Flyers Prospects Face New Opportunity with Potential Expanded Rosters

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The 2020-21 NHL season is expected to start on Jan. 13 after the league and NHLPA reached an agreement on Friday night, and with the knowledge that the ongoing pandemic will continue to make circumstances unpredictable, the league plans to allow for a maximum of 29 players to travel with the team. Four to six of these players will be considered part of the "taxi squad" and make AHL salary, but be available to the team as part of their travel and practice rosters.

The expanded roster format would mean improved chances for some of the Flyers’ current prospects to earn places on the team, joining an already promising group of established young players in the squad. While most of the Flyers’ more recent draftees are currently playing collegiate hockey – such as US World Junior team members Cam York and Bobby Brink – and therefore not in the mix to compete for a roster spot this upcoming season, prospects that have been waiting for their chance at the big time are gearing up to seize the opportunity.

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A Crash Course in Dave Dombrowski

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By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

It has been reported that the Philadelphia Phillies are in the “advanced stages” of hiring Dave Dombrowski as their next president of baseball operations. A step in the right direction in what has been an otherwise chaotic and uncertain several months for the Phillies front office, this is what fans can expect from a team under Dombrowski.

He held the role of general manager or president of baseball operations with the Montreal Expos (1987-1991), Florida Marlins (1993-2001), Detroit Tigers (2002-2015), and Boston Red Sox (2015-2019). He saw three of those teams make it to the World Series, with the Marlins winning in 1997, the Red Sox winning in 2018, and the Tigers appearing in 2006 and 2012.

Dombrowski has a reputation for being the confident and serious type with a preference for more old-school tactics, favoring scouting and having a “feel” for a player rather than relying on analytics. This fits what owner John Middleton said he was looking for after Matt Klentak was relieved of his general manager duties earlier this year:

“It’s the acquisition and the development of talent that is critical, so I’ll be looking for people who have proven that they can do that. That’s where my target is.”

However, analytics are undeniably a major part of today’s game. The Phillies’ ownership have invested millions of dollars in analytics, well aware of the fact that teams must utilize that part of the game if they want to be successful. Dombrowski understands that being open-minded enough to incorporate analytics in his decision-making will get the results he will want to see in the Phillies organization.

Speaking of which, he is not the man to hire when you want to gradually rebuild. Dombrowski likes to win, and he likes to win now. The Phillies might not contend in 2021, as it is very possible that it will take longer than the offseason to fix the team’s current issues, but the team will be expected to make immense strides with Dombrowski calling the shots.

Like any figure in baseball, he is not without his faults. He is known to be aggressive and startlingly ambitious—when he sees the opportunity for a championship, he grabs it with both hands. While this approach might sound exactly like the tonic the Phillies need to bring back their edge, it should be noted that Dombrowski is not opposed to tearing apart a farm system and unloading prospects to achieve his ambitions. This team already suffers from a lackluster farm system, and Dombrowski’s willingness to sacrifice these players to win titles could worsen the Phillies’ already unfavorable reputation with prospect management.

His aggressiveness also makes itself present in his contract dealings. Dombrowski likes his superstars, having traded for Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer, David Price, and Chris Sale in his previous roles. However, the deals for Price, Sale, and Nathan Eovaldi stilted the Red Sox’ payroll and contributed to the immensely controversial trading of Mookie Betts. Cabrera’s eight-year, $240 million contract has become a burden for the Tigers that they will be dealing with for the next three years. The Phillies already have their standout contract in Bryce Harper, and are hoping to retain their other superstar in the never-ending J.T. Realmuto saga. (Dombrowski’s presence in the front office won’t make the Realmuto deal a slam dunk either.)

Despite these flaws, Dombrowski offers some welcome change from the Klentak regime. He is accountable and able to accept criticism (of which there is a lot for the Phillies right now.) He has been known to travel with the team and make himself readily available to the media, which is refreshing after months after relative silence from front office executives on the happenings within the team.

After another losing season in 2020, which added a ninth year to the playoff drought, a quiet winter in terms of player deals, and pandemic-related financial stress, Dombrowski’s hiring is the kickstart the organization needs to really start making change. His no-nonsense, go big or go home approach to the game will encourage more ambition, accountability, and edge within the team. The Phillies have been in the doghouse with fans for way too long—the time for all bark and no bite needs to end, and Dombrowski is looking to be just the man to start baring the teeth.

Flyers Prospects York, Brink Among Selections to US World Junior Camp

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

Two of the Flyers’ 2019 draftees — defenseman Cam York and right winger Bobby Brink have been selected to participate in the United States’ World Junior selection camp. Both prospects were also part of Team USA in the 2019 World Junior Championships, where the US posted a three wins in four Group matchups before falling, 1-0, in a quarterfinal loss to Finland to end their run for the gold.

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A Rundown of the Phillies' Offseason—Or Lack Thereof

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By Siobhan Nolan, Sports Talk Philly Contributing Writer

The National League East has been a hub of activity in the 2020 offseason. The Braves, Nationals, Mets, and Marlins have been making progress in their trades, strengthening their lineups, and have much of their coaching staff and front office in order.

The same cannot be said for the Phillies.

It’s easy to have a bleak outlook on this offseason—no permanent general manager, J.T. Realmuto has yet to re-sign a contract, several positions in the team don’t have reliable players to fill them, and the pitching situation is still a mess. So yes, this offseason has yet to really get going. However, there’s still a lot to look forward to.

