Philadelphia Redemption, Jake The Snake and Your FGSB Mailbag

Philadelphia Redemption, Jake The Snake and Your FGSB Mailbag

As a hockey fan, the internet sucks from July 15 to September 10, or thereabouts. After the Free Agent Frenzy dies down and before players start trickling into town with new haircuts and 10 more pounds of muscle, writers have to dig deep into their bag of tricks to come up with content that all too often materializes in the form of a Top 10 list or Best Dick Goal of the Year slideshow.

It’s strange then that during the slowest news cycle is when I get most excited for the upcoming season.

You know what August 8th smells like? Hope. In small towns and big cities across the world professional hockey players have completely done away with the notion of summer. The off-ice training has intensified and the on-ice stick practice has begun. No longer is Claude Giroux a local celebrity at the bar every Thursday, but a man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.

I hope we'll win the Cup this season. I hope I’ll snipe 30 goals. I hope I’ll hit 100 points. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams.

There may not be much going on in terms of score sheets, injuries, line combinations and controversy. But even though I try to temper my excitement at this time of year visions of Vinny LeCavalier celebrating a goal with a 40 on his neon orange back keep popping into my head.

The standings and their 2013-14 are stats are as clean and pure as a freshly cut sheet of ice. Half of the guys haven’t played a competitive game of hockey in 4 months. The older guys verge on sentimental and the younger guys are nothing but hungry to prove themselves as they each begin really preparing in their similar but in the end drastically different ways.

Personally, I hope the Flyers win the Metro this season. I hope Claude Giroux leads the NHL in scoring. I hope Steve Hartnell nets 40 goals. I hope Ray Emery and Steve Mason draw comparisons to last year’s Blackhawks. I hope I look forward to watching games after the Olympics. I hope…

FGSB Mailbag

Me first. Here’s a question I’ve been asking myself internally for the past couple years instead of going to church on Sunday – would Jake The Snake Roberts' tactics have been allowed in the NHL of the ‘80’s? For those of you that don’t know, this wrestler (fake) used to come down to the ring with a brown canvas sack that had a snake (real) in it every freaking match! He would put it in his corner and you’d try to watch the wrestling but there was a SNAKE IN THE BAG (maybe that was inspiration for Snakes on a Plane, actually). Anyway, the imminent threat of this 6’6 dude putting this giant Python on anyone was enough to make me black out from fear before the match ever ended. My parents would come into the living room and find me splayed out on the floor in my Transformers (original) underoos and a Macho Man head band on the reg, which I think is why I started off going to school in a trailer. Anyway part deux, if you ever saw the NHL in the 80’s you know that it was an anything-goes type of league back then. There were guys with helmets, guys without helmets. There was no Instigator Rule so dudes would literally jump other dudes and just beat the piss out of them. There was Brian Propp doing the guffaw. There was fighting in warm ups… So, if during warm ups Dave Brown, or Jake Roberts himself had he learned how to skate, brought out a brown canvas bag and just dropped it at the red line, would anyone have done anything? Would guys have freaked? Would John Ziegler have come out of the stands and chopped its head off? Guess that’s the kind of thing you have to wait to find out in Heaven…

@Mager_Pls do you think Mac truck Schenn plays as well as he did last season?
Did he play well last season? Because from what I remember the Flyers are a team. And on a team, one part is only as good as the whole. And the whole sucked and missed the playoffs. So if you’re under the impression (I’m yelling now but not using caps) that anyone played “well” last season, then you are exactly what is wrong with this organization, this city, and America!

Jake Voracek had a pretty decent year, actually. He scored lotsa goals.

@CaseOfDanglitis why was prongs not wearing shoes?
Wow. Good eye. I actually didn’t notice that, probably because I don’t have a foot fetish. Some things I did notice are

1. Why blur out the names when you’re just going to talk about them all and point to them? Yes, we get that you LUV Samuel Morin and had him ranked very high, and you would consider him a steal based on where you got him. If you’re going to mention players 5-10 on your chart by name, and then point at them and say where you’re moving them, then just show them.

2. I know you get shot for mentioning Moneyball on a sports blog, but wasn’t that scene SO MUCH like Moneyball? “He’ll hit ya with his stick I tell ya!” “He knows what he’s going to be and he’s going to be it!” “I saw him drinking a coffee and he didn’t even blow on it to cool it down – kid’s MEEAAAANNNN.”

