Subject: Friday Morning Fly By: Weekends are good.
Today's open discussion thread, complete with your daily dose of Philadelphia Flyers news and notes...
*Anyone else get mad at Del Zotto for hitting Jaromir Jagr? No, just me? Cool. RECAP!
*The Flyers have signed German Rubtsov to his entry level deal, which is awesome, because he's been awesome. [Flyers]
*If you ask Flyers fans, the team did...not great on deadline day. Not a lot of ringing endorsements. [CSN Philly]
*One cool thing is it's super easy to rank deadline day deals because there are so few of them. [Puck Daddy]
*This little dancing goaltender is going to make your day better, I assure you. [Puck Daddy]
*And finally, in case you missed it, the special Deadline Day wrapup episode of BSH Radio for your enjoyment. [BSH]
Subject: The best photos from the Flyers shootout win against the Panthers
March 2, 2017: Philadelphia Flyers vs. Florida Panthers featured photo gallery
Subject: Flyers 2, Panthers 1: 10 things we learned from a post-trade deadline triumph
It looked like the same old script for the Flyers. But with the help of a new acquisition, they avoided their usual fate.
Morning Observations is a feature where we break down the previous night's game with an analytical eye.
#1: Started strong, faltered, then recovered
Especially over the past two months, the Flyers have often not looked the part of a resilient team. It’s not that they’ve been bad all of the time — in fact, for long stretches of play in most of their losses, Philadelphia has won the territorial battle and made life difficult for their opponents. But all too often, the script seemed predestined — Flyers would fail to score despite all that pressure, give up a quick goal due to a breakdown of some sort, and then fall apart and allow the other team to take control of the pace of play. That’s exactly what happened last night against the Panthers, except in this game, Philadelphia refused to let the narrative end there.
They dominated the first period, winning the 5v5 shot attempts battle 17-7 and earning three power play opportunities, including an extended 5-on-3. But unsurprisingly, they could not score even one goal despite all of that pressure. They came out just as strong in the early portion of the second period, but started to sag a bit around the eight-minute mark. After just three minutes of that, Florida capitalized on the Flyers’ inability to sustain their dominance, and the rest of the period was all Panthers. Considering the fact that the players surely knew they had squandered a major opportunity by not scoring despite generating loads of shots and chances early, it would have been very easy for them to continue their sloppy play into the third period and not come with much of a push.
Instead, they played a classic “down by 1 goal” period, spending most of the session in the Florida end before tying things up midway through the period. They didn’t even let up after evening the score, outshooting Florida in terms of attempts 18-8 over the final nine minutes of regulation. This was something of a gut check game for the Flyers, battling against one of their rivals for that final wild card spot in the East, and to their credit, they came through when it mattered the most.
#2: Team still can’t score
The Flyers may have earned a much-needed two points last night, but the team’s continued inability to put the puck in the net reared its ugly head yet again. Philadelphia racked up 89 shot attempts, 49 shots on goal, and 4.69 Expected Goals on the night, yet could push just one past the Florida goalie tandem of Roberto Luongo (who left with an injury after one period) and James Reimer. It’s easy to scream “shot quality!” but 4.69 xG, 43 regular scoring chances and 20 high-danger ones tells a different tale, as does the shot chart.
The Flyers pretty much shot from everywhere, but the highest concentration is exactly where a coach wants it to be — right in front of the net. But even with shot volume and shot quality, Philadelphia still could score just once. There’s surely a talent element to this, as the team lacks true snipers, but to me, this is mostly just the season from hell. Yes, the Flyers can sometimes overuse low-to-high shooting strategies in the offensive zone that depress their scoring rates, but even on nights when they do generate tons of chances (like this one), the floodgates hold strong. Because I refuse to believe that a forward corps filled with players holding career shooting percentages over 10% simply forgot how to put the puck in the net overnight, I have to conclude that this is just a bizarre, fluky season for the team as a whole. It may not be the most satisfying answer, but sometimes the right answers aren’t.
#3: Filppula a strong debut
The goal of the Mark Streit-for-Valtteri Filppula trade was simple — acquire a useful 3C without expending any assets, aside from an expansion draft protection slot and $5 million in cap space next year. The Flyers tried numerous options in the 3C role this season, including Brayden Schenn and Nick Cousins, but never seemed fully satisfied with either. Since their best center prospects (German Rubtsov and Mikhail Vorobyov) are at least two years away, and the market for centers in free agency was looking extremely thin, Hextall apparently decided that Filppula was worth the risk.
But the move does come with risk, namely that Filppula will simply not be a useful third line center next season. Yes, his 5v5 scoring rates have jumped back into borderline first liner territory in 2016-17, but Filppula hasn’t driven play relative to his teammates since 2013-14, even if he’s generally stayed above 50% in terms of raw differential. You generally don’t want a top-nine center getting buried, but it remained legitimately possible that Filppula was grading out poorly simply because the top-end of Tampa Bay’s roster made him look unimpressive by comparison. On a team with less forward depth, maybe Filppula wouldn’t be a liability at all, yet would still be able to contribute solid scoring rates.
At least last night, that’s exactly what happened. Not only did Filppula score the game-tying goal simply by crashing the net and making himself a target for the puck (something Flyers players have struggled to do this year), he also was not a liability in terms of territorial play, finishing with a solid 56.53% score-adjusted Corsi, almost dead-even (-0.07%) relative to his teammates. Filppula’s plus puck-carrying ability was apparent, as he generated multiple controlled offensive zone entries at 5v5, sometimes doing so more than once on the same shift. His passing also stood out as effective in all three zones. There have been many examples of eventual disappointments getting off to good starts in Flyers uniforms (Ilya Bryzgalov and Vincent Lecavalier come to mind) so it’s best to hold to a wait-and-see approach when it comes to Filppula. But it was certainly an auspicious beginning.
#4: Mason shakes off situation, excels
Following the Flyers’ decision to lock up Michal Neuvirth to a two-year extension, the status of Steve Mason with the organization seems fairly straightforward. With Anthony Stolarz banging down the door for an NHL backup spot, and Neuvirth signed to a $2.5 mil AAV that seems quite expensive for a traditional backup role, the future in net for Philadelphia appears to hold no room for Mason, since his contract expires at the end of the season. However, that lame-duck status did not prevent Dave Hakstol from going back to Mason last night, fresh off a shutout of the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday. And for the second straight game, Mason delivered, stopping 39 of 40 shots and making two big saves in the shootout to earn the victory.
What seems clear is that even though the front office has ostensibly committed to Neuvirth over Mason for the future, that doesn’t mean that Mason won’t have a chance to take the starting job and run with it during the stretch run, so long as his play warrants the usage. Mason may not be having a strong year at all (though it’s still been better than Neuvirth’s season!), but don’t forget that he delivered three straight years of better than 0.917 goaltending as a starter for the Flyers prior to the 2016-17 debacle. He’s fully capable of turning things around. And if he does, that will make for an interesting situation moving into the offseason, especially if Mason plays lights-out hockey the rest of the way.
#5: Constant offensive zone motion by forwards
One possible reason for the Flyers’ goal-scoring struggles this season is that they simply haven’t been creative enough in the offensive zone. The regular formula has been obvious — win a puck battle down low, get it back to the point, and then blast away with traffic in front, hoping for a deflection or rebound opportunity. Some of that is on the coaching staff, to be sure, but let’s not absolve the players, either. Low-to-high is an easy fallback strategy for them, as the point men are usually open for passes. Creative feeds are more difficult and hold an increased likelihood of turnovers, but also create far better chances when executed properly. All too often, the forwards have taken the safe route when on the attack, rather than the best one.
That’s didn’t happen last night, however. Both on rushes and in the cycle game, the Flyers players were in constant motion, criss-crossing with and without the puck in an attempt to confuse Florida defensemen and get open for passes. The Filppula goal was a perfect example — on a controlled entry, Jakub Voracek and Brayden Schenn essentially swapped spots in the high slot on a passing play, which served to open up the middle lane for Filppula and give extra space for Schenn to make a pass to a high-danger area. The Flyers may not be the Penguins in terms of raw skill, but they have more than enough talent to make plays like this on a regular basis. Last night, at least, they did so consistently.
#6: Giroux’s strong game at 5v5 overshadowed by awful turnover
Even when things go well for Claude Giroux this season, he seems to find a way to frustrate fans. Last night, Giroux’s and his wingers (Wayne Simmonds and Jordan Weal) were absolutely dominant at 5v5. In terms of raw shot attempts generated/prevented, the Flyers doubled up the Panthers with the captain on the ice, racking up 22 attempts and allowing just 11 in over 13 minutes of ice time. In addition, Giroux helped his team to create five high-danger opportunities while permitting not a single one to the opposition. The result was a team-leading score-adjusted Corsi (63.95%) and xG (85.93%) from Giroux.
