Friday, April 30, 2010

Flyers vs. Bruins: Second Round Breakdown

After a loooong layoff, the Flyers are finally ready to get back to playing for the Stanley Cup. Thanks to an unprecedented series of upsets, the 7th seeded Flyers have drawn a relatively beatable opponent in the 6th seeded Boston Bruins, a team we should all be familiar with from the Winter Classic. Do the Flyers have what it takes to get past Boston and into the Eastern Conference Finals? Let's take a closer look.

Offense: With their 2.67 goals per game in the first round, the lowest of any remaining team in the playoffs, scoring isn't exactly Boston's strength. When the ancient Mark Recchi is your leading goal scorer, that's really saying something. Sure, Recchi still has a deft scoring touch, but he's 42 years old and shouldn't be the best offensive player on any team this far into the playoffs. Getting Marc Savard back should help out matters but there isn't anyone else to fear amongst the rest of the Bruin forwards. No, they aren't as bad as the Devils forwards were but it's actually pretty close.

As for the Flyers, they have lost some of their punch with Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne out of the lineup. Luckily, neither player was the biggest offensive threat for the Flyers in the first round and they have plenty of depth ready to pick up the slack. Look for Mike Richards (8 points in 5 games) and Claude Giroux (6 points in 5 games) to continue setting the pace for the attack. In the absence of Carter and Gagne, James van Riemsdyk will have to start scoring and one of the unknown forwards, like a Ville Leino or a David Laliberte, is going to have to chip in a few goals. Because of their depth and ability to score from multiple lines, the Flyers have the advantage at forward.

Defense: The two big boys and big names, Chris Pronger and Zdeno Chara, will be the focal point of this series. Each is going to be asked to shut down the top line on the opposing team and each will likely be very successful. When you start looking at the rest of the defensive units for these teams, the Bruins lack of a second shutdown pair becomes a real weakness. While the Flyers will able to send out Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn to slow down Boston's second line, who will the Bruins be sending out to slow down Giroux? With former Flyer Dennis Seidenberg on the shelf, the Bruins defense looks very young and unproven. Due to the lack of a second solid pair of defenseman, the Flyers have to be given the edge on defense.

Goaltending: Before we go too crazy over how good Tuukka Rask is, let me first point out that Brian Boucher has the lowest goals against average and best save percentage of any goaltender in the playoffs. Yep, the goalie who was widely thought to be the worst in the league turned out to be the best, at least statistically. While some of Boucher's great numbers can be attributed to how terrible the Devils offense truly was, the man has to be given credit for being nearly perfect in net.

All of that said, Rask is the better goaltender. Since the Bruins are so offensively challenged, Rask has to be on his game if Boston wants to be in the game. Rask was pretty remarkable against Buffalo, stepping his play up to a whole new level while he out-dueled Ryan Miller. The Flyers are going to have some real problems getting pucks past Rask so give the Bruins the edge here.

Special Teams: Boston's penalty kill has been ridiculously good in the playoffs, killing all 19 penalties in the first round. While the Flyers power play is a few steps up from the Sabres, expect the Bruins to continue to be stingy when they are a man down. The Flyers relied on their power play to get them going against the Devils, scoring 8 of their 15 goals with the man advantage, so if the Bruins manage to keep them off the board, expect things to get ugly. As for the Flyers penalty kill, they will take quite a hit with Ian Laperriere out of the lineup as the drop from Laperriere to Darroll Powe is pretty significant. The advantage the Bruins have on special teams could be what leads them past the Flyers in the series.

With the teams pretty even on paper, this series will basically come down to whether the Flyers can solve Rask. Given that they found a way to score on Martin Brodeur, I'm thinking they can get a few past the young and relatively untested Rask and perhaps that will rattle him. Despite the injuries, despite the lack of a real goaltender and despite the fact that they barely made the playoffs, I like the Flyers to get to the Eastern Conference Finals after they beat the Bruins in 6 games. As they continue to play with house money and with the pressure completely off, the Flyers are a very dangerous team. If all goes how I think it will, we'll have another Battle of Pennsylvania in the Eastern Conference Finals. I can't wait.

Another Phillies injury? Madson to the DL

It's a good thing Brad Lidge is back. According to the Phillies beat writers on Twitter, Ryan Madson has been placed on the 15 day disabled list with a broken toe. Madson suffered the injury after Wednesday's game against the Giants, a game in which he blew a save. Notice that he hurt himself AFTER his blown save, a revelation that has led many to speculate that he broke his toe kicking something in frustration. (Update: this has now been confirmed, he broke his foot kicking a chair)

Whatever the cause of the injury, the Phillies bullpen remains unsettled without Madson. Just when you figured everything was going to fall in place with the return of Lidge, the Phils go and lose their setup man. Look for the new 8th inning guy to be Jose Contreras instead of the inconsistent Danys Baez.

Antonio Bastardo was called back up to replace Madson on the roster. Hopefully he never left Philly after being demoted to make room for Lidge!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round Predictions

The first round of the NHL playoffs was another example of why the hockey playoffs are the best of any sport. Turn on nearly any playoff game on any night and you are bound to see a surprising win or a player playing out of his mind. Then, of course, there are the edge of your seat Game 7's where, even if you don't have a rooting interest, you find yourself holding your breath on nearly every shot. Expect more of the same in the second round as we have four very even matchups on the slate. After going a solid 6 for 8 on my first round predictions for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, here are my picks for the second round:

Eastern Conference:
(4) Pittsburgh vs. (8) Montreal
Pittsburgh in 6
While we here in Philadelphia were thrilled about the Canadiens knocking off the Capitals, the other side of the state was ecstatic. Now, with the top three seeds in the East out of the way, it almost looks like a clear path back to the Stanley Cup finals for the Penguins. After watching Jaroslav Halak shut down the Caps "potent" offense, however, you can bet the Penguins will have some problems right away with Montreal. While myself and everyone else outside of Pittsburgh will be rooting for the Cinderella in this series, the Penguins are just too strong to go down here. That's because, unlike the Capitals, the Penguins are filled with players that know what it takes to win in the playoffs. As much as I despise him, Sidney Crosby is the big-game player that Alex Ovechkin is not.

(6) Boston vs. (7) Philadelphia
Philadelphia in 6
The fact that the Bruins are hosting a playoff series as the 6 seed is ridiculous. As with every series with the Flyers, expect things to be rough and for there to be plenty of penalties on both sides. Luckily for the Flyers, the Bruins aren't equipped to kill them if Philly starts parading to the penalty box. Not so lucky for the Flyers is how good the Bruins are on the penalty kill; Philly isn't exactly the strongest team 5 on 5 so they rely on their power play to get them going. If the supposed "worst goalie in the playoffs" continues to play like one of the best goalies, I expect Brian Boucher to carry the Flyers into the Eastern Conference Finals. While they are dealing with a handful of injuries, the Flyers have plenty of depth waiting to step forward, including an emerging star in Claude Giroux and the criminally under-used Ville Leino. Homer pick? Perhaps, but this looks like another great matchup for the Flyers. As for the next round, however...

Western Conference:
(1) San Jose vs. (5) Detroit
Detroit in 7
It's funny how the Sharks getting out of the first round was deemed as such an accomplishment. While they were good enough to overcome beating themselves, let's not forget that it usually isn't the first round that gives them trouble, it's the second round. Things aren't going to be easy in this series, either, as Detroit looks to be back to their old ways. The key for the Red Wings will be Jimmy Howard. If he plays at all like he did early in the series against the Coyotes, Detroit won't be able to keep up with the Sharks on the scoreboard. Of course, with how poorly Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have been playing, they still might not be able to capitalize.

(2) Chicago vs. (3) Vancouver
Chicago in 6
Hey, we have a rematch from the second round last year! This was the most difficult series to predict out of all of them, there is just so much to like about each team. Do you go with the Blackhawks and their tremendous defensive group and young star forwards or do you go with the Canucks with Roberto Loungo looking for revenge and the Sedin twins tearing it up? When in doubt, I looked to last season and picked the same outcome. What we can be sure of is this series features the two best teams in the West and could very easily go the distance.

Those are my picks for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Check back tomorrow for a more complete breakdown of the Flyers/Bruins series.

