Paul Holmgren is a bold man, sure of what he wants and unflinching in his actions.
He is willing to pay extra to beat the surge of activity to get his man. As a result, he’s built a team capable — in theory and in his own mind — of competing for the Stanley Cup. However, these actions are adding up and taking an increasing toll on a team that put its eggs in one basket for the 2011 season.
That ultimately-failed course has been run, and the team did not win the Cup, yet again, and it is now a 36-year drought.
Chris Pronger’s big, aging body began to break down, as did Kimmo Timonen’s. The Flyers lost the rights to defensive prospect Simon Bertilsson as well as the rights to goalie and top prospect, Joacim Eriksson. During the past season, defensive prospects Denis Bodrov and Joonas Lehtivuori went back to Europe, the team traded away promising young forward Michael Chaput for fourth liner Tom Sestito and the once highly-regarded left-wing prospect, Pat Maroon, turned out to be a problem and was first dismissed and then traded.
Now, the Flyers are over-hyping over-agers like Matt Read in hopes that someone will pan out and the cupboard won’t prove to be completely empty. Let’s not kid ourselves, though. It is empty.
Sure, a couple of guys like Eric Wellwood, Erik Gustafsson, Brendan Ranford, and Marc-Andre Bourdon have some upside but, at this point, it’ll be a long time before the Flyers have another Mike Richards, Claude Giroux, Jeff Carter, or James van Riemsdyk coming through the system.
It’s worth noting that, of the core young players on this team, only JVR was drafted by Holmgren. It’s not that he’s bad at finding talent in the draft. The problem is that he puts seemingly little importance on draft picks.
Since taking over as GM in October 2006, he has traded away 22 draft picks while acquiring only 14. Of the picks he’s traded, five were first-round picks, five were second-round picks, and six were third round picks. By comparison, he has only acquired two first-round picks (one was later traded back to Nashville), one second-round pick, and six third-round picks. Basically, that’s seven picks the Flyers lost in the first two rounds over the course of five years. Yikes.
Holmgren was a good GM for owner Ed Snider, who desperately wanted to win a Stanley Cup and spared no microphone or camera in perpetuating the image of a franchise that intends to win every season. Nonetheless, with each passing year, more talent slips through the cracks of the organization, the team gets older (according NHL Numbers, the Flyers were the seventh oldest team by average age in ’11), and the odds of winning a Stanley Cup without fortuitous circumstances continually lessen.
Shy of finding a KHL expat wonder, getting a terrific deal and a healthy year out of Ville Leino and/or Simon Gagne, fleecing another team or a UFA to get a starting goalie, and hoping that Timonen and Pronger can hold up for another season, I can’t see how the Flyers could possibly compete for the Stanley Cup next season.
The Atlantic Division certainly won’t be an easier place to play, as both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will likely be healthier and the Penguins have the potential to be incredibly dangerous, the Rangers are poised to upgrade their offense, and the Islanders should continue to crawl out of the basement.
Even if you can argue that keeping the status quo for so many years hasn’t harmed the team’s overall progress, if you’re not moving forward you might as well be in reverse. Given that, it’s clear Philadelphia is trending in the wrong direction.
In short, it may be time for the Flyers to consider both the future and a possibility of overhauling the roster, which would require at the very least a pow-wow of front office persons to formulate a new philosophy and at the worst, a new General Manager.
I applaud all of the good things that Paul Holmgren has done but his system has run its course in Philadelphia. The team no longer has the assets, flexibility, or time for him to be effective in his position and, if he remains at the helm, the Flyers could have some very lean days ahead of them.
First and foremost, the organization needs a GM who puts an emphasis on developing both goaltenders and defensemen in order to stop hemorrhaging prospects.
Of equal importance, the Flyers need someone who values both young talent and draft picks. Any team would be happy to have Pronger or Timonen but it sure didn’t take long before these players started aging and fans in Philly began daydreaming about having Luca Sbisa or Jonathon Blum to fill out the roster. Similarly, Matt Carle may mean a lot to this team at this point but Tampa Bay was the subject of a good deal of envy from Flyer fans every time Steve Downie made a remarkable pass or scored a goal this postseason. It will only be a matter of time before fans see Anaheim and Toronto brimming with more talent, in no small part because of the Pronger and Versteeg trades.
It’s alluring to chase down marquee free agents, but that is not a sustainable method anymore. Drafting and developing homegrown talent is. Just imagine if the Flyers could find and develop players like the Nashville Predators but with wallets deep enough to retain those players as well. Unfortunately, that is not the forte of hockey-sense rich but business-sense poor Holmgren, and it does not appear to be the modus operandi of the Comcast bigwigs above him.
If Snider or Peter Luukko wants this team to continue to be perennial Cup contenders, he needs to break the Flyer GM mold and look for the next David Poile.
Poile, son of the Flyers’ first GM Bud Poile, literally built the Predators from the ground up and practically built the Washington Capitals from expansion also-rans into contenders.