However, all of that strong play was overshadowed by a horrific play in the second period that led to Florida’s only goal. Rather than carry the puck up ice, Giroux attempted a half-hearted pass to Brayden Schenn that was both off-target and lacking any real velocity. To compound his error, Giroux then was walked by Aaron Ekblad as he tried to prevent the ensuing shorthanded rush. To the captain’s credit, he took full blame for the goal, stating, “I’m pissed off and I have to be better and the team played a great 55 minute game and personally I gave Florida a point so it’s frustrating.” You can’t absolve him entirely for the play (it was, objectively speaking, an awful showing) but you also can’t ignore that he exerted his authority in basically every other shift of the game.
#7: Power play great early, liability later
A brief look at the shot generation metrics for the top unit would lead one to believe that they had another “good process, bad result” game. After all, each member of PP1 finished with a Corsi For per 60 over 180 (anything over 100 is very good), so on the whole, they definitely had their chances to score. However, the vast majority of those shots occurred on the very first power play of the game, which saw Philadelphia blast away at Roberto Luongo with eight shot attempts during a shift in which they kept the puck in the offensive zone for over a minute.
Their other PPs were less than inspiring, though, and that was including 1:05 of a 5-on-3 that mustered two unblocked shots and no goals. Things got even worse in the second, as Giroux’s consecutive mistakes ended up directly resulting in an Ekblad tally. To be sure, Florida’s penalty kill unit is very good (2nd in the NHL in success rate, 1st in shot suppression), primarily due to how aggressively they challenge puck carriers. Still, the Flyers are an elite shot creation unit, so you would have liked to have seen them build off that strong early PP. Instead, they faded.
#8: Couturier line matched heavily against Barkov
With Michael Raffl now of the lineup for the foreseeable future and Dale Weise scratched to make way for Roman Lyubimov, Sean Couturier lost both of his linemates from the previous game in one fell swoop. Given the opportunity to provide Couturier with scoring wingers, however, Hakstol instead decided to try and replicate the spirit of the past line by placing his young center with Matt Read (a play-driver) and Nick Cousins (a strong transition player). That’s not much scoring help for Couturier, but it is a trio that can be reasonably expected to push play in the right direction.
A play-driving line that doesn't bring much offense to the table is probably best suited for shutdown duty, and that’s exactly how Dave Hakstol used the Couturier line last night, giving them heavy minutes against Aleksander Barkov, Jaromir Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau. In 10:25 minutes at 5v5 versus Barkov, Couturier held a strong 55.54% score-adjusted Corsi, and helped to prevent Barkov’s unit from generating even one high-danger chance. His line also thrived against Vincent Trocheck and his mates, a matchup that took up the remainder of Couturier’s ice time. In fact, Couturier led all Flyers centers in 5v5 ice time, a testament to the faith that Hakstol placed in his unit last night.
#9: Strong start for Ghost, some later struggles
For the first 25 minutes of the game, Shayne Gostisbehere was maybe the most dynamic Flyers player on the ice. Particularly in the offensive zone, Ghost was a handful for the Panthers, using his mobility to open up shooting lanes and carry the puck down to the faceoff circles in order to create more dangerous shots than simple point blasts. In fact, he led all Flyers players last night with 11 shot attempts and 7 shots on goal, and ranked third in individual Expected Goals with 0.47, implying that his shot creation wasn’t of the low quality variety. In that sense, it was truly a standout performance from the Ghost Bear.
But as the team started to sag midway through the second period, Gostisbehere’s play dipped as well. The worst moment was one horrific shift that saw Ghost’s attempted ice-length pass be intercepted and turned into an immediate Florida scoring chance, and then a second high-difficulty breakout pass become an icing. The remainder of the game was a mix of strong offensive plays and turnovers, as he looked like a player who had supreme confidence in his puck skills in the offensive zone but jumpy in his own end. The numbers pick up some of that — he posted a solid +1.94% score-adjusted Corsi relative to his teammates, but was -13.89% relative to those teammates in xG, implying that his mistakes were leading to high-quality chances. On the whole, I want Ghost taking risks, but on this night, he made a few too many errors for my liking despite his clear contributions on offense.
#10: Flyers aren’t awful at shootouts this year
Now that Philadelphia has made it through over 75% of their season, it can be safely noted that the team’s historically awful shootout performance hasn’t carried over to the 2016-17 season. Last night’s victory was the Flyers’ sixth shootout win of the season, against four losses. For those that view the shootout as essentially a coin flip driven by random chance, this year has just been an example of the luck finally going the team’s way (appropriately, in a season where all of the Flyers’ luck in other situations has been horrific). Others might attribute the improvement to the play of the goalies, who have stopped 79.49% of all attempts this year, or to Jakub Voracek, who has scored on five of his nine shots after being only an occasional option for Hakstol last season. Regardless of the reason, fans rightfully aren’t dreading shootouts this year, a dramatic shift from their past thoughts on the skills competition.
Subject: Goodbye, Steve Mason: Did Michal Neuvirth’s new contract end a Flyer career?
How did Mason’s uplifting comeback story end up going so wrong?
With the Flyers signing Michal Neuvirth to a contract extension on Wednesday -- a two-year contract extension, with a big raise, during a year he has a sub-.890 save percentage — there are a lot of questions.
Will he be in tandem with Anthony Stolarz next year? Will he be exposed in June’s expansion draft? Will the Flyers sign another goaltender this summer?
But while those questions around Neuvirth persist as we look at the Flyers goaltending situation moving forward, one apparent reality is that Steve Mason is no longer part of that future.
The writing was probably on the wall for a while here. Mason played well for a stretch this season while Neuvirth was on the shelf with an injury, and his overall numbers have indeed been better than Neuvirth in 2016-17. But both goalies have been bad, and Mason’s .905 save percentage is nothing to write home about.
The result? For whatever reason, the Flyers feel as though Neuvirth won whatever battle existed between them this season.
It was evident that Dave Hakstol and the front office had cooled on Mason as a long-term option in goal, clearly shown over the last month as Neuvirth started six games in a row — to terrible effect during a playoff race -- and Mason sat on the bench watching.
Now, by signing Neuvy just hours before the trade deadline, it is pretty clear that Mason will not be back next season. It’s a quick, frustrating end to what before this season had been a compelling comeback story.
Mason rebuilt his career in Philadelphia
Mason came to the Flyers at the 2013 trade deadline, and we had a lot of questions when the deal was made. To that point, Mason had been one of the worst statistical goaltenders in the NHL following his Calder Trophy-winning rookie year, and there were big questions about whether or not the change of scenery would work for him.
I mean, a goalie going to Philadelphia for a change of scenery? With our history of goalies? Come on. It seemed unlikely to work.
But .... well, it worked. Pretty masterfully for a while. Mason played just seven games following his deadline day trade during that 2012-13 season, and he allowed just 12 goals in those games. It made us all excited for what he might be able to do in his first full season with the team.
As the 2013-14 season began, stories emerged of Mason’s chemistry with Flyers goalie coach Jeff Reese — how Reese helped him get his head straight and his game back to form after some terrible seasons in Columbus. The results showed.
Mason had been a sub-.900 goalie his final year with the Jackets, and in 61 games during his first full season in Philly, a league average .918 was enough to help the Flyers get to the postseason. He was injured just before the playoffs that year, and in a close series with the New York Rangers, there’s still a belief that had he been healthy the Flyers could have advanced beyond that series.
The first cracks?
The 2014-15 season wasn’t just a good one for Mason. It was the third-best season in franchise history for a starting goaltender. The results were not there for the team as a whole, and the year led to the firing of Craig Berube as head coach. But that could hardly be pinned on Mason.
The season was not all roses for the goaltender, however. It’s possible that the first cracks in the relationship between Mason and the Flyers came during the ‘14-15 season, too. Mase dealt with a few injury issues throughout the year, and frustrations about how he was handled by Berube came to a head in March.
Reese, the goalie coach who was so pivotal in getting Mason’s game back in order, reportedly left the team over the situation. Here’s how we wrote it up:
Essentially, there have been multiple times where it's looked like the Flyers have rushed to get Mason back on the ice and in games before he was 100 percent recovered from his injuries. [...]
The Flyers, desperate to win hockey games and (per Berube's own words) going with their "gut", have been trying to get their best goalie on the ice as soon as they deem it possible for months now. But it's clear that they've been doing it at a detriment to Mason's health, and it's all snowballed over time and ... has ultimately led to the departure of their well-respected goalie coach.
