In Homer We Trust... How 'bout You?

In Homer We Trust... How 'bout You?


NHL general managers, scouts, and media are gathering in LA ahead of tonight's entry draft, and so far, there's little in the way of actual news to report. Don't expect that to be the case for long though, and the Flyers will likely be one of the teams most mentioned in discussions. When aren't they?

Without a pick until #89, which falls late in the third round, the Flyers could still look to move up and add a prospect to their system, which has seen its two biggest stars (JVR and Giroux) join the big club already. Or they could land a goalie, as many stories have cited as their primary goal this weekend. Last year, the big news of the draft was the blockbuster deal that brought Chris Pronger to Philly in exchange for a sizable package of draft picks and players. That move obviously paid dividends, but the cost will now be more clear. 

How will Paul Holmgren fare in a draft weekend during which he possesses no high picks as trade chips while being hamstrung by the salary cap and the agreements he already has in place? 

There's a lot of work to be done before next season, and several key questions need to be answered somewhat soon to continue the domino effect that NHL moves require in the current era. Each deal impacts the next in a salary-capped league, and signing or trading one player often means others will have to go, sometimes for what seems like not-enough-in-return. 

Cap-strapped and bereft of picks, some will criticize Holmgren. It happens to most GMs in any sport, because as fans, we pretty much want it all. Holmgren is berated for having his team up against the cap, while the Eagles catch hell if they're anything but right up against it. I've been lovingly picked apart here as being a homer for Homer, and I understand why. There are a few contracts on the dockets that are overinflated and/or compounded by no-movement clauses for players, and raise your hand if you were alive for the last Flyers parade. We want a winner, and until one is delivered, everyone is open to criticism.

But I still think Homer deserves a lot of credit for the Flyers making it to the Finals and little blame for their falling short and also their dud of a regular season. The fact that they made it that far in the playoffs showed me that the team as he'd created it was good enough to be one of the top seeds in the East. They had the talent and leadership to get within two games of hoisting the Cup. The players just didn't execute in the regular season, and Homer can't very well get out there on the ice and show them how. 

Stevens and Lavvy
Homer made the tough decision to fire the team's head coach, a guy who'd been part of the organization for the some of their greatest achievements in the AHL, then led a historic turnaround when handed a dead-last place team. Peter Laviolette may not have improved upon the Flyers' record under John Stevens, but no one will evaluate Lavvy's impact in terms of regular season wins and losses alone. I don't recall ever seeing a head coach do more to get his players a W, and they thrived in the playoffs under his direction. 

Their conditioning was garbage when he got here. Lavvy made that clear after the season. Imagine what they could be if they enter the season in great shape and have a full campaign of his rigorous practices heading into next season's playoffs. John Stevens was the right man for the job when he was hired, but Homer knew that changes within the team meant that a change was needed behind the bench as well, even though very few people were blaming Stevens for the losses on the ice. Then Homer picked exactly the type of coach the Flyers needed during their "headless chicken" stage last season, and I don't think anyone can question that decision. 

Goalies
But what about the team that was on the ice? You can't be GM in this town without drawing fire for your inability to put a true #1 goalie into an orange and black mask. Homer rolled the low-stakes dice by banking on Ray Emery in net. Emery was in exile due to behavior issues, so Homer got him on the cheap and for a short-term deal. Brian Boucher was brought back amidst clamorous criticism to be the backup. 

But neither was inked to be the future. The elusive true #1 wasn't available last season, and let's be real here for a second—when are these guys available? Once a team identifies a stud in net, that's it. More often that not, he's locked up and never allowed to leave until he's old and too expensive. Teams chase the dream of a goalie that can carry them no matter what, and most of their gambles fall flat. The goalies that fans have wanted Homer to acquire in past seasons have mostly shat the bed wherever they did end up, supplanted by a guy like Michael Leighton anyway. Goalies are inconsistent and impossible to predict. Across the state, you see a guy like Marc-Andre Fleury be a vital part of a Cup winner one season, then allow more than two goals in 9 of 13 playoff games the next. 

