NHL Trade Deadline Marks a Crossroads for Flyers' Season: Where Do They Go From Here?

NHL Trade Deadline Marks a Crossroads for Flyers' Season: Where Do They Go From Here?

The trade deadline is rarely if ever a quiet time in the NHL, and the Flyers are usually among the names involved in multiple rumors and eventually a few actual deals. Counting the annual start of free agency, I've probably typed some variation of that sentence a dozen times or so. In part that's due to my lack of creativity in composing ledes, but it also comes with the territory of following a team that is remarkably consistent in its patterns, whether they be strengths or weaknesses.  

So far, the Flyers have traded for a pair of veteran defensemen ahead of the frenzy, and while they aren't currently linked to any big fish, there's still buzz that they aren't done yet. For a variety of reasons, the question as to whether they should make a significant move this time around remains a difficult one to answer.

With the deadline coming at 3PM today, we'll take a look at those factors below.

ARE THEY CONTENDERS?
In the month or so leading up to the deadline, teams must first evaluate where they are on the Buyer-Seller spectrum. This decision doesn't always directly correlate to the degree to which they are true contenders, but that's certainly among the biggest factors. Since the day the Flyers made their flurry of major off-season moves, fans and media alike have wondered the degree to which they were better, worse, or about the same in terms of ability to challenge for Stanley Cup.

On record alone, the team is short of its mark from the same point last season. Through 61 games, the Flyers sit at 34-20-7; last year, they were 40-15-6. Of course, this was also around the point at which a season with great potential began falling apart for the previous group. Exactly a year ago Sunday, they lost their first of four games in a row, and they'd win consecutive games only once more the rest of the season. While this team hasn't won as many games as it had last year, none of that matters if they can experience the opposite of the trend that sunk that team.

This year's team is very different in terms of the personnel that makes it up, but even after 61 games, it's hard to say whether they're currently better. They too have been unable to string together consecutive wins for weeks, dating all the way back to a pair of victories in Carolina and Long Island in mid-January. They haven't been able to beat the top team in the conference even once this season, and they've had trouble with other contending teams lately. But, there is still time for that to change. Without a move, will it?

That's the big question for Paul Holmgren et al as the deadline approaches and the market, in all likelihood, explodes.

The safe bet is, given the current market's relative paucity of elite talent availability, the Flyers likely believe they are close enough to being true contenders that they'll try to improve incrementally as the season moves on, hoping along with the rest of the field that they'll be the team that puts it all together just in time. Wasn't long ago we saw the club do just that, barely making the playoffs before running all the way to game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Ilya Bryzgalov suddenly snapping into form could go a long way to making that a reality, but it seems increasingly unrealistic to expect dominance from him this season. It isn't out of the question though. A few great starts in a row could ramp up his confidence, and a locked in goalie makes this a much different team.

Or Maybe Next Year?
With youth and talent in abundance in their forward ranks and less than a season since the roster overhaul, there is also belief among some outside the organization (fans and media, not NHL sources, which I don't pretend to have) that this Flyers team is built to win next year and thereafter, that expecting more this season is foolish. We'll see. That rarely fits the Flyers' MO.

HEALTH
A sudden injury or a series of blows to the overall health of a contending team can derail even the brightest postseason hopes. Accordingly, teams lacking in depth will deal for it, and teams that have lost a key player might even overpay for it.
 
Obviously, the Flyers are among the NHL clubs most affected by a significant injury this season, having lost their top blue liner, quite possibly for the remainder of his career. However, after already upgrading the defense corps with two mid-range trades, a move for another defenseman would appear less likely. Neither Nicklas Grossman nor Pavel Kubina will be confused with a Chris Pronger replacement, and both are currently only short-term solutions to a long-term blue line need. But, neither required the Flyers to overpay, and the defense is more likely to improve as this group gels than it was before the deals were made.

The key forwards are all essentially healthy right now. If any changes are made up front, it will be change for the sake of wanting something different, not seeking forward depth or an injury replacement. The Flyers forward lines are as deep and healthy as any unit in the league.

LOGJAMS AND DEARTHS
Too Many Forwards, Not Enough Pucks
Of course, depth and good health can work both ways when it comes to trade motivations. While the Flyers don't need to trade for a forward, they could seek to deal from the depth they have in order to upgrade on defense or even up front. They proved to themselves and others that they can replace scoring with a combination of their fast-paced attacking system and some effective personnel decisions. After all the summer moves, it was assumed the Flyers would need to keep more goals out of their own net, because they couldn't possibly score more than they did last year. Instead, they're first in the league in goal-scoring, and 26th in goals allowed.