Mason was pretty tight-lipped about the whole thing, but noticeably unhappy:
“It’s been a tough couple days here,” Mason said. “[Thursday's] game was a real hard game to focus on just because of the circumstances. What was going on. Like I said, he is somebody I owe my career to. I wish him the best.”
With Berube fired weeks later, the hope was that those issues were in the rear view mirror. It’s hard to know if they’ve lingered in the back of Mason’s mind since or not.
Enter Neuvirth, in a clear backup role
On July 1 that summer, the Flyers signed Michal Neuvirth to a two-year deal, and despite all the drama surrounding the Flyers, Reese and Mason, it was evident from the get-go that Neuvirth was coming in as a backup.
Mason was dealing with some personal issues early in the season — which impacted his play to a certain extent -- and Neuvy came in relief to perform admirably, but at no point during the regular season was there any real thought that Mason had lost his starting gig.
The slow start was concerning, but that concern quickly evaporated. Despite a sub-.900 start to the year, Mason’s season numbers were back up near .910 by the New Year, and things felt back to normal. In fact, we all just felt generally good about the goalie situation: for the first time in a long time, the Flyers had two capable netminders. What a world.
Under new coach Dave Hakstol in 2015-16, the Flyers went on that unbelievable second half run to the playoffs. Flashy guys like Shayne Gostisbehere get a lot of the credit for it, but it can be easy to forget just how solid Mason was in net on a night-in, night-out basis during the stretch.
In fact, during the 2016 half of the season -- from January 7 against Minnesota until his regular season finale against Pittsburgh on April 9 — Mason went 16-9-5 with a .923 save percentage. He was as much a reason the Flyers qualified for the postseason in Hakstol’s rookie coaching year as anything else.
Neuvirth had been a key piece on the Flyers in 2015-16 too, playing slightly more than the average backup and picking up Mason’s slack early in the year.
But it was completely clear throughout the year that it had been Mason’s net with Neuvirth as his clear obvious subordinate. The usage showed that and the stats did, too -- particularly in the back half the year as Mason led the Flyers to the playoffs and Neuvirth provided a solid .909 performance in relief.
Mason started 17 of 18 games during one point in this stretch, including a stretch of 13 straight until the Flyers finally clinched a playoff spot.
Six games changed the narrative against Mason
It was the 2016 playoffs that seemed to change the narrative around the Flyers goaltending situation; never mind that he was the reason they got there.
Mason looked perfectly fine in a tight 2-0 win for Washington in Game 1, but the wheels fell off his bus in Game 2.
With the full effect of hindsight now available to us, it’s possible that this goal was what ultimately led to the end of his Flyers career, or at least the start of the downfall:
The Flyers lost that Game 2 and the talking points immediately flipped. Mason buckled under the pressure of that goal, the fanbase and the 2-0 series deficit. While there was talk that he may have hurt himself in Game 2, he didn’t show anything in Game 3 to restore confidence, and ... as it turned out, that was the end of his season.
Philadelphia lost. Hakstol opted to start Neuvirth in Game 4 with the team’s backs against the wall. Here’s what we wrote at the time:
Steve Mason has not played particularly well in these last two games for the Flyers, and while he's certainly not the chief problem on the team in this series, he hasn't been a difference maker either. There's been some speculation that he's been injured, perhaps suffering a setback in Game 2 down in D.C. There's no confirmation of that, although it'd be a fair explanation for some of the weak goals he's given up in the series.
This shouldn't define Mason's season. Maybe he's hurt, maybe he's not. There is no doubt that he hasn't looked himself in the last few games, and given that it's hard to argue with the call to change goalies for this big Game 4. But at the same time, let's hope that the narrative will keep in focus the fact that his strong season-long play is one of the key reasons the Flyers are even playing here in the postseason.
Had the Flyers lost Game 4, it probably wouldn’t have done much to change the reality that Mason had been the better goalie over the long term, that he was a key reason the team made the 2016 playoffs, and that he would enter the 2016-17 season as the clear starter. It would have been a few bad games, and a reset entering the new year.
Had Neuvirth played fine but not brilliantly in Games 4, 5 and 6, things would have been status quo entering the offseason. But Neuvirth didn’t just play brilliantly. He was the reason the Flyers even had a chance to play Games 5 and 6.
In Game 4 on home ice, Neuvirth made his first meaningful start in over a month and absolutely killed it, allowing just one goal while making 31 saves in a 2-1 win to keep the season alive. It was a team effort, but Neuvy certainly did more than his part.
Game 5 back in Washington was what really got the fanbase behind Neuvirth. A game the Flyers had no right winning was stolen from the jaws of defeat thanks to a Ryan White goal and a 44-save shutout by Neuvirth. I mean, look at the headline from our game recap that night.
The Flyers returned home with the thoughts of a 2010-like comeback on the minds in of a raucous Wells Fargo Center crowd, but Neuvirth and the squad were not able to pull out the win, losing just 1-0 despite 28 saves.
That playoff series and the goaltending change within it was enough for the momentum to shift into Neuvirth’s corner, however. Here’s what we wrote in our review of his 2015-16 season under the headline “Has Michal Neuvirth pushed himself into the long-term goalie discussion?”
While it's generally inadvisable to make sweeping, long-term judgments based on a single playoff series, it seems hard to deny that what happened in the playoffs will shape how many Flyers fans will remember Neuvirth's season (as well as Mason's, but that's a discussion for another time). After coming into the playoffs as a very solid but injury-prone goalie who was clearly the backup to Steve Mason (who was a huge reason the team made the playoffs in his own right), many who follow the team are now clamoring for Neuvirth to be the team's starter going into next year.
That is ... precisely what happened.
Entering camp this season, the conversation was not that Neuvirth would remain the backup -- or at best, the ‘1B’ — to Mason the starter. It was about which goalie we thought would win the season-long goaltending battle, as both were free agents after the year and only one would likely be sticking around.
Neither goalie rose to the occasion. Mason’s numbers have been ugly this season, and Neuvirth’s have been uglier. The Flyers are not really in the playoff picture with 20 games left, barring another ridiculous run, and the goaltending is at least partially to blame for that. As recently as this week, we were talking about the chances of the Flyers letting both guys walk in free agency.
But now Neuvirth is here for two more years, barring his selection by Las Vegas in the expansion draft. Ron Hextall said in his post-deadline press conference that he would not rule out signing Mason again, but it’s obvious that chances are slim there.
Does this sound like a goalie who is happy with his current situation?
"We just had no indication it was in their cards," [Mason] said. "I basically just never even planned on it. It would be different if there were conversations but there were none, so you kind of put it on the backburner and focus on trying to win hockey games.
"My signing here I don't think was going to happen during the regular season anyway. We've had no talks. So at the end of the day, it changes nothing for me. My one goal is to get this team into the playoffs, have a playoff run and come summertime we'll see what happens.
"It doesn't change anything for me, it doesn't make me bitter or anything like that. If anything, it just clarifies things and puts your guessing game away from the forefront of your mind. So, clear mind the rest of the way here and hopefully we can have a strong run."
“It just clarifies things and puts your guessing game away.”
Yep, it sure does.
The Flyers went out of their way on trade deadline day to side with the goalie who not only has been worse this season, but has been worse throughout his career. You don’t even have to be a big fan of Steve Mason or a hater of Michal Neuvirth to admit that of the two, Mase is objectively the better goaltender. These are just facts.
And if you’re Steve Mason, would you want to come back to this? Would you want to come back and, at best, work in tandem with the guy who the team signed over you, despite the fact that you have consistently proven that you are the better player?
Didn’t think so.
So just like that — again, barring some miraculous run that again flips the narrative on its head — we’re seeing the likely end of Mason’s time in Philadelphia. You can’t really blame him if he’s ready to put it in his rear view mirror, too.
Subject: Kirk Cousins gets exclusive franchise tag from Redskins, which is good and bad news for the Eagles
An update on everyone's favorite NFC East quarterback: Kurt Coupons.
For the second year in a row, the Washington Redskins used the franchise tag on quarterback Kirk Cousins. Unlike last year, however, Washington applied the exclusive version of the franchise tag to Cousins this time around. This means he’s set to make at least $24 million in 2017.
This news has good and bad implications for the Philadelphia Eagles. Let's break it down.
Why Washington tagging Cousins is bad news for the Eagles
• For as much as I like to poke fun at Kurt Coupons, he does play pretty well against the Eagles. He's 4-1 in five starts against Philly. Take a look at his splits against the Birds: 63.59% completion for 1,579 yards, 12 touchdowns, three interceptions, and a 102.9 passer rating. The Eagles haven't been able to beat Washington since the 2014 season. Their struggles might continue with Cousins staying in the division.
