Holmgren to Blame for Flyers Current Mess.

Angry Flyers fans searching for reasons why their once-powerful club is off to a pathetic (1-7) start this season need only look at the moves made by GM Paul Holmgren since 2010.

The Flyers lineup which battled its way to the 2010 Stanley Cup Final contained Chris Pronger, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and James van Riemsdyk, who were considered important components in the Flyers future.

Can Paul Holmgren fix the mess he's made of the Flyers?

Can Paul Holmgren fix the mess he’s made of the Flyers?

They had a promising goalie in 2010-11 in Sergei Bobrovsky, but then-head coach Peter Laviolette supposedly lost confidence in “Bob” following his shaky debut in the 2011 playoffs.

That lack of faith in Bobrovsky reportedly forced Holmgren (believed spurred on by demanding owner Ed Snider) to acquire the rights to Ilya Bryzgalov and sign him to a nine year, $51 million deal.

Bobrovsky was relegated to backup duty, then shipped off to Columbus in 2012 for three draft picks. With the Blue Jackets, “Bob” went on to win the Vezina Trophy last season, and despite sporting a losing record so far this month with the Jackets, posted decent early numbers (2.49 GAA. .921 SP).

It’s easy to pin Bobrovsky’s departure upon Laviolette, but the GM is also supposed to be a good judge of talent.  He could’ve over-ruled Laviolette and preached patience with Bobrovsky for another season, perhaps instead bringing in a seasoned backup to act as his mentor.

Bryzgalov, of course, flopped in Philadelphia, in part because, for the first time in his NHL career, he was playing in one of the league’s most demanding markets. At the time of his signing, skeptics questioned if the Flyers were the right fit for the easy-going Bryzgalov, who’d never encountered anything like the Philadelphia sports market before. Those concerns proved justified.

The Bryzgalov fiasco was bad enough, but it was Holmgren’s trading away Richards, Carter and van Riemsdyk which arguably hastened the Flyers decline.

Though there were reports of Richards and Carter enjoying the Philly nightlife too much and clashing with Laviolette, it was still shocking when Holmgren traded them, especially with both under long-term contracts and touted for years as the franchise’s foundation players.

Richards and Carter would reunite with the LA Kings, helping them win a Stanley Cup in 2012 and ensuring the Kings will be Cup contenders for some time to come.

The Flyers did get good returns for those two, but the success Richards and Carter are enjoying in California hasn’t been lost on Flyers fans.

It was also rumored Richards and Carter were dealt because they clashed with Chris Pronger, considered by many observers the de facto Flyers captain even though Richards wore that honor. Surely, though, any issues between Pronger and Richards could’ve been overcome with management or coaching intervention?

No one could have foreseen Pronger suffering a career-ending concussion early in the 2011-12 season, which was a devastating blow to their blueline and their leadership. Still, the Flyers without Pronger easily clinched a playoff berth that season, finishing fifth overall in the Eastern Conference with 102 points, then went on to upset the heavily-favored Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round.

Trading van Riemsdyk for Luke Schenn in June 2012 was considered a worthwhile move, since the Flyers had promising young forwards in Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and Wayne Simmonds (who were part of the returns for Carter and Richards), plus Claude Giroux had emerged as the club’s new offensive leader. Having lost Matt Carle to free agency, it made sense at the time to part with a scorer for a puck-moving defenseman who played with a physical edge.

Holmgren did try to land a replacement for Pronger  during the summer of 2012 with unsuccessful attempts to sign Ryan Suter and Shea Weber. Other efforts via trade (he reportedly inquired about P.K. Subban during his contract standoff with the Canadiens) came to naught.

Giroux was by this point among the best players in the league, and the younger players gave the impression of bigger and better things to come. Despite the absence of Pronger and Bryzgalov’s shaky goaltending, the Flyers were still considered a playoff contender entering last season.

Last season’s lockout-shortened schedule was considered the main reason behind the Flyers inability to make the playoffs, but other troubling signs emerged. Bryzgalov’s play improved, but that was off-set by the Flyers lousy defensive play. Couturier and the Schenns struggled, especially when popular forward Scott Hartnell missed 16 games to injury.

Holmgren moved this past summer to address his need for an experienced puck-moving defenseman by signing ageing Mark Streit, overpaying the 35-year-old with a four-year, $21 million deal. He also shed Bryzgalov and entered this season with the tandem of Steve Mason and Ray Emery.

Mason has played well so far this season,  but as with Bryzgalov last season, the Flyers lousy defense and their struggling offense are off-setting his performance.

The Flyers defensive struggles are one thing, but it’s their stunning inability to score in their opening eight games that’s surprised the hockey world. Giroux, their franchise player, was held goalless. Simmonds and Voracek are struggling, as are Couturier and Matt Read. Only Brayden Schenn is having a good start. With the Flyers offense struggling, trading away van Riemsdyk to Toronto in 2012 is being viewed in a different light.

Holmgren’s many moves since 2010 appear to have upset team chemistry, pushed youngsters into roles they’re unprepared for, damaged the team’s leadership while failing to address the roster’s weaknesses.

