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.

Chooch was 'a fireball,' says Ryan Howard, last of the '08 Phillies

Chooch was 'a fireball,' says Ryan Howard, last of the '08 Phillies

NEW YORK — Phillies players were greeted by a message from Carlos Ruiz when they entered the visiting clubhouse at Citi Field on Friday.

“I will miss all of you guys. Good luck the rest of the season. Love you all, Chooch! Gracias,” (see story).

Ruiz did not actually write those words on the whiteboard by the entry to the clubhouse, but they were his. He reached out to visiting clubhouse manager Tony Carullo and asked that the message be written in just that way.

Ruiz, 37, was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday, ending an 11-season run with the Phillies that included five NL East titles, a World Series championship, an All-Star Game, a slew of clutch hits, many words of praise from the pitching staff and a million calls of Choooooch from fans in the stands (see story).

“Everybody loved Chooch for a number of reasons,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He’s the kind of guy you loved seeing every day, a hard-working, humble and appealing human being.

“I’d like to think when he’s done playing, the Phillies might have a place for him.”

Mackanin paused and laughed.

“As long as they don’t make him manager and he takes my job.”

Ruiz’s exit leaves Ryan Howard as the only member of the 2008 World Series championship team still with the club. Over the last few seasons, Howard has seen Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels and Chase Utley depart.

It’s a topic that Howard seems to have grown weary of talking about.

“I've had to hear about it every year,” he said. “It's again the same thing. You play with guys your entire career and now you see them in different uniforms. It's definitely going to be something to get used to but that's baseball. That's the business aspect of it. Teams make moves and that's what happens.”

Like the rest of the core of that team, Howard, 36, has been available for trade the last few seasons, but there has been no real interest because of his decline in performance and huge salary.

So he will play out the final six weeks of his contract and try to hook on elsewhere next season.

Howard saluted his former teammate, Ruiz.

“I'm trying to think of the right words,” he said.

“The thing about Chooch — he was the quarterback in a sense. The way he handled the pitching staff, the way he prepared himself for games with the pitchers, from the defensive standpoint knowing different situations, knowing what guy you want to beat you, what guy you don't want to beat you. Just the way he played the game, he was a fireball. He was a fireball out there. I'm definitely going to miss him. I hit him up yesterday a little bit after I found out. I was happy for him and wanted to wish him the best.

“Chooch, he was always very, very positive. Always trying to help guys out, trying to pick guys up when he can and it carried over onto the field. That was his mentality.”

The Phillies acquired veteran backup catcher A.J. Ellis, minor-league pitcher Tommy Bergjans and a player to be named later for Ruiz (see story). Ellis is due to join the team Saturday. In the meantime, the Phillies added prospect Jorge Alfaro from Double A (see story). He will be the backup catcher Friday night, then return to a talent-rich Reading club that has the best record in minor-league baseball and a date with the Eastern League playoffs.

Jordan Matthews sticks up for beleaguered Eagles wide receivers

Jordan Matthews sticks up for beleaguered Eagles wide receivers

Jordan Matthews is probably the only Eagles wide receiver you feel remotely good about right now.

Nelson Agholor and Josh Huff are draft picks who haven’t accomplished much yet. Rueben Randle and Chris Givens are veteran offseason pickups who’ve shown little this preseason (see story). Dorial Green-Beckham is a former second-round pick whose first team gave up on him after just one year.

It’s not a group that inspires a whole lot of confidence right now. 

Potential? Sure. But opening day is 16 days away, there’s only one preseason game left for the starters to play, Sam Bradford has two guys to throw to — Matthews and Zach Ertz — and potential is a scary word at this point.

Matthews isn’t a superstar at this point. He’s a solid pro who seems to be getting better. His 1,862 yards are 10th most in NFL history after two seasons. 

But compared to the Eagles’ other receivers, he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

He's got credibility and because of that the 24-year-old Matthews has become a spokesman for the entire group. And this past week, two games into the preseason, he found himself in the position of having to defend this entire beleaguered bunch of wide receivers the Eagles have put together.

“The funniest thing is last year [the receivers] played extremely well in the preseason, got into the season, didn’t play well, and everybody’s like, 'Preseason doesn’t matter,'" Matthews said.

"Then the first preseason game we don’t play well, everybody’s like, 'The preseason matters, you guys suck!' Hold on … I thought it didn’t matter. You know what I’m saying?”