Why Washington tagging Cousins is good news for the Eagles
I'd argue the good news outweighs the bad news for the Eagles.
• First, Washington is paying Cousins $24 million in 2017. $24 million! Only Andrew Luck ($24.6 million) and Drew Brees ($24.3 million) have a higher average annual value. Cousins has posted some good numbers down in Washington, yes. But he's just not an elite quarterback. He struggles to help Washington beat good teams and he's come up really small in some big moments. Washington got demolished in the first round of the 2016 playoffs. With the post-season on the line in what was a meaningless game for the Giants, Cousins mightily struggled against New York's defense.
Kirk Cousins against the Giants when NYG had nothing to play for:— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) January 2, 2017
22/35, 285 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 74.1 ratinghttps://t.co/X0Q5luDecO
Kirk Cousins’ starting record: 19-21-1— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) January 2, 2017
Cousins’ record against teams with 9+ wins: 2-11
Teams with 8+ wins: 5-13https://t.co/8g1soNsA5E
• The most common refrain I hear to my criticism of Cousins is that "QB WINZ AREN'T A REAL STAT!" Look, I'm not trying to say Cousins is downright terrible. Again, he's posted some good numbers. But I'm just not convinced he's worth the elite quarterback money he's making. Elite quarterbacks beat good teams and come up big in big moments.
• I'm not the only one who isn't convinced Cousins is as good as some suggest. His own team doesn't believe in him! If they truly did, they would have signed him to a long-term deal by now. To his credit, Cousins realizes this, too. And that partially explains why the 28-year-old quarterback reportedly doesn't want to sign a long-term deal in Washington, either. How does it feel to cape for a quarterback who doesn't even want you, Washington fans?
• Washington is pretty screwed in the long-term. Cousins holds all the leverage over the organization. Washington can't tag Cousins for a third time because that would cost $35 million in 2018. There's no reason for Cousins to settle for less because he could potentially get significant offers if he makes it to the market. He's often been connected to his former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who now coaches the San Francisco 49ers. Washington is likely going to have to make Cousins the highest paid player in NFL history in order to work out a long-term deal with him. And that's something they're clearly not comfortable doing based on their past behavior, but they might not have any other choice.
• Tagging Cousins causes Washington to lose a large $24 million chunk of cap space. Washington still has $35 million to work with, so it's not like they're totally screwed, but it could impact their free agency plans. DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon are both scheduled to be free agents. A big reason why Cousins has been so success is because he's had a great cast of weapons to work with (much unlike Carson Wentz). We'll see how Cousins performs if/when he loses some of his weapons.
Eagles fans will be able to appreciate Washington's dilemma more if Philadelphia can actually start to beat them once again. In the meantime, Eagles fans can at least take solace in Washington limiting their team's ceiling by giving elite quarterback money to a quarterback who isn't elite.
Subject: Jamaal Charles released: Eagles should have some interest in former Chiefs running back
The Kansas City Chiefs officially released Jamal Charles on Tuesday afternoon.
Charles had a $6.1 million cap figure for 2017 and none of it was guaranteed so cutting him was ultimately an easy business decision for the Chiefs.
Now that Charles is on the open market, the question is: could/should the Eagles sign him?
Let’s start by mentioning Charles has an obvious connection to Philadelphia. Charles was the Chiefs’ starting running back while now-Eagles head coach Doug Pederson served as Kansas City’s offensive coordinator. There’s a level of familiarity there.
The Eagles also have a glaring need at running back with Ryan Mathews expected to be cut for a savings of $4 million. Other Eagles running backs under contract include: Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, Byron Marshall, and Terrell Watson. Kenjon Barner is set to be a restricted free agent.
None of the running backs currently on Philadelphia’s roster qualify as proven, full-time lead backs. At his peak, Charles was exactly that. He’s rushed for over 1,000 yards five times in his nine-year career. In 2012, he had a career-high 1,509 rushing yards. He’s also a threat as a receiver; Charles has notched 285 career receptions for 2,457 yards and 20 touchdowns.
When healthy, Charles is a really good player. The problem is the 30-year-old rusher hasn’t been healthy in a long time. Charles has only played in eight games over the past two seasons (83 combined rushing attempts). He tore his ACL in 2015 and then suffered a setback during the 2016 season. Charles had previously torn his ACL in 2011.
Charles is reportedly healthy now, but it remains to be seen if he’s still the player he once was. Signing him would represent a risk.
But that risk might be low due to Charles' injuries. His value shouldn’t be incredibly high. If the Eagles can take a low-cost flier on him, what’s not to like?
Some will say the Eagles shouldn’t sign Charles because he’s not a long-term fit for Philadelphia, and I understand that argument. But did you watch the 2016 season? Carson Wentz needs all the weapons he can get right now. And signing Charles hardly precludes the Eagles from selecting a potential long-term solution at running back in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Again, I’m not saying the Eagles should break the bank for Charles. Philadelphia has limited cap space to work with this offseason; they need to spend their money wisely. But the Eagles should still check out Charles' price tag and take a chance if it’s not too expensive.
Subject: Eagles Talk: Six players to watch at the NFL Combine, expensive free agent wide receiver market, and more
The newest edition of BGN Radio is here! (Episode #225). In this episode, we preview the 2017 NFL Combine, talk about the wide receiver free agent market, and more.
Subject: NFL insider fully expects Eagles to keep Jason Kelce
What should the Eagles do?
Earlier this offseason, PhillyVoice’s Jimmy Kempski reported the Eagles are considering moving on from starting center Jason Kelce. Kempski also noted veteran left guard Allen Barbre isn’t a lock to return to Philadelphia for the 2017 season.
In a recent interview with 97.5 The Fanatic, however, NFL insider Adam Caplan made it sound like Kelce will be back with the Eagles next season. Caplan brought up Kelce’s status in response to being asked about potential Eagles cap casualties.
Jason Kelce is another guy that people speculated about. I think he’ll be on the team. The issue is whether he takes a pay cut or not. I fully expect Jason Kelce to be on the team, and the simple reason is this: there are no centers ready to step in out there. The only thing is: when will Isaac Seumalo be ready to move to center if they decide to move in that direction? We’ll have to see what happens.
Later in the interview, Caplan was specifically asked about Kelce.
The sense I get is … most likely, Kelce will be back as the starting center. I don’t know if they’re happy or not with his cap number. His base salary is $5 million. For a guy of his tenure, [that’s] not bad at all. It’s just a matter of, do they think, long-term, because he’s signed through 2020, could he be the guy? He’s clearly not the same player he once was but he’s still solid. He’s one of the top 10 centers in the league. But they just have to decide: when will Isaac Seumalo be ready to be the center? I think more likely he’ll compete against Allen Barbre for that left guard job. That makes more sense to me at this point.
Caplan’s interview doesn’t necessarily qualify as a hard report, but he’s pretty plugged-in when it comes to the Eagles. So it’s interesting to hear him say Kelce will “most likely” be back. Kempski also has a strong track record when it comes to reporting so it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Kelce’s situation.
The thinking here is that the Eagles would be OK with having Kelce back if the 29-year-old is willing to take a pay cut. Kelce currently has the eighth highest cap figure of any NFL center in 2017. He just hasn’t played like a top 10 center over the past two seasons. Kelce has been a nice player for the Eagles and he still has his moments, no doubt, but he’s clearly past his prime at this point.
Philadelphia can save $3.8 million in cap space (compared to $2.8 million in dead money) by either cutting or trading Kelce this offseason. Considering the Eagles are tight on cap space, that’s significant money the team could be looking to free up.
In addition to the cap savings the Eagles would reap from cutting Kelce, the team would also free up the starting spot for Seumalo to take over. The 2016 third-round pick showed promise as a rookie at guard (and even one game at tackle). The Eagles could either keep him at that spot, as Caplan suggests, or have him return to the center position he mostly played at Oregon State.
It won’t be long before we hear more on Kelce’s status. The Eagles will meet with his agent this week at the NFL Combine. The team will have to make a decision on him before NFL free agency begins on March 9.
UPDATE: Les Bowen of the Daily News also expects the Eagles to keep Kelce.
Subject: 2017 NFL Draft: Mike Mayock has some good news for the Eagles
Pass catchers and pass defenders everywhere!
Mike Mayock’s pre-Combine and pre-Draft conference calls are the things of legend these days. One of the pre-eminent NFL Draft analysts around, he holds court from beat writers and bloggers around the country and gives his best takes on the upcoming class multiple times during the spring, leading up to late April.