3. There were meetings prior to this one, as noted by Chris Pryor – who I’d be fine going through my life never meeting. But this final get together didn’t seem all that organized, did it? I mean, if they got a proper system in there and actually put in a process to rank the prospects based on weighted points-per-scout then they wouldn’t even need a final meeting where Chris Pryor had to yell at all the guys to tell him what he wanted to hear. Is this right? IS THIS RIGHT? I’m going to move this guy. Would that be right? WOULD. THAT. BE. RIGHT?

It’s a good start but it didn’t really show much. Or much of anything that anyone wanted to see, to be more specific. Except for one person who apparently was eager to see Chris Pronger’s dogs. And the simple answer to the question is that Chris Pronger does what he wants. If he wants a puck he takes it. If he wants to kick off his shoes, even if it was in the middle of a Congressional hearing, the shoes come off.

Rick: I’m headed to Maine for vacation to a place where there are no tvs. In 2013. Give me a hockey vacation book rec. Gimme.
You literally (ha) cannot go wrong with a Roy MacGregor book. He was once called Canada’s Poet Laureate of hockey (or something) for good reason. Dude is an excellent writer and captures the essence of the game perfectly. People will tell you to read The Game, which is for good reason the seminal work on sports to date, but they’re also telling you “I’m smarter than you.” That is a deep, rich book. If you’re on vacation Road Games is just plain awesome, Wayne Gretzky’s Ghost is capturing, and The Home Team is a book he also wrote.

The Last Season is about a fictitious Canadian kid who makes it big and wins two Cups as a member of your Broad Street Bullies. It’s actually more about his rise to and then fall from the NHL. It’s Shamalanian, but it’s a long route up a dirt road to get there.

Ourtweet Breakdown of the Week


The other day the only Flyers writer with a Flyers tattoo Anthony San Fillipo, asked for recommendations for upcoming episodes of the Flyers new web series Flight Plan. For those of you that have jobs, you missed out on some retro-awesome FGSB coffee-fueled fun. Here are, looking back, our Top 10 suggestions (TOP TEN!):

10. Matt Reading Rainbow
9. Flyers Wipeout
8. Nick Cage shows Flyers how to steal Declaration of Independence
7. Two words: Flyers. Karaoke.
6. Jake Voracek and Cloode Giroux recreate pot throwing scene from ghost. Grossmannnnn signs Unchained Melody.
5. Flyers surprise game against Team Comcast '99s
4. Take Flyers to random office. See who can sit in cubicle the longest.
3. Flyers play the Eagles in football, Phillies in baseball, and Royce White in basketball all in the same day #Champadelphia
2. Flyers Fantasy Football Draft coverage, hosted by Steve Coates
…….
1. Flyers SVU

NBA draft profile: Kentucky G Jamal Murray

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NBA draft profile: Kentucky G Jamal Murray

Jamal Murray

Position: Guard

Height: 6-5

Weight: 210

School: Kentucky

It's tough for a Kentucky star freshman to fly under the radar, but that's exactly what Murray did last season. While Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine dominated the spotlight, Murray was quietly as good as anyone in the country for the second half of the season.

In Kentucky's final 14 games, Murray averaged just under 24 points and shot better than 46 percent from three-point range. For the season, he averaged an even 20 points and connected on 41 percent of his three-point attempts. He also chipped in an impressive 5.2 rebounds. 

Kentucky lost some games early and fell toward the bottom of the Top 25 rankings. But Murray continued to produce and played his best basketball down the stretch, lifting the Wildcats to 27 wins and SEC regular season and tournament titles. 

As good as he was during his only college season, Murray projects to be an even better pro. He's the best guard prospect in the 2016 NBA Draft. 

Strengths
Shooting the ball. He has the best shooting stroke of any prospect in this year's draft. Murray's form on his jump shot is textbook with the results to match. He's able to get his shot off quickly and has range well beyond the NBA three-point line. Murray's outside shot is his greatest asset. Shooters are always in high demand and have never been more valuable in the NBA. The defending champion Warriors offer all the proof you need of that.

However Murray isn't a one-dimensional player. He can get to the basket off the dribble and is a terrific finisher around the basket. He also developed a polished mid-range game during his time at Kentucky. Murray also plays hard — a characteristic that NBA executives monitor closely. He rarely takes a possession off and competes hard on the glass for a perimeter player, as evidenced by his five rebounds per game last season.

Weaknesses
Murray doesn't have a defined position on the NBA level. He's not a true point guard and isn't quite big enough to be considered a prototypical shooting guard. While NBA talent evaluators are concerned by this, I don't necessarily view it as a weakness. Murray projects as a combo guard, capable of playing point guard but also comfortable away from the ball. He's similar to the Trail Blazers' C.J. McCollum in that regard.

