The Honeymoon Is Over, Union Have Problems

The Honeymoon Is Over, Union Have Problems

For the first two seasons of its existence the Union led a charmed life. Sure, there were natural growing pains the first season, but fans were simply grateful to have a club to support. Season two brought an unexpected playoff berth. Union supporters could point to the progress the team made as a harbinger of good times to come.

Everything was lining up beautifully for the franchise. They opened a soccer-specific stadium. Attendance, buoyed by the rabid support of the Sons of Ben, was robust. They seemingly announced a new corporate partner every week. They secured television and radio deals. Then came the coup de grace, the announcement that the Union would host the MLS All-Star Game.

There was nary a misstep along the way. Yes, Peter Nowak made the occasional odd choice of lineup or formation, but by and large the organization and fans were in lockstep. Then the Sebastien Le Toux trade happened. The fallout from the trade was bigger than just the reality that Le Toux would no longer be racing up and down the field in the familiar blue and gold #9 shirt.

Looking back, the Le Toux trade marked the moment when the honeymoon between club and fans ended. Le Toux’s post-trade comments to Chris Vito shook the foundation that had been built between the team and its fans. He accused the organization of being cheap and cash-strapped. The most cutting remark was when he said “I would be happy to just retire than play for Peter again”. Perhaps he was simply lashing out in anger at being traded, but when the most likeable player on your team lobs Molotov cocktails at the organization you cannot help but take notice.

Truth be told, the honeymoon period between the team and its fans was going to end at some point. It’s simply the nature of the business. Organizations make unpopular decisions. It happens. That it happened so spectacularly and so publicly was shocking. For the first time there was reason to question the decision-making of the team. On Sunday, the Danny Califf situation provided another opportunity to wonder what was going on.

Califf, the captain of team, did not start against Colorado. After the game Nowak revealed that he opted to sit Califf because he underwent an offseason procedure on his knee to remove meniscus and had a shot in the knee on March 5th (the shot was later revealed by Califf to be Synvisc, which apparently is a joint lubricant). Despite the offsesason procedure he was fit enough to play the full 90 minutes in the season opener against Portland the Monday before. In fact, prior to the home opener on Sunday he started all 62 games in which he appeared. He was apparently fit enough to be included in the gameday 18 against Colorado, but not fit enough to start.

Upon learning of Nowak’s rationale for omitting him from the starting XI Califf told Chris Vito “I guess I found out. Supposedly I have a knee injury.” Califf went on to say:

“I have no idea what’s going on in Peter’s head because he hasn’t said a word to me. To be honest, I don’t really have any idea. I would’ve thought that he at least would have a conversation with me. But he didn’t and maybe that’s his style and that’s the situation right now.”

Whatever Nowak’s motivation was for sitting Califf the reality is that, in light of the fallout from the Le Toux trade, fans are no longer willing to simply accept Nowak’s decisions (and by extension the organization) at face value. This isn’t to say there’s an adversarial relationship between fans and the club, but the blind faith from the first two seasons is a thing of the past.

I wouldn’t characterize this new reality as a bad thing. In fact, it’s one of things that makes following sports enjoyable. This tension provides talking points. Fans are able to debate the efficacy of front office decisions. We can question the tactics of the coach. It’s sports.

Califf doesn’t get the starting nod and his replacement, Chris Albright, is beaten for the game-winning goal. Starting right back Sheanon Williams was just called into the US U23 Olympic Qualifying camp. Who is going to step in and take his place? Did the Union leave themselves exposed and overburden Zac MacMath by not bringing in a veteran back-up?

The Eagles are cheap and disloyal. The Phillies and Flyers hide injuries. The Sixers started Jodie Meeks for the majority of the season. We deal with these issues year round. Now the Union gets to join the fun.

There’s a great old Chris Rock bit where he talks about why he likes Bill Clinton. He points to the fact that Clinton’s got real problems like running out of money, his wife being a pain in the ass, and how his friends are going to jail. These are real folks problems; not presidential problems.

Well, the Union now has real folks problems.

Kings acquire Ben Bishop from Lightning

Kings acquire Ben Bishop from Lightning

The Los Angeles Kings have acquired goaltender Ben Bishop in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Los Angeles sent Peter Budaj, defensive prospect Erik Cernak, a 2017 seventh-round pick and a conditional pick to Tampa Bay for Bishop and a 2017 fifth-round pick.

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman announced the trade Sunday night, less than four days before the trade deadline.

Bishop, a pending unrestricted free agent, helped the Lightning reach the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Kings now have Bishop and 2012 and 2014 Cup winner Jonathan Quick, who returned Saturday from a long-term lower-body injury that had sidelined him since October.