Mayock spoke at length Monday, ahead of this week’s Combine, and he took a few Eagles-specific questions during his talk. Let’s take a look at what he said, and then dive in a little deeper.
QUESTION: Want to ask you about the Eagles' strategy. They draft either 14 or 15, and their biggest needs, obviously, are wide receiver and cornerback. So at that spot, would it be best for them to pick which guy is best available there and then maybe try to double back into the later rounds? If they do that with the cornerback in the first round, is the wide receiver class as defense as maybe cornerbacks are in the later rounds?
MAYOCK: Yeah, I think the wide receiver class is good, but I don't think it's as deep as corner. So, if you're there at 14 or 15, I think the Eagles have to be looking really hard at all three of those potential first round wideouts. I think all three of them potentially go between 10 and 20, and I know people have some injury concerns about John Ross from Washington, but as a vertical threat, he's probably the best one in this draft. So I think the Eagles have to be looking at all three. They're distinctly different. I think the Eagles have to figure out what their order of preference is, what kind of style they want. But they've got to be looking hard at all three of those guys and know up front whether or not if one or two or all three were available who they're going to take.
Then I think they can drop back in the later round. It wouldn't bother me at all if they drafted a couple corners, and I think they could. I think they can get one and two, I think they could. It's so deep at corner when you start talking where's Gareon Conley going to go from Ohio State? There is a kid named Ahkello Witherspoon, 6'3", out of Colorado. People are talking about him in the fourth round. He's a good football player. Damontae Kazee if they want a nickel. Cam Sutton. I can get through four rounds of quality corners, and I've never been able to say that before.
Alright, so this first question is basically the one every Eagles fan has asked each other since the season ended. The Eagles are bad at two very, very important positions in wide receiver and cornerback. How do they go about fixing at least one of them, maybe both, through the draft?
Picking a wide receiver in the first round is one option, and while the bad memories of Nelson Agholor’s selection are still terribly fresh, there are some dynamite players who could be available at 1-14 or 1-15. Mayock being so bullish about all three of Davis, Williams, and Ross makes me very tempted to go grab Carson Wentz’s running mate for the next decade. And especially considering the way Mayock is talking about how deep the cornerback class is, meaning the Eagles could use one of their next seven picks on a CB and possibly come away with a long-term starter. I’m still of the opinion that the Eagles should take a stud corner like Sidney Jones in the first round ...
... but if I’m Howie Roseman, that first-round pick isn’t going to be an easy move, especially if someone like Mike Williams is sitting there.
Q. Jim Schwartz's defense is all about the pass rush. They gave up the second most pass plays of 30 yards or more in the league last year, but also only had 37 sacks. Given that, how do you weigh what's a greater need for that unit right now, edge rusher or corner?
MIKE MAYOCK: I think the way you do it is as you're approaching being on the clock, you're evaluating what's available in both units or both positions, I should say. The bottom line for the Eagles, they need, I think, at least a couple corners this year. I don't care if you're talking about draft or free agency. You need two or three bodies back there. And up front, anybody that can get to the quarterback is going to be of interest to the Eagles, whether it's inside or outside. So I think when you're at the clock at 15 or 14, you're looking at it and going, okay, if Sidney Jones, the corner from Washington who I think is instinctive, like a Marcus Peters, are you comparing him to who as an edge rusher or an internal rusher? Who is there on the clock at that time? Who does the job better?
I think that's how they have to look at it, and it's the same thing in the second round, is that defensive end or defensive tackle more highly rated than that corner or that safety? I think there's enough really good players at both of those positions that they can do really well in this draft.
This is encouraging to hear. Lots of draft analysts are high on the defensive end crop this year, and considering the Eagles’ dearth of productivity from the end position last season outside of Brandon Graham, that’s a dark horse position for the Birds to go after in the first couple rounds of the Draft.
Plus, what happens if and when the Eagles let Bennie Logan walk? Beau Allen is a fine second-string defensive tackle, but he’s not the quality starter you want to pair with Fletcher Cox in a Jim Schwartz, attack-style defense. You need a stud inside to shore up the interior of the pass rush, and if a guy like Florida’s Caleb Brantley is available in the second round, that’s a pick the Eagles have to think about making.
I also appreciated Mayock talking up Sidney Jones here. (I like him a lot.)
Q. Hey, Mike, you had talked earlier about the three wide receivers in the first round and the decision the Eagles would have to make. In most years, rookie wide receivers, and obviously you're not drafting them for one year, but most years rookie wide receivers don't have a huge impact. Do you see any of those guys really being capable of putting up big numbers as rookies, being like No. 1 type receivers right away?
MIKE MAYOCK: Well, there are three distinctly different guys left. And I think John Ross is intriguing to me from an Eagles perspective. So, again, he's got some medical. I'm just saying talent. You take the medical off the board for a second. He's probably the best vertical threat in the draft. I think that would help the rest of the Eagles underneath. They desperately need speed. If you're talking about a guy that's going to run 4.35, which I think he will, and he's also really quick. For instance, Fuller, Will Fuller of Notre Dame, went in the middle of the first round last year, and he's almost the same height and weight, and he ran 4.3 (indiscernible). I think this kid can run just as fast as Fuller, but I think he's quicker and a better natural catcher than Fuller. So if you take the medical out of it and just say vertical stretch, quick, fast, good hands, he's really intriguing, I think, as an Eagles prospect.
But then you have to look at the other two guys, and Mike Williams creates his own space. I mean, he's a big, physical dude. I think he welcomes press coverage. He uses his physicality. He catches back shoulders. Again, if you're looking from an Eagles perspective in scoring in red zone opportunities, he's probably the best guy as a wide receiver position in this draft in the red zone because of his catching radius and physicality.
I have Corey Davis as the No. 1 receiver, because I think he's a better athlete with good size. Better run after the catch than Mike Williams. He's not going to be able to work out because he's injured at the combine. I think all three of them are in the conversation. They bring different things to the table. And, lastly, I think I'd struggle thinking that the three of them will struggle like Nelson Agholor did, who was another first round pick. I think they're going to be fine.
I’m getting a little sweaty just thinking about the possibility of Williams and Davis both being available at 1-14 or 1-15, and the Eagles getting to choose between the two.
If we’re talking straight-up, not worried about Davis’s inability to work at the Combine because of injury, Davis strikes me as the better of the two, long-term. He’s coming from a small school, yes, but so did the guy who signed a four-year, $68-million contract yesterday. You take a chance on a player like Davis, someone who could become a stud among studs in a league dominated by big playmakers on the outside.
Then again, if someone with Williams’ size and physical brilliance is available, that’s going to be one hard decision to pass on him.
I just don’t know. But all this Draft talk has me excited for April.
Subject: Flyers at Capitals: Preview, lineups, TV coverage, live stream and discussion thread
Travis Konecny is back as the Flyers head to Washington to play their fourth and final game of the season against the NHL’s best team.
Tonight’s game is on CSN Philly and 93.3 WMMR. CSNPhilly.com is streaming if you have a cable subscription to log in with. In DC, CSN-DC has the call; if you’re anywhere else, NHL.TV and NHL Center Ice are your options.
Lineup-wise, we expect to see two changes today. The more noteworthy one is the fact that Travis Konecny will be in the lineup for the first time since getting injured against the Blues on February 6. He ended up on the lower-end of his four-to-six-week injury timetable, which is certainly nice to see. Reports are that he’ll be on the fourth line, which I like to think is more in an effort to ease him back into game action than it is a punishment for him, but we’ll see how he’s used in his first game back. In addition, Brandon Manning’s two-game suspension is up and he’ll be in the lineup in Nick Schultz’s stead.
Steve Mason, coming off of two excellent games this week, will start in net. With the way things have broken for the Flyers this weekend — each of the Islanders, Leafs, Panthers, and Lightning lost on Thursday or Friday — a win would be a huge step for the Flyers in terms of staying alive in the playoff race. Of course, they’ll be up against a Capitals team that hasn’t lost a home game in all of 2017 yet, so a win will not be easy to come by.
Philadelphia lineup (via)
- Jordan Weal - Claude Giroux - Wayne Simmonds
- Brayden Schenn - Valtteri Filppula - Jakub Voracek
- Nick Cousins - Sean Couturier - Matt Read
- Chris VandeVelde - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Travis Konecny
- Ivan Provorov - Andrew MacDonald
- Brandon Manning - Shayne Gostisbehere
- Michael Del Zotto - Radko Gudas
- Steve Mason
- Michal Neuvirth
Scratches: Michael Raffl (inj), Dale Weise, Nick Schultz
Washington lineup (via)
- Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Timothy Leif Oshie, Junior
- Marcus Johansson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams
- Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Jakub Vrana
- Daniel Winnik - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson
- Karl Alzner - John Carlson
- Dmitri Orlov - Matt Niskanen
- Brooks Orpik - Kevin Shattenkirk ahahahaha can you imagine having such a ridiculous roster that Kevin Shattenkirk is on your third pairing?
