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.

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

BOX SCORE

Brett Brown was ready to do it Wednesday night. The matchup against the Kings presented an opportunity to experiment with playing Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together. That pairing had to wait two days, though, after the Kings game was postponed

On Friday, Embiid and Okafor shared the court for just under 13 minutes in the Sixers' 105-88 loss to the Magic (see Instant Replay), who also rolled out a duo of bigs in Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic. 

“I thought we had our moments,” Embiid said. “We shared the ball, we made shots. Obviously we need to play more together and learn how to play with each other.”

Embiid and Okafor first played together for 5:29 in the second quarter. They scored all of the Sixers' 12 points during that time, including a pair of threes by Embiid. They also combined for five boards. The Sixers outscored the Magic, 12-9, with the bigs in together.

The benefits of the floor spacing was apparent. Oftentimes in the game, Okafor could be seen open at the basket with a hand up for the ball while Embiid was also getting looks from long range. 

“I liked our spacing, I liked the high-low stuff we were doing,” Brown said. “I think when you post Joel, that Jahlil is going to play sort of hide-and-seek on the other side of the floor, and work that low zone, and become — I hope — a potent offensive rebounder. When you post Jahlil, Joel has the ability to space to three.”

Brown turned to Embiid and Okafor again in the fourth. At that point, the Magic had a 23-point lead. Their next 7:25 together was a chance to give them a long run in live game action. They combined for another 12 points and four rebounds. All of their buckets were layups, dunks or free throws. Both teams scored 19 points with Embiid and Okafor in that segment.

Both Embiid and Okafor finished the game with double-doubles: 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for Embiid; 16 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks for Okafor. 

“I thought they played well together,” Vucevic said. “I thought it was tough to guard them because they’re both really good offensively.”

Okafor credited his friendship with Embiid, which dates back to high school, as a key to coexisting well on the court. Both emphasized their off-the-court relationship would help them in a game situation. 

“I think the communication piece went really well,” Okafor said. “He was talking to me, I was talking to him.”

Scoring and communication always seemed to be the easier parts of the pairing to tackle. Defense, though, was the challenge given that one of the centers would have to guard the four spot. Okafor noted their transition D as an area that needs improvement.

“We’re both used to going right to the rim,” Okafor said. “I think I had a couple easy buckets. That’s something we’ll be able to fix.” 

Brown had based his decision of when to play Embiid and Okafor together on the matchups. While the two could boast their own edge on the offensive end, Brown didn’t want to play them in a scenario in which they’d be at a huge defensive disadvantage. 

“It’s not offense to me, it’s defense. That’s the thing that is most challenging,” Brown said. “We want to play fast. We want to put points on the board. You don’t want to play in the 80s. You don’t want to do that, that’s not our sport anymore. So you want to make sure that you're capable of guarding the opposition.”

Vucevic noticed the challenge from an opposing perspective. He understands the necessary changes since playing alongside Biyombo.  

“It takes time for them to get adjusted, especially for the guy that will be playing the four defensively,” Vucevic said. “They’re not used to that because they always back down to the paint guarding the fives. It’s a different look. They have to work on it, communicate, and I think they’ll be fine.” 

On a night with few highlights in a 17-point blowout loss, Brown was able to take away a positive from this anticipated duo.

"I thought Jahlil and Joel did a really good job," he said. 

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Joel Embiid didn’t see four quarters of basketball from the Sixers in their 105-88 loss to the Magic Friday night (see Instant Replay). Their efforts were inconsistent as they fell flat in long stretches and allowed the Magic to build up double-digit leads as high as 29 points.

The Sixers gave up a 16-0 run in the first and shot just 6 for 26 (23.1 percent) in the quarter. The Magic, who had lost a one-point game to the Grizzlies in Memphis the night before, rallied together to seize this opportunity.

“They just made a lot of shots that we didn’t,” Embiid said. “That’s the game, but we didn’t play hard all 48 minutes and we need to do a better job next time.”

The Sixers didn’t break 30 points until 4:33 to go in the second and attempted just two free throws in the first half. By the end of the third, the Magic had a 21-point lead which they held on to with in ease in the fourth. 

The Magic outshot the Sixers on all areas of the floor: 47.4 percent to 37.9 from the field and 50.0 to 28.1 from three. While the teams had nearly equal percentages from the line, the Magic shot 18 for 26 compared to only 7 for 10 from the Sixers. 

“They missed a lot of shots,” Magic forward Jeff Green said. “We got stops, were aggressive, guys just played hard and created for one another and played as a team.”

Covington injured
The Sixers are waiting to learn more news on the extent of Robert Covington’s injury. In the fourth quarter, Covington exited and did not return after suffering a left knee sprain when he collided with T.J. McConnell chasing a loose ball in front of the Sixers’ bench. If the starting small forward has to miss time, Sixers head coach Brett Brown is thinking ahead to possible lineup changes. 

“We'll try to figure out what his next week represents,” Brown said. “If we aren't with him, maybe there's a chance we can look at Dario [Saric] a little bit at the three.”

Covington is averaging 8.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals in 27.5 minutes per game. Saric has been coming off the bench at power forward behind Ersan Ilyasova. He started 10 games earlier this season at the four spot. 

Embiid honored
The Sixers honored Embiid during a timeout for being named NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month (October and November). Embiid was appreciative of the award and has his sights set on the bigger picture this season.

“All the hard work I’ve put in, it feels great,” Embiid said earlier in the day at shootaround. “Obviously, maybe the bigger picture is Rookie of the Year, that’s what matters. … I don’t have my mind set on that. But if I can get it, that would be nice.”

Brown sees this recent showing as just a glimpse into what Embiid will be able to do over his career. Embiid leads the Sixers with 18.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. 

“This in infant stages, early days for him,” Brown said. “His body of work, given his lack of playing basketball, really is jaw-dropping for what I think he can be. To jump in and get rookie of the month I think is a real, sort of, quick snapshot view of him now. I think what he’s going to be is going to be extremely special.”

Embiid also is shooting 51.4 percent from three, including 3 for 5 against the Magic. When asked if he would like to participate in the three-point contest All-Star weekend, he said "it would be nice" and noted he would have to work on the speed of his release.