Who’s to Blame for the Sergei Bobrovsky Debacle?

Who’s to Blame for the Sergei Bobrovsky Debacle?

You may have missed it, because the NHL for some reason thought it would be a good idea to announce their individual award winners over a weekend in June, but Sergei Bobrovsky did in fact take home this season’s Vezina Trophy. He beat out Antti Niemi. He eclipsed Henrik Lundqvist.

Bobrovsky is the best goaltender in all the land. And the Flyers traded him to Columbus last summer.

The trade was perfectly logical in context. The franchise signed Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million contract, blocking Bob in the process. They kept him around for one more year, but there was no sense in allowing a 24-year-old prospect to languish on the bench most nights, not when the Blue Jackets were willing to send a second-round pick and two fourths to acquire his services.

While we’re at it, we should probably add the disclaimer that Bobrovsky most likely would not have won the Vezina had he played for Philly this year. I can’t speak for the Columbus blueliners, but it’s hard to believe they could have been more dysfunctional than the Flyers’ defensemen were in 2013. This is a club that had much bigger problems than who was in goal.

None of which means the franchise wouldn’t be better off if Bob were still around, especially given the ongoing debate as to whether the team should amnesty Bryzgalov. Signing Bryz in the first place was the real misstep in all of this. The front office painted itself into a corner with that huge deal when a better option might have been on the roster all along.

(Oddly enough, that’s precisely the type of situation we’re hoping they can avoid by NOT using a buyout.)

The only question left to ask is who do we blame? The answer might not be so simple, because the situation was handled poorly all around. Peter Laviolette, Paul Holmgren, and Ed Snider all played a direct role in the abrupt end to Bobrovsky’s development in Orange & Black. Now which one of them should step up and claim ultimate responsibility for this mess?

Peter Laviolette

Why Lavvy? He doesn’t hand out the contracts or pick the players.

Because his mishandling of the netminder issue set off the organizational panic in the first place. Bobrovsky had himself a fine rookie year for the Flyers in 2010-11. He appeared in 54 games during the regular season, posting a 28-13-8 record, .915 save percentage, and 2.59 goals against average – nothing incredible, but promising.

Bob’s performance began to slip a little down the stretch though, and at the first sign of trouble in the playoffs, the head coach yanked him. After losing a tight Game 1 in their first-round series against Buffalo, Bobrovsky got the early hook in Game 2, and would only start one more game during the entire postseason.

It appeared even then Laviolette’s decision may have been rash, especially considering the other option were Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton. Now it was obviously the wrong move to lose faith in Bob so easily.

Paul Holmgren

Homer, it seems, was merely taking orders – more on that in a moment – to end the goalie controversy once and for all. The easiest way to do that is for the general manager to go out and sign or trade for a player who will be “the man.” That would be Bryzgalov.

The mistake here was negotiating a nine-year contract, making it impossible Bobrovsky would ever see the light of day for the Flyers again. Lavvy actually played Bob quite a bit early on during Bryz’s first season in Philly, but simple math – $51 million to be exact – dictated there could never be a true competition, that the young guy would never get a fair shake at all.

There was an admittedly thin market for goaltenders during the 2011 offseason, but signing one that forced the franchise’s hand in writing off Bob as a potential long-term solution was a questionable move then, and the absolutely wrong decision in hindsight.

Ed Snider

There’s no denying Snider’s comments after the Flyers' humiliating sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins in round two were the impetus behind the Bryzgalov deal. Let’s revisit those:

Told that the fan base was lamenting about needing a true No. 1 goalie for a few decades, Snider fired back: “I want one, too.”

He paused.

“So either one of the goalies we have has to step up in training camp, or we have to make improvements to make sure it happens. But we are NEVER going to go through the goalie issues we’ve gone through in the last couple of years again.”

Never is a long time – certainly much longer than the nine years Bryz agreed to. The club chairman wanted a No. 1 goaltender though, and (theoretically at least) he got it.

Snider also said Bobrovsky was the club’s goaltender of the future in the same interview, so Holmgren is still the person responsible for signing Bryzgalov to that contract. However, this speaks to a broader problem within the organization, that being their impatience, and since coaches and GM’s come and go with some regularity, that trait appears to start from the top. Young, developing talents are frequently jettisoned in favor of quick-fix veterans, and while the Flyers are almost always competitive as a result, the flip side is quality players get away and wind up tearing it up with other franchises for many years.

