Archive for August, 2011

How Soon Until They’re ‘Gellin’?

Who's name will appear on the back?

After an offseason that contained more fireworks than every Fourth of July celebration in the area combined, the expectations surrounding the Philadelphia Flyers next season are up in the air. The star staples that became synonymous with the orange and black are gone, a true number one, albeit high-priced, goaltender has arrived, and currently an unfinished roster complete with possible young guns, veterans, and ultra-veterans hoping to make the team are what Flyers fans have to look forward to. With great potential the question naturally arises, what can be constituted as a successful season?

Obviously the goal for every team is to win the Cup, but with a revamped roster is a parade down Broad Street the only thing that will appease fans? What if the team is competitive and loses in the Conference Finals? There is really no telling how talented this team will be, how players will fit together, or how much chemistry the new additions can create during camp and pre-season action, but that never stops anyone from guessing.
With many new faces the lines are surely going to be shuffled multiple times throughout the first half of the season as players start to gel with each other and productivity is determined, but how should the forwards’ lines look to start?

It’s no secret that this roster is a bit of a jigsaw puzzle, and depending on whether or not Michael Nylander can make the team will most likely determine who centers the Jagr line. Don’t forget, the two were linemates with the Rangers and the Capitals and were a great pair, but Nylander is 38 years old and coming off of season-ending surgery last year. If he makes the team, Brayden Schenn will have to wait a little longer to don the famous Flyers sweater, instead skating in Phantoms purple to start the season.

Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell will probably stick together and look to add a player like Maxime Talbot to the mix. Talbot can offer a mix of finesse with hustle and scrappiness; traits that can work well coupled with Hartnell in the corners and will give Briere more space in his office, behind the net. Claude Giroux and James Van Riemsdyk, two players who look to have a lot of scoring possibilities thanks to Giroux’s pass first mentality and JVR’s wish to shoot from anywhere on the ice, will look to stay together as well. A physical presence added to that line is the most logical of choices. Look for high energy forward Wayne Simmonds to be given a shot. Simmonds has the ability to play physical but has showed the possibility of scoring in the past. Playing with Giroux and JVR could translate into a twenty-goal season for Simmonds for the first time in his career.

Nylander centering a line of Jaromir Jagr and Jakub Voracek is a possibility, but Schenn could be implanted to replace Nylander depending on training camp. Jagr will most likely be called upon to push Voracek’s game forward, while simultaneously being a crutch for the young European, given the fact that they are from the same hometown in the Czech Republic. The fourth line could once again feature Blair Betts and Andreas Nodl, with an open door policy for the other wing position. Eric Wellwood and Ben Holmstrom could both snag the last forward position with stellar play in camp, but a more likely alternative is split time for both.

Head coach Peter Laviolette will undoubtedly see things differently in camp and will pair different players together a head scratching number of times before he sees a connection that works for his system, but if this mock-up turns out to be accurate an assistant coach offer should be in the mail!

Ok, I’ll settle for free tickets.


Another Stroke Closer to the Grave

Keegan Bradley celebrating his PGA Championship victory

The PGA Championship was played this past weekend, featuring nail biting dramatics, and ending with a riveting three-hole playoff that vaulted winner Keegan Bradley, a tour rookie making his first major appearance of his career, over 100 spots in the world golf rankings. There was only one problem, the fact that no one cared enough to watch.

It is no secret that over the last 13 years golf has seen a historic rise in popularity in terms of television ratings, tournament purses, and golfer’s marketability. What is the reason for such growth? Tiger Woods, and, to a smaller degree, Phil Mickelson. When either of these players’ names appear on the leaderboard over the weekend of any tournament the ratings skyrocket. The viewing public wants to see someone dominate, the way Tiger had for over a decade, or they want to see the lovable loser finally try to succeed in Phil Mickelson. It was a forgone conclusion over the last 10 years that the first page of the world golf rankings would feature these two players next to number 1 and number 2 respectively. It is not that way anymore, and golf is dying because of it.

With his 4th missed cut of his career, Tiger's search for his game continues

Over the last 13 majors the PGA has seen 13 different winners, one of which was the aforementioned Mickelson. This is not to say that the golf being played is less impressive, it simply features an even playing field. While that is not necessarily a bad thing, a tournament where any player has the chance to win is not as enticing to casual golf fans as it is for the players swinging the clubs, and therefore the fans refuse to tune in. CBS, NBC, ESPN, the Golf Channel, and various tournament sponsors are aware of this and have tried diligently to bill ‘the next great player’, but there doesn’t seem to be one particular golfer that wants to seize the vacant crown.

The final big draw for golf is the playoffs, also known as the FedEx Cup, which comes with a larger than life money offering. A collection of four tournaments in a row with a 10 million dollar first place purse, which sounds exciting until you remember these are a collection of four tournaments that Tiger Woods can’t even play in; he didn’t qualify and isn’t planning to try for a last ditch effort this week, therefore creating less buzz. To make matters worse, a quick glance at the top 20 players in the race for the Cup feature names like Watney, Bradley, Woodland, Wilson, Simpson, Day, Haas, Jacobson, Laird, etc. In other words, Who?

With golf seeing a steady decline in viewership and its most prolific golfer of all time losing more sponsorships over the last 12 months than most golfers could ever dream of having, the questions are abound regarding how to fix golf immediately, and how to assure the road in the future is not as bumpy. The easy way out for the PGA in the here and now is to continue to cross their fingers that one of the young and promising players will step up into the rarified spotlight by coupling his ability to dominate on the course with exciting charisma off of it. While the latter trait is not a requirement, given the realization that Tiger doesn’t have one, it would be a welcomed change.

For the future of golf to look brighter than the past, the idea that golf can survive with only one billed superstar needs to change. There are a number of promising players under 30-years-old on tour, including Rory McIroy, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel, Rickie Fowler, Ryo Ishikawa, Jason Day, and perhaps Keegan Bradley, but being promising and being a superstar are two adjectives that couldn’t be further apart. The hope that one player will break away from the pack to become “the next Tiger” is about as dim a thought as thinking that Lebron is the next Jordan. Being as good as Tiger Woods once was, for example, holding all four major titles at one time or winning nine straight starts, is not easy, and will most likely not be seen so soon again.

Rickie Fowler is known as much for his outfits as his golf game

True golf fans are going to continue to tune in, and they will grow to respect the young guns on tour while simultaneously hoping that Tiger finds his game; but nonchalant Sunday TV viewers won’t come back. While that may be a dim view as a whole it is probably the most logical. A future of smaller purses, decreased tournament endorsements, and less lucrative TV contracts may be where the PGA Tour is headed, and it doesn’t look like anyone can stop it.

It’s something that the professionals will have to adapt to. They can always look to professional hockey players for guidance with that.