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Jack McCaffery is the lead sports columnist for the Daily Times and delcotimes.com. He has spent several decades covering everything from the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers and Sixers, to college hoops, to high school sports in Delco.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

How Sixers, Eagles plans are alike

Into just about every one of his public monologues, Jeffrey Lurie injects a form of the same phrase. Lately, Howie Roseman has been providing the chorus.

Give or take an inflection, this is how it goes: “We don't want to be risk-averse.” It's the Eagles' justification for everything; they could hire a coach and later fire the guy, both times proud that they were willing to take a chance. Lurie, for one, says it so often that he must spend his weekends leaping from Acapulco cliffs.

But no matter how many times Roseman took pride in taking the risk of trading multiple draft picks over multiple years to acquire the rights to draft Carson Wentz, the truth was the Eagles were taking anything but the dangerous route to what they believed was a championship. Rather, not unlike the Sixers, they convinced themselves that there was only one way to NFL fulfillment, and that was to do whatever it took to land a prospective superstar. In the case of football, that would be a quarterback.

The Sixers did their tanking up front, losing for years and collecting Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and other promises. The Eagles went back-door, forcing the move for Wentz, aware that they would not have many chances in future years to improve through the draft.

It's the way idealists have warped sports. Rather than letting something grow organically, they imagine a model and then try to make that model work. The Eagles have grown convinced, brainwashed even, that nothing will work without a superstar quarterback, and that once they have one, it's just a matter of how to arrange the parade chairs.


Carson Wentz may become a superstar. Or not. But the Eagles are not going to become champions just because they think they have figured out a system in a sport that is not so easily solved.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Wentz's disinterest in Bradford's situation a good sign for Eagles

PHILADELPHIA >> If Carson Wentz is going to be the quarterback the Eagles expect, he is going to have to shed the occasional tackle.

In his first call to the Philadelphia football press Thursday night, he shed one ... and broke into the clear.

Showing a minimum of concern about Sam Bradford's feelings, contract situation or developing holdout, Wentz showed that he will hit the NewsControl Compound with a winning attitude.

"I'm not really sure how it will transpire,” Wentz said, on the phone from Chicago. “I've been an Eagle now for about an hour. So we'll see how it transpires. It's out of my control. I'm not going to worry about it. It will all work out."

Wentz knows how he will react the first time he meets Bradford. And he will not be asking for an autograph.

“Professionally,” he said. “We're both professionals now. It will be what it is. And I won't make it bigger than it needs to be. I'm just going to go in there and focus on what I can control and learn as much ball as I can as quickly as I can.”


Check out the Daily Times and delcotimes.com Friday for my column on the Eagles unnecessarily crowded quarterback room.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Goaltending battle brewing, other Flyers notes

