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.

Super sub Roland Alberg putting on potent show for Union

Super sub Roland Alberg putting on potent show for Union

CHESTER, Pa. -- Roland Alberg has been a terror for opposing teams. 

The latest attack from the Dutch bomber happened Saturday, while the Union were gridlocked in a scoreless draw with Sporting Kansas City. Alberg entered the match in the 65th minute and ended it in the 67th, when he launched a volley that beat goalkeeper Alec Kann. 

“I have to be patient, but when I come on the field, I have to do my thing,” Alberg said. “It’s a great team performance. We did a great job, got three points and we are happy with it.”

He added an assist for the 2-0 win (see game story)

“He’s a wonderful player,” said Union left back Fabinho, who assisted on Alberg's goal. “He came on and changed the game. I saw him and I know what he likes. I give the ball to him and he scores. He has nine goals. It’s nice for him. I hope he scores more.” 

That type of impact hasn’t been irregular for Alberg. With nine goals on the season in just 925 minutes played, the 26-year-old leads MLS in goals-per-90 minutes with 0.88. Only New York City FC’s Frank Lampard is close with .85.

“He’s far and away the leader in our league,” said Union manager Jim Curtin, who originally cited Alberg’s goals-per-90 stat. “He has a special quality.”

Yet, despite that “special quality,” Alberg remains a super sub, buried behind Tranquillo Barnetta at the center attacking midfield spot. He has two goals in his last four games — all coming off the bench.

“I have to show it every training, and then it’s the coach’s decision,” he said. “If [Curtin] uses me as a sub, I’ll do 100 percent my best. And if it’s as a starter, it’s the same thing for me. Of course every player wants to play as a starter, and me too. But it’s a long season. Playoffs, they are coming. So I’m patient.”

Alberg’s potency isn’t lost on Curtin, even if the manager doesn’t switch his winning formula. Though Alberg is pushing for a starting spot, the Union might just be more dangerous with him off the bench.

“He’s a starter on most MLS teams,” Curtin said. “It’s just a matter of having depth at that spot. He’s a very valuable player to our team and shows we have a deep squad. I can’t say enough about how well he’s played in any role. As a starter for us, he’s won us a bunch of games, and his role off the bench, he’s won us some games now, too.”

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Nearing the end of 2016 for Vince Velasquez

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Nearing the end of 2016 for Vince Velasquez

Phillies (59-70) at Mets (66-63)
1:10 p.m. on CSN

Can the Phillies avoid a sweep at Citi Field?

Vince Velasquez looks to recover from his mid-August swoon, while the Mets toss out Robert Gsellman, a pitcher making his first career start and second career appearance. 

Here are five things to know for Sunday afternoon's series finale.

1. Nearing the end
Velasquez's last three starts have been an unmitigated disaster. 

In three games against current playoff teams (a key thing to note), he's allowed 19 earned runs in 16⅓ innings. While he's struck out 23 batters in that span, he's also given up 25 hits and walked five.

Even more concerning are the home runs. After allowing just three homers in nine starts from June 3 to Aug. 4, Velasquez surrendered eight homers in his last three outings. He had allowed just 11 total in his first 19 appearances. 

With all that in mind, it makes sense the Phillies will limit the 24-year-old righty to just three or four more starts this season. He has nearly surpassed his career-high innings total, a mark he compiled in 2013. Having thrown 124 innings this year, the Phils likely don't want him getting beyond 150 innings, at most — 140-145 may be a more realistic target. 

Good news for Velasquez: He has a 1.74 ERA in two starts against the Mets, going 1-1 in those appearances. He's thrown 10⅓ innings against New York and struck out 13. The bad news is that despite allowing just two earned runs against the Mets, he's given up five runs total. 

2. Another new Mets pitcher
The theme of the Mets' season has been pitching injuries. After that same pitching staff brought the Mets to the brink of a World Series win in 2015, their pitchers have found a new home on the disabled list in 2016.

Jonathon Niese is the latest example. In his second start for the Mets after he was re-acquired at the trade deadline, he left with an injury just four batters into the game. He'll undergo left knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus.

So replacing him in the rotation on Sunday is the pitcher who replaced him on the mound Tuesday, Robert Gsellman. 

Gsellman fits into the Mets' rotation, at least appearance-wise. He has the long hair that Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard sported during the Mets' NL championship run. As for his actual pitching, his first impression was pretty good. For 3⅔ innings, he allowed six baserunners but no runs while striking out two. He walked three, gave up two hits and hit a batter in the relief appearance.

The 23-year-old righty threw 75 pitches in the outing, most of which were his four-seam fastball. Out of the bullpen, his fastball topped out at 95.6 miles per hour and averaged 94 mph. His slider, which averaged 87.5 mph, and low-80s curveball were his most-used offspeed pitches.

In 20 starts between Double A and Triple A this year, Gsellman is 4-9 with a 3.99 ERA over 115 innings.

3. What does Ellis bring to Philly?
A.J. Ellis, the Phillies' new catcher, is still adjusting to his new team after coming over from the Dodgers in the Carlos Ruiz trade Thursday (see story). As Ellis gets set to make his first appearance, here's a look at what he brings to the table.

Before getting to the stats, one must mention Ellis' leadership. The Phillies insisted on getting Ellis back in the Ruiz deal for that very reason, his ability to not only take over as the backup catcher but also provide some intangibles as a veteran backstop. He's been in the league since 2008 and at 35 years old, he can help provide a good perspective to a young Phillies squad.

