Positive Takeaways from a Lost Flyers Season

Positive Takeaways from a Lost Flyers Season

The Flyers have officially missed the playoffs for just the
second time in 18 years, which despite being a run that has likely left us a bit spoiled, it only adds to the disappointment when expectations are high to begin
with. Cheer up though, because it wasn’t all bad. There were several
developments as the season marched along that bode well for the future, so
before we jump into an offseason of finger pointing and blame games next week, let’s take
a look at those.

The Claude Giroux/Jakub
Voracek connection

It took Peter Laviolette 16 games to put Jake Voracek on the
top line with Claude Giroux, but the combination was worth the wait. Both
players got off to slow starts – Giroux with one goal and three assists,
Voracek one tally and seven helpers at even-strength. In the 29 games since
they’ve been paired together, G has gone for 5 and 13, while Jake has benefited
the most with 11 and 8.

With his All-Star linemate, Jake even managed to a set career high for goals with 20. Not too shabby in a shortened season.

And that’s with a revolving door at left wing. They've already tried Scott Hartnell, Wayne Simmonds, Tye McGinn, Matt Read, and Simon Gagne. Imagine how
potent the line could be as a whole with a little consistency from a third party.

Obviously the captain isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and
Voracek signed a four-year extension last summer that keeps him in
Philly until 2016, so Flyers fans should be enjoying this paring for seasons to
come. It doesn’t get a lot more positive than that.

Special teams are
special

Philadelphia has the third-best power play in the NHL in
2013, with practically all of the key components expected to return. They also
feature the league’s sixth-ranked penalty kill, and although Ruslan Fedotenko
(free agent) and Max Talbot (broken leg) may not be available in the future,
the unit continues to get the job done so far.

Clubs with quality special teams at both ends generally find
themselves in the playoffs. As long as these numbers hover around where they
are at now, you have to like the Flyers’ chances to get right next season.

At least there’s
another option in goal

How do we know heading into this season with only Michael
Leighton and Brian Boucher behind Ilya Bryzgalov was a mistake? Both guys were
so bad, Lavvy was afraid to put either one of them on the ice. In fact, it only
took a combined five appearances to reach that conclusion about the backup
netminders.

That didn’t do Bryz any favors, who at one point started
22 games in a row. For the season he’s posted an 18-17-3 record with an
unflattering.898 save percentage and 2.84 goals against average.

Enter Steve Mason, a 24-year-old trade deadline addition.
After just five games himself, it’s much too early to tell whether he’ll ever regain
the form that led to his winning the NHL’s award for rookie of the year in
2009, but at least it’s another warm body to throw out there. So far Mason is
2-2 with a .931 SV% and 2.09 GAA, and his mere presence alone is giving
Bryzgalov detractors a little hope that amnesty is on the way.

A compliance buyout for Bryzgalov is far from assured at this
point, but like we said: at least they finally have another realistic option.

Simon Gagne still has
“it”

Once we got over the initial excitement for a true fan
favorite’s homecoming, we had to wonder what Simon Gagne would bring to the
table. The truth is at 33 Gagne is not the same player who posted 74 points
while wearing Orange & Black as recently as 08-09 – nor does he look as out
of place as he did with the Los Angeles Kings either.

Gagne’s numbers (four goals, five assists, -3 in 24 games)
aren’t going to light the world on fire, but he hasn’t exactly been useless since
rejoining the organization in a mid-season trade, either. He helps out on
special teams, and has further proved his versatility most recently by skating
on the Giroux line. As long as the impending free agent is willing to take a hometown discount, Gagne could potentially be a flexible, low-cost solution for a
franchise that is sure to be up against the salary cap once again.

Young defensemen are
stepping up

It’s kind of amazing to think amid the absences of Braydon
Coburn, Nicklas Grossmann, Andrej Meszaros, Kent Huskins, and Bruno Gervais due
to injuries, the defensive unit has actually seemed to stabilize somewhat in
recent weeks. It’s especially surprising given how chaotic they looked at times
when all those guys were healthy.

Luke Schenn deserves a ton of credit for that, as he’s
become an absolute workhorse since the blue line depth has taken these hits. He’s
regularly been skating for 25-plus minutes most nights, including almost 33
against Montreal last week, and the all-around performance is solid as well. The
fifth-overall pick of the ’08 draft leads all NHL players in the combined
category of hits and blocked shots with 260.

