Signing Simmonds, Flyers Continue Re-Upping on Last Summer's Haul

Signing Simmonds, Flyers Continue Re-Upping on Last Summer's Haul

The
image of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter raising a Cup with the LA Kings
less than one year after being traded out of Philadelphia is a memorable
one for a variety of reasons. But if Paul Holmgren has any regrets over
pulling the trigger on the deals that sent them to LA and Columbus, you
wouldn't know it by this summer's activities. 

While swinging for the fences on three of the
biggest prizes in the market and coming up short (though not for lack of
effort), Homer also had his eye on keeping two key pieces from the
Richards and Carter deals in Philly for the long haul. At the time of
the trades, Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds were respectable
commodities that came back as part of larger hauls. Jake came alongside
the 8th overall pick in the draft, who turned out to be coveted prospect
Sean Couturier. Simmer came to town alongside Brayden Schenn,
previously considered among the best North American players not yet in
the NHL. 

Amidst a summer filled with trade talk, Homer has so
far made Couturier and Schenn untouchable. And now, not long after
giving Voracek a 4-year contract extension, the Flyers have agreed to
terms on a 6-year deal to keeping Simmonds in Orange & Black too. 

Both Voracek and Simmonds set career highs in goals
in their first season as Flyers. In Simmonds' fourth NHL campaign, he
doubled his goal total from the year before, notching 28 while also
besting his previous career high in points by nine, at 49.

The Fighter-ScorerSimmonds is a valuable
commodity in the NHL these days, which is seeing a decline in the role
of the straight-up enforcer. Teams need scoring depth throughout the
lines, and fighters who can't score are playing less, even in Philly.
Last January, Harrison Mooney of Puck Daddy had a interesting piece
discussing the value of the fighter-scorer in the current NHL landscape.
Simmonds made Mooney's list, clocking 10 goals and five fighting majors
at that point. Mooney pointed out that guys who scored 10 goals and had
10 fights in a season are rarer than 30-goal scorers. Simmonds would
maintain his fight pace, but ratchet up the scoring, finishing the
season with 28 goals and 10 fights, and attributes that don't show up on
every score sheet. He is fast, skilled with the puck, tough, durable,
and fearless. He even scored a goal off of his face once.

Taking Advantage of the Man AdvantageSimmonds
showed that with more opportunity, he was capable of more production.
Given time on the power play, he thrived, scoring 10 more PPG in his
first year as a Flyer than his final year as a King. He was deployed in a
variety of PP screens run between Simmonds and Scott Hartnell, wreaking
havoc in front of opposing creases while sharks Claude Giroux and
Jaromir Jagr circled in open space with the puck? If on the ice at the
same time, sometimes they'd go high-low, others both low, and others
they spread the screens over — OH MY GOD would you get this labor
dispute settled and give us back the game on time!

Looking ForwardWith Jagr gone, Voracek
will be in for a healthy dose of man advantage minutes too. Both he and
Simmonds will always be linked as pieces that came here the day Richie
and Carter left. It says a lot about them, as well as Couturier and
Schenn, that despite the Kings winning it all, each of these players is a
fan favorite in Philly after just one season. 

In the deal, Simmonds gets a big vote of confidence
from the club. His game may yet have room for improvement though. At 23
years old (24 next week), there should be opportunity for development in
any player's game, so this isn't saying much. What, if anything, would
we like to see going forward? Simmonds put up torrid production at
times, but went silent for stretches too (at least on the sheet). Four
different times, he scored in three or more consecutive games (once it
was four straight, and once it was five). In the playoffs, even the
goal-frenzied opening series against the Penguins, Simmonds didn't
contribute much in the scoring department. He tallied just one goal and
three assists in six games against Pittsburgh, and a pair of assists in
the mess of a five-gamer against the Devils. So perhaps there could be a
little more consistency in his production, but at 28 goals while being
used in a few different roles on a new team, asking for much more from
Simmonds feels like nitpicking. There's also room for defensive
development, which will be critical for Flyers forwards with so many
question marks on the blue line. 

Of course, as is the case with any player topping
previous career highs, there could also be some statistical regression,
even if the player's game does not fall off much. Evaluating the
contributions of guys like Simmonds can't be limited to small ups and
downs in their stats, though it will be interesting to see to what
degree he can improve or maintain his numbers. 

It was encouraging to see how well Simmonds
responded to a major move and a new system, and fans here loved him from
day 1. In some senses, he's one of the more complete packages in the
league, combining strength, speed, and scoring ability, and there is
still an ability to grow into more of a well-rounded two-way player. The
Flyers liked what they saw and locked him up ahead of his RFA summer. 