I’m not sure anybody could have predicted Bob was going to win the Vezina the first season after he was traded, especially in Columbus of all places. But even at the time, giving Bobrovsky one year to prove himself, and yanking the rug out from under him in the playoffs anyway, was not the most prudent series of decisions that could have been made.

Since we can’t go back in time and correct it, all we can do now is point fingers.

Phillies-Cubs 5 things: Getting Vince Velasquez back on track

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Phillies-Cubs 5 things: Getting Vince Velasquez back on track

Phillies (26-23) at Cubs (33-14)
2:20 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies have lost back-to-back games to the MLB-best Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field and on Sunday afternoon, they'll look to salvage a victory in the series finale.

Here are five things to get you ready for the ballgame:

1. Avoiding a sweep
Phillies fans had losing shoved down their throats for long stretches last season. This season has been much different … at least until the last three series.

With Saturday's loss, the Phils have lost three consecutive series for the first time in 2016 and will look to avoid their first sweep since their opening series in Cincinnati. The 4-1 victory by the Cubs was the Phillies' fourth loss in five games. They haven't lost five of six since September 2015. 

Meanwhile, the Cubs have won four straight games after losing eight of 12 games in mid-May. A win Sunday would give Chicago its fourth win streak of at least four games already in 2016. 

If that doesn't underline how tough a task the Phillies have ahead of them, Sunday's starter will do the trick.

2. Solving Lackey
John Lackey doesn't have the pizzazz of a Jake Arrieta or Jon Lester, but the veteran righty has been a consistent force in the Cubs' rotation. Coming over from the rival Cardinals in free agency, Lackey has a 4-2 record with a 3.38 ERA in nine starts in 2016.

However, the underlying numbers have been even better. He's completed six innings in all but one start and has seven quality starts. He has 61 strikeouts compared to just 13 walks and 45 hits in 61⅓ innings. 

Lackey has been a workhorse for the Cubs and has struck out at least five batters in each of his last four starts. 

The good news for Phillies fans? Despite Lackey's solid numbers, the Cubs have lost four of his nine starts.

3. Getting back on track
At 23 years old, it's tough to expect Vince Velasquez to be an ace all season, even if he may fill that role at some point in the not-so-distant future. 

So Velasquez's relatively minor struggles over his last few starts shouldn't worry fans as a sign of things to come. In Detroit, the flamethrowing righty could only complete four innings while giving up three home runs. While he struck out 10 and gave up no runs the start before against Miami, he failed to get past the fifth inning.

Those two starts came after consecutive outings where Velasquez gave up four runs in six innings. His last quality start came May 1, although it's tough to call his game against the Marlins anything but impressive.

While he's faced some strong lineups like the Mets and Nationals, the Cubs are a force Velasquez hasn't dealt with quite yet. He has no career numbers against the Cubs' probable starters, a group that has combined to be one of baseball's top offenses in 2016.

4. Who's on first?
Ryan Howard's final season in Philadelphia has been a grind to say the least. The veteran first baseman has just six hits in 58 at-bats in May and has just a .154 batting average this year. Howard's eight home runs have been a bright spot, but he doesn't have a homer since May 11.

Howard has three hits (two home runs) in 16 career at-bats against Lackey. But with right-handed first baseman Tommy Joseph excelling in his first big-league action, manager Pete Mackanin may turn to the rookie Sunday, as Howard tries to end his slump.

5. This and that
• Obubel Herrera is 3 for 4 in his only career appearances against Lackey. Maikel Franco is 2 for 3 against the righty.

• The Phillies are 3-0 in the final game of road trips this year … and 3-0 in the final game of homestands, too. 

• The Cubs have not swept the Phillies in Chicago since 1995.

Brian Carroll's goal in 92nd minute gives Union draw with Rapids

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Brian Carroll's goal in 92nd minute gives Union draw with Rapids

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. -- Brian Carroll tied it in 92nd minute and the Union escaped with a 1-1 draw with the Colorado Rapids in a showdown of the Western and Eastern conference leaders.

Carroll ran underneath Fabian Herbers' high-arching header and slotted the finish under goalkeeper Zac MacMath from close range.