But it hasn’t just been Schenner of late. Call-ups from
Adirondack are looking competent as well. Oliver Lauridsen has no lack of confidence
and a bit of a nasty streak at that. Erik Gustafsson seems far more comfortable
in his latest stint with the big club. And while it’s only been three games,
Brandon Manning has shown some jump in his step already.

The sample size isn’t large enough for the Flyers’ young
D-men to call it a problem solved and move on. However, these kids – all 24 or younger – are giving observers
hope that some of the answers to the problems on the back end are already here,
and that this is not the complete disaster it appeared to be at the beginning of the
season.

Sean Couturier is
still here

One of the most popular refrains leading up to the trade
deadline was, “The Flyers better not trade Couturier!” The concern was the
20-year-old forward would be shipped off in a panic move for some rental
or middle-of-the-road player.

That Cooter is still here is a small victory of its own.
Reports had several teams asking for the eighth overall pick from the 2011
draft, but Paul Holmgren refused to release his death grip on this particular budding
superstar, even despite a horrific sophomore slump.

What’s more, Couturier has rewarded the organization’s faith recently
by turning his season around. Since March 30 – just prior to the deadline – his offensive
output has increased with eight points in 12 games, and he’s a +2 over that
span despite being a -10 for the year.

If nothing else this season, we should all be
grateful Couturier made it through the year and will remain in Orange & Black.

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Best of MLB: Happ gets 14th win, Blue Jays take over 1st place

Best of MLB: Happ gets 14th win, Blue Jays take over 1st place

TORONTO -- With one big inning and another strong start from J.A. Happ, the Blue Jays moved into the AL East lead.

Happ won his eighth straight decision, Devon Travis homered and Toronto used a seven-run fifth to beat the Baltimore Orioles 9-1 Saturday, taking sole possession of first place for the first time since early April.

"There's still a lot of baseball left, but I feel we're starting to play good ball," Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin said.

Toronto, which won for the 16th time in 22 games, had not been alone atop its division since a 2-0 start. The Blue Jays have scored seven or more runs in an inning three times this season.

Kevin Pillar had two hits and drove in four runs to match his career high. Major league RBIs leader Edwin Encarnacion drove in his 89th run (see full recap).

Giants find just enough offense for rare win since break
SAN FRANCISCO -- Hunter Pence is healthy at last. Joe Panik has been back a few days from a concussion and is driving in runs again. The San Francisco Giants sure are starting to look like themselves again.

Oh, with that new face in the infield of Eduardo Nunez.

Panik hit a go-ahead sacrifice fly in the seventh inning, Nunez had a two-run double in his first start with San Francisco and the Giants snapped a three-game losing streak by beating the Washington Nationals 5-3 on Saturday.

Pence was activated from the disabled list after missing 48 games with a strained right hamstring that required surgery.

"It's huge, just his presence in the lineup," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's one of our guys. In addition to the talent, he brings energy and all those intangibles. He charged up the troops being out there (see full recap)."

De La Rosa, Rockies win 5th straight, Mets lose 4th in row
NEW YORK -- Jorge De La Rosa earned his 100th career victory and the Colorado Rockies eventually caught up with Bartolo Colon, beating the New York Mets 7-2 on a rainy Saturday night for their fifth straight win.

The Rockies improved to 12-4 since the All-Star break and won despite losing NL home run leader Trevor Story to a jammed left thumb. He seemed to get hurt on a scrambling slide in the fourth, exited early and X-rays on the rookie shortstop were negative.

On the day the Mets retired Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza's No. 31, the Mets lost their fourth in row. The 43-year-old Colon (9-6) faltered in his first start on three days' rest since 2005, and slugger Yoenis Cespedes left in midgame because of a nagging quad injury (see full recap).

Rea injured in Miami debut, Marlins win 11-0
MIAMI -- The Miami Marlins' big win might have come with a price.

Newly acquired Colin Rea left early with an elbow injury in his Miami debut in the Marlins' 11-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday night.

"We obviously needed the win, but it's not at that cost," Marlins reliever David Phelps said. "Hopefully, it's nothing, but you never like to see a starter come out of the game when you're strapped for starters to begin with."

Rea, acquired in a trade with San Diego, pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing one hit and striking out four.

"I kind of felt something in my elbow and it gradually got worse throughout the game," Rea said. "I don't know if I could have thrown another pitch, but we'll see. We don't know anything yet."

Rea initially felt a pain in his arm during warm-ups before the game, but tried to pitch through it (see full recap).

Instant Replay: Phillies 9, Braves 5

Instant Replay: Phillies 9, Braves 5

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA – If this was Jeremy Hellickson’s swan song with the Phillies he went out a winner.
 
