Ilya Bryzgalov Still Proving His Worth to Flyers Nation

Ilya Bryzgalov Still Proving His Worth to Flyers Nation

Philadelphia can be hard on star athletes, especially those
perceived as being vastly overpaid. So when the Flyers traded for Ilya Bryzgalov's rights and signed him to a nine-year
contract at $51 million in the summer of 2011 – a whopping $5.67 per year – naturally
many fans became incensed before he ever played a game in Orange & Black.

Never mind Bryzgalov was one of the primary reasons a small-market
franchise in Phoenix was able to compete year after year, posting a record of
78-40-16 during his final two seasons with the Coyotes. And forget the
three-ring circus that had been booked in the Flyers’ crease the previous
two Aprils, with the likes of Sergei Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher, and Michael
Leighton getting the call during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

No, the concern was the length of the contract and the
amount of money, and to a lesser degree, that this Bryglaov fellow might be
overrated.

He did little to dissuade those fears during the first few
months of the 2011-12 campaign. In what was clearly an adjustment period for
Bryz, he posted a pedestrian .890 save percentage during the months of October,
November, and December, looking generally out of sorts while doing so. There
was a soft goal against him on an almost-nightly basis, often immediately after the puck
dropped.

Bryz also made several strange comments, at times sounding
defeated, like when he confessed to being “lost in the woods” following one
particularly dismal outing. He didn’t handle the increased media scrutiny that
comes with playing in Philly very well at all, and there were more cameras than ever
thanks to the upcoming Winter Classic – where head coach Peter Laviolette would bench Bryzgalov
in favor of Bobrovsky on a national stage.

Then something clicked in the second half. The young Bob
wasn’t playing great either, and the organization had loads invested in Bryz,
so he began starting with more frequency. And the more he played, the more
comfortable he looked.

Bryzgalov’s save percentage crept up along with his time on
ice to .923 over the final four months of the season, his stellar play reaching
its pinnacle in March when he set the Flyers’ record for most consecutive
minutes of shutout hockey. He finished the month with a 10-2-1 record, holding the
opponents to zero on four occasions.

This is what the Flyers gave him that huge contract for.
This is the quality of netminder nine years, $51 million buys you.

Don’t think Bryzgalov’s suddenly stellar play was a
coincidence, either. It was anything but. The front office had just shored up
some concerns along the blue line through trades for Pavel Kubina, and
especially Nik Grossmann. Part of the problem all along had been the Flyers’
inability to overcome Chris Pronger’s absence from the lineup, and the club was
struggling defensively across the board. Reinforcements helped.

Not only that, but numbers suggest Bryzgalov is at his
absolute best the more he is in net. His best season was 09-10, when
he appeared in a career-high, league-leading 69 games, setting personal bests for wins (42), shutouts (8), and
goals against average (2.29). He's also played 68, 65, and 64 in a season. But early on with the Flyers, Bryz was getting
jerked around, in part because he wasn’t doing so hot, but also because
Laviolette was trying to find adequate time for Bobrovsky. Bryz finished at 59 games in 11-12.

That’s why GM Paul Holmgren went cheap on a backup this
season, going with Leighton and adding Boucher as insurance. As long as he’s
healthy, Bryz should play over 40 games this season easy.

Of course, there were still plenty of questions surrounding
Bryzgalov coming out of the lockout. He suffered a chip fracture in his foot down the
stretch last season, and while he came back in time for the playoffs, the
momentum was gone, and he could not have been at 100%. Still, his performance in the tournament left a bad taste. There was even some talk
that the Flyers could use their compliance buyout on Bryz this offseason to get
out from under his contract.

I would seriously doubt the Flyers have any intention of
doing something so drastic though. The nine-year, $51 million contract you hate
so much – which by the way, makes him only the eighth-highest paid goalie annually in the NHL – it was a measured response to years of Leightons, Bouchers, Bobrovskys,
Marty Birons, Ray Emerys, Robert Esches, and Antero Niitymakis, and many more
fill-ins, stopgaps, and disappointments who served between the pipes for this
franchise over the past couple of decades.

They chose this route for a reason.