Knowing how hard it is to even identify a true #1, much less acquire one, Homer built last season's Flyers to win without that luxury. Obviously, they weren't built strongly enough to win it all without a better goalie than they had. We saw that as Patrick Kane's pad-tester dribbled through Leighton and the Cup was brought onto our ice. But they were damn close to being good enough to win almost regardless of who was in net. Ray Emery the misfit... Brian Boucher the has-been/never-was... and Michael Leighton the guy who has been waived five friggin' times, including once by the Flyers. 

It was a testament to the guys in pads last year, the guys on the ice, and to their GM that they could make it to the Cup Finals despite an unprecedented run of back luck in goalie injuries—even in the playoffs. Still, Homer knows that with better goaltending, the team could be amazing, and he's hunting for his #1 despite what the team achieved without one last season.

The Bad Contracts
Two names come up more than any others when Holmgren is being flogged for his bad contracts—Scott Hartnell and Danny Briere. Hartnell had a terrible season plagued by some off-ice issue no one is really talking about, and every bad penalty the took reminded fans that he had a no-movement clause in his contract. Briere has one too, and he makes a ton of money to boot. But here's why I don't get too down on Homer for those two contracts, the flaws of which were evident the day they were signed. The Homer Haters will have a field day on me, but honestly I just think it takes time for an exec and a franchise to get used to the implications of something so paradigm-altering as a salary cap being added to their league. 

Imagine doing your job in a certain environment for years, one in which you have more money at your disposal to solve problems in your production than your competitors do. Then all of a sudden a government ruling gives everyone the same spending ceiling, which takes away one of your company's biggest advantages—its willingness to fix mistakes by spending more money. That's kind of how I think it went for the Flyers when the cap was put in place for the '05-'06 season. These guys are hockey guys. They aren't mathematicians. The NHL hasn't yet hit the phase where the guys from Harvard and Stanford are running the teams, and fitting all your players under a finite sum that changes from season to season (or in some cases doesn't when you were hoping it would) isn't as easy as getting out the calculator. 

Homer fixed the Flyers' problems by tossing some money at them, and like many free agent signings and trades, they didn't all pan out perfectly well. Just look at some of the other signings around the league that year. We knew Briere's deal would hurt later in its term, but most fans were spoiling for a quick fix too. I imagine it's been frustrating for the club that Briere has played inconsistently during his time here, showing flashes of brilliance followed by droughts. He's also been slowed or off the ice entirely due to abdominal injuries. But he's also the guy who scored 30 points for the Flyers in the playoffs this season. Contract looked mighty fine for a few weeks this spring... One of the biggest knocks against Homer for two seasons became the most dangerous offensive weapon on the road to a Cup Finals appearance. Maybe a permanent move back to center is in the cards for Briere. Obviously, this would mean an even bigger logjam up the middle, possibly resulting in a trade.

Hartnell... Well, yeah, it's a bad contract. But a lot of that is on #19 himself, who played more than a few games looking like he had money on the other team this year. Whatever was going on with him off the ice flat out destroyed him, physically and mentally. He did rebound late in the playoffs though, so if he's not one of the players moved in the off-season (which would require him allowing the trade), maybe we'll see him in better shape next season. If he can put up 25 goals like we know he has the ability to, the contract becomes more palatable. 

Those two contracts overshadow some truly outstanding acquisitions by Homer though. Perhaps the Pronger deal still has fans divided, but I haven't heard from its critics much lately. Pronger was amazing last season, exactly what this team needed, and he's got a ton of hockey left in him. Kimmo Timonen is a Homer guy that doesn't get mentioned when GM piñata is hanging from the tree. What about that gunpoint robbery of the Red Wings for the Flyers' new rookie record holder for points in the playoff, Ville the Kid Leino? How about the fact that Homer didn't lock up Braydon Coburn when everyone everywhere thought he would be amazing for years to come? Coburn may still get a deal, but I doubt it will be what his side wanted during previous negotiations. Other trades may not have gone as obviously well, with the Carcillo-Upshall deal still a major dividing line for fans. Again, understandable. 