The team hired the young, ambitious, and extremely promising Caleb Cotham to their coaching staff in an effort to kickstart some improvement on the mound. The fifth pitching coach in as many seasons, Cotham presents a unique ability to relate to the current pitchers on multiple levels, including the skill set that has become increasingly more valuable to baseball coaches—the ability to understand, discuss, and implement the technology and data that is becoming more and more present in today’s game. Cotham believes in an individualistic approach when it comes to coaching his players, emphasizing that “it really comes down to serving the player and finding something to help them get better over me being right.”

There are also a number of guaranteed contracts going into next season. Of course, Bryce Harper will remain with the team, keeping his excellent right field defense and exemplary offense in the team for another season.

Pitcher Zack Wheeler will remain one of the stars of the starting rotation, boasting an impressive 2.92 ERA in 11 starts from last season.

Andrew McCutchen will also be returning, filling the much-needed left fielder role. Although still coming back from a devastating ACL tear in 2019, McCutchen showed flashes of his usual reliable self this past season. With ample time to continue recovering this offseason, he should be coming into the 2021 season at full health and ability.

Jean Segura stays on the roster, providing valuable versatility in the infield. With the ability to play second base, shortstop, and third base, Segura’s presence will allow Joe Girardi to experiment with different infield formations to see which combination provides the most security in the infield.

Pitching ace Aaron Nola returns after a bit of a comeback season in 2020. Nola didn’t completely return to his stellar 2018 form, but a respectable 3.28 ERA keeps him in the number one slot in the rotation.

Scott Kingery is also slated to return. After a debilitating bout with COVID-19, Kingery’s 2020 season is one he’ll want to forget. A disappointing series of starts at second base (which, once upon a time, was his natural position) might see him return to the “utility man” role he assumed under Gabe Kapler, and an all-round awful presence at the plate proved that his offense leaves something to be desired.

Although it is still unclear who will be calling the shots in the absence of a permanent general manager, the Winter Meetings are expected to be held from December 7-10, which could potentially bring about some new signings. Last year, the Winter Meetings brought Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorious to the team, and there are several trade targets that the Phillies will definitely want to capitalize on.

While the thought of Realmuto leaving Philadelphia sends chills up the spine of the city, it becomes more of a possibility with every day he doesn’t sign a new contract. The Yankees’ Gary Sanchez would be an ideal replacement, and might not be one that’s out of reach. The 2016 AL Rookie of the Year seems to have fallen out of favor with the Yankees, being benched in favor of Kyle Higashioka throughout the 2020 playoffs. The Yankees could decide to sell low with Sanchez, and if Realmuto doesn’t agree to contract terms soon, the Phillies might be inclined to make a serious inquiry.

Tampa Bay’s Kevin Kiermaier will also be a point of interest for the Phillies. He’s one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball, which would provide some much-needed stability at the position. He’s had struggles at the plate, which could give the Rays an incentive to trade Kiermaier before his free agency in 2022. Acquiring Kiermaier on his own would not entice the Phillies to make a deal, but the possibility of bringing in other players from the Rays’ seemingly endless stream of talent just might do the trick.

Of course, the pitching situation needs to be addressed. The Phillies certainly have options for new pitchers to bring in, but there are some drawbacks. Of the realistic deals the Phillies could make, many of them involve pitchers in their mid-to-late 30s who would likely come in on contract spanning a couple of years at most.

There has always been mutual interest between Cole Hamels and the Phillies to orchestrate an end-of-career reunion, but the current pitching situation cannot accommodate bringing in players for nostalgia. Hamels is 37 years old, and, in turn, is not the pitcher fans remember from 2008. Being able to pitch some innings here and there and providing some leadership in the clubhouse simply won’t cut it.

Another issue that crops up in some of the pitching targets is the fact that they’re “fixer upper” players. Trevor Williams is young at 29 years old and a regular in the Pirates’ rotation, but he has been described as a player the Phillies could take in as a “reclamation project.” Fellow target Jake Odorizzi, currently with the Twins, has the same problem. This team cannot afford to shelter players that are not on their game. The only pitchers that should be brought in are ones that are consistently performing.

It’s concerning that the Phillies are currently sitting ducks when their competition is improving, but hope shouldn’t be lost yet. There are a number of promising targets that the team can go after, especially once a permanent general manager is appointed. Players that underperformed this past season have had ample time to train and better themselves. Hopefully, a more normal season schedule will be in the cards for 2021, allowing for less chaos in the league overall. Things are slow-going right now, but they’ll surely pick up in the coming weeks.

Uncertain Futures in Philly Ahead for 4 Flyers Following 2020-21 Season

By Siobhan Nolan, Sports Talk Philly Contributing Writer

At the end of the 2020-21 season, a total of eight Flyers players will be up for new contracts. Of these eight players, four are unrestricted free agents and four are restricted free agents. It can be safely assumed that RFAs Carter Hart, Travis Sanheim and Sam Morin will be offered extensions with the Flyers, and UFA Erik Gustafsson's fate will be determined after his first season with the team, though the current thought is that he will be on his way back into free agency in a year.

The remaining four players have a hazier future in Philadelphia.

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Ivan Provorov Should Be On NHL's Top 20 Defensemen List

By Siobhan Nolan, Sports Talk Philly Contributing Writer

Let’s make one thing clear — it's too early to pronounce Ivan Provorov as a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer.

That being said, it does need to be understood that Provorov was one of the top NHL defensemen during the 2019-20 season. The statistics show this.

For those who appreciate the fact that a player’s quality can’t be defined solely by numbers, his performance on the ice backs this up as well. He’s not the absolutely indisputable best defensemen in the league, but he certainly didn’t deserve to be omitted from the NHL’s list of the top 20 defensemen for the 2019-20 season. So why was he left out?

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