Subject: Monday Morning Fly By: Coming out of the weekend with a point seems like a victory these days.
Today's open discussion thread, complete with your daily dose of Philadelphia Flyers news and notes...
*It's pretty amazing that, like almost always, the Flyers do not have a clear picture when it comes to their starting goaltender. [Inquirer]
*Steve Mason, for his part, is remaining professional and awesome and playing pretty goddamned lights-out like he did on Saturday. [CSN Philly]
*There were some moves made in the Metro Division at the deadline; let's see where things stand heading into the end of the season. [NHL Numbers]
*Speaking of the end of the season, let the death watch begin! [Puck Daddy]
Subject: Tuesday Morning Fly By: It's still cold in Buffalo.
Today's open discussion thread, complete with your daily dose of Philadelphia Flyers news and notes...
*The Flyers are up in Western New York this evening to take on the Buffalo Sabres. Puck drops at 730PM; in the meantime enjoy this fun article about how the Sabres are completely wasting Jack Eichel. [Puck Daddy]
*Speaking of Steve Mason, he's getting back to his old form. You know, the good one. Still loving that Neuvirth signing, folks! [Inquirer]
*Some people choose to believe that this team might possibly make the playoffs. Which is technically possible, but like...not at all probable. [Daily News]
*And now, to the future: what German Rubtsov's new contract means for the team. [CSN Philly]
*The Vegas Golden Knights have their first player! [Puck Daddy]
*Yesterday was the first day of the GM meetings, at which it doesn't seem like anything particularly interesting is being discussed. [USA Today]
*This is a really interesting article on how tough economic times are affecting local hockey teams in Alaska. [The Hockey News]
Subject: BSH Radio #101: Does anyone think this feels like a playoff team?
The gang turns towards the playoffs, wondering if there is any real way this team squeaks in & have a lot to say about Sean Couturier
As the Flyers continue their long-shot postseason push, the BSH Radio crew expresses skepticism regarding their chances. The importance of player evaluation and development over the final few weeks of the season is discussed, with Kelly and Steph wanting the team to take a look at the kids once the playoffs are out of reach. The conversation then turns to goaltending, as Bill guarantees that Neuvirth will be selected by Las Vegas while Steph, Kelly, and Charlie remain unconvinced. Finally, the crew turns to Sean Couturier, and whether he is a good player, a disappointment relative to his draft position, or a little of both.
Follow us on twitter @BSH_Radio and tell us how to torture Bill when he’s wrong about Neuvy!
Subject: Flyers vs. Sabres preview, lineups, TV info, live stream and discussion thread
Pray for the Flyers. They are spending a day in Buffalo.
The Flyers are in Buffalo tonight for a hockey game in the month of may that matters. For, uhh, both teams. Kinda? Maybe?
Philadelphia enters tonight’s game on the road with a three-point gap between them and the final wild card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Immediately behind them in the standings? Well, it’s the Sabres! They’re two points back of Philadelphia entering the evening — albeit with a two game head start — and could be tied in points with a win tonight.
This game is one of two things from the Flyers perspective: an important two points that could help boost their playoff hopes, or ... really damn sad that we’re reduced to the level of the Buffalo friggin’ Sabres this late in the season. Or both! I guess it could always be both.
In any event, Dave Hakstol says he’ll go with the same lineup as we saw in Washington on Saturday night. It’ll be Steve Mason vs. Robin Lehner in goal. The Sabres lineup has players on it, in theory. There’s a list of them below. If you’ve heard of more than 10 of them you win the Grand Prize!
Here’s your in-depth analysis of this hockey game: the Flyers need to win. That’s it. If you can’t beat the Sabres in an important game in March, during a game in which you desperately need two points, then you’re probably just a mediocre-at-best hockey team not worth much attention. If they lose tonight ... I don’t know, NFL free agency just started or whatever.
- Jordan Weal - Claude Giroux - Wayne Simmonds
- Brayden Schenn - Valtteri Filppula - Jakub Voracek
- Nick Cousins - Sean Couturier - Matt Read
- Chris VandeVelde - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Travis Konecny
- Ivan Provorov - Andrew MacDonald
- Brandon Manning - Shayne Gostisbehere
- Michael Del Zotto - Radko Gudas
- Steve Mason
- Michal Neuvirth
- Evander Kane - Ryan O’Reilly - Brian Gionta
- Marcus Foligno - Jack Eichel - Sam Reinhart
- Justin Vrana - Evan Rodrigues - Matt Moulson
- Nic Deslauriers - Zemgus Girgensons - Tyler Ennis
- Jake McCabe - Rasmus Ristolainen
- Justin Falk - Zach Bogosian
- Josh Gorges - Cody Franson
- Robin Lehner
- Anders Nilsson
Subject: Flyers at Sabres recap: Flyers score several hockey goals against five defenders, win game
The Flyers scored a bunch of goals where both teams had five players on the ice. Is that allowed? Is that a thing?
For the most part this season, Flyers games have tended to be ... slogs, we’ll put it. Outside of the first month or so of the season, in which it seemed like the team managed to make 5-4 losses a habit, the Flyers have found themselves typically losing games in grating fashion, struggling to pick up more than a goal or two. It can make things a bit of a struggle to watch on a regular basis.
Which is why the last week or so of Flyers hockey, as ultimately inconsequential as it will likely end up being, has been so refreshing to watch.
Two consecutive wins and a competitive overtime loss against the best team in hockey set the table for tonight in Buffalo, where the Flyers put together possibly their most prolific offensive performance of the season en route to a 6-3 win over the Sabres. With seven points in their last four games, the Flyers have done what they’ve had to in order to at least stay on the fringes of the playoff race.
The Flyers’ six goals tonight in Buffalo tied a season-high, a mark they’d reached twice before this season (once in October against Carolina, once in December against Edmonton). But tonight’s half-a-dozen came in a way we don’t see from the Flyers often: by way of 5-on-5 play.
Yes, all six of the Flyers’ goals tonight came at even strength, something they have not done all season. And not only that, but the scoring was spread across the lineup! Six different players in orange lit the KeyBank Center lamp tonight. And particularly looking at the forwards who scored, the Flyers were getting help from guys that they could really use it from right about now. Claude Giroux scored what seemed like his first goal in a while (13 games, to be exact), Travis Konecny scored his first in nearly two months, Matt Read scored his second since Halloween, and Jordan Weal scored his second NHL goal ever. And Chris VandeVelde and Radko Gudas (he of a three-point night!!!) also scored, which is just something you kind of come to not expect.
If you’re an optimist, you see that as a sign that maybe some of these guys just needed a good break to go their way and that maybe things will be better the rest of the season. (Of course, if you were an optimist, you probably aren’t a Flyers fan.)
Even defensively, though, the Flyers played a pretty solid game. Steve Mason wasn’t quite the white-hot goalie he’d been last week tonight, but he was perfectly fine, making some big stops before the Flyers opened the floodgates late in the second. The Flyers’ penalty kill got off to an uuuuuuugly start, allowing Buffalo to score almost immediately in two early power plays, but they too held down the fort the rest of the way outside of a few moments where Jack Eichel just decided to dunk on everyone. And at 5-on-5, the Flyers mostly snuffed out Buffalo’s offense until they’d taken a basically-insurmountable lead in the third period. Certainly good enough given how things were going at the other end of the night.
Was tonight just some good luck and a flash in the pan against a below-average team? Or a sign that this team, while still probably not making the playoffs, is not going to go down quietly? Guess we’ll find out soon enough. But the past week or so of Flyers hockey has been fun, which hasn’t been the case in a while, really. Let’s enjoy this while we can.
And on that note, before we go, a look at the standings. As of this writing (10:24 p.m. ET on Tuesday night) the Flyers sit two points behind Toronto for the final playoff spot in the East, with the same number of games played. The Islanders are playing (and beating) Edmonton right now and could jump one point ahead of Toronto with a win, while Florida and Tampa both sit exactly one point behind the Flyers. That’s five teams fighting for one playoff spot, all of whom are within three (maybe soon four) points of one another.
Everything’s a big mess. And it’s our big mess. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
With that, the Flyers will head to Toronto on Thursday night. Fairly important game, it may seem. Until then, here are highlights from all six — six! — goals are below for your viewing pleasure. Good night, folks, and go Flyers.