There are eggshells in the omelette until we have a Cup. 

What's Next?
As of this posting, we're still waiting to hear that Dan Hamhuis has signed. We originally guessed at a $4 million/year deal, but reports have his side wanting more and Homer not taking the bait just yet. Tim Panaccio now thinks the deal will not be done this weekend, and that leaves a big question mark while Homer fields and places calls for other potential players. If not signed by July 1, Hamhuis becomes a free agent. While we all want to see Hamhuis in a Flyers uni, it's great to see restraint on the part of Holmgren. A few seasons ago, Hamhuis might already have a deal signed, a no-trader, and a Flyers boat parked in his driveway. 

The goalie market is again a fickle lot this off-season. I'm not wild about the reports that the Flyers were talking to the Bruins about Tim Thomas, who lost his job last season after getting a big deal following a career season, but I'm not putting a whole lot of stock into anything there just yet either. He's old and owed a lot of money, and he lost his job last season (albeit to a very talented kid). Don't see that as a good fit here... 

The way the goalie market has played out recently has not been cap-friendly to many teams. The champion Blackhawks are even shedding salary in serviceable players while their previously ordained #1 swings the gate for Antti Niemi, who makes millions less per season than Huet. Evgeni Nabokov has been shown the door in San Jose. Thomas gave way to a rookie. 

Meanwhile, two guys who were relative nobodies backstopped their teams in the Stanley Cup Finals this year. Ryan Millers don't grow on trees, and it's not the worst thing in the world to build your team up to support whomever's in net, rather than vice-versa. One injury changes everything, and even Miller couldn't keep his club alive this postseason. 

Anthony San Filippo reported months ago that the Flyers would be looking for a young goalie to backstop their team for years to come. Despite the trip to the Finals, it seems that's still their goal. We could find out who that player is tonight, or over the weekend. If Hamhuis signs, the Flyers' starting goalie next season will be perched behind one of the league's truly elite defenses, a great situation to build within. However, it's still possible that we'll see Michael Leighton, Brian Boucher, and Johan Backlund on the depth chart come this fall.

There are other moves to be made as well. Claude Giroux needs to skate with scorers. The role players may need to be shuffled. For the latter, we've seen Homer bring in the likes of Ian Laperriere and Blair Betts a season after he was nailed to the cross for losing Glen Metropolit. He's got an eye for gritty players. 

In summary, I'm feeling confident that Paul Holmgren will put a contender on the ice next season just as he did last. The team will have more time under Laviolette's system, and the young core is more experienced. I've made my peace with the Cup loss, and I'm starting to get excited for what happens next. Hopefully the man pushing the buttons has learned enough from what didn't go so well in the past, because mistakes are costlier than ever in this league, and the Flyers' window is now. 

Housekeeping
Enrico and I will be off the grid for most of the day and night, so if a deal happens, we'll be counting on you to update this thread or whatever quickie we can toss up until getting into further detail tomorrow. 

I've been meaning to say this since the series ended, but thank you all for reading this season and for the comments you've left. It is a pleasure to experience the Flyers with you and learn more about our team and our fans through all of our many exchanges. You guys and gals are really awesome. Now go ahead and give it to me for being a homer.

Photo by Getty

Late goal lifts Penguins over Sharks in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

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USA Today Images

Late goal lifts Penguins over Sharks in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- Nick Bonino looks the part. Thatchy beard that juts out well below his chinstrap. Nose a bit askew. The rugged forward has etched out a career making a living in tight spaces, putting his body in places on the ice that aren't for the meek.

Those instincts, honed from years of finding order in the middle of chaos, lifted the Pittsburgh Penguins to the early lead in the Stanley Cup Final.

Bonino darted to the net and knocked in Kris Letang's centering pass with 2:33 remaining, lifting the Penguins to a 3-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks in Game 1 on Monday night.

