Moving Lecavalier up to second line could pay dividends for Flyers; Mason to backup Emery tonight

Moving Lecavalier up to second line could pay dividends for Flyers; Mason to backup Emery tonight

Despite heading home tonight for Game 3 and tied 1-1 in their first-round playoff series with the New York Rangers, the Philadelphia Flyers’ offense could use a boost.

Welcome back to the second line, Vinny Lecavalier.

In an effort to create some more offensive punch, Flyers head coach Craig Berube is moving Lecavalier from the fourth line back to the second line with Bradyen Schenn and Wayne Simmonds for Game 3 tonight at Wells Fargo Center.

In a bit of an added twist, Berube is putting Lecavalier at center on the line and moving Schenn to the wing. The trio played together for much of the season but mostly with Schenn at center and Lecavalier at wing.

It’s a shrewd move by Berube that could really pay off for the Flyers.

The Flyers scored five goals in the two games in New York. But take away Simmonds’ empty-netter from this past Sunday, and just one of those goals was scored by one of the Flyers’ top-six forwards. That was Jake Voracek’s first-period goal on Sunday. The other goals were scored by defensemen Andrew MacDonald and Luke Schenn and a third-line rookie in Jason Akeson.

If the Flyers are going to win this series, they are going to need much more production from their top-six forwards and Berube knows it.

Enter Lecavalier.

The recently-turned 34-year-old finished the regular season with 20 goals, most of which came from his unnatural wing position

Say what you want about him, but Lecavalier can still be a dynamic player on the offensive end of the ice with his booming shot and playmaking abilities. And he’s even better at his natural center position. Albeit on the fourth line, Lecavalier has five goals and three assists in 12 games since being moved back to center on March 28.

The younger Schenn has played plenty of wing before so he shouldn’t be too out of place. Schenn is also in a bit of a slump with just two goals in his last 14 games so maybe playing with a guy like Lecavalier can get him going again.

And before we go any further, yes, the first line of Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell and Voracek needs to be more productive, too. Some shots on goal from Giroux, who has been held without a shot in both the first two games of the series four of the last six games overall against the Rangers, would be a nice start.

If you followed the Flyers all season, you may know the Lecavalier-Schenn-Simmonds line wasn’t the best line in the world when it came to defense.

Collectively, the group finished the regular season at minus-20 with Lecavalier leading the way at minus-16.

But with the Flyers playing at home for the next two games, Berube gets the last change and can get the trio favorable matchups against some of the Rangers’ weaker defensive players. That way, the line can do what it does best and that’s get the puck deep and go to work in the offensive zone.

Sure, there are going to be times when getting that right matchup for the line won’t be possible. But Berube will be able to get that change that majority of the time. Though there were times Lecavalier moved up, there’s a reason Berube didn’t make the full-time switch at Madison Square Garden.

It also doesn’t hurt that Lecavalier has been a really good playoff performer over his career with 24 goals and 29 assists for 53 points in 65 career playoff games.

If the reformed yet tweaked group of Lecavalier centering Schenn and Simmonds doesn’t work out, the Flyers have the luxury of plenty versatile players that can move up and fit into one of those roles.

But putting them back together with Lecavalier back at center is certainly worth a shot to generate some more offense from the top-six and this is the right time to do it.

Puck drops in just few hours in South Philly. The game will be televised locally on CSN and nationally on CNBC for those of you out of the local viewing area. If you’re going to the game, be loud and see you there.

*

Also, in a somewhat unexpected move, the team announced shortly after 5:15 pm that Steve Mason will dress tonight and play the role of Ray Emery's backup. He must have stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

Matt Klentak: Trade was about doing the right thing for Carlos Ruiz

Matt Klentak: Trade was about doing the right thing for Carlos Ruiz

The Phillies’ decision to trade beloved catcher Carlos Ruiz to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday was ultimately made by Ruiz himself.

“This was about doing the right thing for Carlos because he has meant so much to this organization,” general manager Matt Klentak said Thursday night.

“Once Carlos cleared trade waivers last week, we started thinking about it. The Dodgers expressed some interest. Pete [Mackanin] and I talked to Carlos over the weekend. We discussed whether he wanted to finish the year with us or get the chance to chase another championship ring.

"He took a few days to discuss it with his family and got back to us Wednesday in Chicago and said that he'd be interested in exploring the opportunity and we finalized things with the Dodgers today.”

As a veteran of 10 seasons in the majors and five consecutive with the same team, Ruiz, 37, could have vetoed the deal. He chose to accept the deal because he wanted another chance to play in the postseason. He will serve as a backup to catcher Yasmani Grandal with the Dodgers, but is expected to get playing time. Ruiz's .368 on-base percentage from the right side of the plate could be a nice complement to the lefty-hitting Grandal.

The Phillies acquired the Dodgers’ backup catcher, veteran A.J. Ellis, minor-league pitching prospect Tommy Bergjans and a player to be named later in the deal. The Phils will not decide on the player to be named until after the minor-league season ends in mid-September. The Phils also sent an undisclosed amount of cash to the Dodgers. Ruiz is owed about $2 million in the form of salary and a contract buyout for 2017. Ellis, 35, is finishing up a one-year deal that pays him $4.5 million.

"This deal was not motivated by cash,” Klentak said. “It was about doing the right thing for Carlos, giving him the chance to get another ring.”

Klentak said he was "adamant" about getting Ellis back in the deal. The Phillies have two catching prospects in the upper minors in Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp, but the club would like to see them finish their minor-league seasons.

