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.

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Bryce Harper (knee) sits for Nats

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Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Bryce Harper (knee) sits for Nats

Bryce Harper is out of the Nationals' lineup Tuesday night after being hit in the knee by a Jeremy Hellickson pitch on Memorial Day.

Big break for the Phils considering Harper has hit .346 against them with three doubles, 11 home runs, 23 RBIs and 21 walks in his last 104 plate appearances against them.

It's an equally big break for Aaron Nola, against whom Harper is 6 for 10 with two homers (see game notes).

For the Phillies, Ryan Howard gets the start at first base against another right-hander, Washington's Joe Ross. Phillies fans are clamoring for more playing time for Tommy Joseph, but starting Howard against Ross does make some sense given how much better lefties have been against him (.295 BA) than righties (.209). Ross throws a ton of sinkers and sliders which make it tough on same-handed hitters.

1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Cameron Rupp, C
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Tyler Goeddel, LF
7. David Lough, RF
8. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
9. Aaron Nola, P

And for the Nationals:

1. Ben Revere, CF
2. Jayson Werth, RF
3. Daniel Murphy, 2B
4. Ryan Zimmerman, 1B
5. Clint Robinson, LF
6. Anthony Rendon, 3B
7. Wilson Ramos, C
8. Danny Espinosa, SS
9. Joe Ross, P

The Ryan Howard saga is hard to watch

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The Ryan Howard saga is hard to watch

It's difficult to feel sorry for a professional athlete who will have earned nearly $200 million in salary before his playing career ends at 37 years old. It's hard, but Ryan Howard is doing an outstanding job of making me feel bad anyway.

The statistics speak for themselves. As the calendar rolls over to June, Howard is batting .157 with more than twice as many strikeouts (52) as base hits (22). Debate rages as to whether the Phillies should hang on to the three-time All-Star for locker-room morale -- perhaps also in the desperate hopes they can still trade him -- or if they should just put The Big Piece out of his misery with an outright release.

There's no satisfying answer here. All I can say is I wish for it to be over.

Howard's decline has been one of the saddest to watch in recent Philly sports memory. From 2005 through 2011, he was the heart of the Phillies' order, belting 284 home runs and driving in 859 runs in six-and-a-half seasons, during the most successful run in franchise history. In 2016, Howard's bat can barely catch up to the ball, let alone knock it out of the infield.

Largely through no fault of his own. Howard has never been the same since rupturing his Achilles on the final at bat of the 2011 season. Sure, there were signs he was slowing down or that the rest of the league was catching up to him even then, averaging 32 homers between the '10-'11 seasons compared to 49.5 over '06-'09 -- but he was still hitting the ball at that point.

Since the injury, Howard's power hasn't necessarily dipped dramatically. It's his ability to hit the ball, period. From '04 to '11, he was a .275 hitter. After the injury, he's batting .226. This season has been especially trying, with the month of May bordering on the historic.

Of course, it's not news Howard's career was derailed by injuries. It's no secret he's been particularly awful this season. It's just harder than ever to watch.

Just how ineffective has Howard been in 2016? In retrospect, maybe the numbers don't quite do the struggle justice. Obviously, he isn't hitting, and he's striking out as frequently as ever. What's new this year is the percentage of fly balls that don't even make it out of the infield -- 12 percent, which is twice as high as any season in 13 Major League seasons.

What does it mean exactly? Howard's swing is so jacked right now that even when he does make contact, even when he doesn't hit a ball into the defensive shift, one in 10 times is essentially a harmless pop-up.

To his credit, Howard also has eight home runs this season, some of which have been big at bats or game-winners. He's also been hailed as a positive influence and leader in the clubhouse, an example this young group of Phillies can certainly benefit from.

Nor do I believe Howard really needs anybody to feel bad for him. He's worked hard and accomplished more than most ever will at his profession, and as a result is able to provide for his family and generations beyond. He's built a great legacy both on the baseball diamond, but one that no doubt extends beyond athletic prowess.

Yet none of that changes the fact that Howard's play has deteriorated to the point where he's become a black hole in the Phillies' lineup. It pains me to say that, to use this platform to write it -- just not as much as it pains me to watch it happening.

I'd love nothing more than for Howard to go on a tear and end his final season with the Phillies with head held high. It's the ending a legend like him deserves. Or better yet, improve his production to a level where a contender in the American League would sign Howard and give him one last crack at postseason baseball.

But short of that, I'd love nothing more for it to all be over, to not have to watch one of the great Phillies sluggers flail away every other or third day, or less as it soon may come to. It's not a matter of debate as to when or how that should happen. The sooner, the better.