Score a goal ✅— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) March 8, 2017
Win the Game
Then the Stanley Cup pic.twitter.com/5n252oLkzM
CLAUDE GIROUXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX SCORESSSSS pic.twitter.com/k7GxbRkN66— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) March 8, 2017
MDZ needed some tinder matches tonight, so he scored this goal pic.twitter.com/XcQtyc0ooG— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) March 8, 2017
KONECNY!!— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) March 8, 2017
SIX to TWO
Subject: NFL free agency rumors tracker 2017: Philadelphia Eagles news, reports, trades, signings, and updates
All your Eagles rumors in one place. Check back very often for updates.
Your Philadelphia Eagles 2017 NFL free agency rumor tracker is officially here. We'll be tracking all the rumors, reports, trades, news, etc. that come out about the Eagles over the next few weeks right here at Bleeding Green Nation. The action unofficially kicks off on Tuesday, March 7 at 12:00 PM ET (noon) when the "legal tampering" period begins. That’s when teams and agents can begin negotiating contracts but they can not officially strike any deals until Thursday, March 9 at 4:00 PM ET when the new league year officially begins.
The NFL rumors have already begun and there’s no end in sight. The Eagles have already been connected to multiple free agents. They’re also expected to be very active in the trade market.
Click on the links below for the source of the information. This post will be constantly updated so check back often. Don't forget to read our extremely informative Eagles free agency primer (coming soon).
Keep track of updates through BGN's social media:
BGN Facebook Page: Click here to like our page
BGN Twitter: Follow @BleedingGreen
BGN Radio Twitter: Follow @BGN_Radio
BGN Manager: Brandon Lee Gowton: Follow @BrandonGowton
Free agent rumors involving the Eagles
***Most recent updates will be listed at the top of this section.***
Important free agency info to know
List of Eagles 2017 free agents
DT Bennie Logan
CB Nolan Carroll
OL Stefen Wisniewski
LB Stephen Tulloch
LB Najee Goode
DE Bryan Braman
RB Kenjon Barner (Restricted)
TE Trey Burton (Restricted) - Eagles reportedly used second-round tender on Burton
S Jaylen Watkins (Exclusive rights) - Eagles re-signed Watkins to a minimum, non-guaranteed one-year deal
Subject: NFL Free Agency Rumors: Who are the Eagles going to target?
The newest edition of BGN Radio is here! (Episode #227). In this episode, we talk about the Eagles being connected to every free agent wide receiver, Brandin Cooks trade rumors, the 2017 NFL Combine, and more.
Subject: Wednesday Morning Fly By: Playoff push baby!
*Look at our boys, scoring goals and winning games. Good times. RECAP!
*DGB ranks teams by their reliability in net. Flyers are higher than I expected to be honest. [Sportsnet]
*Everybody is always talking about getting rid of the loser point, but what about getting rid of points all together? [Puck Daddy]
*Anyone else excited about the new Goon movie? First one was pretty funny, sooooo... [Sportsnet]
*On who might be a dark horse Cup contender this season. [TSN]
*And finally, if you missed this week's episode of BSH Radio hoo boy you missed a good one. So listen now!!! [BSH]
Subject: Flyers 6, Sabres 3: 10 things we learned from a surprise onslaught of goals
In need of a win to kick off key stretch against playoff hopefuls, the Flyers’ goal scoring ability returned in full force.
Morning Observations is a feature where we break down the previous night's game with an analytical eye.
#1: A rare display of 5v5 dominance
Entering last night’s game against the Buffalo Sabres, the Flyers’ goal-based metrics at 5-on-5 were nothing short of horrid. Their Goals For percentage of 41.74% ranked 29th in the NHL, ahead of only the Colorado Avalanche, and it’s been even uglier since the turn of the calendar year. Over their past 26 games, Philadelphia was outscored 26 to 50 during 5v5 situations, good for an eye-poppingly atrocious 34.21% Goals For percentage. No team has been worse in 2017.
It hasn’t been a shot volume or shot differential issue — instead, the Flyers simply hadn’t been able to convert on those attempts at anywhere near a league-average rate, and their goaltenders had delivered awful performances. Steve Mason may be on a nice little run right now (0.954 save percentage in last four games) but that did little for the scoring, which remained cold. On this night, however, the Flyers took control early and won both the shot volume battle and the goals battle on the scoreboard.
Period #1 followed the usual script — territorial dominance marred by scattered mistakes that prevented the Flyers from taking a lead into the intermission. Philadelphia replicated its edge in the middle stanza, only this time they were finally rewarded with a goal deluge that was months in the making. Radko Gudas, Claude Giroux and Jordan Weal all scored in the period, and the Flyers found themselves up 4-2 in goals and holding a 66.08% score-adjusted Corsi at the second intermission. The territorial battle tightened up a bit in the third (Philadelphia finished at 55.75% on the night) but the goals kept coming, with Chris VandeVelde and Travis Konecny joining the fun. In the end, the Flyers scored all six of their goals during 5v5 play, easily a season-high and only their second game with at least five in 2017.
#2: Interestingly, Flyers didn’t rack up tons of xG
Statistically-minded Flyers observers have often used Expected Goal models to help explain why the team has struggled to score this season. After all, Philadelphia has no trouble racking up shots by the bunch, but with tangible results totally lacking on the scoreboard, the theory that there was a “shot quality” issue was backed up by the models. Corsica’s placed the Flyers 24th in Expected Goals For per 60 at 5v5, a far cry from their fourth place ranking in shot attempts per 60 and 12th place in shots on goal per hour. The idea was that if the team could just create better shots, they’d score more goals, and the poor results were a combination of a lacking tactical approach and players who lacked shooting talent.
What was so interesting about this game, then, was the fact that the Flyers didn’t exactly light up the xG charts despite tallying six goals at 5v5. In fact, Corsica’s model put Philadelphia at 1.50 total Expected Goals during that situation (3.24 total, mostly on the strength of the team’s first power play). There’s a couple things to note here. For starters, this showcases the limitations of xG models in their current form. After all, Giroux’s goal was essentially a “999 times out of 1000 it goes in” tally considering the circumstances, and Weal’s wasn’t that far behind in terms of likelihood. But the model can’t account for high-difficulty passing plays prior to the shot (like Weal’s goal) or fat rebounds (like on Giroux’s), so both are graded as far less dangerous than they truly are. Deflection goals (Read and VandeVelde) also aren’t easy for the models to characterize. And then, there were the sniper tallies from Gudas and Konecny, both of which were very tough to stop but neither came from ideal shooting locations. It’s accuracy and velocity that made those shots dangerous, two variables that xG misses due to the fact the data simply isn’t recorded right now.
That’s not to say that these models should be tossed aside. Shot location due to tactics is almost certainly repeatable to a degree, and xG zeroes in on those trends with ease. It also recognizes contributing factors like rush chances and rebounds, albeit imperfectly. And most likely, the Flyers were indeed a bit fortunate to score six goals on the evening last night, which xG points out. But it’s also a nice reminder not to take the metric as gospel.
#3: Couturier was stellar
As someone who takes part in a weekly podcast, I’ll freely admit that Sean Couturier is an easy topic to add to a show that needs one more discussion point. There are other “controversial” players on the Flyers’ roster, but no one seems to divide the fanbase quite like the team’s youngest center. Couturier’s supporters cite his stellar play-driving metrics (his +4.7% CF%RelTM is solidly first line level), while his detractors argue that a player with not one 40-point season to his name can’t be considered a truly essential piece of the roster.
I tend to fall with the former crowd — while the scoring frustrations are justified (especially on the PP), I can’t ignore the fact that Flyers players do a better job of both outshooting and outscoring their opponents at 5v5 when playing with Couturier than they do away from him. The raw point totals may always be lacking, but it’s because he’s often the guy who starts a play that ends up as a goal, and not the one who finishes it. Last night, Couturier’s ability to “do the little things right” was on display all game, and if you didn’t take notice, there’s a good chance that you just might be unfairly biased against him.
He finished with two assists but deserved one on the Flyers’ first goal as well, as it was his neutral zone takeaway of Jack Eichel that allowed for the rush to begin in the first place. Couturier owned the middle of the ice all game long, cutting off passes and halting rushes in their tracks, which helped contribute to his 65.48% score-adjusted Corsi. But the +3 rating and two points throws a wrench into the “he’s just a fancy stat hero” argument, at least for one night. Couturier had a little something for everyone.
#4: Special teams only big negative
Considering the Flyers’ season-long ineptitude at 5v5, a game in which they allowed two power play goals while scoring none of their own seemed like an obvious loss. Instead, Philadelphia played a fantastic game at even strength and cruised to a win. However, the special teams’ struggles can’t be brushed aside entirely. The Flyers’ PP actually got off to a great start, generating chance after chance on their first opportunity. But on subsequent Sabres penalties, the top unit could barely enter the offensive zone, let alone get set up and actually create chances.