What he's saying is it's too early to write this group off. Maybe Huff and Agholor and Randle and Givens — or whichever among them makes the team — will turn it on once the regular season begins.

But going into the Colts game Saturday evening at Lucas Oil Stadium, the numbers are not pretty.

Huff and Randle both have three catches for 13 yards. Agholor has two catches for 30 yards. Givens is 0 for 0.

Matthews hasn’t played yet in the preseason because of a knee injury, and the next four receivers have a combined 56 receiving yards in two preseason games.

Paul Turner, an undrafted rookie, leads the group with nine catches for 78 yards. 

Improvement? Matthews sees it.

“I take this approach,” Matthews said this week. “Every rep counts. And so if every rep counts, what are we trying to do? We’re trying to do better the next rep, and I felt like guys took steps forward for the next rep. And that’s the main thing you always want to see, that improvement.

“I understand it’s the NFL, I understand obviously people are going to say you get paid a lot of money to do one thing, but I’ll tell you what, I know the guys in that room, they want to do well. None of those guys went into that game wanting to mess up or not put their best foot forward.”

Probably no recent draft pick has infuriated Eagles fans as much as Agholor. Well, other than maybe Marcus Smith and Danny Watkins. And Lane Johnson maybe.

But it’s tough for some to be patient with Agholor when Jeremy Maclin had 773 yards as a rookie, DeSean Jackson had 912 and Matthews had 872.

Heck, even Reggie Brown (571 yards) and undrafted Hank Baskett (464) were factors as rookie wideouts.

Agholor’s 283 yards last season rank tied for 27th out of 32 wide receivers drafted in the first round over the past 10 years.

But he has a big-time supporter in Matthews.

“I felt like the jump he made from the first game to the second game [was significant]," Matthews said "Even the stuff you don’t see. Blocking? [Darren] Sproles caught a short pass and Nelson turned his route around … he ran a great route, got open, turned around, blocked and probably sprung Sproles for another 10, 15 yards.

“He had another bubble situation where he had to block for Josh and he did. Definitely better than the first game, and that’s what you want to see. That’s the biggest thing. And it gets lost in the shuffle.”

That Sproles play, a 21-yard gain, was called back because of a penalty on rookie guard Isaac Seumalo.

But Matthews is passionate when he talks about how Agholor’s lack of production as a rookie doesn’t mean anything moving forward.

“I don’t know if y’all know this, but I love Jordy Nelson (Packers Pro Bowl receiver),” Matthews said. “I love him. One of my favorite receivers. Jordy Nelson didn’t have 1,000 yards till Year 4.

“Let’s put it in perspective. Guys get better. And I feel like that’s what I want to see from my group. Are guys getting better?

“There’s two things that I really look for from my group — attitude and effort. And do Nelson and Chris and Josh and those guys bring great attitude and effort?

“Yes. That’s what I want to see, and I feel that’s what we’ve shown.”

Soul's Clint Dolezel shares Coach of the Year award with Rattlers' Kevin Guy

Soul's Clint Dolezel shares Coach of the Year award with Rattlers' Kevin Guy

For the third time in five seasons, the Soul and Arizona Rattlers will compete in the ArenaBowl. Prior to Friday night's 7 p.m. matchup, the leaders of both squads, Soul coach Clint Dolezel and Rattlers coach Kevin Guy, were each named Marcum Moss Coach of the Year.

Dolezel and Guy will share the award but not the ArenaBowl trophy, which the Soul haven't won since their lone triumph in 2008 over the San Jose Sabercats. Dolezel, who has been at the helm since August 2012, led the Soul to the ArenaBowl in 2012 and 2013 but lost to the Rattlers on both occasions.

This season, Dolezel, who spent over a decade as a quarterback in the AFL, coached the Soul to a 13-3 regular-season record. The team advanced to the ArenaBowl with a dramatic win in the American Conference championship game over the Jacksonville Sharks.

Dolezel also earned the Coach of the Year award last season for guiding the Soul to a 15-3 overall mark and a conference championship game appearance.

“Without a question, Clint is one of the best offensive minds in AFL history,” Soul majority owner Ron Jaworski said in a press release. “His success is attributed to a great deal of preparation and hard work. To make a playoff appearance every year as a head coach shows his dedication and willingness to win.”