The closer returns: Phillies activate Lidge

Those that are sick of watching Ryan Madson struggle through closing situations now have someone else to sweat through the 9th inning with: Brad Lidge is back. Lidge, who was placed on the disabled list at the end of spring training, will be activated before Friday's game against the Mets. To make room for Lidge, Antonio Bastardo was sent to the minors.

It's not known if Lidge will return to the closer spot right away. Given how Madson blew a save yesterday against the Giants, I'm sure Lidge will be finding his way back to the 9th sooner rather than later. How he does in the role is another story, though, considering his 11 blown saves and ERA over 7 last season. Let's hope his return solidifies the back end of the Phillies bullpen and let's the relievers all fall into their normal roles.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Flyers vs. Bruins Second Round Schedule

It's been so long since the Flyers played a game that it almost feels like that Devils series didn't really happen. Well, it did, and the Flyers, thanks to Montreal, are on to the second round against a very beatable Boston Bruins team. Hopefully having more than a week off as they waited for their second round opponent won't negatively affect the Flyers; of course, Boston will have had a handful of days off, too. The NHL has released the schedule for their series:

Game 1: Saturday, May 1st, Philadelphia at Boston, 12:30 pm
Game 2: Monday, May 3rd, Philadelphia at Boston, 7:00 pm
Game 3: Wednesday, May 5th, Boston at Philadelphia, 7:00 pm
Game 4: Friday, May 7th, Boston at Philadelphia, 7:00 pm
Game 5: Monday, May 10th, Philadelphia at Boston, 7:00 pm
Game 6: Wednesday, May 12th, Boston at Philadelphia, TBD
Game 7: Friday, May 14th, Philadelphia at Boston, 7:00 pm

Can't wait for the Flyers to continue their run! Look for more on this series in the coming days.

Flyers finally get second round opponent: Bruins

The first round of the NHL playoffs have finally ended and the Flyers have finally learned who their opponent will be. Thanks to a stunning upset of the top-seeded Washington Capitals by the Montreal Canadiens, the Flyers will play the 6th seeded Boston Bruins in a Winter Classic rematch. By knocking off the dangerous Capitals, the Canadiens certainly did the Flyers as they avoided having to play the top-scoring team in the league. While the Caps were terrible in the tail end of their first round series, you knew it was only going to be a matter of time before they busted out and started scoring.

The Flyers/Bruins series starts Saturday and I will have much more on it in the coming days including predictions and breakdowns. At first glance it certainly looks like a favorable matchup for the Flyers to play a team that has some real difficulties scoring. Of course, Boston did manage to score just enough on Ryan Miller in the first round so they could be quite a handful for the Flyers.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Glue gone: Flyers lose Laperriere for the playoffs

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
It's going to be quite an uphill battle for the Flyers if they want to continue their playoff run. Injuries have already taken a toll with this team, what with Jeff Carter out for the playoffs and Simon Gagne out for at least the next round, but now we can add another body to the injury pile: Ian Laperriere will likely miss the rest of the playoffs with a brain contusion.

Lappy, who was hit by a puck when blocking a shot against the Devils in Game 5, will certainly be missed by the Flyers. His absence in the lineup is going to hurt, especially if/when the Flyers find themselves on the penalty kill a handful of times a game in the next round. Against a team like the Capitals, one of their possible opponents in Round 2, losing Lappy could be a huge blow.

While he doesn't score goals and he doesn't make the pretty passes, Ian Laperriere is the kind of player every team needs in the playoffs. He's one of the glue guys who kills penalties, blocks shots, shadows top-scoring forwards on the other team and generally plays the tough minutes. The Flyers don't have anyone on the roster who will be able to step in and do all of those things; instead, they have to hope for a combination of players to step into bigger roles.

Winning a Stanley Cup is truly a war of attrition and the Flyers find themselves losing the injury battle. All is not lost for the Flyers but their depth is really going to be put to the test by whoever they play in the next round.

Flyers still waiting for an opponent: Caps or Bruins?

There are advantages and disadvantages to quickly dispatching a first round opponent like the Flyers did when they beat the Devils in 5 games. While the Flyers do get the benefit of sitting back and resting, there is always the worry that they could get rusty and lose their momentum.

With one more Eastern Conference series still going, the Flyers have yet to find out their second round opponent. While the Bruins and Penguins have managed to advance to the second round in the East, the Capitals/Canadiens series holds the key as to who the Flyers will play. Should the Capitals win, they will be the Flyers opponent in Round 2; should the Canadiens win, the Flyers go to Boston to take on the Bruins.

There has been much discussion over the last few days as to who we should be hoping the Flyers play in the second round. While I do understand the camp that says "bring 'em on" and wants to play the Capitals, I'm all for the Canadiens knocking them completely out of the picture. Even though the Capitals have struggled in the playoffs, why would I want the Flyers to play the most dangerous team in the Eastern Conference? I'd much prefer a more manageable series against a Bruins team that has some real difficulty scoring.

No matter who they are matched up with in the second round, the Flyers should be in for a competitive, although very different, series. If it's the Capitals, expect a ton of up and down action and plenty of goal-scoring. If it's the Bruins, expect a lot of defensive strategy and 2-1 games. When it all comes down to it, though, I'm just glad it won't be the Penguins. Let's save them for the Eastern Conference Finals.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Ryan Howard gets paid, signs 5 year, 125 million dollar extension

It looks like Ryan Howard will be a Phillie for his entire career as the slugger signed a 5 year, 125 million dollar contract extension with the club today. The contract, which runs through 2016, includes a limited no trade clause and a team option for a 6th year.

This is excellent news for Phillies fans that feared Howard would bolt to the Yankees or Red Sox after his contract ran out in 2011. While there should be some trepidation about whether Howard will be worth the 20+ million dollars he will be earning at the tail end of the deal when he is in his mid-30's, the Phillies have made a statement with this huge investment in one of the best power hitters in the league.

While I personally love the Phillies forking over a ton of money for a great player, I have to wonder what it means for someone like Jayson Werth, who will be a free agent after this season. Do the Phillies have enough money left over to pay Werth, too, or will they be scaling back the salaries for other positions? Can the Phillies still invest in a solid pitching staff with all of this money sunk into Howard? I guess we will just have to trust that Ruben Amaro has thought of these things and has a plan.

Congrats to Ryan Howard for getting paid. I'm going to love seeing him hit bombs for nearly the rest of this decade.

Experts weigh in on Eagles 2010 draft

While grading an NFL Draft two days after it is over is a useless exercise, it's still nice to know that most experts feel the Eagles did a solid job in the 2010 draft. Sure, they didn't get a ton of top-end talent but they did come away with a bunch of nice players that fit their system. Although we won't be able to really gauge this draft for another three years, knowing that the Eagles got a lot of valuable players is always a positive. Here is just a sampling of what some experts are saying about the Eagles draft:

Mel Kiper, ESPN: B+
The Eagles were positioned well to take advantage of a deep draft, and they did, piling up seven productive picks between the third and fifth rounds. But Philly started well too. In Brandon Graham they have a potential Rookie of the Year on defense. They filled a need at safety with Nate Allen, and I like Trevard Lindley in the fourth. He has second-round ability. Ricky Sapp may be a tweener, but getting a guy who can get to the quarterback like he can in the fifth round is good value. He could be a solid situational pass-rusher early in his career. Riley Cooper is quicker than many people think to go with above-average size.

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: A+
You look up and down their draft board and it's full of really good players. They had a lot of picks and the Eagles really did a nice job with them. That shouldn't be surprising.

Rob Rang, CBS Sports: B
An indication of just how active the Philadelphia Eagles were on draft day is that of the 13 picks they made, only the 121st overall, outside linebacker Keenan Clayton, was an original Eagles selection. A year after spending great resources on improving the playmaking ability of their offense, the Eagles spent their first two days of the draft re-stocking their defense. First, they aggressively traded up to land defensive end Brandon Graham with the 13th overall pick and added another try-hard pass rusher in Daniel Te'o-Nesheim in the third. The team landed one of the draft's better cover safeties in Nate Allen in between. While the 6-2, 270-pound Graham is a proven pass rusher who led the country in tackles for loss and won the Senior Bowl Defensive MVP honors, his selection was a surprise for the Eagles, considering the team had previously traded for another undersized pass rusher in former Seattle Seahawk Daryl Tapp. The Eagles had 10 picks on Saturday, most prominently addressing the need for depth at quarterback (Mike Kafka), linebacker (Ricky Sapp, Jamar Chaney). For a team that some believe is as deep as any in the league, however, wouldn't packaging some of those lower round picks for top-tier talent have been a better use of them?