So far this year, Bryzgalov has given us nothing to complain
about, on the ice or otherwise. He’s been one of the few guys wearing Orange & Black that has
demonstrated some consistency.

Through five games, Bryz is 2-3 with a .923 SV%,
2.21 GAA – and the numbers probably don’t even really do the effort justice
given that several goals and opportunities weren’t his fault. It's been the big moments, too, like when he helped kill 5-on-3 and 5-on-4 power plays back-to-back in their win over the New York Rangers last week, or his multiple post-to-post saves against the Florida Panthers over the weekend.

Then again, there probably remains a fairly large group of people out
there just waiting for him to slip up. Neither five games, nor one
record-setting month are going to convince every fan Bryz was worth it. Maybe
nothing short of hoisting the Cup will.

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10 observations from Eagles OTA practice Tuesday

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10 observations from Eagles OTA practice Tuesday

Finally some nice weather.

The Eagles began their second round of OTAs on Tuesday under the beaming sun, in near-80 degree temperatures. That’s a departure from the first day of rookie camp and the first day of last week’s OTAs, which both brought rain.

So without the confinements of the practice bubble and without a slick football, we got a chance to see the 2016 Eagles in desirable conditions Tuesday.

Here are 10 observations from Tuesday’s practice:

1. Overall, a pretty sloppy day for the defense. As soon as the team portion of the practice began, Sam Bradford got the defensive line to jump about three times in the first several plays of practice. Late in the practice, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz had enough and ripped into a second-year defensive back.

During his nearly 30-minute press conference after practice, Schwartz was asked about his past experience grooming a first-round quarterback (Matthew Stafford), but said he doesn’t have much time to worry about Carson Wentz.

“We’ve got enough worries on defense right now,” he said.

2. If you’re looking for a bright spot on defense, we’ll offer up rookie defensive back Jalen Mills. On Tuesday, Mills got a chance to work against the first-team offense in the Nickel package. When Mills came on the field, Ron Brooks moved inside, while Leodis McKelvin remained outside.

Mills made the defensive play of the day, when he got in between Jordan Matthews and a deep sideline pass.

“He’s been impressive so far,” Schwartz said of the seventh-rounder Mills. “But we haven’t even really started yet, to tell you the truth.”

Schwartz said the team wanted to see how Mills would look going against veterans; before Tuesday, he had mostly been going against rookies.

“We don’t have a depth chart right now,” Schwartz cautioned.

While those three worked with the first team on Tuesday, there could be different players there Wednesday. And Nolan Carroll, who’s still recovering, isn’t yet able to do team drills.

3. Rueben Randle (gallbladder surgery) and Ryan Mathews (illness) both missed practice on Tuesday, which gave some other guys more reps.

At running back, it meant Kenjon Barner worked with the first team, while rookie fifth-rounder Wendell Smallwood worked with the twos. With Mathews out and with Darren Sproles still away, the team had just three running backs suited up on Tuesday. Barner looked pretty good with the first team on Tuesday.

The starting widouts were Nelson Agholor, Josh Huff and Jordan Matthews. When all three were on the field, Matthews was mostly in the slot. But one guy who did a lot with his reps on Tuesday was free-agent signing Chris Givens. Now, obviously, these guys are still in shorts, but Givens showed off his speed and hands. He’s making a push for the roster as the last receiver to make the team.

4. Fletcher Cox is still not with the team (see story). Last week, during the open practice, Taylor Hart worked next to Bennie Logan in his spot. Tuesday, it was free-agent pickup Mike Martin.

“I’ve been working with them,” Martin said after practice. “We’ve been switching and working both sides. But it’s a great advantage to be able to work with the first-team guys and get those reps.”

5. You’re probably wondering how Wentz looked. He again showed off his strong arm on Tuesday, while working with the threes. Overall, he probably had the best day of the quarterbacks.

He delivered a perfect 25-yard sideline pass to Givens over the shoulder. On another play, he tripped over his offensive lineman’s foot, but was still able to complete an out to Trey Burton while falling. That’s all arm strength, because he couldn’t use his legs to complete the pass.