“Carlos has been such an important leader for so long, we knew we had to fill a role on and off the field,” Klentak said. “There is a reasonably good chance one of our young catching prospects will be in the big leagues before the season is over. Both our Double A and Triple A teams are in pennant races and we believe it's important for them to continue to get meaningful at-bats and play in meaningful games.”

Ellis is expected to join the Phillies in New York this weekend. It’s not easy going from a first-place team with legitimate World Series hopes to a rebuilding club.

“I talked to A.J. this afternoon,” Klentak said. “He is a true professional. It's never easy for a guy who has been in one place his whole career to be told out of the blue that it's time to go. A.J. is determined and excited about contributing to the Phillies.”

Bergjans, a 23-year-old right-hander, pitched at Haverford College. He was an eighth-round draft pick of the Dodgers in 2015 and is 3-13 with a 4.98 ERA for Single A Rancho Cucamonga this season. He has 133 strikeouts and just 29 walks in 130 innings.

"Tommy was an excellent college performer,” Klentak said. “He has controlled the strike zone well in a tough league. We're always looking to add starting pitching and we had a chance to do it. He strikes out better than a batter an inning and limits walks which was appealing.”

Sources: Phillies shake up amateur scouting department

Sources: Phillies shake up amateur scouting department

The Phillies have undergone massive changes on the field and off over the last couple of seasons.
 
Those changes have reached the club’s amateur scouting department.
 
According to major league sources, the club recently fired three longtime members of that department, including Mike Ledna, a high-ranking coordinator and national cross-checker. Ledna was the No. 2 man under former scouting boss Marti Wolever, who was let go two years ago and replaced by Johnny Almaraz.
 
Almaraz has overseen the last two drafts with a staff of mostly holdover scouts. He has clearly begun to put his stamp on the department with his recent shakeup. Ledna’s firing was preceded by the club’s decision to part with Steve Cohen and Paul Scott. They covered the talent-rich state of Texas.
 
It is not clear whether more changes on the scouting staff are coming. Over the last year or so, the Phillies have hired a new club president (Andy MacPhail), general manager (Matt Klentak) and manager (Pete Mackanin). The playing roster has also been churned, most recently with Carlos Ruiz being traded to the Dodgers on Thursday (see story). His parting leaves Ryan Howard as the lone member of the 2008 World Series championship team still with the club.

Soul's ArenaBowl chances hinge on slowing Rattlers' potent offense

Soul's ArenaBowl chances hinge on slowing Rattlers' potent offense

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The postseason accolades and awards are nice, but Soul defensive back Tracy Belton has a much higher goal.

Named as the Arena League Football Defensive Player of the Year during an awards ceremony Friday, Belton, considered the passion and spirit of the Soul defense, is more than comfortable putting aside individual honors and pushing his teammates to greater heights.

Reaching the ArenaBowl against the Arizona Rattlers Friday in the Gila River Arena (7 p.m./ESPN) the prize is out there, and Belton has his blinders firmly affixed. The focus and concentration is not in question, so the task ahead remains paramount.

“I want that ring, I need that jewelry,” Belton said during media day Friday. “Oh yeah, it would definitely be nice to get that ring.”

To obtain that shiny piece of hardware, Belton and his defensive teammates have the task of trying to shut down the most potent offense in the league.

Guided by quarterback Nick Davila, the AFL’s Most Valuable Player, the Rattlers are averaging 80.3 points per game. From an offensive standpoint, Arizona led the AFL in many offensive categories, including scoring, total offense, rushing, third-down conversion and fourth-down conversion.

To complement the offense, the Arizona defense ranked first in the league in defensive scoring defense, rushing defense, interceptions, turnover ratio and sacks allowed.

In a league which glorifies offense, the task ahead for the Soul defense is considered a challenge. After all, these teams each finished with a 13-3 mark and each defeated the other team on their home turf.

“To win this game, we hope they make mistakes,” Soul head coach Clint Dolezel said. “They are very explosive, but our secondary is playing at a high level. For us, we need to limit our mistakes.”

If Davila, who is the first player in AFL history to win the MVP award three times, is to be challenged, the Soul’s offense need to be proficient. Coming into the ArenaBowl, the Soul averaged 59.0 points per game. That was good enough for fourth in the league, but quarterback Dan Raudabaugh put up better numbers, in certain categories, than Davila.

In head-to-head competition, Raudabaugh tossed more touchdown passes (14 to 13), passed for more yards (541 to 431), completed more passes (48 to 32) and averaged more yards per game (270.5 to 215.5) through the air. Yet, the Rattlers’ offense is swift, quick, efficient and lethal.

“In this league, the quarterback is the most important position,” Davila said. “You have to make decisions quickly, and facing a defense like Philly, that’s the challenge for us. It’s about limiting mistakes. The team which makes fewer mistakes is the team that usually wins.”

Notes
Since the Phoenix Mercury are scheduled for a home game in Talking Stick Arena in downtown Phoenix Friday night, home site for the Rattlers, the title game was switched to home of the NHL's Arizona Coyotes. … Among league leaders this past season for the Soul, Belton was fourth in tackles, Jake Metz led in sacks, Darius Reynolds was sixth in receiving and Jeramie Richardson was second in rushing. … In comparison of QBs, Raudabaugh was second in the league in passing (101 TDs, 63.3 passing percentage) and Davila placed third (110 TD passes, 69.6 passing rating). … This is the third league title meeting between these two teams. The Soul dropped the previous two championship games, 72-54 in 2012 and 48-39 in 2013.