John Czarnecki, Fox Sports: B-
The Eagles gave up a lot to move up in the first round to take Michigan pass rusher Brandon Graham, who was a dominant performer in the Big Ten. Andy Reid is hoping that second-round pick Nate Allen of South Florida can shore up the safety position, but he’s not an intimidator like Brian Dawkins was for this franchise. Allen is also going to be remembered as the Donovan McNabb selection, too. A lot of pressure on this kid to produce. For all their ammunition prior to the draft, the Eagles kind of struck out. With the 122nd pick, the Eagles surprised many by taking Northwestern QB Mike Kafka over Tony Pike and Dan LeFevour. Obviously, Kafka is smart but his arm seemed limited. The Eagles did a lot better in the later rounds on value, getting Clemson OLB Ricky Sapp, who had second-round grades, Florida receiver Riley Cooper who should be a big target in the red zone and H-back Clay Harbor of Missouri State. Ohio State safety Kurt Coleman was a playmaker and has a shot to make the team from the seventh round.

Clifton Brown, Sporting News: B+
They had to improve their defense and went all out to do it. They traded up to get pass rusher Brandon Graham, and safety Nate Allen could start right away. They also might have gotten a late-round steal in wide receiver Riley Cooper. Overall, a nice job.

For my full run-down of the Eagles draft, click here.
I give the Eagles a B+. They had a few steals and a few reaches but had a plan to upgrade the defense and they appear to have succeeded.

How do you grade the Eagles draft? Vote in the poll on the left!

Updated: Eagles add 11 rookie free agents

Just because the draft is over doesn't mean the Eagles are done bringing in rookies. As soon as the draft ends, teams hit the phones to try to sign players that went undrafted. Occasionally, teams find a diamond in the rough but most often these players are the first cuts in training camp. Probably the best case scenario for any undrafted free agent is to hang around on the practice squad for a year. Here are the undrafted rookies the Eagles have signed so far:

Charles Alexander, DT, Louisana State

Blue Cooper, WR, Tennessee-Chattanooga

Zipp Duncan, OT, Kentucky

Joey Elliott, QB, Purdue

Keith Flemming, RB, West Texas A&M

Kevin Jurovich, WR, San Jose State

Jeraill McCuller, OT, North Carolina State

Josh Morris, CB, Weber State

David Pender, CB, Purdue

Pat Simonds, WR, Colgate

Chris Zardas, FB, UMASS

None of these names jump out to me as being great pickups, although Charles Alexander and Kevin Jurovich were two players that were expected to be drafted. With these signings, the Eagles finally did add an offensive lineman in the offseason, although I doubt they expect McCuller or Duncan to be anything more than depth in training camp.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Philadelphia Eagles 2010 Draft Round-up

The Eagles came to the draft table this year with a clear focus: get as many defensive players as possible. While last year was all about offensive weapons for the Eagles, this year is all about loading up with a ton of defensive guys at every position for a loaded competition in training camp. In all, the Eagles made 13 picks, 9 of them defensive players. By the end, they had addressed every position on the field with the exception of the offensive line, a shocking revelation given Andy Reid's penchant for drafting them early and often. Here's a look at every player the Eagles selected at the 2010 draft:

Round 1, pick 13 (13): Brandon Graham, DE, Michigan
The Eagles first move in the draft was to trade up and get a top pass-rusher in Graham. While many thought the Eagles would be making a grab at a safety, clearly the Eagles felt they weren't getting enough pressure on the quarterback last season. Graham is a high motor player who specializes in making tackles behind the line of scrimmage so he should fit right in opposite of Trent Cole. The biggest knock on Graham is that he's a bit undersized but the Eagles think that's a plus because they can move him to linebacker on certain plays. While this pick wasn't what we all expected, it could turn out to be a perfect fit for the Eagles.

Round 2, pick 5 (37): Nate Allen, S, South Florida
With the "Donovan McNabb pick", the Eagles got their secondary help. Many experts have been commenting that the drop-off from Earl Thomas, the safety the Eagles could have had in the first round, down to Allen, is minimal. While Allen isn't a big hitter in the Brian Dawkins mold, he will still be a great fit for the Eagles at free safety given his playmaking skills and his strength in coverage. Sick of tight ends burning the Eagles every game? Allen could be the answer to that ongoing problem. In fact, Allen is so good at coverage that the Eagles could play him at cornerback as well.

Round 3, pick 22 (86): Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, DE, Washington
This is a name we're all going to need some time to learn how to say. After trading down three separate times, the Eagles finally took Te'o-Nesheim late in the 3rd round. Te'o-Nesheim is another one of those tweener guys in the NFL; he's not quite big enough to be along the defensive line and he's not quite athletic enough to be a linebacker. The Eagles love his motor and will use him along the d-line as they hope to have added another lineman to the rotation.

Round 4, pick 7 (105): Trevard Lindley, CB, Kentucky
On Day 3 of the draft, the Eagles finally get a cornerback. Lindley is one of those classic draft picks that has a ton of talent but fell due to injuries. In fact, Lindley was one of the best corners in college before his relatively unproductive senior year dropped his draft stock. If this guy plays up to his talent, he could be quite a steal for the Eagles.

Round 4, pick 23 (121): Keenan Clayton, LB, Oklahoma
The Eagles kicked off their flurry of late 4th/early 5th round picks with a bit of a reach in Clayton. Many experts thought Clayton, an undersized linebacker, could be had a few rounds later but clearly there is something in him the Eagles liked. While Clayton will be in the mix for a linebacker spot, I would expect him to contribute mostly on special teams for a few years. Given his speed and athleticism, there could be some thought of moving him to strong safety.

Round 4, pick 24 (122): Mike Kafka, QB, Northwestern
Finally, 6 picks into their draft, the Eagles take an offensive player in Kafka. A developmental quarterback, Kafka will be the third stringer for the next few years as he learns the Eagles system. Given that he is coming from a spread offense that threw the ball all over the field, Kafka figures to be a great fit for the Eagles West Coast Offense. Of course, as with any spread quarterback, Kafka is going to need some time learning how to take the ball from center and reading defenses. As the video shows below, though, Kafka was the MVP of the East-West Shrine Game and has some real potential.

Round 4, pick 27 (125): Clay Harbor, TE/FB, Missouri State
In Harbor, the Eagles grabbed their first offensive weapon of the draft. It's difficult to get a read on what the Eagles plan to do with Harbor, who was formerly a wide receiver but shifted to tight end in college, as most scouts think of him as an H-back. The Eagles likely will line him up all over the field, utilizing him out of the backfield as well as a secondary pass catching threat to Brent Celek at tight end. I haven't seen much talk about how well he blocks, though; if he wants serious playing time, he's going to have to protect Kevin Kolb.

Round 5, pick 3 (134): Ricky Sapp, DE, Clemson
It's like a broken record for the Eagles: another under-sized defenesive end. Sapp was another projected early round talent that fell due to injury concerns after he rebounded slowly from an ACL injury back in 2008. While this guy was really productive at DE in college, he could very likely be moving to linebacker as there is no way the Eagles are drafting all of these linemen for the rotation. Sapp has some big-time potential, though, so he could turn out to be quite a steal.

Round 5, pick 28 (159): Riley Cooper, WR, Florida
Cooper will bring something rare to the Eagles receiving corps: size. Playing with Tim Tebow at Florida, Cooper was a solid possession receiver who made the tough catches. He could stick with the Eagles and be a threat in the redzone, something the team is always looking for. Strangely enough, Cooper was also a star baseball player and was once drafted by the Phillies. He has since quit baseball to focus on football.

Round 6, pick 31 (200): Charles Scott, RB, LSU
Could this be the big back Eagles fans have been clamoring for? Scott, a powerful, straight-ahead runner, appears to be the perfect compliment to LeSean McCoy. While Scott isn't quick, he makes up for it with his size and ability to break tackles. He is coming off a broken collarbone, which likely dropped his draft stock. Look for Scott to compete with Mike Bell for the backup position and push Eldra Buckley off the roster. Suddenly, with Leonard Weaver, Bell and Scott, the Eagles backfield has quite a few backs that can get the tough 3rd and 4th down yards.

