Flyers-Caps Series Preview: Our Q&A With Al Morganti

Flyers-Caps Series Preview: Our Q&A With Al Morganti


Al Morganti has provided entertaining and informative coverage of the Flyers and
Philadelphia sports for years,
and he's currently a co-host of the 610 WIP Morning Show and Comcast's
Flyers game day coverage. His columns during his days with The Hockey News shaped my view of the league, and he continues to be one of the most respected voices in hockey. We're grateful for the opportunity to discuss
the upcoming Flyers-Caps series with Al and share his insights with
you.

What's been the most pleasant surprise about this Flyers season?

The rapid development of defenseman Braydon Coburn. He still makes some big mistakes, which is normal for a young defenseman, but he has displayed a real ability to skate the puck out of trouble, and he has been coached into a player who is willing to launch a shot from the point. Of all the moves that general manager Paul Holmgren made last season, the deal to bring Coburn to Philadelphia from Atlanta for Alexei Zhitnik was his best. Coburn has a chance to be to the Flyers what Brian Rafalski was to the Devils in terms of skating the puck through any trap, and he has a better upside in terms of booming a shot for goals and points.

Has the team met, exceeded, or fallen short of where you thought they'd be?
At the beginning of the season I said the team would battle to make the playoffs, and after their quick start I thought I had seriously undervalued their talent. However, the Flyers stumbled and then regained their balance. Overall, I think they are perhaps a little ahead of where I thought they would be at this time. Remember—they were the worst team in the NHL last season, and the fact that they could recover from a serious slump is even more impressive than their quick start.

Chris Therien suggested that Scottie Upshall might be the key to the series with the Capitals, in that he could be the forward who harasses Alex Ovechkin the way Keith Jones once did Jaromir Jagr. Would you agree?
I
love Jonesey, but I don’t think he is going to keep Jagr out of the Hall of Fame. I don’t think Upshall will be able to upset Ovechkin. I would also worry that if Upshall got too involved in that stuff he would wind up in the penalty box too often in the first two games in Washington, and Ovechkin would be seen with that gap-toothed grin after scoring on the power play. However, I do agree with Chris that Upshall is the sort of player who can have a huge impact in a playoff series. He has the kind of game that can be very effective in the playoffs – if he stays under control.

(Much more with Al Morganti, including his pick for the series, after the jump.)

How else do you think the Flyers can eliminate, or at least minimize the 8 Factor?

I really think they have to just assume Ovechkin will get his goals,
and they have such a balanced offense that can score more goals. Rather
than worry about Ovechkin, it would be far better to make sure other
players such as Semin are taken out of the equation. No matter how
great they are, no player (other than a goalie) can beat you alone, and that
includes Gretzky, Lemieux, and Orr.


Which team is the tougher squad? To what degree do you think rough play
will be a factor in this series, as some have touted it will be?

The Flyers are the more physical squad, but Washington is tough in that
the Caps can take a hit without losing their wits. If the Flyers think
they can bash Ovechkin and watch him shrink they will be badly
mistaken. If they bash Ovechkin, he will bash back. The Flyers biggest physical advantage will be their willingness to use
a hard two-man forecheck and thump the Caps defensemen in the
Washington zone.


Does Marty Biron have what it takes to carry a team deep into the playoffs? Does Cristobal Huet?

I believe Biron does, but there is no track record. Nobody has any idea
about Huet. I don’t believe either goalie will be the hero or the goat
in this series.


Other than Ovechkin and Huet, what are the most dangerous elements of
the Caps' game? What are their most glaring (exploitable) weaknesses?

The weakness will be their defense, especially if their injured regulars Jeff Schultz and Shaone Morrisonn cannot play. The Caps' biggest weapons will be their skilled forwards, especially the
Russian quartet of Ovechkin, Semin, Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov—the only Russian to win the Hart (MVP), and he could be a huge
factor in this series

What's your series prediction?
I think the Flyers have too much scoring balance, I like Philly in six.


What is the Flyers biggest off-season need, and how do you think they'll address it?

I don’t think there are huge needs. I suppose it's to replace captain Smith and
maybe Hatcher if his injury status (knee) is a problem. The bigger
issue might be how to deal with the concussion problems of Simon Gagne, can
they count on him? Or do they have to sign Vinny Prospal?

Even with Jordan Matthews' return, Paul Turner still in Eagles' plans

Even with Jordan Matthews' return, Paul Turner still in Eagles' plans

There were just two things on Paul Turner’s mind as he sprinted across the field early during the third quarter on Sunday, anticipating his first career NFL catch. 

Turner relayed them on Wednesday: 

1. “Make sure you get in [Carson Wentz’s] vision.” 

2. “You better catch this ball.” 

He did both. 

Turner, the 23-year-old undrafted receiver from Louisiana Tech, who has become a fan favorite since his stellar training camp and preseason, caught his first NFL pass during Sunday’s loss to the Bengals and it went for a big gain of 41 yards. 

On his first catch, the Eagles used the play-action to tilt the defense and Wentz threw a dart into a small window to hit Turner on an over route. Then, the rookie turned upfield with a ton of space in front of him. 

