Simon Gagne Joins Mike Richards in Los Angeles; Vokoun to DC for 1.5M

Simon Gagne Joins Mike Richards in Los Angeles; Vokoun to DC for 1.5M

Two former faces of the Flyers have today find themselves teammates again. After Simon Gagne was firmly asked to waive his no-trade clause last off-season, he was dealt to Tampa Bay, where he spent 2010-2011. This off-season, with a year left before his own no-trade clause kicked in, Mike Richards was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings. Now, Flyers nostalgists have another reason adopt LA as their Western Conference team this season. Already dubbed Flyers West, the Kings added another former Broad Streeter today, signing Gagne to a 2-year, $7 million deal.

I'm still a fan of both players and felt kinda bad for each in how their tenures in Philly ended, so I wouldn't mind seeing them succeed together in another uniform. Just as long as they don't win a Cup before the Flyers…

CAPS SIGN VOKOUN FOR A SONG
Elsewhere, Tomas Vokoun, considered by many to be the second best free agent goalie on this summer's market (others say he was the best), signed for a deal scant in dollars and years. The 35-year-old netminder was inked by the Washington Capitals for just 1 year at $1.5 million.

What the what?

Back here in Philly, there'll no doubt be questions as to whether the Flyers might have been better off keeping their core team intact, going with Vokoun in a short-term, cost-effective deal, and letting Sergei Bobrovsky work his way up to being a starter down the road. At the very least, it re-opens the question as to whether the Flyers overpaid for Ilya Bryzgalov, even if he was their choice among this year's crop.

It sounds possible enough on the surface, but perhaps above all else, the Flyers really wanted the sea change we've witnessed this summer, including a long-term answer in net. If so, they have likely achieved those goals. The sum total of their moves seem to indicate a desire to turn over the roster and strengthen a few key areas that they considered weaknesses, all while adding some youth. Their activity in free agency also showed some market awareness, particularly their nabbing Jaromir Jagr as a cheaper, lower-risk replacement for Ville Leino, who wanted a deal they had no business touching.

But did they know Vokoun would be had for so little? I'm not sure anyone saw that one coming, not at that rate. I certainly don't remember anyone suggesting that Vokoun could be had for a lower cap hit than either Bobrovsky or Michael Leighton.

Nice nab by the Caps here, who also pulled in a first and second when they dealt goalie Semyon Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche. Considering the Avalanche were the second worst team in the league last season, that first-round pick could likely be a high one. While the Flyers attacked the market before it opened, targeting and acquiring the goalie of their choice, the Caps waited it out—a riskier proposition but one they were comfortable with, having Michal Neuvirth already in the fold. Despite Bryzgalov setting the market at a high number with a lot of years, there wasn't much demand for the next guy on the list.

Personally, there's been so much change that I think it's clear the Flyers' brass wanted more than just tweaks this season. In retrospect, that may have involved overpaying for their top target in a goalie market that wasn't very competitive, nor crowded with top talent. At the time, however, many thought the deal was reasonable enough and not a crippling cap hit for a top goalie in free agency. The long duration was needed to keep the total manageable on an annual basis. After the goalie market shook out? Not quite as reasonable.

These moves don't occur in a vacuum though. A team needs to start somewhere, prioritizing its top needs and targeting solutions. Waiting out the market can have its benefits, but it obviously brings the risk of missing out on your targets. Despite there being less of a market for goalies this summer, the raising of the salary cap floor could have meant that a team would throw their delta money at a guy like Vokoun. The Caps felt comfortable enough with what they had to wait and see, and they got a nice deal with a talented goalie as a result. For the Flyers, the mandate to improve in net came straight from the top. There would be no waiting.

I'm not going to spend too much time second-guessing it at this point (and not just because my vacation started today). With Vokoun just down 95 in another Eastern Conference powerhouse, we'll have every opportunity to evaluate Bryzgalov vs. Vokoun in a relatively head-to-head fashion, with obvious caveats.

Right now I'm just eager to see the new team on the ice and find out if the front office had the right overall idea, and got the right players to execute it. More than a week after the chips started flying, I still haven't fully wrapped my head around this off-season.

Photo by Dale Zanine-US Presswire

Instant Replay: Nuggets 106, Sixers 98

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USA Today Images

Instant Replay: Nuggets 106, Sixers 98

BOX SCORE

The Sixers were shorthanded against the Nuggets and it showed.

Playing without Jahlil Okafor, Robert Covington and Jerryd Bayless (see below), the Sixers didn’t get enough throughout the game from their offensive leader Joel Embiid. He finished with 17 points, but scored only seven through the first three quarters. 

The Nuggets’ second-half push led them to a 106-98 victory over the Sixers. 

How it happened
The Sixers led 27-18 after the first quarter and led by 10 with 3:27 to go in the first half. The Nuggets, however, closed out the second quarter on an 11-3 run. Jamal Murray scored 14 points in the quarter. 

The Sixers faltered in the third as the Nuggets outscored them 23-17. They shot 5 for 19 (26.3 percent) from the field, including 0 for 6 from Embiid, who scored one point off a free throw. Danilo Gallinari and Will Barton combined for 17 of the Nuggets’ points. After only committing five turnovers in the first half, the Sixers committed seven in the third quarter alone. They dropped to 0-11 when trailing after three.

The Nuggets opened the fourth quarter on a 5-0 run. The Sixers were left chasing down the stretch. Embiid drained a three with 1:15 remaining to bring the Sixers within four, but that wasn’t enough. The Nuggets held them off to improve to 8-14 while they Sixers dropped to 4-17. 