Round 7, pick 13 (220): Jamar Chaney, LB, Miss. St.
It always makes me a little wary when every single pundit calls a pick a steal but the drafting of Chaney in the 7th round appears to be just that. Ranked as the third best inside linebacker in the draft, the Eagles traded a 6th round pick next year to scoop him up. Why he fell so far in the draft when many thought he would go in the third or fourth round is a mystery. Chaney does have some injury history but he appears to be an athletic linebacker who is solid against the run. With the Eagles not exactly settled at the linebacker position next year, Chaney has a legitimate shot of not only making the team but also making an impact.

Round 7, pick 36 (243): Jeff Owens, DT, Georgia
The Eagles pick their first defensive tackle very late in the draft. Owens is big and strong but has to be considered a longshot to make the roster. He's another guy coming off some serious injury issues that kept him out most of 2008.

Round 7, pick 37 (244): Kurt Coleman, S, Ohio State
Why not wrap up the draft with another defensive player? I suppose Coleman could work his way into a spot in the secondary but he isn't exactly fast and he can't really cover that well, two things that are kind of important in the NFL. If he makes the team, Coleman, a solid tackler, would likely be a special teams guy.

Whew, talk about a haul of players, that's everyone the Eagles took in the 2010 Draft. Be sure to add your comments on the Eagles draft below and grade their draft in the poll to the left!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Eagles pick two, make flurry of trades on Day 2 of the Draft

Day 2 of the NFL Draft is in the books and the Eagles certainly did their part to make it interesting. After they made their first pick early in the second round, the Eagles kept us all watching as they traded down three seperate times before finally deciding to select another player late in the third round. While all of the trading down may be frustrating for the fans, the Eagles made out with quite a haul, turning the 55th overall pick into five total picks, one in the 3rd round, two in the 4th and one in the 5th. As for who they ended up actually drafting, the Eagles went all defense.

Round 2, pick 5 (37th overall): Nate Allen, S, South Florida
After passing on Earl Thomas in the first round, the Eagles finally got their safety using the pick they got from the Donovan McNabb trade. Allen is a playmaker in the secondary who can also cover quite well for a safety. There has already been talk that Allen could be a cornerback in the NFL but he seems like the perfect free safety for the Eagles. Scouting reports say he isn't a great tackler but it would be nice to have a safety that could actually cover a tight end for once. Several draft experts thought Allen could be better than Earl Thomas in the long run so this could turn out to be quite a steal.

Round 3, pick 22 (86th overall): Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, DE/DT, Washington
The Eagles traded down three times before they drafted Te'o-Nesheim, which probably means they had their sights set on him but didn't want to reach for him. He looks like another guy that can get after the quarterback, as evidenced by his 30 sacks in college. The biggest question on Te'o-Nesheim is his size; scouts wondered if was big enough to actually have an impact along the defensive line in the NFL. Best case scenario with this pick is that he turns into another lineman for the rotation.

The Eagles still have plenty more work to do tomorrow as they still have 9 picks remaining in the 4th through 7th rounds. Look for plenty more wheeling and dealing as there is no way the Birds take that many players.

Here are the Eagles remaining picks:
Round 4, 105th overall
Round 4, 121st overall
Round 4, 122nd overall
Round 4, 125th overall
Round 5, 134th overall
Round 5, 136th overall
Round 6, 200th overall
Round 7, 243rd overall
Round 7, 244th overall

Thursday, April 22, 2010

On to the second round! Flyers rip Devils again

For a team that barely made the playoffs the Flyers sure plan to make the most of their opportunity. Thanks to another dominating performance, the Flyers struck quick against the Devils in Game 5 and never looked back, clinching the series with a 3-0 win.

Danny Briere scored the game-winning goal just minutes into the game but the offensive hero of the night for the Flyers was Claude Giroux, who scored 2 goals midway through the second period. For a team that was worried about where the offense was going to come from with Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter missing time, the continued emergence of Giroux has been a welcome sight. The kid is clearly raising his game to a new level.

As for the supposed weak link of the Flyers, Brian Boucher came up huge once again, stopping all 27 shots he saw in Game 5. For a guy that was thought to be the worst goaltender in the NHL playoffs, Boucher was in the right position at the right time to make every big save in the series. Sure, the Flyers defense deserves plenty of credit for their ability to limit the scoring opportunities in front of him, but Boucher has somehow turned back the clock and emerged as that hot goaltender that took the Flyers deep into the 2000 playoffs.

With the Devils out of the way, the Flyers are on to the second round and a likely showdown with the Capitals, who figure to be a much more formidable opponent than New Jersey. While the Flyers defense might be able to slow down some of their weapons, Philly can't afford to take a bunch of penalties like they did against the Devils and give Washington's dangerous power play numerous chances. While the Flyers do have a great penalty kill, stopping Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom with a man advantage is going to be a tall order.

Anyway, we'll worry about the Capitals later because now it's time to enjoy the fact that the #7 seeded Flyers overcame huge odds and dominated the #2 seeded Devils in the first round. It's time to revel in the idea that this team that barely made the playoffs and is playing with their third string goalie in net and two of their top forwards out with injuries has been able to knock out one of the best teams in the East. It's going to be fun see how long they can keep this unlikely run going. GO FLYERS!

Eagles trade up, draft DE Brandon Graham

With a plethora of picks, we knew the Eagles would be trading at the draft; what we didn't know was who the Eagles would be targeting. While most experts and fans expected the Eagles to get some secondary help, they instead traded up and took DE Brandon Graham of Michigan with the 13th pick in the draft.

To move up to the 13th pick, the Eagles traded with the Broncos, giving up the 24th pick in the first round and two third round picks (70th and 87th overall). While two thirds might seem like a lot to give up, remember the Eagles still have that early second round pick they got from the Redskins for Donovan McNabb.

As for Graham, the early word on him is that he might be the best pass rusher in the draft. While he was a defensive end in college, there is also some talk that he could be an outside linebacker in the NFL. Given how many LB's they already have on the roster, I would think the Eagles would keep Graham at defensive end and work him into the rotation with the hope that he could be a pass-rushing force opposite of Trent Cole.

Some fans may be upset that the Eagles didn't trade up to get a safety like Earl Thomas. While the Eagles will still likely get help in their secondary later in the draft, it can't be understated how a good pass rush can make a secondary look good. If Graham is as good at getting to the quarterback as the experts are saying the Eagles might not need to get much more help at safety or cornerback.

With that trade, the Eagles are likely done for today unless they somehow move from the early second round into the late first. Stay tuned for more draft coverage!

Phillies roster shuffle: Romero activated, Happ to the DL

Sometimes you have to take the good news with the bad news: while one Phillies pitcher is returning from injury, another is going on the DL.

First, the good news: J.C. Romero has been activated. The lefty has been out all season dealing with elbow isssues but after several successful rehab appearances, he's ready to go. Romero will be a welcome sight to a Phillies bullpen that has been taxed on the days when Roy Halladay isn't pitching.

As for the bad news, the Phillies will be without J.A. Happ for at least his next start. Happ, who didn't feel right in a side pitching session today, will be placed on the 15 day DL due to a left forearm strain. Nelson Figueroa will be called upon to start in place of Happ, who isn't expected to be out for long. In fact, the way the rotation shakes out in the coming week, Happ could be activated after 15 days and only miss one start.

Like I've said with the injuries to Jimmy Rollins and Joe Blanton, it's better to have these minor tweaks in April rather than in September. Missing Happ for a couple of starts now won't have a huge impact in the long run for the Phillies especially when you have a capable spot starter like Figueroa ready to step in.

Halladay's gem is the cure for Phillies bullpen woes

Still hurting after Ryan Madson's 9th inning meltdown on Tuesday night against the Braves? Well, Doc Halladay has the cure for you: a complete game shutout and a 2-0 Phillies win on Wednesday night.