Pittsburgh recovered after blowing an early two-goal lead and spoiled San Jose's long-awaited debut on the league's biggest stage. Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Letang and Carl Hagelin took turns digging the puck out of the corner behind the San Jose net when Letang emerged with it and slipped it to Bonino, who collected himself and flicked it past Martin Jones' blocker for his fourth goal of the playoffs.

"Tanger put it right on my stick," Bonino said. "It was a shot that wasn't my hardest shot by any means but I kind of found a way to flip it over him."

Bonino has spent much of the last two months as the heady, understated center on Pittsburgh's hottest line while playing between hard-shooting Phil Kessel and Hagelin. Dubbed "HBK" -- a chant that occasionally greets them when they flip over the boards and onto the ice -- they have powered the Penguins to their first Cup Final in seven years. Yet it was Bonino, whose hockey IQ is considered his greatest attribute by Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan, who scored the group's biggest goal of the postseason.

"He does all the things right and found himself in a great position and capitalized on it," Pittsburgh forward Chris Kunitz said. "Any time you're in the slot, get him the puck. It seems like we find a way to win when he scores."

Rookies Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary also scored for the Penguins, though Rust left in the third period after absorbing a shot to the head from San Jose's Patrick Marleau. Matt Murray -- who like Rust and Sheary spent a significant amount of time this season with the team's American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton -- finished with 24 saves.

Jones made 38 stops but couldn't get over in time on Bonino's knuckler. The Penguins threw 41 shots at Jones, the most he has faced in a regulation game during the playoffs. Marleau and Tomas Hertl scored during San Jose's dominant second period, but the Sharks spent a large portion of the third period on their heels and their dynamic power play failed to record a single shot when Ben Lovejoy went to the penalty box with 2:09 to play.

"They played their game for longer stretches than we did and that's what happens," San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said.

The Sharks made it to the first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history by rebuilding themselves on the fly. Two years removed from a brutal collapse from a 3-0 series lead in the first round against Los Angeles, San Jose ended a 9,005 day wait to play in the NHL's championship round by relying on a tough, aggressive style that squeezes opponents with a relentless forecheck while limiting chances in front of Jones.

Yet veterans Marleau and Joe Thornton -- the top two picks in the 1997 draft held in Pittsburgh who had waited nearly two decades to make it to the league's biggest stage -- insisted the Sharks were hardly satisfied after dispatching St. Louis in a cathartic Western Conference finals.

Maybe, but the Sharks looked a step slow -- maybe two steps slow -- while searching for their footing early on against the Penguins, who rallied from a 3-2 deficit to edge Tampa Bay in seven games to advance to their first Cup Final since 2009.

Rust, who surprisingly made the team out of training camp and became an unlikely playoff star by scoring both of Pittsburgh's goals in Game 7 against the Lightning, gave the Penguins the lead 12:46 into the first when he slammed home a rebound off a Justin Schultz shot for his sixth of the postseason, a franchise record for playoff goals by a rookie.

Less than a minute later, Sheary, who didn't become a regular until the middle of January, made it 2-0 when Sidney Crosby whipped a blind backhand cross-ice pass to Sheary's stick. Sheary's wrist shot from the right circle zipped by Jones, and the Penguins appeared to be in complete command by overwhelming the Sharks in a way few have in months.

Maybe it was the Penguins. Maybe it was jitters.

"You try to keep everything normal but you've been dreaming about it for a while," San Jose defenseman Brent Burns said. "Now we know what we're in for and we'll be better."

San Jose regained its composure during the first intermission and responded with a big surge. Hertl jammed a power-play shot from just outside the crease between Murray's legs 3:02 into the second to give the Sharks momentum. Late in the second, Marleau collected a rebound off a Burns one-timer behind the Pittsburgh net and then beat Murray on a wraparound that caromed off Murray's extended right leg and into the net.

Yet Bonino, who arrived in an offseason trade with Vancouver, helped the Penguins improve to 9-3 at home all-time in the Cup Final by sliding to a familiar spot in search of a familiar result.

