It seems like every year that the hockey fans and media watch the Philadelphia Flyers put on the same show. During the draft, free agency period, and everything in between and afterwards, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren is constantly cooking up wacky deals and attantion-grabbing transactions. In every offseason it seems like the Flyers are attempting to shake up the roster, throwing caution and team chemistry to the wind while management seeks to infuse rich talent onto an already talented team.
Holmgren and his coworkers just don’t seem to get it. His track record in Philadelphia seems to prove it.
When Holmgren was brought aboard to turn around a very bad Flyers team in the 2007, he made some tremendous strides. Out went guys like Kyle Calder, Alexei Zhitnik, and a past-his-prime Peter Forsberg. In came building blocks of a solid franchise: Braydon Coburn, Kimmo Timmonen, Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, and draftee James van Riemsdyk. Holmgren turned a 56-point team in 2007 into a playoff team in ’08, and that effort cannot be ignored. In his first year on the job, Holmgren looked to be one of the game’s best general managers.
As the offseasons have passed, Holmgren can be more accurately be described as “active”, and not necessarily one of the best GMs anymore. His great effort to reboot the franchise in 2007-08 was remarkable, but no one told Paul when to stop wheeling and dealing.
In 2009 he brought in Chris Pronger from Anaheim in an effort to shore up a weak defensive unit and provide some leadership in the locker room. The move had unintended consequences. Pronger played decently, but his leadership skills seemed to overshadow the ones that the team’s captain, Mike Richards provided. Although the growing rift in leadership wasn’t released until later, there certainly was some sort of hidden intangible weakness in the Flyers’ game that was brought about by that dichotomy. On top of that, Pronger was limited the next year with knee issues, and the year after that with post-concussion syndrome.
Also in 2009, Holmgren took a flyer out on goaltender Ray Emery, who was almost banished from the NHL after a tumultuous career in Ottawa. Toiling in the KHL, Holmgren brought him back to the states, where Emery promptly developed a hip injury that would keep him out for the rest of the year. The Flyers would be forced to ride a Michael Leighton-Brian Boucher tandem in their 2010 Stanley Cup run.
The next year, Holmbgren would bring another goalie in from the KHL, Sergei Bobrovsky. The young Russian was given the starting job on day one, and numbers were unspectacular but steady. Management would have no patience to watch him develop, unfortunately. The Flyers used three different goalies in the first round alone in the playoffs on the way to a second round defeat to the eventual champion Boston Bruins. In the 2012 offseason “Bob” was dealt to develop in lowly Columbus.
Holmgren’s worst offseason would come in 2011. Impatient with his young nucleus, he dealt Jeff Carter and captain Mike Richards to Columbus and Los Angeles, respectively, in two blockbuster trades. The return was substantial, but the team’s identity seemed lost. Gone were the anchors on the top two lines at center, and in came prospects and potential.
But those weren’t even his worst moves of the summer. That distinction belongs to the nine-year, $51 million contract awarded to Ilya Bryzgalov. The albatross of a cap hit will stick to the team until 2020, and apparently so will Bryzgalov’s horribly inconsistent play. The display of goaltending in the playoffs against the Penguins and Devils was a farce, and already the fickle Flyer fans are starting to have their patience worn thin by Bryz.
And now everything’s leading up to this: the Flyers went after the best defenseman in the league last week by signing Shea Weber to an offer sheet of 14 years and $110 million. Apparently the Flyers were frustrated by the lack of pace in getting a trade done with the Nashville Predators for the man, so Holmgren went to the logical conclusion of trying to skip the process and buy the player away. The possible transaction seemed to have no good ending for the Flyers: if the Predators couldn’t match, then the Flyers would have Weber, but be short on first round picks for the next four years. If the Predators matched, then the Flyers would have a very weak blue line.
The Predators would match the offer.
Are we sensing a pattern here from Holmgren?
For every year since the Flyers’ turnaround season five years ago, Holmgren has been refusing to stay pat. He makes a signimg, a trade, anything to shove pegs into holes and hope they fit. The man seems eternally restless when it comes to improving his team.
However, it is safe to say that the amount of improvement is not equal to the amount if money being spent. Huge contracts have not broken though for the Flyers, so why does Holmgren continue to go that route?
He should learn a lesson from guys like Dale Tallon. Dale is not afraid to make a deal if he sees fit, but he doesn’t feel compelled to. He knows when to act and when to stick to his guns. The Panthers are in the mood to give their plants water and sunshine. The Flyers are more comfortable digging up plants and throwing pesticide all over them.
That’s why one franchise is on its way up for sure, and why the other can’t seem to get off the ground.
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