Hey Look, an Elephant in the Room!Of
course, nearly anything that transpires in the NHL right now comes with
the giant caveat that the owners and the players association are
currently embroiled in disagreement over the collective bargaining
agreement. Once there is a new CBA, we have no idea what concessions by
the NHLPA might mean for player contracts, but it's unlikely to be good
for them. 

Wait, Another Elephant!Simmonds' cap hit
has been said to be right around $4 million per season, though Tim
Panaccio has a source saying $3.84. Either way, he'll be the fourth
Flyers forward to have a deal worth more than what Claude Giroux makes
on average
.
Four defensemen (if you count Chris Pronger) and one goaltender also
clock in north of Giroux's annual hit. G doesn't hit RFA status until
after the 2013-14 season. What happens between now and then?

Players signing long extensions in Philly obviously
doesn't mean they'll play them out here, but from what we've seen,
keeping a 25ish goal scorer through his prime is an attractive prospect.
If 6 years in Philly isn't in the cards, Simmonds will probably once
again be a valuable trade asset. Either way, we're happy with the deal.

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg wins 14th as Nationals down Indians

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg wins 14th as Nationals down Indians

CLEVELAND -- Stephen Strasburg shut down Cleveland for seven innings and bounced back from his only loss this season, leading the Washington Nationals to a 4-1 win over the Indians on Wednesday.

Strasburg (14-1) began the season with 13 straight wins before he was beaten by the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 21. The powerful right-hander shook off that blemish, holding the Indians to only three hits as the Nationals recovered after blowing a two-run lead in the ninth and losing on Tuesday night.

Washington rookie Trea Turner drove in three runs and Daniel Murphy hit his 20th homer off Carlos Carrasco (7-4), who nearly matched Strasburg but was done in by one bad inning.

Nationals reliever Blake Treinen stopped Cleveland's threat in the ninth, getting a game-ending double play for his major league save.

Strasburg walked one and struck out seven (see full recap)

Cardinals snap Familia's saves streak, rally past Mets 5-4
NEW YORK -- Yadier Molina and pinch-hitter Kolten Wong each stroked an RBI double in the ninth inning, and the St. Louis Cardinals ended Jeurys Familia's streak of 52 straight saves in rallying past the New York Mets 5-4 on Wednesday night.

Yoenis Cespedes hit a go-ahead homer off Adam Wainwright to cap a three-run comeback in the seventh that gave the Mets a 4-3 lead. But then Familia, who hadn't blown a regular-season save opportunity since July 30 last year, finally faltered.

Jedd Gyorko drew a one-out walk in the ninth and was replaced by pinch-runner Randal Grichuk. Molina hit the next pitch to deep center field, and Grichuk scored standing up to tie it.

Molina was thrown out at third by Familia (2-2) on pinch-hitter Jeremy Hazelbaker's comebacker, but Hazelbaker stole second and scored when Wong lined a double just inside the left-field line.

Familia's franchise-record saves streak was the third-longest in major league history behind Tom Gordon (54) and Eric Gagne (84).

Jonathan Broxton (3-2) tossed a scoreless eighth and Seung Hwan Oh got three quick outs for his sixth save (see full recap)

Padres hit 3 HRs to extend streak, beat Blue Jays 8-4
TORONTO -- Adam Rosales hit a two-run home run, Alex Dickerson and Brett Wallace each hit solo shots and the San Diego Padres beat the Toronto Blue Jays 8-4 on Wednesday, avoiding a three-game sweep.

San Diego extended its club-record streak of games with at least one home run to 25. It's the longest run since the 2002 Texas Rangers set a major league record by homering in 27 straight.

Luis Perdomo (5-4) allowed four runs and six hits in 5 2-3 innings to win back-to-back starts.

Wallace reached base three times. He was hit by a pitch and scored on Rosales' homer in the third, connected off R.A. Dickey in the fifth and hit an RBI single off Joe Biagini in the sixth.

Dickerson homered for the fourth time in four games when he connected off Franklin Morales in the eighth. He is first Padres rookie to homer in four straight games.

Dickey (7-12) allowed seven runs, six earned, and four hits in 5 2-3 innings. The knuckleballer is winless in three starts and has allowed six home runs in that span (see full recap).

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Earlier this week, Doug Pederson admitted cornerback Eric Rowe had some “hiccups” during the spring, and seemed to indicate they stemmed from learning a new defense. 

Rowe says that wasn’t the problem at all.

“It wasn’t the new defense that was giving me whatever hiccups [Pederson] was talking about,” Rowe said on Wednesday as he reported for his second training camp (see Day 3 observations). “It was just, I was having trouble breaking on top of the routes, specifically the curl routes. But fade ball, deep post, digs, I didn’t have any trouble there. It was just curl routes. I just knew I had to work on it after the OTAs.”

Rowe, 23, said the problem was technical; he just needed to get his feet down quicker.

Whatever the problem, whatever the hiccups, it seems as though Rowe’s standing within the organization and on the depth chart isn’t what it once was.