By Jack McCaffery
VOORHEES, N.J. >> Early in the postseason, Steve Mason faced a barrage of Washington Capitals shots. Late in it, he faced a more threatening barrage. That was the one to his long-term status as the Flyers' No. 1 goaltender.
In a 3-0 series hole and with little alternative, Dave Hakstol replaced Mason with Michal Neuvirth, who won two games, including Game 5 in Washington, with a 44-save shutout. He was almost, but not quite, as spectacular in Game 6, a 1-0 Flyers loss.
“Neuvy came in and he had an unbelievable year,” Mason said Tuesday, as the Flyers rolled out of the Skate Zone for the final time this season. “All the credit to him. He deserved the ice time that he got. As a goalie, you want to play every game. But sometimes you’ve just got to accept the fact that a guy has come in and earned his ice time.
“Moving forward, next year is an entirely new season and both of us have to earn the ice time.”
That seemed to be the message Mason received after meeting individually with Hakstol and Ron Hextall.
“Over the course of the summer I’m going to prepare to be a No. 1 guy,” he said. “Nothing is given. Nothing was given this year. Both of us had to earn playing time. So I think I’ll just go into next season not expecting to be given anything and having to come in and earn everything.”
As for Neuvirth, who will be entering the season in the final year of a two-year contract, he understands that there will be a healthy competition for playing time.
“You know, it’s been a very good year,” Neuvirth said. “Mase has been good as well. I think it’s going to be open for anybody. My goal is to be a No. 1. That’s what I’m hoping for.’’
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When last seen in public, Scott Laughton was being carried off the Wells Fargo Center ice on a stretcher after an oddly unfortunate hit from John Carlson in Game 4 of the Washington series.
Hospitalized and then unavailable for the rest of the series, Laughton resurfaced Tuesday at the Skate Zone.
“I feel great,” he said.
As per Flyers and hockey custom, Laughton would not share the particulars of his injury. But he did say he never lost feeling in his extremities, which was among the early fears.
“I was conscious the whole time,” he said. “It was just a tough play, a really weird play. I know it was scary for a lot of people including myself. Like I said, I really appreciate all the support from all the people who did reach out and everything like that. It really did mean the world to me. It was definitely a scary moment.”
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Not that there was great doubt, but Sean Couturier admitted it was a shoulder injury that kept him out of all but the first 30 minutes of the postseason. Specifically, it was an AC joint separation.
If the Flyers had taken the Caps to a Game 7, Couturier said he was prepared to play.
“I was close to returning,” he said. “I was skating by myself. I tried skating after Game 3 and I couldn't shoot at all. After Game 5, I started skating and I could skate a little bit. It was getting better. But it's tough to say if I was going to be able to play or not.”
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Ryan White's one-year contact with the Flyers is up … and he wouldn't mind an encore.
“I'd like to be back,” the right-wing said. “I think it's a good fit to be here in Philly. I mean, my family loves it here. I love playing here.”
White, 28, played for the Canadiens for five seasons and has been with the Flyers for two seasons. But he had a productive year under Hakstol, playing regularly on a line with Chris VandeVelde and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, and also down low on the second power-play unit.
“When you get to a spot where you're getting some opportunity and people around the team all kind of have the same mindset as you do, you don't really want to test too many waters, I guess,” White said. “Business is business. Hopefully we can get something done.”
White provided 11 goals and 16 points as a fourth-line player, along with a gritty relentlessness.
“I hope, obviously I had a better season, so maybe it will be a little bit better a market,” he said. “But I would like to be back and be a Flyer.”
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Radko Gudas is a restricted free agent. He, too, hopes and expects to remain a Flyer.
“Obviously I thought I had a good year and I want to stay here as much as possible,” the defenseman said. “I really enjoy playing for Philly. I’m looking forward to staying here.”
Gudas, a key piece acquired from Tampa Bay in the Flyers' 2015 trade of Braydon Coburn, provided five goals, nine assists, some controversial hits and some postseason energy against Alex Ovechkin, among other larger Washington Capitals.
“I’m sure they talked throughout the season, but I think it’s going to be time now that they’ll start talking more,” he said. “We’ll see where the negotiations will go.”
Gudas, 25, will be entering his fifth NHL season, aware that his reputation for rough play and heightened visibility will leave him as a target.
“I think there’s always going to be a target on my back,” he said, “no matter what.”
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Brandon Manning, successfully paired on the blue line with Gudas late in the season and in the playoffs, was also playing on an expiring contract.
He is not aware of any ongoing negotiations, but hopes to return.
“Oh yeah, definitely,” he said. “The Flyers have been good to me. Hexy has been a straight shooter over the few years he's been running the show here.
“Everything moving forward, it's going to be a good time to be a Flyer.”
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Promoted to the Flyers early in the season from the AHL, Shayne Gostisbehere did manage to play 64 games, score 17 goals and help lead a charge into the playoffs. For that, he is expected to be among the finalists for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie.
“It would be a tremendous honor to be associated with the award,” he said. “It would be very nice. I can't do it without my teammates. They really helped me along the way.”

Friday, April 22, 2016

Hakstol: 'Small things' have been the difference in series so far

Dave Hakstol met with the press shortly before Game 5 of the Flyers-Capitals series at the Verizon Center Friday.

This was the conversation:

Is the team staying loose before Game 5?

“You don't change your approach. Our approach hasn't changed for a long time so it won't. It hasn't changed in the last few days. Our approach has been the same. I don't know how you characterize it. You characterize it as loose. There are a lot of ways to characterize it. We've been ready to play. We'll be ready to play tonight.”

Looking back on Game 4, did Neuvirth make an appreciable difference in how your team played?

“I think our team played very similar to the way we played the first few games. There wasn't a lot of difference to our play in Game 4 from the first three. Like I said, take out 15 minutes from Game 3, other than that our team has played pretty consistently.”

Staying out of the penalty box was a key …

“Well, that's part of it. It's certainly an important part of it. I would characterize it more as we won the specialty-teams battles. And that's the only night we were able to do that. So some nights there is going to be a lower number of minor penalties called each way. And you have to find a way to come out on the right side of that. Other nights, things are called a little more closely. For us, we still can't give those guys the easy two-minute-minor-for-slashing type penalties. We can't give them those and expect to come out on the right side of the specialty-teams battle on any given night.”

