Friday, April 22, 2016

The move that defines Howie Roseman’s career

There have been some questionable draft picks. There have been some major free agent signings. But there’s been no bigger acquisition by Eagles Executive Vice President of Football Operations Howie Roseman than the trade this week with the Cleveland Browns to move up in the draft for the second overall pick. The move presumably sets the Eagles up to select the franchise quarterback they have lacked for close to a decade.

Many draft analysts and NFL writers seem to like the trade for Cleveland, a team in dire need or as many draft picks as possible, while opinions are split on how the Eagles did here. With the draft still six days away, right now it’s impossible to say who’s right and who’s wrong.  There have been two proven paths to winning the Super Bowl. One is acquiring a franchise quarterback that leads the team to the greatness, and the other is building an elite defense that keeps the team in every game it plays. For the better part of the last 10 years, the Eagles have been caught in between with average quarterback play and average defenses and have fielded average football teams. This has resulted in no playoff wins since the 2008 season. This trade puts the Eagles in position to draft either Cal’s Jared Goff or North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz to potentially be that franchise quarterback. It’s the ultimate high risk-high reward move from Roseman who traded the eighth overall pick this year, a third round pick this year, a first round pick in 2017 and a second round pick in 2018 to pull it off.

                                   Yong Kim/
Roseman has made some good moves and
some not so good moves, but this one
will determine if he succeeds as an executive.
If this works, it will be easy to forget some of Roseman’s big misses in the draft in prior years. Passing on Earl Thomas for Brandon Graham and drafting Danny Watkins in the first round in 2011 won’t hurt as much. But the inverse is that if this move doesn’t work, then some of Roseman’s better decisions like drafting Fletcher Cox in the first round in 2012 and Bennie Logan in the third round in 2013 won’t be as helpful. The Eagles were one of the more active teams in free agency this year. Bringing in guard Brandon Brooks and safety Rodney McLeod were their two biggest signings and each one made sense looking at the age of both players and the team’s desperate need for a guard and a safety. Both may very well work out, but there’s no one position in sports that impacts team success more than quarterback in football.

In five years, this trade could look like a no brainer for the Eagles if Goff or Wentz is taking the team deep in the playoffs.  But the alternative outcome could drive the franchise into a deep hole that will take a while to dig out of. So often do we like to grade trades like this and talk about the winners and losers the minute the news breaks. But, the grade this time is an incomplete for the Eagles.  Roseman is hinging the team’s future on one of these two quarterbacks, and it’s time to see what that future holds.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Flyers ahead of schedule after clinching playoff berth

It was a refreshing change for the Philadelphia Flyers when Ron Hextall took over as the team’s general manager in the spring of 2014. The team was coming off of a loss in the first round of the playoffs in seven games to the New York Rangers and opted to entrust Hextall with the future of the franchise.

While the Flyers qualified for the playoffs in 2013-2014 after missing the postseason the year before, it was evident that the team had reached its potential and many were surprised the series against the Rangers even got to a seventh game. Previous general manager Paul Holmgren drove the team into salary cap hell with lots of big contracts that were either too long, too expensive, or in some cases, both. It started with the signing of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year contract worth $51 million in the summer of 2011. Just two years later, the team bought out Bryzgalov after a woeful tenure between the pipes.

But, Hextall was still left with plenty of dead weight when he was promoted two years ago. Players like Luke Schenn, Vincent Lecavalier and Andrew MacDonald were all under contract for many years to come and giving the team marginal production at best. Scott Hartnell was signed through the 2018-19 season and while Hartnell was giving the team better production than some of Holmgren’s other acquisitions, Hartnell will be in his late 30s at the end of his contract and expecting similar production would be delusional. Additionally, the Flyers were still paying Chris Pronger despite the defensemen’s career being over.

In his time as general manager, Hextall has released the Flyers from many of their financial handcuffs moving Schenn, Lecavalier, Hartnell and Pronger’s contract while also getting good value in the trades of Braydon Coburn and Zac Rinaldo. Hextall has focused on player development both of the young players that were on the NHL roster when he took over, and of the few prospects Holmgren left him with. To do this, Hextall hired former University of North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol as his coach after the Flyers unsurprisingly missed the playoffs in 2014-2015 and Craig Berube was dismissed. Hakstol coached T.J. Oshie, Zach Parise and Jonathan Toews among others at North Dakota so he seemed like the right guy to develop young talent.

                                              Matt Slocum/Associated Press
Hextall has brought a new philosophy to the
Flyers that has the organization in good hands.
In Hakstol’s first season, 24-year old Brayden Schenn posted a career high in points, while 23-year old Sean Couturier despite an injury this year, was in the middle of the Flyers’ second line for most of the season and continues to blossom as a two-way forward. One of the prospects in the system, Shayne Gostisbehere came up this season and set the record for longest scoring streak by a rookie defenseman. Hextall has placed a premium on building a roster with a strong foundation of draft picks and prospects and many experts now rate the Flyers as one of the 10 best farm systems in the NHL.

So when you consider Hextall’s long view as opposed to Holmgren’s willingness to spend big in free agency and frequently look for trades that had the Flyers better off in the short term than the long term, the consensus seemed to be the Flyers were headed down the right path. But 2015-2016 would likely be another year out of the playoffs. When you consider Jakub Voracek missed a crucial stretch in March, it seemed even harder for the Flyers to make the playoffs in an Eastern Conference with lots of good teams. But the play of leaders like Wayne Simmonds and Claude Giroux coupled with some of the aforementioned younger players contributing has the Flyers where they are today, preparing for the Washington Capitals in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Hakstol may not win the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s coach of the year, and Gostisbehere may not even win the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. But this was a roster that was similar to last year’s but had 12 more points largely due to Hakstol’s presence behind the bench and the energy that Gostisbehere seemed to provide everyone with upon being called up. While the term rebuild wasn’t really thrown around as much with the Flyers as compared to other teams in the city, this season had the feel of a transition year that would allow Hextall’s plan to start to play out. Hextall’s fingerprints are only beginning to touch the franchise and the team is already in the playoffs. For a city that’s been through lots of pain the last three years, that seems like a good silver lining.