But, the Flyers don't currently have enough offensive ice time to go around—a great problem to have, but also a reason they may be looking to make a deal. If the right match isn't there, they'll be well served with having depth as injuries set in over the final months of the season and into the playoffs.

However, James van Riemsdyk's name is among those most linked to a handful of possible relocations, and betting site Bovada.lv is giving 2/1 odds that he'll be moved. JVR has had some injury woes, but overall he has not performed at the level most hoped for when the team appeared to be placed in his and Claude Giroux's hands, another chapter in an up-and-down career with the Flyers that started not long after he was drafted. Does their relationship end on Monday? With the emergence of the team's talented group of rookies, JVR is more expendable now than he would have seemed at the start of the season, but it would still be a major surprise to see him traded. Due to his injuries and performance so far, the Flyers would be selling low despite what most still consider to be a promising career ahead.

Rear Guardian Project
Defensively, the injury to Pronger created a void they haven't been able to fill. Just as was the case in 2010-2011, they are not the same team without Pronger. If there's one thing they could really use, it's an elite blueliner. Unfortunately, there don't appear to be any currently available, so the Flyers will likely have to wait until free agency opens, but they'll need some help in the salary cap area to do it. Pronger's uncertain prognosis also makes longer-term decision making difficult.
Still, it's certainly possible they package one of their current d-men with a forward in order to upgrade, though it'd be tough to find another side willing to part with anyone who would be considered an upgrade from their current group unless they give up someone with a with a pretty bright future.

It Ain't the Flyers if There's No Goalie Drama
One of the goals of the Flyers' off-season overhaul was to improve their goaltending to the point where it could be considered a consistent strength on par with the elite teams the Flyers will meet in the playoffs. So far, that hasn't been the case. Bryzgalov has not come close to meeting expectations, and the team is financially committed to his being the starter. In Sergei Bobrovsky's starts, he hasn't forced their hand, if that is even possible after the mega-deal Bryz was signed to. Because this is Philadelphia, there's gonna be some discussion of bringing in another goalie.

But, there are a variety of reasons that a deal for a goalie is unlikely, unless there's a need to replace Bobrovsky if he is traded. The biggest, most obvious reason is, the team is wed to Bryzgalov for the foreseeable future. They need him to improve and gain confidence, which are less likely to happen as a result of bringing in a competitor for starts. I think they'd be far too wary of making his season setback permanent, and anyway, goaltending isn't the only reason for the Flyers' struggles.

Still, as usual, the brass can't be happy with their goaltending, and as they showed in the off-season, no deal is completely "off limits," and considering people's feelings is for girls. At least one outlet, The Fourth Period, is reporting that the Flyers are actively trying to trade for a goalie. The report is fairly loose, with speculative names in abundance rather than a solid link to one target. If you haven't seen it already, TFP says the Flyers are eyeing Nikolai Khabibulin, who was out with injury when they were in Edmonton, JS Giguere, who Bryz backed up during the Anaheim Ducks' Stanley Cup run, and Ondrej Pavelec, whose performance was stellar despite taking on five goals in an eventual overtime loss to the Flyers. Said to be on the table are Bob and JVR.

CHARACTER / PLAYOFF LEADERSHIP
Teams as young as the Flyers often try to add one of the more sought after and readily available trade deadline commodities—a veteran presence that can provide leadership as the season wears on and the playoffs begin. Because this commodity is often in greater abundance than elite positional talent, and consistency has been a problem for the Flyers again this season, this could be a target area. However, two questions stand in the way. First, they already have a few of the types of players they'd be targeting. Pavel Kubina matches that description, as does Jaromir Jagr. Kimmo Timonen clearly fits the bill, as does Max Talbot, and Danny Briere once the playoffs roll around. Scott Hartnell has also stepped up in this regard. If these guys aren't enough to provide the needed character or leadership, will a rental player be? The other is, where would you put this player? They're full up at every position right now, so a rostered player would have to go.

The Flyers could also look to add some toughness, but again, Hartnell, Talbot, and Simmonds all fit that bill, as does the newcomer Kubina. Zac Rinaldo is an instant energy injection when needed, but the cost of any associated penalties increases along with the stakes. With the way the PK has been going lately, adding potential PIM might not be on the ticket.

Kris Versteeg seemed a good addition last year, but it did not prove fruitful, and he was dealt away at the start of free agency. Will that experience have Homer a little wary this time around?