During the course of the season, you can wait for a team to settle into a system, but is it different in a short series when it comes to consistency, sticking with a lineup or a style of play?

“Well, there is balance between the two. And obviously we didn't make much in terms of changes from Game 3 to Game 4. We made a couple of adjustments in a couple of different areas. Our effort was probably a little more sustained throughout the 60 minutes. And we were able to win the hockey game. But when you look at the first couple games of this series and a lot of this series, it has been pretty close. It's been pretty tight. And small things have decided the games.”

Any adjustments to top two lines? They seemed to work well in the last game.

“The line combinations? Those aren't the adjustments, mostly, that I had thought had the effect for us. But, yes, we'll keep the combinations, obviously making the adjustment for Scott Laughton being out of the lineup, but beyond that we're going to look pretty similar in terms of our line combinations tonight as compared to two nights ago.”

Have you talked to Laughton?

“Yeah.”

And?

“No comment. Everything you guys know. We'll keep that in the official statements.”

How is he feeling?

“You know how I operate. And you know what we've done all year long. So I'm not changing.”

About whether or not he was injured?

“Absolutely.”

He was in the hospital.

“OK. We'll move on.”

Thoughts on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare being back?

“Belly's a big part of our team. He along with his line have been real important to us, five on five. Belly as a PK-er has played a big role. It will be nice to have him back in tonight. He should have fresh legs and hopefully he can help us.”

Other adjustments, not necessarily the lineup?


“I haven't talked about those and I am not going to talk about them publicly. Obviously, we made a couple of adjustments with specialty teams but like I said, we didn't make many.”  

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Flyers turn on the power

By Jack McCaffery
PHILADELPHIA >> No matter how many times they examined it, player for player, skill for skill, the Flyers never changed one belief. Their No. 1 power-play unit should succeed, could succeed, would succeed.
Their problem: They were running low on time to supply the proof.
“Obviously, when their power-play is scoring and ours isn't, a little bit of frustration creeps in,” Brayden Schenn said Wednesday night, after the Flyers' 2-1 postseason-extending victory over the Washington Capitals. “We had a meeting this morning and talked about it. And it was nice to get that power-play goal early and give us confidence.”
Through the first three games of the first-round series, the Flyers had 13 power-play opportunities, none good for a goal. Yet while Dave Hakstol spent more than a day tinkering with his plans, juggling some lines, making a goaltender switch, he left the No. 1 power-play unit alone.
So there it was Wednesday, less than six minutes into an elimination game, when Capital Taylor Chorney was boxed for interference and onto the Wells Fargo Center ice rolled Schenn, Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jake Voracek and Shayne Gostisbehere.
Forty-eight seconds later, Giroux slipped a pass to Gostisbehere at the point, the rookie defenseman fired, Braden Holtby blinked, the shot ricocheted off the post and in, and the Flyers had a 1-0 lead, and the series suddenly had a new feel.
The confidence, and that earlier meeting, had worked.
“Everyone was involved,” Schenn said. “We feel like we have a pretty good power play; we have two good power-play units. And special teams are crucial during the playoffs. The PP needed to step up tonight. And I thought we did a good job.”
Every game has its own dynamic. Game 4 was notable for its relative cleanliness, with just four total penalties called, two against each team. So it wasn't so much that the Flyers' power play had roared back to excellence. It was that it did so soon on a night when they needed to start answering some troubling questions.
“It was nice to get that power-play early,” Schenn said, “and give us some confidence.”
While the power-play at least provided a goal, the Flyers' penalty-killing, which had surrendered eight goals in 17 chances through the first three games, was an effective 2-for-2 Wednesday, when Hakstol ordered a more aggressive approach, particularly out front, on the point.
But the early success of their own power play seemed to make everything else work.
“For our power play, it took the heat off us a little bit,” Gostisbehere said. “We've gotten a lot of bounces and they really weren't going our way. So it was good to get on the board, early especially. And I think it set the tone for the game.”
Among the reasons for that was that neither the Flyers nor their coaches had lost confidence in the unit.
“We know how good our power play is,” Gostisbehere said. “It was 0-for-whatever-it-was. But we stuck with it. And if you do that, it's going to go in.”
The Flyers moved the puck with precision, crowded Holtby a little and trusted Gostisbehere, who has come to their rescue plenty of times this season, to help change the direction of the series.
“Obviously, traffic is important,” Schenn said. “Obviously, Ghost has that shot from the top, so we tried to utilize that. And he got one through. Obviously, it was a nice shot, crossbar and in.”
It was one goal in one game. But it bought the Flyers more time to show what they never doubted their power play, and the rest of their units too, could provide.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Hakstol: 'Last 15 minutes of Game 3 ... that's not us'

Dave Hakstol met with the press outside the Flyers' locker room two hours before Game 4 of a playoff series against Washington.