Halladay was his typical masterful self against the Braves as he gave up 5 hits and struck out 7 to give him his 4th win in his 4th start of the season. While Halladay did get a ton of help from the Phillies defense, including incredible plays by Shane Victorino, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, the ace was remarkably efficient in using 113 pitches, 71 of them strikes, to cruise through the Braves lineup. One of the things that makes Halladay so great and so durable is how he goes after hitters and throws strikes; he doesn't bother trying to get batters to chase bad pitches because his stuff is so good that he can make batters miss even when it's in the zone.

Halladay is so dominating that he doesn't need much help from the rest of the team. Not only did his dominating performance gave the beleaguered Phillies bullpen a much needed night off, it also masked the fact that the offense has been sleepwalking, averaging just 1.5 runs over the last 4 games. Of course, as much as we would like him to, Halladay can't pitch every night for the Phils, so the rest of the team is going to have to get out of their funk if they want to when the Doc isn't on the hill.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Flyers injury update: Gagne out 3 weeks, Carter done for the season

It looks like Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter will be missing much more than just Game 5. According to Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, both Gagne and Carter are going to have surgery on their respective foot injuries, meaning both will not be "day to day" as was originally reported. In fact, following surgery on Friday, Gagne is expected to be out 3 weeks, or at least until the end of the second round, while Carter is expected to be out for 6, which will end his season.

As we already knew, Ville Leino and David Laliberte are likely going to replace Gagne and Carter in the lineup but they won't be expected to get all of the ice time and power play minutes. Instead, look for the Flyers to turn to players like Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk to make a bigger impact. It will be up to the young guys to step up if the Flyers want to make any serious playoff run.

Flyers lose Carter, Gagne for at least Game 5

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Suddenly, that 3-1 series lead doesn't look so solid. Just hours after their impressive Game 4 win over the Devils, the Flyers got some bad news: they will be without Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne for Game 5 and possibly beyond. Both forwards will be out with foot injuries that they sustained in Game 4, with Carter injuring his foot deflecting the puck on his second goal of the game and Gagne injuring his while blocking a shot. Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said that both players are "day to day", though in the playoffs, even players with major injuries are said to be "day to day".

Losing the two puts a damper on the Flyers chances in Game 5 but it doesn't kill them. Neither forward has been the focal point of the Flyers attack in the series, although the timing for Carter, who is a very streaky scorer, was especially bad considering he is coming off a two goal game. Replacing Carter and Gagne in the lineup will be Ville Leino and David Laliberte, which definitely constitutes a dropoff in offense. While I have been hoping Leino, a solid offensive player, would get some ice time in the playoffs, he certainly is no Jeff Carter.

Eliminating the Devils in Game 5 in New Jersey was already going to be a tough task for the Flyers; with these injuries, it almost seems insurmountable. That said, the best case scenario for the Flyers is probably to let these two heal and regroup for a chance to beat the Devils back in Philly for Game 6.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Flyers rip Devils, take commanding 3-1 series lead

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Wait, which team is the 2 seed and which team is the 7 seed in this Flyers/Devils series again? With the way the Flyers dominated the Devils in a 4-1 Game 4 victory, you couldn't convince anyone that the Devils finished with the second best record in the Eastern Conference while the Flyers sneaked into the playoffs on the very last day.

The story of the night for the Flyers was the contributions they got from to players who had yet to score in the playoffs as both Jeff Carter and Danny Briere finally lit the lamp. In fact, Carter scored twice in the game, both on the power play, and finally appeared to be healthy as he skated smoothly throughout the game. Also scoring for the Flyers was the Game 3 hero, Dan Carcillo, who once again looked like he had never scored a goal in his life after he beat Martin Brodeur with a shot through the 5 hole.

Given how many penalties they had, it was remarkable that the Flyers were in any position to win Game 4, let alone dominate it. For most of the first two periods, the Flyers sent player after player to the penalty box and gave the Devils power play chance after power play chance. In all, the Flyers had 16 penalty minutes on minors in the game and gave the Devils 8 power play chances. Luckily, the Flyers have a really good penalty kill and only allowed the Devils to score once on a 5 on 3 opportunity. I said it after the last game and I'll say it again: eventually, these penalties are going to catch up to the Flyers. Against an offensively challenged team like the Devils, the Flyers can get away with the march to the penalty box. If, and I mean if, the Flyers get past the Devils and play the Capitals in the next round, Washington's killer power play is going to destroy the Flyers if they take this many penalties. If the officials are going to continue calling the games so tight, the Flyers have to adjust.

As Game 4 progressed, the Flyers did seem to make some changes to their game while the Devils seemed to regress, taking a bunch of penalties in the third period as they fell apart. The usually consistent Martin Brodeur, who was making stellar stops all game long, also started to crumble in net, allowing uncharacteristically soft goals through. Whether the Flyers simply have their number or they really aren't that good, the Devils need to figure things out fast if they want to get back in this series.

Before anyone says this series is over, however, they must remember the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals. As you may recall, the Flyers had this same 3-1 lead with these same two goalies in net and seemed poised to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. Well, three Devils wins later and the Flyers collapsed their way out of the playoffs. While all signs point to the Flyers getting to the second round, let's just not start looking ahead just yet. Of course, if this same Devils team continues to not show up, the team that shouldn't even be in the playoffs will pull off quite an upset.

Eagles 2010 schedule released

We already knew which teams they were going to face but now we know exactly who the Eagles will play each week in the 2010 season:

Week 1: 9/12 Packers @ Eagles, 4:15 pm
Week 2: 9/19 Eagles @ Lions, 1 pm
Week 3: 9/26 Eagles @ Jaguars, 4:05 pm
Week 4: 10/3 Redskins @ Eagles, 4:15 pm
Week 5: 10/10 Eagles @ Niners, 8:20 pm (Sunday Night)
Week 6: 10/17 Falcons @ Eagles, 1:00 pm
Week 7: 10/24 Eagles @ Titans, 1:00 pm
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: 11/7 Colts @ Eagles, 4:15 pm
Week 10: 11/15 Eagles @ Redskins, 8:30 pm (Monday Night)
Week 11: 11/21 Giants @ Eagles, 8:20 pm (Sunday Night)
Week 12: 11/28 Eagles @ Bears, 1:00 pm
Week 13: 12/2 Texans @ Eagles, 8:20 pm (Thursday Night)
Week 14: 12/12 Eagles @ Cowboys, 8:20 pm (Sunday Night)
Week 15: 12/19 Eagles @ Giants, 1:00 pm
Week 16: 12/26 Vikings @ Eagles, 1:00 pm
Week 17: 1/2 Cowboys @ Eagles, 1:00 pm

Note the Sunday Night games in Weeks 5, 11, 14, the Monday Night game in Week 10 and the Thursday Night game in Week 13.

Although you can never judge how good a team will be in April, this schedule appears pretty tough at first glance. Things seem to start pretty easy for the Eagles in the first 7 weeks with the only tough opponent being the Packers. Of course, that Week 4 matchup with the Redskins is also going to be pretty entertaining. After the Week 8 bye, things get much harder for the Birds as they have to play the Colts, Vikings and 5 divisional games, including the traditional season finale against the Cowboys.

We already knew the schedule would look pretty difficult on paper since the Eagles have to face some tough teams from the AFC South and the NFC North. Of course, it all usually comes down to how the Eagles fare in those 6 games against the rest of the NFC East, which have suddenly become even more interesting with Donovan McNabb landing in Washington. How the Eagles do against the Redskins, Cowboys and Giants usually determines whether they are a playoff team.

Eagles 2010 schedule coming today, opponents already known

What a week in the NFL; not only is the draft being stretched out to three days this week but the NFL schedule is also being announced Tuesday! This day is highly anticipated as fans want to know when their team will be playing its big games and who gets the prime time slots. Expect at least one of the Redskins vs. Eagles games to be on Sunday Night.

Of course, we already know who the Eagles will be playing, we just don't know when. The NFL released the list of teams the Eagles will play back in January:

Division Games:
Cowboys (2x)
Giants (2x)
Redskins (2x)

Home games:

Away Games:

As you can tell, the Eagles will play the entire AFC South and NFC North with a few extra NFC teams thrown in for good measure. On paper, the schedule looks tougher this year, although you can never tell how good these teams will be until the season starts.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Juqua Parker avoids pot charge

This arrest came so long ago I almost forgot about it. Back in August, during the Eagles training camp, Juqua Parker was arrested for possession of marijuana. Apparently, Parker was in a van driven by Todd Herremans when police pulled the vehicle over and found a small amount of pot under the passenger seat.