The penalty kill was simply plagued by individual mistakes. On goal #1, there was a miscommunication between Gudas and Brandon Manning, as no one picked up Sam Reinhart in front of the net as he set a perfect screen for an Evander Kane snipe. Then, goal #2 saw Wayne Simmonds be fooled entirely by Eichel, giving the dangerous youngster extra time in the slot to create a high-quality chance.
Buffalo possesses a fantastic power play, so I’m more willing to forgive the Flyers’ PK units than their PP, which really should have been able to dominate the Sabres’ limited shorthanded personnel. Instead, a number of unforced errors on entry attempts forced the Flyers to rely solely on even strength production. Last night, that worked, but if this season is any indication, it’s not a good formula to depend on.
#5: First goal was ideal Hakstol play
I’ve outlined my issues with the Flyers’ tactics on multiple occasions this year, so it’s only fair to note when the team’s tendencies do succeed in producing the ideal outcome. Sometimes, goals are simply showcases of skill and/or luck, but Philadelphia’s first tally last night was a direct result of Dave Hakstol’s preferred style of play. To initiate the sequence, Sean Couturier challenged Eichel at the red line (adhering to the team’s aggressive tendencies in that zone), forcing a turnover and sending the puck the other way. Then, after a missed shot and successful puck retrieval, Nick Cousins sent a pass back up to the point to Radko Gudas, who immediately blasted a shot towards the net. Matt Read was in perfect position for the deflection, turning a low percentage shot into a dangerous one, and creating the circumstances necessary for a goal.
I do believe that the Flyers utilize the low-to-high passing strategy to create far too many of their shots, but a team capable of deflecting a higher-than-average percentage of those shots should be able to extract value from it. So far this year, Philadelphia hasn’t been able to do so, but my guess is that it’s not for a lack of trying. As for the neutral zone aggressiveness, I’ve long praised the Flyers under Hakstol for that mentality, and while it certainly has its risks, the rewards are obvious as well, and were on display on Read’s goal last night.
#6: Giroux trending in right direction
Claude Giroux’s 12-game scoring drought finally came to an end last night, as the captain gobbled up a rebound from a Michael Del Zotto shot and easily deposited it in the back of the net. The was mostly due to good fortune — though of course, Giroux needed to get to that spot in front of the net in order to be in position for the loose pick — but the luck was well-earned. Giroux led the team in score-adjusted Corsi last night, finishing with a 74.64% rate. Per Corey’s tracking data, the captain was also a standout, generated four controlled entries and zero dump-ins (100% controlled entry rate) and not failing on a single zone exit attempt while facilitating exits with possession on seven of nine opportunities (77.8%). He was all over the ice.
Despite Giroux’s recent scoring slump, the improved underlying performance really isn’t anything new. Over the past eight games, the captain has a 54.38% score-adjusted Corsi rate and holds a 53.4% xG rate, both significantly positive relative to his teammates. Part of this is due to a clearly successful partnership with Jordan Weal that began five games ago, but it’s also because Giroux has simply looked faster and more assertive over the past couple weeks. His zone entry metrics support the eye test — over that same span, he has a 58% Controlled Entry rate and has averaged 28.05 Entries/60. Prior to this stretch, he was at 52%/17.69 over 31 tracked games, so there does appear to be a clear improvement. I hate to turn to the injury excuse, but it’s fair to note that Giroux did have offseason surgery, and there has been some lignering speculation that it could be hampering him. Maybe we weren’t watching a Giroux in clear decline in 2016-17 — maybe he just wasn’t healthy and is just now getting his legs back.
#7: Flyers’ defensive zone passing cut up Sabres
During the first two periods, Philadelphia went through the Sabres like a buzzsaw at even strength, with only Buffalo’s stellar power play keeping the game from becoming a total blowout. The key to that dominance was the ability to effectively transition the puck from defense to offense, starting in their own zone. By the numbers, the team’s zone exit game wasn’t dramatically better than average (47.96% controlled entry rate versus a season average of 45.50%) but my guess is that most of that was due to a more conservative exiting strategy used in the third period. Two of the Flyers’ goals (Weal and Giroux) were directly a result of efficient transition offense, and tons of their chances were caused by it as well. Buffalo simply could not execute an effective offensive zone forecheck, which allowed the Flyers to make passes cleanly and minimize the team spent defending.
#8: Jordan Weal has been very good
Last night was Jordan Weal’s “breakout” game, but his play since being recalled has been building to this for a while. He had certainly passed the eye test during his seven games with the team, but for a player that is viewed as a “top-nine or bust!” type forward by the organization, only one point in those games simply wasn’t going to cut it. One goal and one assist later, and now Weal is starting to post the production that his underlying numbers hinted was coming.
It’s difficult to find an advanced metric that doesn’t look upon Weal favorably this season. He has a 65.8% score-adjusted Corsi and a 69.09% score-adjusted Expected Goals rate, which are +15.62% and +20.2% relative to the team respectively over that eight-game span. His 11.13 Shots/60 at 5v5 is a team-high, and after last night, he also leads the club in Points/60 at 1.96. Microstats love Weal as well, with his 60% Controlled Entry percentage, 24.04 Entries per 60, and 28.16 Primary Shot Contributions (shots and primary passes that lead to shots) per 60 all ranking near to top of the Flyers’ forward charts. It’s impossible to know if Weal can keep this up, but he’s been a true difference maker so far for the Flyers over the past few weeks.
#9: Filppula line again doesn’t drive play
The general consensus surrounding the play of Valtteri Filppula has been positive, and it’s not unwarranted — Filppula provides a middle-six center option that truly “looks the part,” which the Flyers have lacked all season long aside from Sean Couturier. Filppula’s controlled entry style of play in the neutral zone has been obvious, and through three games, he holds a stellar 67% rate in that area. However, it’s fair to note that in two of those three games, his line has been dominated territorially. After being trapped in the defensive zone on a number of occasions against the Caps, the same issue popped up last night, as Filppula and his linemates hovered around the 35% score-adjusted Corsi mark. For a player with a recent track record of not driving play well relative to his teammates, it’s a minor concern.
We are talking about a very small sample size, of course. In addition, you can’t let Brayden Schenn and Jakub Voracek (Filppula’s linemates) off the hook either. Schenn has been a play-driving disaster at 5v5 all season long, dragging down almost every single one of his linemates. Voracek, on the other hand, looks noticeably less dynamic than he did in the early season, and I’m starting to wonder if he may be dealing with an injury. In any case, that doesn’t totally absolve Filppula, who likely will get credit for the team’s improved recent play when a large portion of it is actually due to big steps up from Giroux and Couturier. Considering Filppula’s puck skills, I do believe he’s capable of driving play given the right situation, but I’m not sure this line is it.
#10: Not terribly concerned about Konecny on line 4
Fans have been especially critical of Dave Hakstol this season, and in many case, that frustration has been justified. But in the case of Travis Konecny right now, I’d advise caution. Since returning from ankle and knee sprains last Saturday, the dynamic rookie has skated primarily on the fourth line with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde. Obviously, that’s not an ideal usage of Konecny’s talent over the long-term. But in the short term, with Konecny coming back early from his injury and still trying to get back to 100%, I have little issue with it. Hakstol can still give the 19-year old occasional shifts with more talented forwards, and playing on the fourth line allows for his minutes to be limited. This shouldn’t be a permanent line, of course. I’m intrigued by the potential of a Konecny-Filppula-Voracek line or even a Konecny-Couturier-Read trio. But in the here and now, it’s not worth much fuss.
Subject: Thursday Morning Fly By: Don't forget to roll up the rim, boys.
*Thanks to that win, the Flyers are still right in the thick of things as far as the wildcard race is concerned. [Inquirer]
*Alternate Captain Pierre-Edouard Bellemare™ thinks that patience is going to be key if they Flyers are going to sneak into the post season. [Inquirer]
*The Flyers have resigned the Phantoms' top scorer, Greg Carey, which seems like a good thing. [Flyers]
*On the second power play unit, and why teams should use four forwards on both units in every situation. [Hockey Graphs]
*The hockey team, the Flyers, makes an appearance on this list of teams that need a deadline day do-over. [The Hockey News]
*Looks like the salary cap will only increase a little bit next season. [ProHockeyTalk]
*And finally, ahead of tonight's game with the Leafs, watch Mitch Marner and a few other NHLers make hilarious faces while smelling smelling salts. [Puck Daddy]