Inside the box score
• Embiid struggled for most of the game, shooting 2 for 11 from the field through the third quarter. He totaled 16 points on 5 of 15 shooting. Embiid did record a career-high five blocks, but also had three turnovers.

• Dario Saric followed up Saturday’s double-double with another strong performance: 17 points on 6 of 12 shooting and eight rebounds.

• Ersan Ilyasova (eight rebounds) and Sergio Rodriguez (seven assists) also scored 17 points each.

• The Nuggets were led by a season-high 24 points from Gallinari. Barton dropped 22 points and eight rebounds, while Murray also scored 22 points off the bench. 

(Lots of) injury updates
Okafor missed the game because of gastroenteritis and will not travel to Memphis. Covington was out his second game in a row with a left knee sprain. Bayless sat out his fifth straight game with left wrist soreness. 

Nelson applauded
St. Joe’s alum Jameer Nelson received a warm welcome from the Sixers’ crowd when he checked in for the Nuggets. The 13th-year NBA veteran was a leader on the 2003-04 Hawks team that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and went 27-0 in the regular season. Nelson played high school basketball in Chester, PA. On another St. Joe’s note, Nelson’s former teammate Dwayne Jones has been helping the Sixers rebound during shooting drills at practice and pregame warmups. 

Up next
The Sixers are traveling to Memphis Monday night to play the Grizzlies (13-8) on Tuesday. The team will continue on to New Orleans to face the Pelicans (7-14) Thursday.

Cesar Hernandez remains a person of interest as Phillies look to improve

Cesar Hernandez remains a person of interest as Phillies look to improve

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Phillies have completed the signing of veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit to a one-year, $7.5 million contract (see story). The deal could be announced Tuesday and will require the club removing a player from the already-full 40-man roster.

Benoit is one of three additions that the Phils have made to their bullpen this offseason — the club traded for veteran right-hander Pat Neshek and picked up lefty David Rollins on waivers — and more will likely come, probably on minor-league contracts, before the team reports to spring training.

Now that the bullpen has been addressed, let’s take a look at what could be next for the Phillies this winter.

• The addition of Benoit could create enough back-end bullpen depth that GM Matt Klentak could look to trade either Jeanmar Gomez or Hector Neris. Gomez saved 37 games in 2016, but struggled down the stretch. Neris showed great promise in recording a 2.58 ERA and striking out 11.4 batters per nine innings in 79 games in 2016. The hard-throwing righty is young (27), talented and inexpensive so the Phils would have to be overwhelmed by an offer to move him. Last year, Klentak moved a young closer in Ken Giles for a significant return from Houston, so he has history in making these types of moves.

• In addition to more potential comings and goings in the bullpen, the Phils will look to add a backup infielder and maybe a backup catcher in the coming weeks. Andres Blanco could return as that extra infielder. A.J. Ellis could return as the catcher. But nothing is firm. In fact, Klentak hinted Monday that he’d be comfortable bringing Andrew Knapp up from Triple A to be the backup catcher next season.

“I don’t think we need a veteran backup catcher,” Klentak said. “If it works out, we’re open-minded to that. But Andrew Knapp just finished his age 25 season in Triple A. He has a full year of at-bats in Triple A. At some point for both he and (Jorge) Alfaro, we’re going to have to find out what those guys can do at the big-league level. During the 2017 season, we’ll have to find out — not just about those two guys — but others.”

• One of the biggest remaining issues facing Phillies management this winter centers around the outfield and the offense. Basically, Klentak and his advisers are weighing the merits of adding another veteran hitter — the club already traded for Howie Kendrick — to improve the offense or giving a significant playing opportunity to a promising youngster and potential future core piece such as Roman Quinn in what currently projects to be one opening in the outfield.

“That topic is the one that we have spent the most time discussing, not just here but this offseason, about striking the right balance between adding a veteran bat or veteran free agent to this team to make our team better, but again, not taking playing time away from players that need the playing time.

“That’s part of the dynamic that we have to consider there. Roman Quinn came up at the end of the year and, at times, looked like a legitimate major-league contributor. But we also have to be mindful of the fact that he hasn’t logged a single at-bat at Triple A yet.

“This doesn’t have an obvious answer. We are continuing to talk about trade acquisitions and talk to agents for free agents to see if the right opportunity exists to blend all those factors together. But what we do not want to do is bring in so many veterans that we are denying opportunities to our young players.”

This brings us to a situation that could potentially satisfy the team’s desire to improve the offense without taking away a playing opportunity from Quinn.

J.D. Martinez of the Detroit Tigers is an outfield bat that the Phillies like. They like his production and the fact that he’s signed for just 2017. In other words, he wouldn’t block a young prospect’s pathway to the majors, at least for long.

Martinez, owed $11.75 million, which is very affordable for the Phillies, is a serious trade candidate for the cost-cutting Tigers and the Phillies have spoken to Tigers officials, dating to the early part of the offseason.

According to sources, the Phillies and Tigers could be a trade fit if the Tigers were to deal second baseman Ian Kinsler. If the Tigers move Kinsler, they could look to move Martinez to the Phillies for second baseman Cesar Hernandez. Phillies officials have said they are in no hurry to deal Hernandez, but the team does have depth at second with a pair of prospects (Scott Kingery and Jesmuel Valentin) on the way and a ready-made stopgap in Kendrick at the position. 

So keep an eye on Kinsler. If he moves, the Phillies could pursue the veteran bat that would make their offense better. And it would not cost Quinn an opportunity as he could play left field with Kendrick moving to second.