10 observations from Tuesday's Eagles OTAs

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10 observations from Tuesday's Eagles OTAs

The Eagles wrapped up their Tuesday practice just before 12:30 p.m. under a hot summer-like sun.

Tuesday was the first day of four in the team’s final week of OTAs, which are voluntary. The mandatory minicamp starts next Tuesday and runs through next Thursday.

That’s when we might see Fletcher Cox and Darren Sproles, both of whom have been staying away from the team during the voluntary period. And that’s where we’ll start with today’s 10 observations:

1. With Cox still out, Mike Martin was again working with the first team at defensive tackle next to Bennie Logan, as he was last week. Two weeks ago, Taylor Hart was next to Logan at tackle. Martin was a depth piece in Tennessee and that’s how he’ll fit with the Eagles once Cox comes back.

Martin was also involved in the first little scuffle we’ve seen during these spring practices. Nothing too exciting … just a little shoving with left guard Allen Barbre.

2. Sproles is still out, but Ryan Mathews returned. Mathews missed the last practice opened to the media with an illness but participated Tuesday. The interesting thing was that Mathews didn’t get all the first-team reps. In fact, Kenjon Barner actually opened the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 portions of practice with the first team.

It’s early, but Barner has looked pretty good this spring. It’ll be interesting to see if he fits with the team. He’s ahead of rookie Wendell Smallwood now, but would the team really elect to keep him over a fifth-round pick? Or will the team be OK keeping four running backs again?

Another note: Rueben Randle (gallbladder surgery) is still out.

3. We saw a little trickery from Doug Pederson’s offense on Tuesday against no defense. First, Chase Daniel threw a lateral screen to Josh Huff, who threw down the right to Smallwood. Then, Carson Wentz threw a lateral pass to Nelson Agholor and then Wentz ran a route down the left sideline, but Agholor overthrew him.

Maybe the trick plays are just way to keep practice lighter, but it might also mean the offense is moving along nicely and installing more and more of the playbook. It’s a good sign.

4. Wentz was up and down on Tuesday, but his best completion came on a deep pass down the right sideline to wideout Xavier Rush (who is a candidate for best name on the team). Rush wrestled the ball away from corner C.J. Smith, who should know Wentz pretty well. The two played together at North Dakota State.

Meanwhile, Sam Bradford had a shaky day, throwing several balls that could have been picked off.

5. Again, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks — the two Jim Schwartz guys in the secondary — were working with the first team. On Tuesday, Eric Rowe was the extra corner on the field in the nickel. When Rowe came in, Brooks shifted into the slot. It still looks like Nolan Carroll isn’t yet allowed to practice during team portions.

On the first play of 11 on 11s, Brooks broke up a pass from Bradford that was then picked off by Rodney McLeod and taken the other way. Not a good throw from Bradford, but Brooks was aggressive and jumped it.

6. Down by the goal line during the team period, Malcolm Jenkins made a nice play to get in front of a pass, but couldn’t pick it off. He’s in midseason form. Jenkins had a great year in 2015, but really struggled to intercept balls that he had in his hands.

7. Jordan Hicks didn’t participate in 7 on 7s or 11 on 11s Tuesday. Two weeks ago, he sat out with tightness in his legs, but returned last week. On Tuesday, with Hicks watching, Najee Goode filled in at first-team MIKE, flanked by Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks.

8. Chase Daniel overthrew two balls badly within a few plays during the 11-on-11 drills, but then capped off a drive by dropping a ball into the hands of wideout Paul Turner in the back of the end zone. Decent day for Daniel.

9. The Eagles ran some scout team looks for the first time (that we’ve seen) on Tuesday. Daniel ran the scout team, which makes sense. Normally, it would be the third-string quarterback, but Wentz probably has plenty on his plate. Not sure whom the offense was mimicking, but the two pinnies were Nos. 88 and 82. Perhaps the Cowboys?

10. At one point on Tuesday, the offense started to use a tempo offense, giving everyone in attendance flashbacks to Chip. Well, not exactly. The up-tempo didn’t last long and it did produce the ugliest Wentz pass since he’s been with the team.

We are seeing plenty of interesting looks from the Eagles. At times they’ve been using formations with three tight ends. And they even showed some designed quarterback runs on Tuesday. The progression and complexity of this offense is starting to be revealed by these practices, and it’s something to keep an eye on.

Stupid Observation of the Day: Punter Donnie Jones has begun to wear a pretty sweet white and blue bucket hat at practice when he’s not wearing his helmet. Only a punter could get away with this. Here, you can see him in the background from last week.