Peter Laviolette Is One of Flyers Few Moving Parts

Peter Laviolette Is One of Flyers Few Moving Parts

What’s wrong with the Flyers this year? Simple enough
question, yet one that’s sure to produce a variety of answers.

Some might say the front office failed to adequately replace
Jaromir Jagr and James van Riemsdyk in the offseason. Too much production was
subtracted from this lineup in the offseason.

However, the top line has come around without Jagr since
Jakub Voracek joined Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell, while JVR only suited up
in about half the games last season anyway. Scoring doesn’t seem to be as much
of a problem since the club got healthy, as Philadelphia has climbed to 13th in
the NHL with 2.78 goals per game – not tremendously far off from their 2011-‘12
pace of 3.17, which was tied for second.

Others would argue the talent isn’t there right now on the
blue line. That’s true to an extent. Depth is an issue, and they are lacking
defensemen whose strengths include playing the puck.

Is overall talent really the problem though? Sure, Kimmo
Timonen is getting up there, has looked a little worse for the wear at times,
but he can still get the job done. Nicklas Grossmann and Luke Schenn have both
looked strong in their own end. Braydon Coburn has had a rough go of it this
season, but in the past has generally been reliable. That’s not a terrible
core, one that should be able to get by at least with the Flyers’ combination
of veterans and prospects rounding out the group.

Then there are people from both factions who would claim
Ilya Bryzgalov simply is not the answer in goal. The numbers sure do support
those claims at the moment.

The problem with that line of thinking is we know Bryz is
capable of playing at a high level. We’ve seen him play at a high level, both
earlier this season and during his epic shutout streak leading up to his injury
last year. The fact is while he needs to be far better in one-on-one
situations, there is no denying Billy’s mates have left him hanging out to dry
far too often. You can’t honestly pin where they’re at on him.

Is Bryzgalov the best netminder in the whole big universe?
Probably not, but he can be as steady as what’s in front of him.

Each unit has flaws, some deeper than others, but this is
the team general manager Paul Holmgren constructed. Who should go?

Their hands are a bit tied.

Even if they wanted to the Flyers would have trouble moving
Danny Briere – an ideal candidate due to his contract – first because of his
no-trade clause, and then what’s the return going to be? The quality D-men they
do have are all locked up for the next few years, so should they move improving,
young forwards like Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Matt Read, and Sean
Couturier for another when players like Erik Gustafsson, Marc-Andre Bourdon,
and Brandon Manning are close to helping? There’s a lot of talk about amnestying
Bryzgalov in the offseason – which might be wise since they probably don’t want
to be paying him until he’s 40 – but his average salary is only eighth among
all goaltenders. Who is supposed to replace Bryz, for less at that, and does it
even matter if the breakdowns in front of him continue?

You can’t put anything past Homer ever since he shocked the
world two years ago when the Flyers shipped out Mike Richards and Jeff Carter,
but this is a young roster that doesn’t lend the appearance of a group that is
about to undergo dramatic change in the immediate future. A player here or
there for sure, but these are the Flyers.

Before the organization even thinks about blowing it up
again, they have to look at the head coach. I don’t say that lightly, but given
all of that talent on this team, is there any reason for the Flyers to miss the
playoffs entirely this season?

As of right now, Philadelphia’s placement in the standings
falls on Peter Laviolette. He is the easiest person to replace, and has the
most direct influence on what transpires on the ice. Lavvy may not have 100% of
the pieces he needs to bring home a Stanley Cup right now, but his club shouldn’t
be in the same boat as the New York Islanders, either. It’s his responsibility
to make it work.

The Flyers’ braintrust must consider making a switch sooner
rather than later, perhaps even this season. Bryzgalov told reporters on
Tuesday if they lose both games of a home-and-home with the Devils this week,
they are done. No doubt, the situation would be grim. The question is what will be different?

They can start with a change in philosophy.

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Union goalie John McCarthy ready for 1st MLS start of season

Union goalie John McCarthy ready for 1st MLS start of season

CHESTER, Pa. -- Long after Wednesday’s morning training session ended, John McCarthy remained on the practice field to sign autographs for a bunch of young campers.
 
This is a typical activity for the popular Philadelphia native, who in many ways is a perfect backup goalkeeper for the Union.

But this weekend, McCarthy will be more than just an ambassador for fans. With Andre Blake on international duty with the Jamaican national team, the La Salle alum will be thrust into the limelight and make his first MLS start of the season when the Union face the Chicago Fire on Saturday at Toyota Park (8:30 p.m./TCN).  

“Obviously he’s itching to get his first MLS game this year,” Curtin said. “He’s a professional. This is what he prepares for. It’s similar to a backup quarterback role — you have to be ready when your number is called, and I know Johnny will be. He’s a guy I trust a great deal. He’s a winner. He won big games last year, and I expect him to do the same in Chicago.”

McCarthy indeed had a memorable rookie season last year, starting 11 games in league play while playing a key role in the Union’s run to the U.S. Open Cup final. 

But with Blake overcoming injuries and growing into an All-Star this year, McCarthy’s opportunities for playing time have dried up. So far in 2016, he’s played in just one U.S. Open Cup game on top of the 11 starts he's made for the Union’s USL affiliate, Bethlehem Steel FC.

How has he dealt with such a change?

“You don’t want to change anything up,” McCarthy said. “You just want to be as consistent as possible, keep training the same and keep your mindset the same because it’s the same when you’re sitting on the bench. You’ve got to be ready to play — and the opportunity is here.”

Another international call-up for Blake left the door open for McCarthy to potentially start June 1 vs. Columbus Crew SC. But Curtin instead opted to go with Matt Jones, who gave up two goals but got the win in what's been his only MLS start. Jones has since been dealing with an injury though, which led to McCarthy getting the nod this weekend. 

