How a Kings Cup Win Changes the Flyers' Season Narrative

How a Kings Cup Win Changes the Flyers' Season Narrative

There used to be a little derision in references to
the Los Angeles Kings being "Flyers West." We've always said there
wasn't, that it was a term of endearment. We respected the particular
group of Philadelphia expatriates who wound up together in Hollywood.
While those sentiments were and are still true, they came with a smirk
and an attempt to conceal undeserved condescension.  

With former Philly bench bosses and front office
folks in positions of power and a small rotation of former Flyers
wearing a small rotation of Kings uniform variations, the club had
certainly earned the nickname. Failing to sustain any real momentum
toward postseason glory is probably what garnered the seldom spoken
derision, even if the Flyers' own successes, while consistent, also
consistently fell short. 

That was before Mike Richards was traded to LA
though. Before Simon Gagne signed up to be his teammate again nine days
later. With former captain Richards and decade-long fan-favorite Gagne,
the Kings had undeniably were "Flyers West," but the derision began to
disappear. When Jeff Carter moved in with Richards in Manhattan Beach,
the reference was set in stone and the derision gone entirely, replaced
by a quickly rooted sapling of fear. 

Fear? Of a struggling, limping forward joining a
chemistry-challenged team that might not even make the playoffs? A team
that had jettisoned its head coach and endured Richards' weakest ever
regular season and a long-term injury to Gagne?

No, this fear was for what in retrospect now feels
to have been inevitable—that the exiled former Flyers would unite like
Voltron elsewhere and raise Lord Stanley's gift to the league less than
one year after being sent out of Philadelphia against their wishes. 

Melodramatic? Maybe. But it could happen tonight, or later this week, and it will be painful. It is already painful.

As
we said when Carter was dealt to LA, we are happy for the two players
who were drafted together and were once proud to be Flyers "for life."
Same goes for Gagne and Williams, though the latter already has a Cup
and will be known in passing as one of the franchise's "what if…?"
stories. Same goes for Ron Hextall, who was so close in 1987, a force
for the league to reckon with. Ten years later, Hexy was back in the
Finals for the Flyers, but as part of an all too familiar goalie
carousel. Now he's Assistant GM under Dean Lombardi, a man who flew
under most fans' radars during his time with the Flyers. We see you now,
Dean.  

The trades were much safer on June 23rd, 2011—both
to execute as the Flyers GM, and to accept as fans. Carter seemed
destined to live out a purgatorial existence in Columbus, and that's
being generous. Richards might do well in LA, but that was fine. They
weren't traded by a vindictive man hoping to ruin them. Paul Holmgren
had tears in his eyes in the wake of the deals, knowing full well
neither player wanted to go at all, much less be separated. Maybe Scott
Howson's need to move the publicly disgruntled Carter and Lombardi's
need for more scoring combined to alleviate Homer's guilt.  

But their reunion immediately reopened the dialog
of, what if the Flyers and Kings play in the Finals? It seemed unlikely,
with the Kings an 8 seed and the Flyers facing a treacherous path
through the East. But after the Flyers beat the Penguins, the way they
did, and the Kings marched through the top-seeded Canucks, we (and
probably the league) were a little closer to believing that pipe dream
matchup might just happen. 

Only for a moment though. And that's where it starts to get painful.

The
series against the Devils went so astonishingly bad, knocking us all
down a peg after we uncharacteristically assumed the Flyers' next real
challenge after the Penguins awaited in the Conference Finals. The
Kings, meanwhile, had clearly found their stride and continued on a
historic tear through the West
. They were the group catching fire at just the right time, as well as the team with the hot, dominant goalie. 

While our rival fans toasted another early tee time
for the Orange & Black—even those who'd met their end too—they had a
new mocking line to trot out, and we'd better get used to it. Just
after the traditional goaltending comments, be prepared to hear a chorus
of Richards and Carter digs. They came in waves as Carter scored his
second goal of the Finals on Monday night, a perfect lift of a pass from
Richards to beat Martin Brodeur and seal what now appears to be a
certain fate.  

It began to truly feel like our club is cursed. In
just one season, barring a miraculous Devils comeback, Richards and
Carter in all their bearded glory will do what many of us have never
seen the Flyers accomplish outside of the grainy footage from before our
time. They're gonna drink from that Cup this summer. 

Let's Make ExcusesWhat may or may not be
lost in all of this is that the Flyers weren't expected to contend
immediately after the summer 2011 shakeup saw their forward lines
replaced en masse. Many young faces were added, and their greatest
veteran leader was lost for the season, probably longer. I can't
remember a team with more rookies contributing key minutes up and down
the lines. The Kings' end of the Richards trade was the more "win now"
move, exchanging a top prospect and a valuable young winger for a team
captain with playoff experience. 

There is also the line of thought that the
departures also allowed a superstar to emerge. Claude Giroux became an
MVP candidate and had Conn Smythe chatter after a first series showdown
with Sidney Crosby. But perhaps in large part due to injury, he faded
along with the rest of the Flyers to a reality that we probably wouldn't
have been too upset over if you offered it last October. And, there's
no way of knowing how his development would have been effected if 18
and/or 17 had stayed. 