Seven months later, all charges against Parker have been dropped. Citing there was no reason for police to search the car, prosecutors in the case decided not to pursue any charges against Parker. Sounds like Parker had a good lawyer.

Since Parker was just a first-time offender, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wasn't likely to suspend him even if he was found guilty. While there is still a chance that Parker could enter the league's rehab program, avoiding legal trouble will ensure that he won't become a bigger blip on the radar of the iron-fisted commissioner.

Eagles acquire LB Ernie Sims in 3 team trade

The Eagles have added another linebacker to the mix, acquiring Lions LB Ernie Sims in a trade that saw the Birds send a 5th round pick to the Broncos while the Broncos shipped TE Tony Scheffler and a 7th round pick to the Lions.

A former captain with the Lions, Sims has played 4 years in the NFL, starting 56 games for the Lions at outside linebacker. While he isn't big (6 feet, 230 pounds), Sims does have a lot of energy and hits everything that moves. He is expected to compete for a starting job in an Eagles linebacker corps that is in flux, with only MLB Stewart Bradley guaranteed to be a starter. Sims has the potential to make a strong contribution and could easily earn the starting strongside LB spot or even the weakside spot that was vacated when the Eagles cut Will Witherspoon.

For the price of a 5th round draft pick, the Eagles got a pretty good deal for a guy that could potentially be a starter for them. Adding Sims to a group of linebackers that features Bradley, Akeem Jordan, Moise Fokou, Omar Gaither, Joe Mays and Alex Hall makes for a pretty crowded linebacker position. Expect there to be some serious battles in training camp for the 3 starting linebacker spots and don't be surprised if Omar Gaither gets traded at the draft. This trade also likely means the Eagles won't be pursuing linebackers with their 10 remaining draft picks.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Carcillo (!?) wins Game 3 in overtime for Flyers

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The NHL playoffs are all about unlikely heroes. If you want to make a deep run in the playoffs, you need your role players to step up and make big plays and score huge goals. Sure, you have the stars on the ice to put your team in a position to win but, more often then not, it's a third or fourth line forward that comes through in the clutch.

Enter Dan Carcillo, Flyers pest. Despite playing just over 7 minutes in Game 3 against the Devils, Carcillo found time to pick up a penalty, take a dive, log an assist and, oh yeah, net the game winning goal 3 minutes into overtime. With the game tied at 2 in the extra period, the Flyers took advantage of a penalty drawn by Claude Giroux to set up for a rare overtime power play. As the power play wore off, Mike Richards fired a shot from the side of the net that Carcillo eventually slammed home to give the Flyers a 2-1 series lead.

After the two teams traded goals in the first two periods, the Flyers outplayed the Devils in the third, coming up with chance after chance as they outshot New Jersey 12-3 in the period. Only the sparkling play of Martin Brodeur in net kept the Devils from losing in regulation as he turned aside every seemingly perfect chance the Flyers set up. The rest of the Devils never stepped up, however, as they failed to generate any kind of offense to support the great game they got from their goaltender.

The officials should be under some serious scrutiny after the way they called Game 3. The players weren't allowed to play at all as the refs called every last possible infraction in the book, causing a parade of Flyers and Devils to go to the box all game long. The 30 minutes of penalties called by the officials led to an inordinate number of power plays for each team, with the Devils capitalizing on 2 of their 8 PP's and the Flyers scoring on 1 of their 5 PP's. I'm all for the refs calling a fair game but, come on, this is the playoffs! The refs shouldn't be the ones dictating how the game is played, it should be the players. As this series gets longer, things are only going to get rougher as the players get more annoyed with one another; if the refs continue to call every minor action there won't be any players left on the ice.

The Flyers continue to prove they are the better team in this series. Offensively, the Devils don't have any punch unless they have an extra attacker on the ice. Defensively, Jersey has been forced to rely on Brodeur to bail them out time and again. Just about the only thing that could hold the Flyers back from moving on to the next round is themselves. All complaints about the officials aside, if Philly doesn't adjust how they play to match how the refs are calling the game, they are going to penalize themselves right out of the playoffs. Of course, if they keep getting big plays from guys like Dan Carcillo, there isn't a team in the league that can slow them down.

Phillies starting pitching woes continue: Happ hurt

A lot has gone right for the Phillies this season. The offense has been tearing the cover off the ball, Roy Halladay has been as good as advertised and, with the exception of Danys Baez, the bullpen has held its own so far. Of course, you can't help but notice the one thing left off that list: every other starting pitcher besides Halladay has been a big question mark. Joe Blanton got injured in the preseason. Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer have been shaky, at best. Kyle Kendrick and his 17.47 ERA have been atrocious. And then there's J.A. Happ, who, according to Jim Salisbury, is now dealing with an injury and may miss his next start.

Apparently Happ, who has put up good numbers this season (0.00 ERA) but has been more than a little lucky with runners on base, is experiencing some discomfort in his left forearm. It's an injury that could be nothing or it could be a big deal depending on how he feels in the coming days. Happ is scheduled to make his next start in Atlanta on Wednesday but the Phillies aren't saying yet if he will be able to answer the bell.

For a Phillies rotation that is barely surviving 4 out of every 5 starts, losing Happ for any amount of time would be pretty crippling. With Blanton not ready to come back yet and Kendrick already working his way out of the rotation, the Phillies would really be in need of two starters. Sure, Nelson Figueroa and Andrew Carpenter could fill in if needed but neither should be relied on for more than a spot start or two.

The only positive that can be taken from this news is that, if there was a time for the Phillies rotation to be in shambles, it's early in the season. Still, let's keep our fingers crossed that Happ's arm gets better fast because, while Halladay is great, he can't pitch every day.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Devils even up series with late goal

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Well, at least the Flyers still have the home ice advantage. Despite playing better in Game 2 than they did in Game 1, the Flyers couldn't put away the Devils when they had the chance, losing when former Flyer Dainius Zubrus scored a goal late in the third period to give the Devils a 4-3 lead. An empty net goal later and the Flyers were sent back to Philadelphia with a 1-1 tie in the series.

The Devils managed to even things up by playing with a lot more energy in Game 2, jumping out to an early lead and setting the tempo for the game. While they did allow the Flyers right back into the game, the Devils were much more aggressive, out-shooting and out-hitting Philly throughout the night. Martin Brodeur also played better in net, making big stops in the third period to keep the Flyers off the scoreboard.

It's hard to point at any one reason why the Flyers lost Game 2. The Flyers didn't take advantage of the opportunities the Devils gave them, especially on the power play. Overall, Philly was a respectable 2 for 7 with the man advantage, but they really needed to capitalize when the Devils gave them three power play chances in a row early in the second period in a tie game. Scoring just once early in the second would have completely shifted the momentum.

One other negative for the Flyers was the Ryan Parent and Oskars Bartulis defensive pairing. While Philly really tried to minimize how much both were on the ice, they still played 12 minutes of pretty bad defense, all of which culminated with them being on the ice for the Devils game winning goal late in the third period. The Flyers have four really good defensemen that play the majority of the game but not having anyone they can trust in the third pairing really hurt them.

Everyone's favorite person to blame, Brian Boucher, didn't play great in net but he wasn't terrible, either. Of the 4 goals he let in, only 1 was really of the "soft" variety. No, Boucher didn't steal the game for the Flyers but he also didn't lose it for them, either. After an impressive showing in Game 1, Boucher was simply out-dueled by Brodeur in Game 2.

Even though it's tough to take anything positive from a loss, not everything went bad for the Flyers in Game 2. They generated more quality offense than they mustered in Game 1, more than doubling their number of shots from 14 to 29. Claude Giroux also continued his playoff magic as he looked like the most dynamic player on the ice for most of the night, finishing with a sweet assist and a tip-in goal. The Flyers also did a good job keeping out of the penalty box and only gave the Devils 3 power play chances.

Looking at the bigger picture, every Flyers fan should be happy with a 1-1 tie and the series shifting back to Philadelphia. The Flyers have proven already in this series that they can at least keep up with and often times play better than the Devils. If they can just get a few more opportunistic goals and tighten up the defense a bit, they will still be in great shape to take the series. As in every series that's tied at 1 apiece, Game 3 is going to be huge with the winner of the game poised to take all of the momentum in the series. I'm sure the Flyers fans will set the tone for what should be a great Game 3 atmosphere; it will be up to the team to set the tone on the ice.