YOUR PREDICTION TIME
Given all of the above, your agreements or disagreements acknowledged, what do you see the Flyers trying to do at the deadline? Fully standing pat? Adding one of the commodities in particular? Building for this postseason, or the future?

Although it may seem like this post points to it being unlikely the Flyers are movers and shakers at the deadline, their organizational history of making moves at trade deadlines and in free agency is hard to overlook. They don't currently scream "true contender," and if there's a move that Homer thinks will get them any closer, this year or next, he's going to make it. I don't think there will be a major deal, but there will more than likely be an exchange or two to round out specialty areas the Flyers feel they have.

Your thoughts?

Feel free to discuss the trades of the day here.

Phillies swept out of Chicago with another loss to MLB-best Cubs

052916-velasquez-pic-11.jpg

Phillies swept out of Chicago with another loss to MLB-best Cubs

CHICAGO – The Phillies are rebuilding.

The Chicago Cubs are focused on winning the World Series for the first time in 108 years.

And they have a team that can do it.

So the events of the last three days at Wrigley Field were not that surprising.

The Phillies suffered a three-game sweep, capped off by Sunday afternoon’s 7-2 loss.

When the Phillies departed Citizens Bank Park last week, they had a 25-19 record and were one of the surprise teams in the majors.

But the trip to Detroit and Chicago figured to be a stiff test. The Tigers pound the baseball. The Cubs do everything.

In the end, the Phillies won just one of the six games on the trip. They limp home at 26-24 for a matchup Monday night with the Washington Nationals.

Is the Phillies’ unexpected, early-season magic fading?

“That’s up for debate, I guess,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “Every team goes through a hot streak and a cold streak. How you come out those streaks, especially now with a cold streak, determines how good of a team you are. I choose to believe we’re at the bottom of the roller coaster and on our way up.”

The Phils were outscored 17-5 by the Cubs in this weekend’s series. The Cubs’ starting pitchers – Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey – combined to allow just three earned runs in 22 ⅓ innings. And Jake Arrieta, arguably the best pitcher in baseball, did not appear in the series.

After Sunday’s game, Mackanin was asked what he learned about his club on the trip.

“I didn’t learn anything about my team,” he said. “I learned first-hand that the Cubs have a lot going for them. They’re a good team, probably the best team in baseball right now and they beat us fair and square.”

They do have the best record in the majors at 34-14.

It was not surprising to hear that Mackanin didn’t learn anything about his club during the trip. He knows the Phillies are rebuilding and have glaring holes. He knows the pitching has kept them in games and allowed them to win a bunch by one run. He also knows it’s difficult to sustain that with a team that averages just 3.22 runs per game, second-lowest in the majors. Sunday marked the 19th time the Phillies have scored two or fewer runs.

Looking for more offense, Mackanin sent Ryan Howard to the bench Sunday against a right-handed pitcher and used Tommy Joseph. Joseph hit a homer in the ninth inning. After the game, Mackanin said he would continue to get Joseph playing time against right-handers.

Power-armed right-hander Vince Velasquez had a difficult trip. Against two of the toughest lineups in baseball, he pitched 8 ⅔ innings over two starts. He gave up 18 hits, five of which were homers, and 10 earned runs. The Cubs got him for nine hits and seven runs in 4 ⅔ innings. He gave up two homers, a solo shot in the second and a three-run blow in the third.

The three-run homer, by Ben Zobrist, gave the Cubs a 5-0 lead and ignited the daily Happy Hour in the stands.

Two batters before Zobrist homered, Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis failed to make a play on a hard-hit one-hopper by Kris Bryant. Galvis backed up and gloved the hot smash, but threw quickly, off-balance and wildly to first. It was ruled a hit. Had Galvis made the play, it would have ended the inning. Instead, Velasquez issued a two-out walk to extend the inning further and Zobrist hit the two-out homer.

“I don’t know why Freddy got rid of the ball so quick,” Mackanin said. “I thought he could have planted and thrown it over there. But I’m not going to be critical of Freddy Galvis. He’s been unbelievable, just outstanding.”

Zobrist’s homer was one of six the Cubs hit in the three games. Two of them were three-run shots. The Phillies had just two homers in the series. Both came Sunday after the club was down 7-0.

“We didn’t string hits together,” Mackanin said.