Notes
San Jose went 1 for 2 on the power play. The Penguins were 0 for 3. ... The Sharks are 5-1 following a loss during the postseason.

Warriors complete comeback, oust Thunder in Game 7

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The Associated Press

Warriors complete comeback, oust Thunder in Game 7

BOX SCORE

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Stephen Curry knocked down yet another 3-pointer in the waning moments, pulled his jersey up into his mouth and yelled to the rafters in triumph once more.

A special, record-setting season saved for the defending champs, with a memorable comeback added to the long list of accomplishments.

Splash Brothers Curry and Klay Thompson carried the 73-win Warriors right back to the NBA Finals, as Golden State rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 96-88 on Monday night in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.

Now, Curry and Co. are playing for another NBA title -- just as they planned since Day 1 of training camp in September.

Bring on LeBron James again.

"You appreciate how tough it is to get back here," Curry said. "You've got to be appreciative of this accomplishment, and look forward to getting four more wins."

The MVP scored 36 points with seven 3-pointers to finish with an NBA-record 32 in a seven-game series, and also had eight assists. Thompson added 21 points and six 3s, two days after his record 11 3-pointers led a Game 6 comeback that sent the series home to raucous Oracle Arena for one more.

The Warriors became the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 deficit and win a postseason series. They return to the NBA Finals for a rematch with James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who lost the 2015 title in six games as Golden State captured its first championship in 40 years.

Game 1 is Thursday night in Oakland.

"We survived by the skin of our teeth," coach Steve Kerr said. "We were able to pull it out, and we're moving on."

His signature mouthpiece dangling out and the game ball cradled in his left hand, Curry pumped his right arm as yellow confetti fell through Oracle Arena once the final buzzer sounded.

With the Thunder trailing 90-86, Serge Ibaka fouled Curry on a 3-point try with 1:18 to go and the shot clock running out. Curry made all three free throws, then that 3-pointer to seal it.

"This is who he is. Having a clutch performance in a Game 7, that's Steph Curry," Kerr said.

And Golden State's beloved "Strength In Numbers" catchphrase coined by Coach of the Year Kerr was needed in every way.

"No one ever had any doubt that we could get this done," Draymond Green said. "People have seen teams down 3-1 before but they ain't seen many. They've definitely never seen a 73-win team down 3-1."

Andre Iguodala joined the starting lineup for just the second time all season and the 2015 NBA Finals MVP hung tough against Kevin Durant, who scored 27 points on 10-for-19 shooting. Shaun Livingston's breakaway, one-handed dunk late in the third provided a big lift off the Warriors bench.

Oklahoma City won Game 1 108-102 at deafening Oracle Arena, so Golden State never envisioned this one coming easily. Russell Westbrook had 19 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds for the Thunder.

"It hurts losing, especially being up 3 games to 1," Durant said.

It took a quarter and a half for Thompson to warm up after his 41-point performance in a 108-101 win Saturday at Oklahoma City that sent the series back to the East Bay.

He missed his initial seven shots before hitting a 3 6:02 before halftime, energizing the Warriors in their first Game 7 at home in 40 years.

Back-to-back 3-pointers by Thompson and Iguodala pulled the Warriors within 54-51 with 7:57 left in the third. They tied it on Curry's 3 at 7:21 and he followed with another 3 to give his team the lead.

Curry and Thompson each topped the previous record for 3s in a seven-game series, 28 by Dennis Scott and Ray Allen. Curry hit one over 7-foot Steven Adams in the third, and Thompson wound up with 30 3s.

Iguodala replaced Harrison Barnes in the starting lineup and what a move by Kerr, who did the same thing last year in crunch time. Iguodala made a pretty bounce pass through the paint to Green for Golden State's first basket, and his smothering defense on Durant kept the Thunder star without a shot until his 3 at the 5:45 mark in the first. Durant had just nine points on five shots in the first half.