2010 NBA Playoff Predictions: Round One

Don't let the crappy season put together by the Sixers fool you, this has been a pretty entertaining year in the NBA. We've had stars like Kevin Durant emerge as superstars, we've had a bevy of impressive rookies and LeBron James has put together another MVP season. Sure, your hometown Sixers couldn't muster up enough talent to continue their annual ritual of barely squeaking into the playoffs but that doesn't mean there won't be plenty to watch for in the coming weeks. Here's hoping we finally get that Cavs/Lakers final that's been hinted at for the last few years.

Here are my first round predictions with a quick thought on each series:

Western Conference
Lakers (1) vs. Thunder (8)

Lakers in 6

In just two short years, this could be the Western Conference Finals. Much will be made of the Kobe vs. Durant match-up in this series but remember that they won't be guarding each other. I like the the Thunder to make things interesting for a few games but ultimately they can't match the Lakers experience.

Mavericks (2) vs. Spurs (7)
Mavericks in 6

The battle for Texas should be a good one; the addition of Caron Butler should push the Mavs over the top. If anyone is going to knock out the Lakers in the West, it's going to be Dallas.

Suns (3) vs. Blazers (6)
Suns in 5

The loss of Brandon Roy kills what could have been a great series. How much must it piss off Shaq that the Suns have already gone further without him?

Nuggets (4) vs. Jazz (5)
Jazz in 7

A few months ago I would have said the Nuggets had a shot to knock off the Lakers and get to the NBA Finals. Now they look like first round fodder for a Utah team that can keep up with the Nuggets offensively and has enough defense to make some stops.

Eastern Conference
Cavs (1) vs. Bulls (8)

Cavs in 5

Congratulations, Bulls, for getting in to the playoffs! Now, meet your opponent, the best team in the NBA!

Magic (2) vs. Bobcats (7)
Magic in 6

Charlotte plays some of the best defense in the league, which gives them a shot against Orlando. Unfortunately, this Magic team has their sights set on getting back to the NBA Finals and they won't let an inexperienced Bobcats team slow them down.

Hawks (3) vs. Bucks (6)
Hawks in 5

Oh, what could've been. Without Andrew Bogut, the Bucks hype machine died a quick death. There just isn't enough else on this Bucks team to keep up with Atlanta.

Celtics (4) vs. Heat (5)
Heat in 7

Stick a fork in 'em, the Celtics are dead. This pick isn't so much an indication that the Heat are good, it's more of a statement about how awful Boston has been down the stretch.

Those are my picks for the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Let me know if you agree or disagree!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Finally, the Sixers fire Eddie Jordan

The inevitable has finally happened. In what was really the worst kept secret in Philadelphia, one day after their season ended, the Sixers have fired head coach Eddie Jordan after one season. Jordan leaves the Sixers after clearly losing all respect from the players in an abysmal 27-55 season. Nothing Jordan tried with the Sixers worked, including the vaunted Princeton offense he tried to install despite the fact that the personnel in Philly didn't match that system.

From the start of the season, it was clear the Jordan was a bad hire by Ed Stefanski. Stefanski couldn't see past the guy he worked with in New Jersey to see the poor track record Jordan already had in Washington as a head coach. Couple this bad coaching hire with several questionable personnel moves and you have to believe that the Sixers brass will at least discuss removing Stefanski from the GM position as well.

Good riddance, Eddie Jordan. This Sixers team has some talent and can play much better if they are given a system that plays to their strengths and a coach that stresses actually having to play defense. Your guess is as good as mine on who the Sixers go out and hire next; of course, if the rumors are true, we might be seeing Larry Brown back in Philly once again. Hopefully the Sixers have learned from their past mistakes and don't go and get another retread NBA coach; instead, they should look for a smart, energetic assistant coach who can grow with the young guys already on the roster.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Boucher helps Flyers steal home ice advantage from Devils

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
So much for the Flyers biggest weakness.

Heading into the playoffs, Brian Boucher's play in net was seen as the thing that would hold the Flyers back from doing any damage against the Devils. According to most experts, Boucher was the worst goaltender in the playoffs and there was no way he was going to play as well as he did a decade ago when he last saw major action in the playoffs.

Well, for at least one night, Boucher turned back the clock to the year 2000, making 23 of 24 saves en route to helping the Flyers beat the Devils, 2-1, to take a 1-0 series lead. Boosh was spectacular all night, out-dueling Martin Brodeur by making the easy stops and the big stops. For his first playoff start in eight years, Boucher made it look simple as he saw the puck well all night, flashed a strong glovehand and got in the right position to make the routine save. Sure, the Devils attack wasn't exactly overpowering, but Boucher turned aside nearly every threat except for one deflected puck late in the game that he never had a chance on.

As for the Flyers offense, they were certainly economical, scoring twice on the paltry 14 shots they took. The Flyers scored both goals in the second period, with the first goal of the ugly variety as Chris Pronger hit a puck in off the skate of a Devils defenseman and the second goal a nice shot by Mike Richards off a feed by Ian Laperriere. Although there wasn't too much Martin Brodeur could have done on either goal, getting beat twice on so few shots really isn't Brodeur-esque. I hesitate to say the Flyers have solved Brodeur but it sure seems that they haven't had much trouble scoring on him this season.

Once the Devils fell behind in the second period they couldn't muster up much of anything on offense. Coming back from 2 goal deficits isn't in the Devil game plan despite the number of opportunities the Flyers gave them to come back. Early in the third period, the Flyers gave the Devils a 4 minute power play that was followed shortly thereafter by a 2 minute power play, both of which Philly killed off with relative ease. Given how the Devils failed to generate much offense when behind, getting the early lead is clearly going to be a key for the Flyers all series long.

With the win, the Flyers have now taken home ice advantage away from the Devils. Even more encouraging, it appears that the rumors of Brian Boucher's terribleness have been greatly exaggerated. While the Flyers would love for him to stand on his head, if he can just keep himself in the right position and not let in any bad goals, the Flyers should do well in this series, especially if they can keep finding ways to beat Martin Brodeur.

Game One was a perfect example of why Flyers fans had hope when they saw that the Devils were the opponent in the first round; for some reason, Philly just seems to have their number. Taking the first game was huge but it will be up to the Flyers to ride that momentum if they are going to pull off the upset in the series.

Rollins to the DL, Valdez called up

After suffering a mysterious injury just moments prior to the Phillies home opener, we finally know what's wrong with Jimmy Rollins. According to Ruben Amaro, Rollins has a mild to moderate right calf strain, one that is likely to keep him out 2-4 weeks, and the team has placed him on the disabled list. To replace him on the 25 man roster, the Phillies have called up infielder Wilson Valdez from Triple A.

While the news sounded like it could have been worse given how long it took them to announce it, Rollins will still be missed in the lineup until he can return sometime in May. In his absence, expect Juan Castro to get most of the starts at shortstop with Valdez sliding into Castro's old utility infielder role. We should also expect a lineup shuffle as Shane Victorino figures to jump to the top of the order and Castro slots into the 7th or 8th spot in the lineup.

It's never a good thing when a star player goes down with injury, but if the Phillies are going to have to play without Rollins for a few weeks, the beginning of the season is the easiest time to deal with it. Sure, the lineup will be a little weaker for a short period of time but Rollins will still come back and play the remaining 125 games or so and help the Phils bounce back from whatever lull they experienced without him for 20 games. The most important thing right now is that Rollins gets healthy so he can come back quickly and help keep the Phillies lineup the most potent in baseball.

Flyers vs. Devils: First Round Breakdown

Although they only made it into the playoffs by the slimmest of margins, the Flyers have to be happy with the opponent they've drawn in the first round of the playoffs. While the Devils are a formidable team loaded with talent, they are someone Philly knows and knows well, as evidenced by the Flyers 5-1 record against them this year. As they say, it's better to play the Devils you know.