Doesn't Ease the PainIf the Kings
continue on this path, and it appears they will, it will be a lot harder
to shrug off the rebuilding/reloading season. The two biggest stones
the builder removed became valuable pieces of someone else's castle.
That someone already had the most valuable piece when he started making
deals, as well as high-line forward talent and defense. Despite the
excellent efforts of the Flyers' rookie corps and other newcomers, we
still don't know whether the Flyers have a championship-caliber goalie
or a long-term road block, and . 

We may never know the full extent of the reasons
that Richards and Carter were dealt. Opinions will always vary. The need
for a new direction. The need for the elusive (and expensive) #1
goalie. A different look from the forward lines. Dry Island violations,
the stuff that made the papers and the stuff that didn't. 

Whatever the reason, they were deemed the players
who needed to go in order to make the Flyers into a Cup winner. For Los
Angeles, they were the pieces that needed to be added. That stirs some
worthwhile considerations about how both teams were built with and
without Richards and Carter, what their ideal roles are and were. 

I'm trying hard not to blame or second-guess Homer's
decision because again, we don't know exactly what led to it. And, if
the Kings lost last round, we wouldn't even be having this discussion,
instead focusing on whether one off-season will be enough to get the
Flyers over the hurdle they crotched up on while running at full speed. 

What Comes Next?Last season, the Flyers'
playoff run ended in embarrassment, and Ed Snider publicly decreed that
the goaltending carousel would end. At least in part, that set the
course for the summer's surprising moves. This year's departure was
frustrating, though I wouldn't say it was quite as embarrassing on its
own. But what happens after Richards and Carter win the Cup in an
emphatically short series during which the Flyers are painted as the
long-term ex who cheated on and then broke up with them, then in the end
was the one left behind while the jilted party moved on to better
things?

Will that be an additional motivator toward
off-season moves (ie, the rebound), or will the Flyers primarily stay
the course and let a new, young core develop, tweaking only a few
areas? 
One final question. Seeing what short work the Kings are
making of every team they face… If they were going to win the Cup, are
you glad the Flyers were eliminated early, rather than have to be
another stop on LA's parade route?

NFL Notes Rams' All-Pro Aaron Donald skips OTAs amid contract talks

NFL Notes Rams' All-Pro Aaron Donald skips OTAs amid contract talks

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald has skipped the Los Angeles Rams' first day of organized team activities while he negotiates a long-term contract extension with the club.

Rams general manager Les Snead says the team knew Donald wouldn't be at their training complex Monday.

Snead acknowledged Donald's absence is because of their contract negotiations, which are reaching "the serious part." The GM is confident Donald will be a long-term fixture on the Rams' line.

The Rams exercised their fifth-year option for 2018 on Donald last month. He will make nearly $7 million next year. Snead has repeatedly said the Rams plan to sign Donald to a long-term deal.

Donald is a three-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro in his three-year career.

Vikings: Zimmer takes time off after latest eye surgery
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer finally relented, taking some time away from the team to allow his right eye a proper recovery from his latest surgery.

Better in the spring than during the fall, he realized.

As Zimmer departed Monday for some rest and relaxation at his vacation ranch in rural Kentucky, general manager Rick Spielman said the organization anticipates a return by Zimmer "in a few weeks." Players will take the field Tuesday for the first of 13 scheduled offseason practices, including the three-day mandatory minicamp that runs June 13-15.

"We all agree Mike's health is the priority, and we believe rest and recovery are in his best interest for the long term," Spielman said.

Zimmer directed a free youth football camp Saturday at team headquarters. He revealed to reporters that he underwent an eighth procedure on the eye last week, a trying seven-month stretch that has included several unplanned operations (see full story).

Jets: Former 2nd-round pick Smith waived
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Wide receiver Devin Smith has been waived from the injury list by the New York Jets.

A second-round draft pick from Ohio State in 2015, Smith rarely saw the field for the Jets. He tore his ACL during the offseason workout program after he appeared in four games last season. He started that season on the physically unable to perform list while rehabbing from another ACL tear suffered in December 2015.

If Smith clears waivers, he would revert to the Jets' injured reserve list.

"It's bad luck and bad timing because the kid worked so hard to get back," coach Todd Bowles said last month during the NFL draft. "He has to persevere and adversity will help him get stronger. But unfortunately in this game, over my course of time playing and coaching, you see these types of things. Some of the best athletes get hurt and don't get a chance to get on the field, and it's just bad timing, bad luck."

The Jets also re-signed wide receiver WR Deshon Foxx on Monday. Foxx originally signed with the Jets in January and was waived May 9. The Connecticut product first signed with Seattle 2015 after going undrafted and was waived/injured with a hamstring injury that August.

Buccaneers: TE Howard signs rookie deal
TAMPA, Fla. -- Tight end O.J. Howard has signed his rookie contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Howard, who was the 19th overall pick in last month's NFL draft, signed a four-year deal on Monday that includes a team option for a fifth season. He is the first of Tampa Bay's six draft picks to sign.