Rookie Alexander Rossi pulls off upset win at 100th Indianapolis 500

usa-alexander-rossi-indianapolis-500.jpg
USA Today Images

Rookie Alexander Rossi pulls off upset win at 100th Indianapolis 500

INDIANAPOLIS -- A new era for the Indianapolis 500 arrived in the form of a most unfamiliar driver.

An American, no less.

Alexander Rossi outlasted his faster rivals - and his fuel tank - for a stunning victory Sunday in the historic 100th running of "The Greatest Spectacle In Racing." The unlikely win allowed the long-suffering Andretti family to celebrate in the biggest race of their storied careers and it left the top drivers in the field fuming over Rossi's good fortune.

Rossi was a 66-to-1 long shot and certainly not the driver anyone would have picked to win. But the 24-year-old Californian used fuel strategy to outsmart a handful of drivers who had the most dominant cars in the race.

Rossi stretched his final tank of gas 90 miles to cycle into the lead as others had to duck into the pits for a splash of fuel in the waning laps. He was sputtering on the final lap, working his clutch and getting screamed at by team co-owner Bryan Herta to conserve fuel, and he ultimately ran out of gas after taking the checkered flag.

His victory celebration came only after his Honda was towed to the party. He sat in the car for some time before climbing out to take that sweet sip of milk.

"I have no idea how we pulled that off," he declared.

"I really was focused on taking it one lap at a time," Rossi said. "The emotional roller-coaster of this race is ridiculous. There were moments I was really stoked, really heartbroken, really stoked. I was like, `Wow, I'll need to see a psychiatrist after this.'"

Rossi didn't have the speed of Carlos Munoz, who was charging hard over the final 50 miles. But Munoz also had to stop for gas and didn't have a chance to race his teammate for the victory, even though Rossi was running on fumes and completed the final lap at a snail's pace of 179.784 mph.

The Colombian settled for second in a 1-2 finish for Andretti Autosport. He seemed devastated after his second runner-up finish in four years.

"I was really disappointed when it comes with fuel and you lose the race because of that," Munoz said. "I was really disappointed to get second. Half a lap short. What can I say? The only thing I'm clear about is that I will win this race one day."

Munoz has contended at Indy before and he's proven to be fast at the speedway.

Rossi? Well, not many know much about him at all.

He's an IndyCar rookie who has chased a ride in Formula One since he was 10. He left for Europe when he was 16 and never pursued a career in American open-wheel racing. But stuck without a ride this year, he made the decision to return to the United States to race and became the ninth rookie to win the 500 and the first since Helio Castroneves in 2001.

Rossi understood full well that it was strategy that got him this win, and he knows what an Indy 500 victory means.

"I have no doubt it's going to change my life," he said.

Although he's a relief driver for Manor Racing in F1, Rossi has no scheduled F1 races and IndyCar right now is his top commitment. He was lured back to America this year to drive for Herta in a partnership with Andretti Autosport. Herta was the winning car owner in 2011 with Dan Wheldon, the actual 100th anniversary of the first race in 1911, and now can claim a win in the 100th actual race.

"I can't compare (the wins) other than to say I am so happy," Herta said. " I can't overstate how hard it was for Alex to do what I was asking of him on the radio."

This Herta effort relied heavily on its alliance with Andretti, and the family was hoping Marco Andretti would give them their first Indy 500 title since patriarch Mario Andretti won in 1969.

Instead, Marco Andretti never contended on a day at least three of his teammates were clearly among the best in the field. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Townsend Bell combined to lead 64 of the first 119 laps, but the Americans were knocked from contention when Bell clipped Castroneves as he left pit road. The contact caused Bell to crash into Hunter-Reay.

"Ryan and Townsend looked really good up front, we thought they would be the team to beat," team owner Michael Andretti said. "Unfortunately, they had their problem in the pit, which I could not believe, and I thought that may have been our shot at winning."

Herta decided to gamble with Rossi on fuel strategy, and it's the only thing that made him a late contender.

As the laps wound down, American Josef Newgarden and Munoz repeatedly swapped the lead. Both had to stop for gas, Rossi moved into the lead and it was all his from there.

Michael Andretti earlier this month was voted by the 27 living winners as the best driver never to win the race, but he has now won the 500 four times as a car owner.

"I knew Alex was going to try (the fuel strategy), and we said `Alright, if he's going to try it, we're going to try something else (with Munoz)," Andretti said. "To come home 1-2 is just incredible. It was amazing. I don't know what to say, it's a great day, to be a part of history, to win the 100th running, and to win it with a 1-2 finish is just incredible."

Newgarden finished third and was followed by Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and JR Hildebrand as Chevrolet drivers took spots three through six.

