Things Continue to Fall Apart: Backlund Hurt, Flyers Lose to Pens

Things Continue to Fall Apart: Backlund Hurt, Flyers Lose to Pens

Discussing the Flyers hasn't been too much fun lately. They continue to lose, building on their own poor trends and getting screwed by some outside factors (including a bone in Jeff Carter's foot literally being screwed in place). It really gives me no joy to bitch about the refs, but I continue to be amazed at the decisions they make, and get away with making game after game. I'm not calling "conspiracy," because via the powers of the internet, we regularly hear about the amazing inconsistency of the officiating throughout the league. I'm just talking about our little corner of that, with the full caveat that the Flyers need to find a way to play dominant hockey so that few close calls don't matter. However, with yet another injured goalie, how much can we expect to change for the better?

For those who missed the game and those who like to relive painful experiences, here are some of the moments that made up a frustrating Saturday afternoon for Flyers fans. 

First, they started off the game fairly well. Johan Backlund looked sharp early and for most of his time in the crease during this start. Things were looking up when Arron Asham tossed a bloop shot on Pittsburgh's net, and it handcuffed Marc-Andre Fleury, falling into the goal behind him. 

That was the start of a theme for the day—weird shit happening in and around MAF's crease.

Backlund would give up two goals, both on rebounds. Judging a goalie on the rebounds he gives up is tricky business, and we'll reserve any such discussion here. They were big, but better than getting beat by the first attempt. Overall, Backlund played well, making a few saves of the "how the hell did that stay out?" variety.

It should come as a surprise to no one though, that Backlund would leave the game between the second and third periods with a lower-body injury. Tim Panaccio says it was a groin pull, which makes sense given that Backlund missed time in the AHL last week due to a groin issue. Backlund becomes the fourth Flyers goalie to miss time due to injury this season, joining Ray Emery, Brian Boucher, and Michael Leighton. We simply can't catch a break in net. No word yet on how long he'll be out, but after seeing him step up and play well for two periods today, we hope he's back very soon. Groin injuries are obviously not easy on goalies though. 

Flyers haters will enjoy this, but once again, the big bad Bullies were jobbed by the refs in this one. First, the stuff involving Fleury and his fortress of solitude. Toward the beginning of the second period, JVR was in front of the crease, tangled with a Pens defender. Their contact was fairly incidental, but JVR was spun off and into Fleury. There was no real effect on the play other than a little flop from MAF, but the arm went up, and JVR went off for the third of three straight Flyers penalties to start the game. 

The more controversial call, however, came when Simon Gagne scored on Fleury, was awarded the goal by the closest ref to the play, only to later wave it off after discussing with the other officials... 

Ville Leino came in hard to the goal area, made contact with a defender, whose stick was in his skates. Leino then collided with Fleury, who was a foot out in front of the crease, throwing his head back as he fell to the ice. Gags put the puck in, and the ref on the goal line pointed to it in the net, signaling the goal. Why the refs would change the call, I'm not sure. If they had waved it off due to interference, I might have less to say about it. But they called the contact incidental, albeit long after originally calling it a good goal. I guess it really hinges on whether you think Leino deliberately made contact, and where that contact was made, because here is how the rule reads:

Goals should be disallowed only if: (1) an attacking player, either by his positioning or by contact, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely within his crease or defend his goal; or (2) an attacking player initiates intentional or deliberate contact with a goalkeeper, inside or outside of his goal crease. Incidental contact with a goalkeeper will be permitted, and resulting goals allowed, when such contact is initiated outside of the goal crease, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact. [...]

The overriding rationale of this rule is that a goalkeeper should have the ability to move freely within his goal crease without being hindered by the actions of an attacking player. [emphasis mine]

Whether or not you think the contact could be avoided is a point worth debating. But, the location of the contact is pretty clear cut. All eyes and sticks are focused on the puck, so the argument could be made that Fleury's being out of the crease was the reason the attacker made contact with him. I think Leino could've avoided it if he tried, and this picture doesn't show how significant the contact ended up being, but his primary objective there is scoring, and as you can see, Leino is 3 feet away from the crease at the point of initial contact. 
Interpret it as you will, but I think the biggest factor in MAF's being unable to play the puck was that he was way too far out of the crease, resulting in getting hit by a guy whose stick was on the puck at the time. 