With both teams very familiar with one another and the Flyers penchant for getting under the skin of the opponent, I would expect this series to be long and hard-fought with a winner emerging only after 6 or 7 games. Don't underestimate the Flyers, they may have stumbled their way into the playoffs as a 7 seed but they have a lot of depth and should make for a tough playoff out. In fact, the Flyers should be playing with nothing to lose, making them even more dangerous than they would have been had they clinched a week ago. It will be up to the Devils to try to match the intensity that the Flyers should be bringing every night. Let's take a closer look at how these two teams matchup and see who comes out ahead.

Offense: Few teams can match the Flyers depth at forward and the Devils are no exception. Sure, Philly doesn't have anyone as dynamic as Zach Parise or Ilya Kovalchuk, but the Flyers roll out three lines filled with offensive weapons littered throughout, including 9 guys that netted double digit goals. While most of the forwards had down years(Scott Hartnell, Simon Gagne), all hands are on deck and healthy, including Jeff Carter, and any one of them could break out at any moment. The Flyers also boast some of the best penalty killing forwards in the league, from the always dangerous Mike Richards to the steady, responsible Blair Betts. The ultimate wild card in the mix is Dan Carcillo; he always toes the line between being a nuisance to the opponent and a detriment to the Flyers. If he can annoy the Devils without parading to the penalty box and chip in a few goals here and there, Carcillo's impact could be huge.

As for the Devils, it all begins with the aforementioned Parise and Kovalchuk, who are two of the most dangerous snipers in the league. It will be up to the Flyers to figure out how to stop them, likely matching lines to ensure they will be shadowed by Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen all series long. After those two, the Devils do have some secondary scoring in Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac, but nothing that really needs to be game planned against. The Devils scoring punch starts to dry up after that as the 3rd and 4th lines are filled with competent defensive forwards and very few scoring threats, including former Flyers Danius Zubrus and Dean McAmmond. Because the Flyers have scorers up and down their lines to go with their mix of defensive forwards, I give the edge in forwards to the Flyers, but not by a wide margin. The Devils top-end talent is almost enough to keep up but you have to think a few of the Flyers forwards will get hot in the playoffs.

Defense: Individually, the Flyers have some serious talent on defense. When Chris Pronger, Matt Carle and Kimmo Timonen are on, there might not be a more talented threesome in the league. Collectively, though, this group has had way too many breakdowns. Too often, someone is caught out of position or makes a bad play on the puck that leads directly to an easy goal by the opposition. That kind of thing doesn't happen against the Devils, who individually don't have great talent but collectively play sound defense. So, really, it's a question of how you like your defense. Do you want difference-makers in the back end who will make occasional mistakes or do you want vanilla defenders who aren't going to do anything special but also won't hurt you? I call these two teams even on defense although Paul Martin's return to health might sway things in favor of New Jersey.

Goaltending: There is no argument here, Martin Brodeur is much better than Brian Boucher. Brodeur has advantages in experience, longevity and consistency over Boucher, who hasn't played a significant game in the playoffs since his run with the Flyers in 2000. Sure, that run in 2000 was magical and Boucher was at the heart of it but it was a lifetime ago; he can't be expected to do anything like that in 2010. Oh, and the team that eliminated Boucher and the Flyers in 2000 in the Eastern Conference Finals? Yep, that would be Brodeur and the Devils. The Devils have the huge advantage when it comes to goaltending.

Looking at everything on paper, the Flyers seem to be the better team in every aspect but goaltending. Their forwards are deeper, their power play is stronger and their defense can have a bigger impact on the game. For that reason, I am picking the Flyers to win the series in seven games. While goaltending is huge in the playoffs, the Flyers seem to have enough other strengths that can help neutralize their biggest weakness. You also can't ignore how good the Flyers were against the Devils this season, outscoring them 20-13 in 6 games.

While this matchup has all the makings of a 6 or 7 game series, there is something about how these two teams play that favors the Flyers. Philly wouldn't have had a chance if they played Washington or Pittsburgh in the first round but the Devils might turn out to be the perfect opponent for the Flyers as they play with nothing to lose against a team they know very well.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round Predictions

The best playoff tournament of any league is about to get started! Whether you are a hockey fan or not, it's hard to argue that there is anything better than the Stanley Cup Playoffs when it comes to non-stop action, intensity and drama. While my in-depth look at the Flyers series is coming tomorrow, here are my picks for the first round of the playoffs:

Eastern Conference:
(1) Washington vs. (8) Montreal
Washington in 5

All that offense and just a smattering of defense should be enough for the Capitals to handle a Montreal team that lacks the offensive punch to keep up. The only real advantage the Canadiens have in this series is in net but it's not going to matter against the league's best power play attack. The Rangers should be happy they didn't squeak into the 8th seed to face this Washington team that is destined to go far; this series is going to be ugly enough.

(2)New Jersey vs. (7) Philadelphia
Philadelphia in 7

You came to a site called All Things Philly Sports and you are probably rolling your eyes thinking "of course this guy picked the Flyers to win". Well, I'm sure I have my biases, but I legitimately think the Flyers can take down the Devils, and so do several "experts" like The Hockey News and Bob McKenzie of TSN. When looking at these two teams, there is really only one clear-cut advantage that the Devils have over the Flyers and that's goaltending. Now, I know it's a huge advantage and that goaltending is pivotal in the playoffs, but looking at every other matchup in the series, from special teams play to the defenses, the teams are either even or the Flyers have the advantage. Plus, you really can't toss out that 5-1 regular season record the Flyers had against the Devils, one that saw them outscore Jersey 20-13. I'll have more on this series tomorrow when I break it down even further but you can't deny that this was the best matchup possible for the Flyers in the playoffs.

(3) Buffalo vs. (6) Boston
Buffalo in 6

Remember last season when Boston was the number one seed in the East? Yeah, a lot has changed since then. Buffalo is better in all aspects of the game, starting with Ryan Miller in net and continuing with their deep defensive corps. Since neither team is known to light up the scoreboard, the only chance the Bruins have is if Tuukka Rask pitches two or three shutouts in the series. Count on a lot of 2-1 games and count on Miller carrying the Sabres to the next round.

(4) Pittsburgh vs. (5) Ottawa
Pittsburgh in 5

What do the Senators do well? They aren't particularly good on the powerplay or penalty kill, they don't score very much and they don't have an elite goaltender. I guess the best thing that can be said about them is that they aren't bad in any one particular area but that's not going to be enough for Ottawa to get past the defending Stanley Cup champs. Teams with great centers, great goaltenders and puck-moving defensemen win in the playoffs and the Penguins have all of the above.

Western Conference:
(1) San Jose vs. (8) Colorado
San Jose in 5

It has become a right of passage every spring for the Sharks: get a top seed in the West and then get knocked out early. Things should be a little different with Dany Heatley on board this year giving them even more punch on offense. While the Sharks still might not have a long run in them, the Avs weak defense and goaltending isn't going to get the job done here. Besides, the second round is usually where the Sharks choke.

(2) Chicago vs. (7) Nashville
Chicago in 7

The Blackhawks might be the trendy pick to win the Stanley Cup but I see them having some problems against the Predators. For all those studs the Hawks have on offense they sure don't take care of their own end the way most Cup winners do. Add in plenty of question marks about Antti Niemi in net and you have the makings of a team that could get ousted early. As for the Predators, they boast a pretty deep scoring attack (9 players with double digit goals) and one of the best sets of d-men in the league. I still don't think Nashville has quite enough to knock off the Hawks but this one could go the distance.

(3) Vancouver vs. (6) Los Angeles
Vancouver in 6

The Canucks are too well-rounded and deep to have issues with an inexperienced Kings team that is likely happy just to have made the playoffs. In two or three years we will be talking about how good this Kings defensive group is but LA just isn't ready to make a deep run in 2010.

(4) Phoenix vs. (5) Detroit
Detroit in 5

Poor Phoenix, they come from nowhere and have this amazing season only to be forced to play against a Detroit team that makes a habit of getting to the Stanley Cup Finals every year. While the Coyotes do play a balanced game and get contributions from all over their lineup, the Red Wings appear to have woken from their midseason lull and are as dangerous as ever with all of the usual cast of characters. Just about the only question in Detroit is how Jimmy Howard is going to do; fortunately, Chris Osgood and his three Stanley Cups (2 as a starter) make for the best possible insurance.

Those are my picks for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Check back tomorrow for a more complete breakdown of the Flyers/Devils series.