Many thought he would be a starter in 2016, like he was at the end of 2015, but that wasn’t the way things were in the spring. Instead, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks took those positions, and it looks like Nolan Carroll, returning from an injury, and rookie Jalen Mills, who hasn’t yet practiced in pads, are vying for playing time, too.

In back-to-back days earlier this week, Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz failed to mention Rowe’s name while listing players at the cornerback spot. Coincidental omissions or a vocalized unofficial depth chart?

Rowe could possibly go from starter to deep bench player, but that’s not what he’s planning on.

“I know I had a little ups and downs in OTAs, but now the pads are coming on,” Rowe said. “I feel like it’s a fresh start for me and I’m just ready to get out here.”

Pads go on Saturday.

“Right now, I think I still stand in a good position (with the team),” Rowe said. “Football is about the game with pads on. Now we’re really about to see in a couple days when we put the pads on.”

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

He looks like a small back. He's built like a small back. He wants to play like a big back.

Wendell Smallwood, trying to make the Eagles as a reserve tailback, stands 5-foot-10, 208 pounds, but he said he’s got a surprise for defenders that think he’s one of those itty-bitty backs that dances around looking pretty … until they get hit.

“I think that’s what most people expect,” he said Tuesday. “But when I actually put my head down and fight for those extra yards and get under guys, guys start to say, ‘Hey!’ They start to feel me a little bit.

“So I definitely think that started to show my last year in college, and I started becoming more of an inside zone type of runner instead of an outside runner.”

None of this should be a surprise considering Smallwood’s position coach is Duce Staley, who during his 10-year NFL career was much more interested in running over people than around them.

Smallwood is nowhere near as big as Staley, who played at about 235 to 240. But that’s the kind of back he wants to be.

“It’s definitely important to me and it’s definitely what Duce wants me to do,” Smallwood said. “He wants me to hit the holes and hit ‘em hard and that’s the reason he got me here.

“Duce, he doesn’t like small backs. He doesn’t. I don’t think he believes in those guys. He was a big boy. Running dudes over left and right. That’s what he wants.”

Smallwood played sparingly as a freshman at West Virginia, shared time with Rushel Shell as a sophomore, then took over last year when he led the Big 12 with 1,519 rushing yards and added nine touchdowns, 26 catches and a 6.4 rushing average.

The Eagles plucked him out of Morgantown in the fifth round, and in an uncertain running back picture, he’s got a realistic chance to not just make the team but also play a role.

Just don’t expect him to play like a typical guy his size.

“I don’t consider myself a small back anymore,” he said. “People have always said that and I kind of started to agree, but then I looked at some of the guys who are around and I’m not a small back at all.

“I’m not little and the running style I like to do is suited for a big back, and my catching kind of throws people off. I definitely think I’m a mixture of both.”

Smallwood ranked 13th in Division I in rushing yards last year, and his 6.4 average was tied for ninth among backs with at least 200 carries.

He said a lot of defenders expect him to be a finesse back, a guy who likes to juke safeties and linebackers instead of bowling them over.

“Get me going downhill and I’ll get you what I can get you,” he said. “A lot of [defenders] kind of take the easy route and think it’s going to be easy and then the rest of the game they’re going low and trying to take my legs out.”

Look at the Eagles’ running back picture.

The starter is Ryan Mathews, who is talented but injury-prone. The backup right now probably is Kenjon Barner, who has 34 career carries. Then there’s Darren Sproles, whose 3.8 average last year was his lowest since 2009 and second lowest of his 11-year career.

With a strong camp, there’s no reason Smallwood can’t work himself into that picture.

The last frontier for the Northern Delaware native is blitz pickup. Something he was never asked to do at WVU.

“I don’t think I did basically any in college,” he said. “They didn’t ask me to block at all. I was mainly running routes.

“But as soon as I got here, Duce emphasized, ‘If you want to get on the field, you’re going to block. If you’re not going to block, you’re not going to play.'”

Staley’s No. 22 wasn’t available, but Smallwood is happy to wear the jersey number of another one of his favorite backs growing up, Correll Buckhalter’s No. 28, who he seems quite similar to.

It’s not fair to compare Smallwood to Staley, Buckhalter, Brian Westbrook or any other former Eagles back until the pads go on and we see what he’s really made of.

But Smallwood said he’s thrilled Staley is his coach and said there’s nobody he’d rather be playing for.

“I think he’s a great fit for me as a coach,” Smallwood said. “I need a kind of guy who drives me, tough guy, who’s not going to let up, who’s going to keep his foot on my back. I definitely need that kind of coaching.

“Just being around him growing up and seeing what he did when he was here and how he runs and him being one of my favorite backs, I was kind of star-struck to be around him, and now he’s my coach. It’s definitely a great situation for me.”