[Update: The rules also state, very clearly, that these plays will be governed by on-ice calls only—NOT by video replay. However, Panotch points out that Simon Gagne and Peter Laviolette each said the officials watched the play on the big screen over the ice before ultimately overturning it. They'd rather violate the rulebook than piss off the home fans? I can see wanting to get the call right, but have some respect for the rules. What's next, overturning it because your buddy at home texted you that it was interference?]

The final MAF Laff came when Claude Giroux was skating in on the Pittsburgh net with a great scoring opportunity. Knowing Giroux can make some moves with the puck, Fleury drops his stick along on ice at Giroux's feet. No call, and even the homer FSN Pittsburgh announcer asks, "Did he throw his stick?" 

While we're bitchin it out here, I'll also point to the Matt Cooke goal, which was another blind-ref moment. Cooke had the puck behind the Flyers net, marked by Ryan Parent. He skated through Parent's check, catching Parent's stick under his arm, clamping down on it, falling to the ice while pulling the stick out of Parent's hand. But as you can see, the ref didn't get a good look at that one. 

In the freeze frame, he looks wounded or something, but he went down of his own accord. Parent dropped the stick to get after the puck, which had gone to the front of the net, where Ruslan Fedotenko crosschecked Blair Betts from behind, then passed it back to Cooke, who scored. 

Two possible penalties right in the vicinity of the puck, and no calls. Full disclosure: I'd have no problem with the Flyers doing what either Penguin did in that sequence, and I don't fault the Pens for gaming it up in that way. 

Anyway, aside from all that, the Flyers were once again unable to contain Sidney Crosby, who had three assists on the day. He's everything you don't want your rival to have, and today he was even feistier than usual. Something happened late in the game along the boards between Hartnell and Crosby, which in a quick glance looked like Crosby getting the better of Hartnell with a hit (yeah, I know). We never saw a replay on the Philly feed, but it somehow resulted in Hartnell going off for his second consecutive roughing penalty, and then a Penguins goal.  

With the three points, he moved ahead of Mario Lemieux for most points per game all time versus the Flyers. Chris Pronger was brought here to contain him, but he can't play for 60 minutes. Pronger was a plus-1 in a game the Flyers lost 4-1. Very symbolic for this season.  

Things don't get any easier tomorrow, with the Devils coming to the Wachovia Center for a 7PM start. 

2017 Eagles Cost Analysis, C: Cash money or Kelce?

2017 Eagles Cost Analysis, C: Cash money or Kelce?

Time to talk everybody's favorite Eagles whipping boy, or one of them in Jason Kelce, who's viewed very differently by fans than he is his peers. Case in point, it might surprise some readers to learn Kelce was named a second alternate to the Pro Bowl for 2016, which means a lot of NFL players and coaches must've been voting for him.

We know Eagles fans weren't coming out in droves. Yet if we were to go off of only the respect people around the league have for Kelce, he's considered one of the top eight centers in football. That ranking also happens to be roughly commensurate with his salary cap hit for 2017, which is currently 10th at the position, according to OverTheCap.

That's still going to be high for many critics that say Kelce is too undersized and has become too frequently penalized in recent years. It's especially high when you tell some of those same people the Eagles could save nearly $4 million by going in a different direction.

The trade or release of Kelce would free up $3.8 million to be exact, although once again, that's before we consider the cost of replacing him. And unlike other areas of the Eagles roster, there really isn't a young prospect waiting in the wings to take over, even somebody who is maybe only a year away from being ready to take over.

So if the Eagles were to get rid of Kelce, they would have to pay somebody to replace him. Granted, only 14 centers carry a higher cap number, and many starters make half of the six-year veteran's money, so there are cheaper options available — although, what kind of quality is the offense getting for that price?