Ellis has been the personal catcher to Clayton Kershaw, the 2014 NL MVP and Cy Young. The veteran has been solid behind the plate, a must for any long-term backup catcher.

His ability behind the plate has slightly helped offset his major decline at the plate. After a career-worst season in 2014, he rebounded to produce solid numbers at the plate in 2015. However, this season has been even worse than 2014.

Ellis has just six extra base hits in 161 plate appearances and has a .194 batting average. His on-base percentage (.285) is higher than his slugging percentage (.252), neither of which are remotely close to average. He has just one home run and 13 RBIs. 

Well removed from everyday playing time, Ellis will be a minus at the plate for the Phillies. He'll be a solid backstop until Jorge Alfaro rejoins the roster in a few weeks. 

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Cesar Hernandez does not want August to end. He's batting .321 this month with 25 hits and 10 extra base hits, including three home runs. 

Mets: Yoenis Cespedes has only one hit in five at-bats against Velasquez this year, but that one hit was a home run that knocked in three runs. He had a three-run homer Saturday night.

5. This and that
• Curtis Granderson is 0 for 4 with a walk and hit-by-pitch against Velasquez. Neil Walker is 0 for 5 with a strikeout.

• The Phillies are 11-11 in August despite a 7.26 ERA from their starters this month. They haven't had a winning month since going 14-10 in April.

• Velasquez is 0-3 with an 8.86 ERA in four August starts. However, he has struck out 29 batters in 21⅓ innings.

• The Mets are 23-14 in day games, while the Phillies are 19-27.

NFL Preseason Wrap: Both offenses sluggish in Giants win over Jets

NFL Preseason Wrap: Both offenses sluggish in Giants win over Jets

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a touchdown pass to Eric Decker and the New York Jets' defense stifled Eli Manning and the New York Giants' starters in a 21-20 preseason loss Saturday night.

Both teams' first-string offenses did very little in the last regular-season tuneup for most starters, but Fitzpatrick connected with Decker for a 22-yard score three plays after Darrelle Revis intercepted Manning on a pass intended for Odell Beckham Jr. in Giants territory in the second quarter.

Fitzpatrick finished 9 of 16 for 76 yards with the score and lost a fumble in the red zone before being replaced by Geno Smith just before halftime.

Manning was 10 of 15 for 65 yards and an interception while playing one series into the third quarter. The Giants' starters managed just 61 total yards against Todd Bowles' defense.

The Giants (1-2) didn't get past the 50-yard line until a facemask penalty on Brandon Bostick on a punt return put them at the Jets 47 with 2:36 left in the third quarter (see full recap).

Siemian solidifies QB job in Denver's 17-9 win over Rams
DENVER -- Trevor Siemian threw his first touchdown pass of the preseason and tightened his grip on the Denver Broncos' starting quarterback job in a 17-9 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday night.

After showing off his strong right arm over a first half that included a 1-yard pass to Virgil Green, Siemian accepted hugs from his teammates and gave way to rookie Paxton Lynch, who was also impressive in his half of play.

That left Mark Sanchez as the odd man out on this night and, plausibly, come cut-down day. If he's not on the 53-man roster, the Broncos will save $3.5 million and the seventh-round draft pick they would have owed the Eagles.

It was Sanchez's job to lose when training camp began and he's apparently done just that with a slew of turnovers in the preseason, although coach Gary Kubiak had steadfastly declined to name a starter up to this point.

An afterthought while taking just one snap - a kneel-down - as a rookie last season, Siemian has emerged as the best option to lead Denver's defense of its Super Bowl title with Peyton Manning on the links and Brock Osweiler in Houston (see full recap).

Smith, Chiefs look sharp in 23-7 victory over Bears
CHICAGO -- Alex Smith looked sharp in leading three scoring drives in the first half and the Kansas City Chiefs got a 23-7 preseason victory over the Chicago Bears on Saturday.

Smith completed 20 of 30 passes for 181 yards before Nick Foles came in to start the third quarter. The defense strangled Chicago's offense, and the Chiefs (1-2) came away with the win after dropping their first two exhibitions.

Kansas City has one more tuneup against Green Bay before opening against San Diego on Sept. 11. But in what is generally the final dress rehearsal for the starters, the Chiefs dominated.

"I certainly feel like we're ready as far as game speed, as far as getting the trials, getting enough plays," Smith said. "I felt like we got in a lot of different situations - the goal line, short yardage, red zone, got a little two-minute today. That's kind of what you want, I feel like, in the preseason."

Kansas City got two second-quarter field goals from Cairo Santos and a 1-yard touchdown run by Spencer Ware in the closing seconds of the half to take a 13-0 lead. But the score didn't reflect just how lopsided the game was (see full recap).

Mariota, Carr both sharp in Titans' 27-14 win over Raiders
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Marcus Mariota and Derek Carr look ready for the season to start after a successful preseason dress rehearsal.

Mariota led Tennessee to scores on all four drives he played and Carr threw two touchdown passes for Oakland and the Titans beat the Raiders 27-14 on Saturday night.

"All in all, guys have put in the work," Mariota said. "We've built a pretty solid offseason in the preseason. Now it's just putting it all together once the season starts."

With the starters getting their most playing time in the third week of the preseason, the offenses looked in midseason form while both first-team defenses struggled mightily.

That left Raiders coach Jack Del Rio frustrated, especially about a first-team run defense that couldn't slow down DeMarco Murray or Derrick Henry on the ground (see full recap).