. It’s certainly understandable why Curtin wants his players to get time away from soccer after an arduous 11-game-in-39-day stretch. But will it help reenergize and galvanize the group heading into Sunday’s home game against Real Salt Lake (7 p.m., CSN)?

2. One player to keep an eye on during this week is Maurice Edu. The Union captain has yet to play this season because of a stress fracture but recently returned to the training field. Curtin has stressed the midfielder still needs time to get his fitness back up to where it should be, but there’s no question his return would give the team a big boost at a time when such a thing is needed. Could we see him get on the field, perhaps off the bench, in Sunday’s game?

3. Two players that won’t be with the Union for most of the week are goalkeeper Andre Blake and right back Keegan Rosenberry — and for good reason. The team’s two young rising stars made Thursday’s All-Star Game and traveled to San Jose today to begin preparations for the contest that features the top MLS players vs. English Premier League power Arsenal. Seeing how the two players both perform — and how much playing time they get — in such a marquee matchup will certainly be fun for Union fans. But either way, the fact both players simply got there so early in their careers is quite an accomplishment.

Quote of the week
“We've been a group that's been together and has been a team all year, and that's why we've had some success. Tonight we were beat by stars. Drogba and Piatti were unstoppable.”

-- Union head coach Jim Curtin

Stat of the week
Saturday’s 5-1 loss was the Union’s worst since they lost by the same scoreline to the L.A. Galaxy on June 20, 2015.

Player of the week
It sort of got lost in the general frustration of the week but rookie Fabian Herbers did a lot of damage off the bench, scoring his first career U.S. Open Cup goal in dramatic fashion before getting a secondary assist on Philly’s only goal Saturday. Did he earn himself a start coming up?