Murray isn't an elite-level athlete and by no means is he a great defender. He'll struggle to stay in front of the more dynamic perimeter players in the NBA. But he has a very good work ethic and should be able to improve defensively.

How he'd fit with the Sixers
Extremely well. The 76ers need shooters. That need will only become exaggerated if and when they draft Ben Simmons with the No. 1 pick. With Simmons, Dario Saric, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid, the Sixers have a significantly frontcourt-heavy nucleus. They need quality guards to balance out their lineup.

The much-discussed hypothetical trade that would send Okafor to the Celtics for the No. 3 pick makes a ton of sense for the 76ers. They could clear out space in their frontcourt rotation as well as acquire Murray with that third pick. Murray would flourish playing alongside Simmons, knocking down the open jump shots that Simmons creates.    

NBA comparison
I see a mix of Bradley Beal and Eric Gordon in Murray's game. Beal and Gordon have similar builds to Murray and both entered the NBA as exceptional shooters. All three are natural scorers who have no problem getting their own shot on the NBA level.

Draft projection
Murray will be a high-end lottery pick. He could go as high as the No. 3 to the Celtics and shouldn't fall any lower than No. 6 to the Pelicans.  

Western Conference Finals: Warriors-Thunder ready for Game 7

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USA Today Images

Western Conference Finals: Warriors-Thunder ready for Game 7

OAKLAND, Calif. -- After a record 73 wins and a memorable Game 6 comeback on the road, the Golden State Warriors' goal of getting back to the NBA Finals and defending their title comes down to Game 7 at home against the powerful Oklahoma City Thunder.

All along, the Warriors have said the numerous team milestones and personal accomplishments they set during this special season won't matter a bit unless they repeat as champions.

They need one more victory to become the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 postseason deficit.

"I've learned that our players are tough, they're mentally tough," Coach of the Year Steve Kerr said Sunday, when his team took a day off from film and practice. "I don't know if I really learned that. I already knew that. But they've firmly confirmed that. It's been a great comeback. Now we still have to play. We still have another game."

Kerr just wanted his Warriors to grab back some momentum from Kevin Durant and the Thunder. Now, they have it, all right, heading into the decisive game of the Western Conference finals Monday night after winning two straight.

When his team won Game 5 on Thursday night, MVP Stephen Curry hollered "We ain't going home!" -- and Golden State wants no part of the Thunder having the last say in the Warriors' summer plans.

"We got a big one last night to stay alive, and now we've got some momentum. But it can work in reverse," Kerr said. "One game changes everything, and we've got to come out and play our game and play well to finish the series out."

Golden State hardly considers this a gimmee just because the team is playing at deafening Oracle Arena, where the Warriors have lost just three times this season. They have had their problems against Durant, Russell Westbrook and the towering Thunder.

Oklahoma City is fueled by trying to reach its first NBA Finals since losing to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2012. James and Cleveland are waiting on Monday's winner.

"It's going to be a hard game. If we thought tonight was hard, Game 7's going to be even tougher," Curry said. "Everybody on both sides of the ball is going to leave it all out on the floor. It's win or go home. So we can't expect just because we're at home that we can just show up and win."

As has been the case all playoffs with Curry ailing, Golden State got a huge performance from Klay Thompson. He made a playoff-record 11 3-pointers and scored 41 points in a 108-101 win at Oklahoma City on Saturday night, and will need an encore Monday.

"Lot of people probably counted us out," Thompson said.

Kerr said last week that his group might be different than the all the other teams that have tried to come back from 3-1 down: because the Warriors won it all last year.

The Thunder certainly would have preferred to close out the series at home over traveling back across the country to the Bay Area for the deciding game.

Yet they never expected it to be easy against the 2015 champs.

"This is what you dream about, getting this opportunity. We've got to take advantage of it," Durant said Sunday. "Go up into their building, and it's going to be great atmosphere. ... No matter where you play, you've still got to play. That's how we look at it."

That's partly because first-year Thunder coach Billy Donovan has talked to his team about the mentality it takes to win in a hostile venue like raucous, sold-out Oracle Arena, and Oklahoma City came in and did it in Game 1.

"We lost Game 6, and it was a tough, hard-fought game," Donovan said. "We're disappointed about not having a different outcome. But we haven't lost the series, and we have an opportunity again. I think just being around these guys, they're a resilient group."

Curry and the Warriors expect another entertaining, great game.

From an ankle injury that sidelined him in the first round against Houston to a sprained right knee and puffy elbow, Curry has dealt with his share of pain this postseason. He has to push that aside for what he hopes is one more game this series and then a second straight trip to the Finals and another championship.