Hellickson pitched into the sixth inning and gave up just three runs in the Phils’ 9-5 win over the sloppy Atlanta Braves on Saturday night.
 
Hellickson is 8-7 with a 3.70 ERA in 22 starts with the Phillies. He could be on the move to a contender before Monday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline. A number of clubs in need of starting pitching scouted Hellickson’s start. 
 
Braves pitching walked eight batters.

Starting pitching report 
Hellickson had the type of start he often does. He went 5 2/3 innings and gave up three runs, exiting with a 5-3 lead. He allowed nine hits, walked one and struck out two.

Hellickson finished the month of July with a 2.34 ERA in six starts and gave up just four runs in his last three starts.
 
Will he make another start for the Phillies? We’ll know in a couple of days.

Atlanta right-hander Julio Teheran gave up three runs over five innings.
 
Bullpen report
Hellickson departed with a run in and two men on base with two outs in the sixth. Edubray Ramos came in and registered a strikeout to end the inning. He stayed on for the seventh and struck out two more.
 
Jeanmar Gomez closed out a four-run lead. His appearance in a non-save situation may have been a showcase for teams interested in trading for him. The Giants and Indians have been watching Gomez.
 
The Phillies scored twice off lefty Eric O’Flaherty to take a 5-2 lead in the sixth.
 
At the plate
Hellickson helped his cause with a two-run double in the fifth. It was the first double of his career.
 
The Phillies built a 5-2 lead when Freddy Galvis singled home two runs in the sixth.
 
Ryan Howard doubled in the second and scored on a hit by Cameron Rupp for the Phillies’ first run. Rupp had three hits and scored two runs.
 
The Phillies sent nine men to the plate and scored four runs in the eighth without getting a hit. They benefited from four walks in the inning.
 
Nick Markakis, Adonis Garcia and Anthony Recker (single and double) all had RBI hits for the Braves.
 
Trade update
The Phillies’ asking price for Vince Velasquez is … (see story)
 
Up next
Jerad Eickhoff (6-12, 3.83) pitches Sunday afternoon for the Phillies. The Braves had not named a starter as Saturday night’s game was ending.

Phillies want 2 bats for Velasquez, deal unlikely at this point; Tigers check on Hellickson

Phillies want 2 bats for Velasquez, deal unlikely at this point; Tigers check on Hellickson

ATLANTA – Two days before the non-waiver trade deadline, the Phillies have several pitchers who could be on the move.

The market for Jeremy Hellickson, Saturday night’s starter against the Braves, remains alive. The Phillies have received several offers, but nothing yet to their liking. A strong start against Atlanta on Saturday would certainly help the right-hander's value.

The Phillies had talks with Miami about Hellickson, but the Marlins filled their need for starting pitching by acquiring Andrew Cashner and Colin Rea from San Diego earlier in the week.

Pittsburgh, Texas, Toronto, Baltimore, the Dodgers and others remain in the market for starting pitching. The Detroit Tigers could be a team to watch on Hellickson. They had a scout come in to watch Hellickson pitch in Atlanta on Saturday night.

The headline-grabbing name on the Phillies’ trade front remains Vince Velasquez. Major league sources continue to tell CSNPhilly.com that the Phillies have had meaningful trade discussions with the Texas Rangers involving the power-armed right-hander.

Sources say a deal is unlikely at this time because the Phillies are seeking a high price and the Rangers could use their prospect resources in their quest to add a more established pitcher like Chris Sale or Chris Archer or a catcher like Milwaukee’s Jonathan Lucroy. But it remains noteworthy that the Phillies have made Velasquez available for the right price.

What is that price?

Sources say the Phillies would like to get two hitters from Texas’ bounty. One of those hitters must be ready to play in the majors now and the other must be close. The Rangers have a number of hitters who fit this description. Outfielder Nomar Mazara is almost certainly untouchable. (He was last year in the Cole Hamels talks). Power-hitting outfielder Joey Gallo, infielder Jurickson Profar and outfielder Lewis Brinson would probably fit the Phils’ wish list.

A source described the Phillies as being “pretty deep” in talks with Texas. The Rangers even dispatched a top scout to watch Velasquez pitch in Atlanta on Friday night. The scout was not in attendance for Saturday night’s game.

Relievers David Hernandez and Jeanmar Gomez are also in play in the last couple of days before the deadline. The Giants, who need bullpen help, have had scouts tailing the Phillies for a couple of weeks.