Hindsight is 20-20 and it’s easy to question bad decisions well after the fact. One can certainly quibble over the value of each move.

A number of fans, bloggers and pundits, however, openly questioned the Bryzgalov signing, the Carter and Richards trades, the Bobrovsky trade (or at least, the return) and the Streit signing when they took place.

The bottom line is the Flyers are a vastly different team than they were only two-three seasons ago.

It’s a long season, of course, and the Flyers have plenty of time to overcome this lousy start, but there are reports Holmgren is under pressure now to make a move to improve their fortunes before they fall so far back in the standings they’ll never overcome it. Some in the Philly media suggest his job could depend upon it.

If so, Holmgren must regain the savvy he showed prior to 2010, when his shrewd moves rebuilt the Flyers from a non-playoff club into a surprise Cup contender.

The Flyers are a mess of Holmgren’s making. It remains to be seen if he can clean it up, or if someone else gets that job.

7 Comments

  1. I wonder if Paul Holmgren is the problem in Philly or is the owner impatient and demanding all these changes. Let’s face it folks Homer has a lot of pressure on him with Mr Snider and Mr Clarke breathing down his neck. Who wouldn’t make mistakes. Homer will be the fall guy and Hextall will take over. It will be Hextall’s turn in the spotlight /frying pan. Patience and some good fortune will turn that ship back on course, if only Mr Snider is willing of course.

  2. You nailed it, Lyle. This is exactly what I think as well. The Flyers can’t score, and three solid forwards are playing elsewhere. Now, as Habs fans, this isn’t bad news for us, is it?

  3. It would surely help the Flyers’ cause if Claude Giroux got back to being Claude Giroux, one of the best players in the league. He seems to be more like himself lately but who can forget how he played against the Penguins in the playoffs two years ago. He’s the offensive catalyst for Philly and, when he’s playing well, he makes every guy around him look better.

  4. I don’t think I’d go as far back as the Richards and Carter trades. Both those deals brought quality returns for the Flyers. My biggest complaint with Holmgren was his presumption that he would get Parise and Suter and sat idle while they decided where to play. Jagr walked and he was arguably the catylyst for Giroux’s surge to the top of the league. Carle, love him or hate him, was a reliable d-man who walked because of it too. Not to mention the other free agents he missed by assuming he would get Parise and Suter. It was the move of a spoiled kid, used to getting whatever he wants!

    Hopefully Ron Hextall won’t make the same mistakes!

  5. I agree with you Sean, the assumption that Holmgren would land either Suter or Weber backfired. Not only that, it hurt the club because Carle and Jagr walked during the waiting game. The lesson learned is you cannot build a blueline via trade, offer sheet or free agency. That is why the Flyers have finally begun to draft and develop defensemen like Morin, Hagg, Gostisbehere, and Alt. I doubt Holmgren will be the GM by the time these players arrive.

  6. Carle was awful. never hit anyone. never cleared the front of the net. not tough and a turn-over machine. not worth the $3.5M he was getting with the Flyers, certainly not what the Lighting signed him to. thank God Holmgren didn’t sign him

    Jag had 19 goals playing with Giroux and Hartnell. Jagr missed a lot of games to injuries and had no gas in the tank in the playoffs. class guy for sure. but only ok production. I think he’s getting $4.5M this year. for that much money they could have kept Leino who would fit better on this team

    the mistake was tagging Couturier and Schenn un-tradeable. those two plus another player or two probably could have landed Shea Weber. Weber would be to the Flyers what Scott Stevens was to the Devils. with Weber they win 2 maybe 3 Cups in the next 10 years. it was crazy to refuse to include Couturier and Schenn in a deal for Weber because they were un-proven young players (and as time goes by they’re getting “proven”), when Weber is a big, physical D man, the best in the league, and scores 20 goals a year

    they need to build the defense. they need a #1 elite defenseman, like Subban (a free agent in 2014)

    the other problem is that Holmgren has over-paid players. Giroux, Vorachek, Simmonds, Timonen, Streit, Coburn, Read, Talbot, Couturier and B Schenn are all paid too much. the Giroux ($8M, 8 years) and Timonen ($6M–he sucks) contracts are ridiculous. the salaries will be an obstacle though

    Mason was a good pick-up and will prove the goalie problem is solved

    they should keep Hartnell, Lecavalier, L Schenn, B Schenn, Mason, McGinn, and Rinaldo, and trade all the rest for younger, bigger, faster players or draft picks. those trade-able Flyers would have value to a playoff team. with all the fat contracts, this group has lost the eye of the tiger. keep those good young players, and the heart-and-soul veterans, and build the team around them

    • I will say this again. You cannot build a quality blueline through offer sheets, trades or free agency. You really think Subban will hit the market as a unrestricted free agent? It will never, ever happen. Draft and develop your own players! Doughty, Pietrangelo, Letang, Weber, Subban are all dominant players who are still with their original club. This is no coincidence!