It’s not easy being Paul Holmgren these days.
The team for which he is employed as general manager—the Philadelphia Flyers—has won exactly two playoff series in three years since an unlikely run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010. It started this season with three consecutive losses, which led to the firing of head coach Peter Laviolette in favor of Craig Berube.
All this has unfolded in front of one of the longest-suffering (no Cup parades since 1975) and notoriously impatient fanbases in sports, which has caused some to think Holmgren (unless Berube can quickly regain a fractured locker room) will be the next to find himself unemployed.
His seventh anniversary as the team’s full-fledged GM will arrive in early November, and along with the continuation of the titleless streak, the tenure is largely identified by the revolving-door nature of the locker room when it comes to player personnel.
As evidence of the turnover, we put together a chart listing the top-line players on the Flyers’ 2013-14 depth chart alongside a first-string team of current NHL players who 1) were in Philadelphia upon Holmgren’s ascension to GM and subsequently dealt or allowed to leave via free agency, or 2) both arrived in Philadelphia and subsequently left on his watch.
Take a look at the charts and read on to see a brief analysis of whether the team is better off with its current personnel, or whether the old guard would have been better equipped to win.
Flyers first line, 2013-14
|PLAYER (Flyers stats)||GAMES||GOALS||ASSISTS||POINTS|
|Scott Hartnell - LW||439||137||138||275|
|Claude Giroux - C||333||91||199||290|
|Wayne Simmonds - RW||127||43||38||81|
|Kimmo Timonen - D||442||32||203||235|
|Mark Streit - D||N/A|
*Streit was acquired as a free agent prior to this season.
Notable Holmgren castaways, 2006-2013
|Joffrey Lupul - LW||135||45||51||96|
|Jeff Carter - C||461||181||162||343|
|Steve Downie - RW||38||6||6||12|
|Matt Carle - D||308||15||122||137|
|Andrew Alberts - D||79||1||12||13|
Paying It forward
As hard as it’s been for Flyers fans to swallow that six U.S. presidents have left office since their team last hoisted the Cup, it became a touch more difficult in the spring of 2012 when the Los Angeles Kings won their first championship in franchise history.
Among the first Kings to skate a lap with the trophy were centers Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, the 11th and 24th overall picks in the 2003 draft who were groomed to be Philadelphia stars of the future before they ran afoul of the local media and ultimately were dealt by Holmgren right before the 2011 draft.
The Carter trade brought Jakub Voracek and a pair of draft picks, while the Richards deal netted Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and another pick. A year after Richards was shipped out, Carter scored the Cup-winning goal for the Kings against New Jersey.
While the Flyers are still in possession of the player ranked No. 10 among forwards in ESPN’s preseason poll—25-year-old center Claude Giroux, drafted a few months before Holmgren took over from Bobby Clarke—they no longer have the rights to five more standouts who appear before the next Philadelphia players tied at No. 60, right wingers Simmonds and Voracek.
Another Flyers draft choice, 2001 third-rounder Patrick Sharp, played parts of three seasons with the team before Clarke sent him to Chicago for Matt Ellison and a third-round pick. He is No. 23 on the list, followed close behind by Carter at 31 and Richards at 47.
Next up at No. 51 is left winger Joffrey Lupul, acquired from Edmonton in 2007 before heading to Anaheim two years later for Chris Pronger. And following at No. 54 is another left winger, James van Riemsdyk, who was selected second overall in 2007 before heading out to Toronto for defenseman Luke Schenn in June 2012.
Current Flyers Scott Hartnell (brought in by Holmgren from Nashville in 2007) and Vincent Lecavalier (signed as a free agent in July) are tied at No. 72 in the poll, while the Flyers-focused contingent is rounded out by another King, Justin Williams—a two-time Stanley Cup champion—at No. 78. Williams was drafted pre-Holmgren in 2000 and also sent off before Holmgren's reign in 2004.
Advantage: Castaways. Giroux is the single best player of the bunch, but more up-front talent has exited the city since Holmgren’s arrival than has entered.
Defending the turf
Alongside the Top 100 poll for forwards, ESPN also put together a list of the top 50 defensemen, which included a smaller handful of players with a Holmgren pedigree.
The GM acquired 5’10”, 194-pounder Kimmo Timonen as part of the Hartnell trade with Nashville in 2007, and the Finn has rewarded him with steady play for six seasons, twice being named to the NHL’s All-Star team and providing 235 points in 442 games on the back line.
Five slots behind Timonen is ex-Flyer Dennis Seidenberg, who was drafted in 2001 and sent to Phoenix for veteran Petr Nedved in 2006.
This past summer’s big-ticket free-agent acquisition on the blue line, 35-year-old Mark Streit, is slotted 42nd among rearguards after seven years with Montreal and the New York Islanders in which he scored as many as 62 points in a season (2007-08). He signed a four-year, $21 million contract with the Flyers on June 28.
Just behind Streit at No. 45 is 29-year-old Matt Carle, who was acquired by Holmgren from San Jose in 2008 and scored 137 points in 308 games with the Orange and Black before exiting as a free agent in the summer of 2012 to sign a six-year deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Advantage: Holmgren. The GM has dispatched significant back-line youth in the form of Carle, but Timonen has been a gem since arriving and the Streit deal is a tiebreaker.
Leave it to the last line of defense to seal the fate of Holmgren’s moves.
Though the version of Ray Emery that the GM reacquired in the summer (one-year, $1.65 million) is more accomplished—courtesy of last season’s Stanley Cup win with Chicago—than the one that left after a brief, injury-riddled stay in 2009-10, it still pales in comparison to what might have been.
While Emery was battling for, and ultimately losing, the starting job with the Blackhawks, former Flyer Sergei Bobrovsky was taking home the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender following a stellar season as the No. 1 with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Russian signed an entry-level contract with Holmgren and the Flyers in 2010, and ultimately went 28-13-8 as a rookie while leading the team to the playoffs. He allowed 10 goals in 186 minutes in that postseason stint, however, and never fully regained his top-man status.
Holmgren signed Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year deal in the subsequent offseason, and Bobrovsky appeared in just 29 games in his second year before being dealt to Columbus at the 2012 draft for a three-pack of draft picks.
Advantage: Castaways. The Flyers’ long tradition of knee-jerk goaltender reactions cost them in a big way with Bobrovsky, who at age 25 could be among the league’s elites for another decade.
That’s a wrap
Saying Holmgren has had an exclusively bad track record with personnel moves would be grossly overstating a point. In reality, his adds haven’t been too far off the level of his subtracts.
But with the existing team stumbling out of the gate and the locker room already jumbled by a coaching exchange, it’s simply another of the easy targets. The recent Richards and Carter Cup win—which was also shared with ex-Flyer Simon Gagne (still a free agent in 2013-14)—is the most damning mark on the ledger, and until Giroux can win a scoring title or engineer a deep playoff push, it’ll stick around.
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