This was the conversation:

You are essentially at a single-elimination point. Is that not a lot like your experiences from postseason college hockey?

“It's different here. Obviously, this isn't the situation that we wanted to be in. But the fact is, we are. So absolutely, I'd be lying if I said yesterday wasn't a tough morning. But I thought we turned it around real quick. We had a great workday today and guys are ready to go.
“We know the job at hand and that job is all focused on Game 4.”

On goaltending decision, was it hard knowing that one goaltender is going to feel tough about it?

“Yeah, feelings don't really (matter) at this time of year. At this time of year, what's best for the team is what every decision centers around. And every guy in our room knows and understands that. So that's how decisions at this time of year are made and, really, at any time of year.”

Were you encouraged by the team's attitude yesterday?

“Yeah. I knew this was a resilient group. We've had to do it on several different occasions this year. Obviously, this is the most heightened of those situations but I guess I expected to see exactly what we did out of our group yesterday as well as today. Kind of a real determined group that is just worried about the job at hand.”


How comfortable are you with the line changes you made this morning and that they will be able to yield more goals?

“You know what? I want to be careful. We are not making changes to try to just score goals. This is a tight series. It's not all about scoring goals. I think we've been a good, two-way, 200-foot team five-on-five. We'd like to try to generate a little bit more. Obviously, with having Belly (Pierre Edouard Bellemare) out of our lineup, it creates a challenge for us in terms of his importance to our team. He's a pretty important guy. So we've made the changes that we have, hoping to be real good five-on-five, 200 feet, plus maybe be able to spark a little bit of offense as well.”

Ryan White brought up the word “pride,” saying “we know we're better than this.” Do you want to hear words like that?

“We obviously don't like the way the last 15 minutes of Game 3 went. That's not us. We want to put that behind us. Again, we felt like we played a pretty good two periods, but, you know what, a pretty good two periods isn't what it is going to take to win Game 4. We've got to put together a very complete, 60-minute effort and do that as a group.”




Jeffrey Lurie staying true to his script for a sequel

PHILADELPHIA >> In the 22 years since he has owned the Eagles, Jeffrey Lurie has demonstrated two things.
The first: He doesn't know how to win a Super Bowl.
The second: He does know how to come close.
So with those realities in hand heading into the 56th renewal of the Eagles' effort to repeat the success of the 1960 team, Lurie called a standard football plan. He would go to his strength. He would do what he did the last time he almost but didn't cause the breakout of a parade.
Out, then, he would come with the wrinkled blueprint. First, he would seek out a relatively young, relatively inexperienced head coach. Then, he would shove his team high enough in the draft to be able to choose a franchise quarterback. Indeed, he would make it the No. 2 pick in the draft, all the better to see that the team picking No. 1, in this case St. Louis, could choose the wrong quarterback, allowing the right one to seep to the Birds.
Remember: The man is a movie producer by trade. He knows from the making of sequels.
Thus, the new cast for the remake of Lurie's one successful football production: Doug Pederson as Andy Reid; either Jared Goff or Carson Wentz as Donovan McNabb, with the other as Tim Couch; Howie Roseman as Joe Banner; and Merrill Reese as himself.
Not that it is a bad plan. Chip Kelly was overmatched in the big leagues and spread in-house stress. Pederson will be an improvement. Roseman paid heavily to swap first-round picks with Cleveland Wednesday, and leap from No. 8 in the draft to No. 2, surrendering in the transaction a future first-round and a future second-round pick. But if the know-it-alls are right, Goff or Wentz will be worth the effort.
“In the end, based on all the evaluations over the last several weeks and even months,” Roseman said, “we decided that moving up to the second pick was the right move for our franchise.”

The last time the Eagles drafted No. 2, it turned out fine, with a Super Bowl appearance within five years. Even if sequels rarely match the original, Jeffrey Lurie at least knows how it is done.