The one thing we have seen a couple times from Wentz is this: he has a strong arm, but sometimes he has overthrown his targets. Nothing major yet, but something to keep an eye on.

6. Jordan Hicks was back at MIKE with the defense during Tuesday’s team portion of practice, which is a good sign for a team that’s relying on him heavily. Last Tuesday, he was held out with some tightness in his legs.

While Hicks has been playing the middle linebacker spot, Schwartz talked about the versatility of that group.

“All of those guys are pretty much interchangeable, and you have to be now,” Schwartz said.

7. Last Tuesday, head coach Doug Pederson said Cody Parkey wouldn’t be a full-go until perhaps training camp, but the kicker was hitting field goals on Tuesday and looked pretty good.

He did miss about a 43-yarder, but he still has a really good shot to make the team over Caleb Sturgis, who did a nice job filling in last season. It’s not definitely Parkey’s job yet, though. Sturgis looked good Tuesday and that’ll definitely be a competition to watch come training camp.

8. Donnie Jones is the only punter left in the building after the team cut Ryan Quigley earlier this week.

Jones celebrated by booming several punts on Tuesday. He’s still pretty good.

9. Burton has been moving around the field quite a bit in the early going. He’s been lining up on the line as a tight end, in the backfield as a fullback and in the slot as a receiver. It’s pretty clear that in some packages, Pederson and the offense will have a fullback of some kind.

Come training camp, when the hitting begins, Burton will really need to show he can handle that role.

10. Perhaps the most notable change in practice under Pederson, as opposed to Chip Kelly, comes in the form of pace. Under Kelly, the emphasis was on running as many plays as possible in the time allotted, which meant correcting mistakes after practice.

“His approach was to get no-huddle,” left guard Allen Barbre said of Kelly (more on Barbre). “If you stop to correct it all the time, you wouldn’t be getting a no-huddle practice.”

Under Pederson, there’s much more on-field teaching during practice. At one point on Tuesday, Pederson actually stopped the practice, taught technique and made them run it again. Under Kelly, the offense would have been five plays down the line.

National champion Villanova to be honored at White House next week

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USA Today Images

National champion Villanova to be honored at White House next week

It's been nearly two months since Villanova won the National Championship in one of the most memorable games in NCAA Tournament history.

Since then, the Wildcats have been honored by the city (parade), the New York Stock Exchange (opening bell), the Phillies (first pitch), the Flyers and the Union. Earlier this week, head coach Jay Wright addressed the Eagles.

But that will all pale in comparison to where the Wildcats will be next Tuesday, when they become the latest championship team to visit the White House and meet President Barack Obama.

The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 4:10 p.m. and will be streamed on www.whitehouse.gov/live.

In his pool, President Obama had Villanova finally advancing past the second round — "I know that eventually they're going to break through. They've had some bad luck over the last couple of years," Obama told ESPN.com — but had the Wildcats falling to Kansas in the regional semifinal.

He then had Kansas beating North Carolina to win the title.

After surviving the first weekend for the first time since their Final Four run in 2009, Villanova ousted Kansas, 64-59, before shocking Buddy Hield and Oklahoma in the national semifinal, winning by 44. The Wildcats then won one of the most memorable championship games in NCAA Tournament history when Kris Jenkins hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to beat the Tar Heels, 77-74.

Union transfer contract of Michael Lahoud to Miami FC

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Union transfer contract of Michael Lahoud to Miami FC

The Union have cashed in on Michael Lahoud.

After terminating his loan to the New York Cosmos on Tuesday, the Union recalled Lahoud and officially sold the 29-year-old midfielder to Miami FC of the NASL for an undisclosed amount.

“Mike always served the club in a professional manner during his time here,” said Union sporting director Earnie Stewart, who loaned Lahoud to the Cosmos this offseason. “We thank him for his service and want to wish him the best of luck in Miami and in his future endeavors.”

Lahoud, whose prorated $115,637.50 guaranteed salary comes off the Union’s salary cap, was acquired in 2012 in a trade with Chivas USA for defender Danny Califf. He made 58 appearances with the Union before being loaned out.