"I actually kind of like it, because you understand the moment of the playoffs and just kind of gets you going," he said. "I'll be ready to go and give it everything I've got for Game 7."

Stanley Cup Final: Sharks-Penguins set to battle in Game 1

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USA Today Images

Stanley Cup Final: Sharks-Penguins set to battle in Game 1

PITTSBURGH -- It wasn't supposed to take the San Jose Sharks this long to reach their first Stanley Cup Final. It wasn't supposed to take this long for Sidney Crosby to guide the Pittsburgh Penguins back to a destination many figured they'd become a fixture at after winning it all in 2009.

Not that either side is complaining.

Certainly not the Sharks, whose nearly quarter-century wait to play on the NHL's biggest stage will finally end Monday night when the puck drops for Game 1. Certainly not Crosby, who raised the Cup after beating Detroit seven years ago but has spent a significant portion of the interim dealing with concussions that threatened to derail his career and fending off criticism as the thoughtful captain of a team whose explosiveness during the regular season too often failed to translate into regular mid-June parade through the heart of the city.

Maybe the Penguins should have returned to the Cup Final before now. The fact they didn't makes the bumpy path the franchise and its superstar captain took to get here seem worth it.

"I think I appreciated it prior to going through some of those things," Crosby said. "I think now having gone through those things I definitely appreciate it more. I think I realize how tough it is to get to this point."

It's a sentiment not lost on the Sharks, who became one of the NHL's most consistent winners shortly after coming into the league in 1991. Yet spring after spring, optimism would morph into disappointment. The nadir came in 2014, when a 3-0 lead over Los Angeles in the first round somehow turned into a 4-3 loss. The collapse sent the Sharks into a spiral that took a full year to recover from, one that in some ways sowed the seeds for a breakthrough more than two decades in the making.

General manager Doug Wilson tweaked the roster around fixtures Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, who remained hopeful San Jose's window for success hadn't shut completely even as the postseason meltdowns piled up.

"I always believed that next year was going to be the year, I really did," Thornton said. "I always thought we were a couple pieces away. Even last year not making the playoffs, I honestly thought we were a couple pieces away, and here we are."

The Penguins, like the Sharks, are a study in near instant alchemy. General manager Jim Rutherford rebuilt the team on the fly after taking over in June, 2014 and with the team sleepwalking last December, fired respected-but-hardly-charismatic Mike Johnston and replaced him with the decidedly harder-edged Mike Sullivan. The results were nearly instantaneous.

Freed to play to its strengths instead of guarding against its weaknesses, Pittsburgh rocketed through the second half of the season and showed the resilience it has sometimes lacked during Crosby's tenure by rallying from a 3-2 deficit against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals, dominating Games 6 and 7 to finally earn a shot at bookending the Cup that was supposed to give birth to a dynasty but instead led to years of frustration.

True catharsis for one side is four wins away. Some things to look for over the next two weeks of what promises to be an entertaining final.

Fresh faces
When the season began, Matt Murray was in the minor leagues. Now the 22-year-old who was supposed to be Pittsburgh's goalie of the future is now very much the goalie of the present. Pressed into action when veteran Marc-Andre Fleury suffered a concussion on March 31, Murray held onto the job even after Fleury returned by playing with the steady hand of a guy in his 10th postseason, not his first. San Jose counterpart Martin Jones served as Jonathan Quick's backup when the Kings won it all in 2014 and has thrived while playing behind a defense that sometimes doesn't give him much to do. Jones has faced over 30 shots just four times during the playoffs.

'HBK' is H-O-T
Pittsburgh's best line during the playoffs isn't the one centered by Crosby or Malkin but Nick Bonino, who has teamed with Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin to produce 17 goals and 28 assists in 18 games. Put together when Malkin missed six weeks with an elbow injury, the trio has given the Penguins the balance they desperately needed after years of being too reliant on their stars for production.

Powerful Sharks
San Jose's brilliant run to the Finals has been spearheaded by a power play that is converting on 27 percent (17 of 63) of its chances during the playoffs. The Sharks are 9-2 when they score with the man advantage and just 3-4 when it does not.

Old men and the C(up)
Both teams have relied heavily on players who began their NHL careers in another millennium. Pittsburgh center Matt Cullen, who turns 40 in November, has four goals during the playoffs. Thornton and Marleau, both 36, were taken with the top two picks in the 1997 draft that was held in Pittsburgh while 37-year-old Dainius Zubrus draws stares from younger teammates when he tells them he used to play against Hall of Famer (and current Penguins owner) Mario Lemieux.

"When I say 'Twenty years ago I was playing against Lemieux, they say 'I was 2-years-old,'" Zubrus said.