The 6-foot-7 Bishop, 30, is 16-12-3 with a 2.55 goals-against average and .911 save percentage.

End to End: Which 1 move will Flyers most likely make at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline?

End to End: Which 1 move will Flyers most likely make at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline?

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End this week are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

Today’s question: Which one move is most likely at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline?
 
Dougherty
There has been a lot of chatter about why the Flyers should sell at Wednesday's trade deadline. They won't be buying. Sell is the wrong word here. The Flyers are not selling and changing course. They are not trading Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and starting over. Instead, the next logical step in the rebuild is to shed an expiring contract and open up a spot for a kid.

It just so happens the Flyers have three expiring contracts on defense, and one player comes to mind who would be attractive to contending teams and also paves the way for a defenseman at Lehigh Valley to gain some valuable NHL experience the rest of the season.

That player is Mark Streit, a 39-year-old puck-moving defenseman who can help a team's power play and provide some veteran leadership to boot. Streit has a modified no-trade clause in his contract, meaning he has a list of 10 teams he can be traded to, but that should not be a roadblock in moving him. He'll be a free agent on July 1 and a playoff run is far more attractive than wasting away the final two months of the season in mediocrity.

Streit does have a high cap hit ($5.25 million), but the Flyers could retain some of it. He comes off the books on July 1 and a rental for an acquiring team anyway. The cap hit would not be a deal-breaker here. That is an easy hurdle to clear in this situation.

There are valid arguments against trading Streit, and moving, say, Michael Del Zotto, another attractive expiring contract. Streit is a veteran voice in the Flyers' room and respected within the organization. He's still a valuable piece here. In a perfect world, general manager Ron Hextall can shed both Streit and Del Zotto and open up two spots on the blue line, clearing the way for two (2!) Phantoms defensemen to get some experience.

But, trading Streit is the one move I see as most likely to happen before Wednesday's deadline. Acquire a draft pick for Streit and call up Robert Hagg or Sam Morin. In this scenario, the bet here would be on Hagg. And remember, it's not selling, it's the next step.
 
Hall
Before the season, I was a big believer in trading one of the Flyers' goalies at the March 1 deadline.

Now, it makes even more sense in a season that appears to be headed for not much of anything.

Why hold on to two goalies set for unrestricted free agency when you'll almost certainly lose at least one for absolutely nothing this offseason? 

Michal Neuvirth turns 29 next month, as does Steve Mason in May. Both are having down seasons, but are still tradable and capable goalies -- whether it be in a starter's role or backup duty.

Is either goalie the Flyers' future when the team is ready for contention?

The orange and black are stocked with goaltending prospects in Anthony Stolarz, Alex Lyon, Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom. Stolarz got a small taste of the NHL earlier this season and could more than hold down the second-string fort the rest of 2016-17. When the offseason comes, then you worry about what's next between the pipes.

But right now, one of the most rational decisions for the Flyers at the trade deadline would be moving a goalie. Neuvirth currently carries a more reasonable cap hit at $1.625 million, while Mason is at $4.1 million. Make a tough decision and start prepping more for the road ahead.

I think a trade can and should be done by Wednesday.

Paone
Thanks to injury and Dave Hakstol's recent emphasis on defensive structure, Del Zotto hasn't been in the Flyers' lineup much recently. Del Zotto is now healed from the lower-body injury that kept him out for a couple of weeks, so the part about an emphasis on defensive structure is important here when talking about his status with the Flyers.

Del Zotto has never been a defense-first type player. His strength is clearly his offensive ability. But unfortunately for Del Zotto, that's just not what the Flyers need out of their defensemen these days. So it should be no surprise he has slid down Hakstol's depth chart as the need for his role has decreased dramatically. But there are plenty of teams out there, contending ones, too, that could use some offensive punch on the blue line and on the power play. Del Zotto has played in only 30 games this season with four goals and six assists and is a role player these days, but there's a role for him somewhere out there. It's just not in Philadelphia anymore.

His $3.875 million cap hit is a bit steep, but he's a UFA at season's end, so it will come off the books. That should make a team much more willing to take a chance on Del Zotto and his cap in exchange for a draft pick, which Hextall values. Plus, he's not likely to be back here next year anyway, as the Flyers will likely start infusing more of the defensive talent they have in the minors into the big club. So might as well get something for him while you can. Contending teams can never have too much depth and those teams like to build depth through the trade market at this time of year. There's a fit somewhere out there for Del Zotto before the March 1 trade deadline.