Howard, who is 6-foot-6 and 251 pounds, was a third-team Associated Press All-America selection last season. He started 12 of Alabama's 14 games last season and had 45 receptions for 595 yards and three touchdowns.

The drafting of Howard and signing DeSean Jackson in free agency should give Jameis Winston more options in Tampa Bay's passing game.

The Buccaneers also announced that defensive end Jacquies Smith has signed his restricted free agent tender.

The case for Duke's Jayson Tatum to the Sixers at No. 3

The case for Duke's Jayson Tatum to the Sixers at No. 3

With the 2017 NBA Draft Lottery behind us, there appears to be a consensus on the first two selections in next month's draft. The Celtics are expected to take Washington guard Markelle Fultz, and it would be a surprise if the Lakers passed on Lonzo Ball.

After that, all bets are off, and the Sixers will have plenty of options at pick No. 3.

A popular choice has been Kansas' Josh Jackson, and with good reason. The 6-foot-8 guard was an All-Big 12 first-team selection in his lone season with the Jayhawks, averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

Others have pointed to Kentucky sharpshooter Malik Monk, who would fill an obvious need. Monk consistently has shown the ability to pull up without hesitation. He shot nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc while averaging 19.8 points per game to lead the Wildcats.

There is a strong case to be made, however, that Duke forward Jayson Tatum will be the most talented player remaining on the board when it is the Sixers' turn to pick. 

As a basketball beat writer for The Duke Chronicle, I had the opportunity to watch Tatum play up close and in-person for much of the season, seeing him at his best and his worst.

A quick rise
After coming to Durham, N.C. as one of the key pieces of the Blue Devils' top-ranked recruiting class, Tatum suffered a left foot sprain during a preseason practice that kept him out of action until early December. 

But even with what appeared to be a breakout performance against then-No. 24 Florida in early December, he struggled to find a rhythm throughout the first half of the season. Tatum shot only 30 percent from three-point range in his first 13 games.

When the Blue Devils were shocked at home by ACC bottom-feeder N.C. State Jan. 23, I was quick to call out the first-year player — he was not cutting it on the defensive end, and offensively, Tatum had yet to prove himself as a consistent shooting threat.

Down the stretch, however, no freshman came on stronger than Tatum. He scored 28 points on 6-of-7 shooting from distance against Virginia in February, averaged 22 points in four ACC tournament wins in March, and notched a double-double in his first career NCAA tournament game.

Whatever questions scouts have about Tatum's potential, he has already shown an ability to develop in a short period of time. Even if Tatum takes time to develop as an NBA player, it probably won't take all that long as the Sixers continue their rebuild.

Cool customer
In a deep ACC, Tatum was one of just two first-year players to earn all-conference honors, picking up a third-team spot in early March. He was also second in ACC Freshman of the Year voting behind N.C. State's Dennis Smith.

Tatum been a consistent performer at the charity stripe — unlike Jackson, who shot just 56.6 percent from the line. He hit on 118 of 139 free-throw attempts (84.9 percent) and has the body to get to the line at will with strong drives to the rim.

Although the Sixers have budding stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, they lack a true end-of-game threat who can score both inside and out. Tatum's improving outside shot combined with a powerful inside game could give the Sixers an option that will stretch opposing defenses.

Defensive concerns
As has been the case with a few recent young Duke prospects (e.g. Brandon Ingram, Jabari Parker), Tatum at times struggled on defense. As Sixers fans know all too well, Jahlil Okafor has the same problem. The former Blue Devil standout led Duke in scoring during his lone collegiate season but wasn't a major factor on defense and has been even worse with the Sixers, ranking 324th of 486 NBA players in defensive win shares last season.

Tatum's numbers suggest he has potential to be a better defender than many might expect. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Tatum had a 3.2 block percentage and a 2.3 steal percentage — an uncommon combination. He helped Duke limit North Carolina's Justin Jackson to only 6-for-22 shooting in an ACC tournament semifinal matchup.

Where Tatum needs to grow is guarding away from the ball. He often found himself losing his man on back cuts and long possessions in the half-court.

With the Sixers, the 6-foot-8 Tatum potentially could be the shortest member of a lineup that would feature the 6-foot-9 Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Simmons at 6-foot-10, and the 7-foot Embiid in the middle. Although he will likely need to improve his quickness, Tatum has the size to overwhelm smaller guards and the strength — weighing in at 205 pounds — to match up with most small forwards in the league.

Tatum vs. Jackson
Tatum and Jackson are comparable players in most respects. The two were right next to one another in the ESPN's Class of 2016 rankings behind Harry Giles and put up nearly identical numbers on the offensive end.

Both are considered top-five picks, but the 19-year-old Tatum is younger by more than a year and has room to grow physically. And unlike Jackson, he does not carry the baggage of a criminal property damage misdemeanor from December.

Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel told 97.5 The Fanatic last week that Tatum is "one of the most talented, most gifted offensive guys" he has ever seen. 

Agreed.