Newgarden, along with Hunter-Reay, Bell, Kanaan and James Hinchcliffe, had the strongest cars most of the race. Hinchcliffe, the pole winner who missed this race last year after a near-fatal accident in a practice session, faded to seventh despite being one of the best cars in the field.

"If I was in Alex's position, I'd be the happiest person in the world right now, I wouldn't care how we won the damn race," Newgarden said. "Everyone was on different strategies, and they played that strategy. Those guys, to put it politely, weren't as strong as us. They didn't have as strong a chance to win, so they had to mix it up. It worked out at the end for them."

In front of the first sellout in Indy 500 history, Rossi stunned the more than 350,000 fans in attendance. He was in Monaco this time last year for F1's signature race, unsure of what his future held.

"I had no idea I'd be in IndyCar, I had no idea I'd be in the Indy 500," said Rossi, who becomes the 70th winner in race history.

He will now also become the 103rd face on the famed Borg-Warner Trophy.

Instant Replay: Cubs 7, Phillies 2

usatsi_9315345.jpg

Instant Replay: Cubs 7, Phillies 2

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO – The Phillies completed a dreadful road trip with a 7-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on Sunday afternoon.
 
The Cubs swept the three-game series by a combined score of 17-5.
 
The Phils were 1-5 on the trip. They lost two of three in Detroit to start the trip.
 
The Cubs tagged Phillies starter Vince Velasquez for seven runs in 4 ⅔ innings Sunday.
 
The Cubs belted six homers in the three games. The Phillies had two and they both came late in Sunday's game after they were down, 7-0.
 
The Cubs have the majors’ best record at 34-14.
 
The Phillies have been held to two or fewer runs 19 times this season. They head home with a record of 26-24.
 
Starting pitching report
Velasquez was tagged for nine hits and seven runs in 4 ⅔ innings. He gave up two homers, a solo shot in the second and a three-run blow in the third.
 
Velasquez did not have a good trip. Against two of the toughest lineups in baseball, he pitched 8 ⅔ innings over two starts. He gave up 18 hits, five of which were homers, and 10 earned runs.
 
The righthander is 5-2 with a 3.63 ERA in 10 starts.
 
Cubs’ right-hander John Lackey gave up just four hits and one run in seven innings.
 
Cubs starting pitching held the Phils to three earned runs in 22 ⅓ innings in the series. And Jake Arrieta did not pitch.
 
Bullpen report
Brett Oberholtzer walked three in 1 ⅓ innings, but did not allow a run. 
 
At the plate
Tyler Goeddel homered for the Phillies’ first run. Tommy Joseph homered in the ninth.
 
The Phillies were out-hit, 10-6. They had just six extra-base hits in the series. The Cubs had 11.
 
The Cubs used three hits, none of which were hit particularly hard, to score a run in the first inning. Miguel Montero crushed a 2-0 fastball from Velasquez over the wall in right to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead in the second and Ben Zobrist made it a 5-0 game with a three-run shot off Velasquez in the third.
 
In the field
A day after manager Pete Mackanin praised him for his defense, shortstop Freddy Galvis had a tough day in the field.
 
His 44-game errorless streak ended in the fifth inning when made just his second error of the season.
 
Two innings earlier, with two outs in the third, Galvis failed to make a play on a scorching one-hopper by Kris Bryant. The play was scored a hit because it was hit so hard, but Galvis had made plays like that before. The play proved pivotal because it extended the inning. Velasquez then issued a two-out walk, setting the table for Zobrist’s three-run homer, which gave the Cubs a 5-0 lead.
 
Joseph started at first base as manager Pete Mackanin sat Ryan Howard for the second time in a week against a right-hander pitcher. Joseph made a nice defensive play with the bases loaded to end the sixth inning.
 
Health check
Cody Asche’s minor-league rehab stint ends Wednesday. The team can bring him to the majors at any time or option him to the minors when the rehab stint ends.
 
Up next
The Phillies return home Monday to start a 10-game homestand that includes visits from the Nationals, Brewers and Cubs. Here are the pitching matchups for the series against the Nats:
 
Monday night – RHP Jeremy Hellickson (4-3, 3.97) vs. RHP Tanner Roark (3-4, 2.71)
 
Tuesday night – RHP Aaron Nola (4-3, 2.86) vs. RHP Joe Ross (4-4, 2.52)
 
Wednesday night – LHP Adam Morgan (1-3, 6.67) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (5-4, 4.05)