By the end of the afternoon, he caught six balls for 80 yards. It was the best receiving day for an Eagles rookie since Jordan Matthews in 2014 and was a better day than last year’s first-round pick, Nelson Agholor, has ever had. 

“It's always good to catch a few balls,” said Turner, who has been on the 53-man roster and active for just the past two games. “It gets your motor going and gets your confidence going. It just gets you more into the game and gets you excited. I think it does a lot for a person's confidence.”

Turner played 41 snaps against the Bengals in large part because Matthews was out with an ankle injury. Matthews predominantly plays in the slot, which is where head coach Doug Pederson and his coaching staff like Turner. 

“Honestly, that wasn't really my mindset going into the game,” Turner said when asked if he knew how much opportunity he’d have with Matthews out. “My mindset was to go in there and if my number was called, just go out there and make a play. Even if my number was called, just take care of my assignment and take care of the little details and I knew everything else would just take care of itself. I knew that if I got the ball, I'd be excited. But even if I didn't, just to go out there and just block, and give up myself for my teammates. That was my goal coming into the game and just try to stay focused on that.” 

It appears as though Turner has done enough to warrant keeping his playing time. As Matthews returned to practice on Wednesday — as a limited participant — Pederson said there will still be opportunities for Turner. 

“There are, there are,” Pederson said. “And these are things we talked about the last couple of days as a staff — getting Paul in there, even with Jordan coming back. I think it can be a benefit to the offense to have both of those guys ready to go.”

The Eagles still haven’t had more than four receivers active for any game this season. During the last two weeks when Turner has played, either Agholor or Matthews were out. 

“It means a lot that the coaching staff has confidence in me,” Turner said. “My biggest thing is just to come in here and just work each and every day in practice and just prepare in practice so I'm prepared when I go out there in the game.” 

MLB Notes: Aroldis Chapman rejoins Yankees on 5-year, $86 million deal

MLB Notes: Aroldis Chapman rejoins Yankees on 5-year, $86 million deal

OXON HILL, Md. -- Aroldis Chapman found a spot in a most familiar bullpen -- a very rich spot, too.

The hard-throwing closer reached agreement to return to the New York Yankees on Wednesday night with the highest-priced contract ever for a relief pitcher, an $86 million deal for five years.

A person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press that the contract was pending a physical. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal was not yet complete.

Once it's done, the 28-year-old lefty whose fastballs routinely top 100 mph would shatter the previous richest contract for a reliever -- that was the $62 million, four-year deal Mark Melancon signed with San Francisco just a couple days ago during the winter meetings.

Chapman was acquired by New York from the Cincinnati Reds last offseason, then missed the first 29 games of the season due to a domestic violence suspension from Major League Baseball. The Cuban was traded to the Chicago Cubs in late July and helped them win the World Series, becoming a free agent when it was over.

Chapman went 4-1 with 36 saves and a 1.55 ERA in a combined 59 games for the Yankees and Cubs. He struggled some in the postseason as the Cubs beat Cleveland for their first championship since 1908.

With the Yankees this season, Chapman teamed with Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances in one of the most dominant bullpens in baseball history. Miller was later traded to Cleveland, but Betances is still with New York.

Earlier this week, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said the team was interested in both Chapman and fellow free agent closer Kenley Jansen. The Yankees had already made one deal at these meetings, signing slugger Matt Holliday, before paying a lot more to bring Chapman back to the Bronx.

Fox Sports first reported the agreement.

Rangers: Gomez reaches deal to stay with team
OXON HILL, Md. -- Carlos Gomez is staying with the Texas Rangers.

The outfielder agreed to an $11.5 million, one-year contract, a deal subject to a successful physical.

"Many of the objectives of the Rangers for Carlos go beyond one year," his agent, Scott Boras, said Wednesday. "Certainly Carlos really enjoyed the team and the environment and feels he's got a great chance to win. So I think both parties' objectives were met by that deal."

Gomez, who turned 31 last weekend, figures to play center as general manager Jon Daniels structured an outfield that includes Shin-Soo Choo in right and Nomar Mazara in left. Ian Desmond left Wednesday for a $70 million, five-year deal with Colorado.

Gomez batted just .210 with five homers in 85 games this year for Houston and was released by the Astros in August. He signed with Texas and hit .284 with eight homers and 24 RBIs in 33 games. An All-Star in 2013 and '14 with Milwaukee, Gomez has a .257 average and 116 home runs in 10 big league seasons.

"J.D. was very clear from the onset about them wanting Carlos back, and we've had communication since the season's end to pursue that," Boras said. "So it was something in our minds and in their minds. It was just a constant dialogue."

AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.

Red Sox: Sale not worried about being ace
BOSTON -- New Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale says he isn't worried that he might not be the ace of the pitching staff after being traded from the White Sox to Boston.

The 27-year-old lefty told reporters on Wednesday, "We play for a trophy, not a tag."

Sale was traded to the Red Sox on Tuesday at the baseball winter meetings. He was the top starting pitcher on the market, and the Red Sox gave up touted prospect Yoan Moncada as part of a package to land him.

Sale has been an All-Star for five straight seasons and finished in the top six of the Cy Young Award voting each time. He joins a staff that already includes 2016 Cy Young winner Rick Porcello and '12 winner David Price (see full story).