The Union (5-3-5) responded only 5 minutes after the Rapids (8-2-4) opened the scoring on Sam Cronin's header in the 87th minute. Cronin made a deep run to connect with Marlon Hairston's cross from the right flank, redirecting it into the far corner of the goal.

Both Dillon Powers and Luis Solignac had shots crash off the crossbar for the Rapids after the 70th minute.

The Union extended their unbeaten streak to seven while the Rapids stayed unbeaten in their nine home games this season.

Chase Utley haunts Mets in Dodgers' rout at Citi Field

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Chase Utley haunts Mets in Dodgers' rout at Citi Field

NEW YORK -- Chase Utley hit a grand slam and a solo homer after Noah Syndergaard threw a 99 mph fastball behind his back, and the Los Angeles Dodgers went deep a season-high five times in routing the New York Mets 9-1 on Saturday night.

In a scene that seemed inevitable since October, Syndergaard was immediately ejected following the third-inning pitch -- almost certainly his shot at retaliation against Utley for the late takeout slide that broke the right leg of then-Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada in last year's playoffs.

Plate umpire Adam Hamari tossed Syndergaard, sending Mets manager Terry Collins into a rage, but no trouble ensued between the teams. A longtime New York nemesis, Utley raised one hand slightly in the direction of the Dodgers' bench to keep teammates calm -- and later answered by doing all sorts of damage with his bat.

Kenta Maeda (4-3) shook off an early line drive that appeared to hit him in the pitching hand and threw five shutout innings for the win. The right-hander yielded two hits, both in the first, and snapped his three-game losing streak.

Adrian Gonzalez homered and had four hits for the Dodgers, who spoiled the Mets' 30th anniversary celebration of their 1986 World Series championship. Corey Seager and Howie Kendrick also connected, all after Syndergaard was gone.

Pinch-hitter Juan Lagares homered in the eighth for New York, long after the outcome was decided.

The stoic Utley is playing at Citi Field this weekend for the first time since Tejada was injured. The Mets -- and their fans -- were incensed by the aggressive slide, which led to a change in baseball rules this season designed to protect infielders in what some call the Utley Rule.

But the Mets had not tried to retaliate until Saturday night.

With one out and nobody on in the third inning of a scoreless game, Syndergaard's first pitch to Utley sailed behind the second baseman's back by a considerable margin.

Hamari immediately ejected Syndergaard, prompting Collins to come storming out of the dugout. Collins also was ejected after screaming at Hamari and pointing in his face during an animated argument. The manager was finally escorted back toward the New York dugout by another umpire.

After waiting near the mound with teammates for some time, Syndergaard walked calmly to the Mets' dugout without showing any emotion as the crowd cheered him.

Logan Verrett (3-2) entered for the Mets and, with a vocal contingent in the sellout crowd of 42,227 urging him to hit Utley with a pitch, eventually threw a called third strike past him. But then Utley homered on Verrett's first pitch of the sixth to give the Dodgers a 1-0 lead.

Booed all night, Utley added his sixth career slam off Hansel Robles in the seventh, giving Los Angeles a 6-0 cushion with his 38th career homer against the Mets.

In the series opener Friday night, Utley was greeted with loud jeers and derisive chants. He had four RBIs in a 6-5 loss, including a three-run double that tied the score with two outs in the ninth.

Where are you now?
Tejada was released by the Mets during spring training and signed by the St. Louis Cardinals, who designated him for assignment Saturday.

Trainer's room
Dodgers: RF Trayce Thompson exited in the fifth with lower back soreness. He was replaced by Yasiel Puig, who hit an RBI single off Verrett in the sixth.

Mets: INF Wilmer Flores (hamstring) went 1 for 2 with a sacrifice fly in his fifth rehab game for Double-A Binghamton. Before the game, Collins said it was reasonable to think Flores could come off the disabled list Sunday.

Up next
Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw (7-1, 1.48 ERA) starts the series finale Sunday night against 43-year-old Bartolo Colon (4-3, 3.44). Kershaw, coming off a two-hit shutout against Cincinnati, is 7-0 with a 1.17 ERA in 10 starts against the Mets. He is 5-0 with a 0.64 ERA in May -- including a three-hit shutout of New York on May 12 at Dodger Stadium. The three-time Cy Young Award winner has struck out 55 and walked two this month.