But Oklahoma City dictated the tempo with snappy passes and the hard, aggressive rebounding that had been such a part of its success this season. The Thunder couldn't sustain it.

"They won a world championship last year, and they've broken an NBA record, and people are already talking about it before the playoffs started, this may be the greatest team to ever lace them up in the history of the NBA," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said.

The Warriors, who fell behind 35-22, lost their last Game 7 at home: 94-86 to Phoenix in the Western Conference finals on May 16, 1976.

Tip-ins
Thunder: The Thunder's 12 third-quarter points were the fewest allowed by Golden State in a playoff third quarter during the shot clock era. ... Durant took nine shots in the first 33:25. ... Oklahoma City led by as many as 13 in the first half. ... Donovan celebrated his 51st birthday. ... The Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State's opponent the previous round, are the only teams to beat the Warriors twice this season.

Warriors: The Warriors are 4-4 all-time in Game 7s -- 3-1 at home. ... Iguodala earned his first since Jan. 2 against Denver. ... Golden State wasn't whistled for its first foul until 2:34 in the first. ... The Warriors' 42 first-half points were their fewest at home this season. ... Curry hit a 3 in his 51st straight playoff game.

NL East Wrap: Matt Harvey gets back on track in Mets' win over White Sox

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USA Today Images

NL East Wrap: Matt Harvey gets back on track in Mets' win over White Sox

NEW YORK -- On the mound in the seventh inning for the first time this season, Matt Harvey gave up his first walk of the game and his second hit, leading to a sacrifice bunt and a second-and-third jam.

"You kind of think about the worst at that point," he said. "You start getting some negative thoughts that creep in your head."

But 11 days after disappointed fans at Citi Field booed him like a villain, the Dark Knight was back - at least for one afternoon.

Harvey retired Todd Frazier on a foulout and J.B. Shuck on a grounder to escape trouble, Neil Walker homered off Jose Quintana on the second pitch of the bottom half and the New York Mets beat Chicago 1-0 Monday to send the reeling White Sox to their seventh straight loss.

"Today's a big first step," Mets manager Terry Collins said.

Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia got six straight outs to complete the two-hitter, preserving Harvey's first win since May 8. Harvey struck out six, walked two and threw four pitches of 98-98.5 mph after not topping 97.5 mph previously this season. He threw 61 of 87 pitches for strikes (see full recap).

Mallex Smith's 3-run triple powers Braves past Giants
ATLANTA -- Mike Foltynewicz is showing he can be more than just a fastball pitcher - and that he can be part of the Braves' long-term rotation.

Foltynewicz continued his recent upswing by allowing only three hits and one run in six-plus innings, Mallex Smith hit a three-run triple and Atlanta beat Jeff Samardzija and the San Francisco Giants 5-3 on Monday.

The Braves survived San Francisco's two-run, ninth-inning rally. They have won three of four and are 5-21 at home, still easily the worst in the majors.

Foltynewicz (2-2) gave up a leadoff homer to Brandon Belt in the second inning, but allowed only one other runner to advance to second.

Foltynewicz, 24, has had other recent strong starts, including eight scoreless innings in a 5-0 win at Kansas City on May 14. His start on Monday may have been his most impressive demonstration of altering the speeds of his fastball while mixing in a curveball and slider (see full recap).

Locke tosses three-hit shutout against Marlins
MIAMI -- Jeff Locke tossed a three-hitter and the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Miami Marlins 10-0 on Monday night.

Gregory Polanco's grand slam, Sean Rodriguez's two-run homer, and David Freese's four hits helped power the offense for the Pirates, who won the first of a four-game series in Miami. The first two games were originally scheduled to be played in Puerto Rico, but were moved due to concerns of the Zika virus.

Locke (4-3) struck out one and did not walk a batter while throwing 67 of 105 pitches for strikes. It was his first complete game in 101 career starts. Locke retired 19 straight at one point and needed just six pitches to get through the seventh inning.

The announced crowd of 10,856 was a season-low for the Marlins, who entered the day averaging just under 20,000 (see full recap).