Kelce is a perfect example of when the grass isn't always greener. There are some big, mauling centers around the NFL, like the Pouncey brothers, and who doesn't love that? But while Kelce isn't necessarily going to rip anybody's spine out at the point of attack, there probably isn't a better center in the league at pulling or blocking at the second and third levels. He's a unique player from that perspective, something people tend to forget.

The Eagles are not going to upgrade the position by going significantly cheaper. Kelce can hold his own in pass protection, and he's elite when the play design allows him to get into space. There's also something to be said for his knowledge of the offense, in addition to the rapport he's building with Carson Wentz.

Best case scenario, the Eagles are probably replacing him with Stefan Wisniewski, who the club paid $2.76 million in 2016. Figuring a raise, that's most of their cap savings right there, and Wisniewski is not nearly as decorated or so widely respected by his peers. There must be a reason for that.

Kelce is pretty good.

CENTERS UNDER CONTRACT

Jason Kelce
Age: 30*
Cap Number: $6,200,000

The bigger issue with Kelce is he's approaching his 30th birthday this year, although many centers enjoy lengthy careers, especially the guys who play more of a finesse game. And if the Eagles do want to start thinking about the future, it might help if they begin developing his replacement now. Kelce will be much easier to move on from in 2018 in terms of the salary cap, so if the Eagles draft somebody this year, theoretically they could move on next season. Keep in mind, Kelce was a sixth-round pick, and the club got a lot of mileage out of him, so it doesn't have to be a major investment. Plus, if that doesn't work out, renegotiation could be on the table, with Kelce's cap hit reaching $7.2 million in '18, but only $1.2 million of prorated signing bonus left on a contract that runs through 2020. The Eagles will be looking to reduce their costs, while Kelce will want some financial security.

Josh Andrews
Age: 26*
Cap Number: $615,000

Andrews joined the Eagles as an undrafted free agent out of Oregon State in 2014, and after a few years of clinging to the practice squad and on the 53-man roster as a reserve, finally saw his first action on offense this season. He played one snap at center against the Ravens in Week 15. Andrews can also line up at guard and has played special teams, though spent most of '16 inactive. He seems like a bit of a Chip Kelly outcast at this point, although it's difficult to put him in a box with so little actual experience. Is Andrews somebody who simply hasn't been given an opportunity and could fill in capably for Kelce, or will the Eagles feel the need to find competition for his roster spot?

Aaron Neary
Age: 25*

Neary originally joined the Broncos roster as an undrafted rookie, but found his way to the Eagles practice squad following his release. The Eastern Washington prospect was a two-time All-American at the Division I-AA level. At 6-foor-1, 305 pounds, Neary is considered undersized, like Kelce, which suggests this organization wants nimble centers like that. While he's probably a ways away from having any impact, the Eagles signed Neary to a futures contract at the conclusion of the season.

* Age as of 12/31/2017

Emmanuel Acho and Joe Banner have hilarious Twitter exchange about his awful trade

Emmanuel Acho and Joe Banner have hilarious Twitter exchange about his awful trade

You probably remember Emmanuel Acho more for his Twitter exploits than for anything he ever did on a football field. That was the case once again over the weekend when another former Eagle had a huge game for the Patriots in their win over the Houston Texans in the AFC playoffs.

Oh, and former Philadelphia Eagles decision maker Joe Banner was also involved.

All of it started because Dion Lewis, a one-time Eagles running back drafted in the 5th round in 2011, scored three TDs in a variety of ways on the Patriots way to another AFC title game.

The joke here is that Banner -- then with the Browns -- was on the winning end of the Lewis-for-Acho trade and was himself eventually fired from his job in Cleveland. But hey, at least Acho got out of that awful city.

Lewis has battled injury for much of his career and hasn't exactly been the second coming of LeSean McCoy but he's yet another case of the Bill Belichick Patriots finding a player who had floundered with other teams only to flourish in big moments in New England.

And Joe Banner may have seen that potential early on.