Despite the competition, McCarthy insists he and Jones — and Blake too — have maintained a great rapport.

“We’re all really good friends,” he said. “We all sit next to each other in the locker room. We can give each other crap off the field, joke with each other and stuff, and then when it comes to [being] on the field, it’s time to work. And we work together as a group because at the end of the day, whoever’s playing, we want the best for them and we want to win.”

McCarthy certainly wants the best for Blake, who is set to start in net for Jamaica in a couple of key games vs. Panama and Haiti as the Reggae Boyz look to advance to the fifth round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. 

Alejandro Bedoya will also be involved in the final two games of the fourth round of qualifying as he joins the U.S. national team. And if he plays in Friday’s game vs. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines as expected, it will mark just the second time in club history an active Union player plays for the USMNT.

That’s a big deal, according to Curtin.

“Listen, when kids watch the game and they see who’s on the national team, that’s who they should all aspire to be like,” Curtin said. “I think Alejandro is a player every kid should want to be like. … To have a guy from the Union with this badge represent our country is really powerful. I think that shows the growth of our club. We want more and more of our guys to represent our country.”

At the same time, Bedoya’s absence will naturally create a big hole for the Union, who are dealing with injuries to other midfielders. Blake — who’s usually good for a spectacular save or two — not being in Chicago will be tough for the team to cope with, too.

But Curtin is eager to see some of his bench guys fill important roles this weekend — especially McCarthy.

“All goalies are a little bit crazy in their own way,” Curtin said. “I put Johnny right in that category. So he’s not fazed by pressure. I think he embraces pressure. He’s a fighter. He has a good strong mentality and he works his tail off every day in training.
“He’s one of our hardest working guys. He stays after to take shots, and puts a ton of work in. I’m happy and excited for him to get his opportunity now.”

Phillies to add 3 players Friday; Nick Williams iffy for September call-up

Phillies to add 3 players Friday; Nick Williams iffy for September call-up

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said he expects the club to add three players from the minors on Friday. Rosters expand on Thursday, an off day for the Phils.

“A couple of relievers, maybe a hitter,” Mackanin said before Wednesday night's game against Washington.

Mackanin would not name names because a lot can change in a day or two.

Darin Ruf seems to be a logical choice to be the hitter Mackanin referred to. He opened the season with the big club, but got just 57 at-bats and hit just .158 before being sent to Triple A when Tommy Joseph came up. Since going down, Ruf has hit .298 with 20 homers, 65 RBIs and a .895 OPS in 94 games for Lehigh Valley.

The Phillies will likely add two relievers to fortify the bullpen. Patrick Schuster, a lefty who was recently claimed off waivers from Oakland, could be a possibility. Colton Murray, Luis Garcia, Dalier Hinojosa and Elvis Araujo all could be possibilities, as well. All have spent time in the majors this season.

The Phils can’t completely pick over the Triple A roster because Lehigh Valley’s regular season runs through Monday and that club is likely to be in the International League playoffs.

Once Lehigh Valley’s season is over, more pitching could come. Starters David Buchanan and Phil Klein could be possibilities. Alec Asher, currently serving a suspension for testing positive for PEDs, is expected to be activated by the big club next week and could provide some innings to the starting rotation.

It’s unclear which prospects will come up. Catcher Jorge Alfaro seems to be a shoo-in after Double A Reading’s playoff run. Shortstop J.P. Crawford is not on the 40-man roster and does not need to be protected on it this winter. That could prevent him from coming up as the Phillies look to use the 40-man roster spot on a player that they could lose if not protected. Outfielder Nick Williams seemed to be a lock to come up a month ago, but his performance has slipped at Triple A in recent weeks and he now looks iffy.

Williams, like Alfaro, was acquired from Texas in the Cole Hamels trade last summer. The lefty-hitting outfielder entered Wednesday hitting .265 with 12 homers, 62 RBIs and just a .294 on-base percentage in 119 games. He entered Wednesday hitting just .187 with a paltry .204 on-base percentage in the month of August. He had struck out 34 times and walked just once in 93 trips to the plate in August.

That certainly cannot sit well with a front office that puts a premium on players who "control the strike zone."

AFL rosters announced
The Phillies will send six players to the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. The group includes three pitchers, right-handed relievers Victor Arano and Miguel Nunez, and lefty starter Brandon Liebrandt, second baseman Scott Kingery, third baseman Mitch Walding, and outfielder Aaron Brown. Brown replaces outfielder Andrew Pullin, who recently went on the disabled list at Double A Reading with an elbow injury.

Sixers waive Carl Landry, Tibor Pleiss; officially sign Cat Barber

Sixers waive Carl Landry, Tibor Pleiss; officially sign Cat Barber

The Sixers made some roster tweaks on Wednesday night.

The team waived forward Carl Landry and center Tibor Pleiss, while officially announcing the signing of guard Anthony "Cat" Barber.

The Sixers were expected to cut Pleiss, who was acquired last Friday in a trade with the Jazz. On July 21, Barber and the Sixers reportedly agreed to a partially guaranteed deal.

Landy, a 32-year-old veteran, played one season with the Sixers after being acquired last summer in a trade with the Kings, a deal in which he was essentially a toss-in as it revolved around bringing Nik Stauskas to Philadelphia. Landry, who was under contract for 2016-17 at $6.75 million, battled injury to start 2015-16 and ended up playing in 36 games (12 starts), averaging 9.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.

Barber, 6-foot-3, 173 pounds, will fight for a roster spot at point guard during training camp. The 22-year-old went undrafted in June after declaring following his junior season at NC State in which he averaged 23.5 points per game, seventh most in the country and best in the ACC.