Balls and a Blueprint: Inside the Mind of the Flyers’ Mad Scientist

Image courtesy of philly.comSome call him a genius. Some call him insane. Most people call him Homer. I refer to him as the Mad Scientist.

If you hadn’t caught on by now, I’m talking about Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, also known as the man who was passed over for GM of the Year.

I believe it is safe to say that Holmgren has officially made this Flyers team his own (and secured his job for a few more seasons). The craziest of crazies took place on June 23 in the Flyers much-publicized, much-maligned trades of cornerstone centers Mike Richards (captain) and Jeff Carter (alternate captain). By now we know the Flyers’ haul of Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmons, Jakob Voracek, Sean Couturier (and, to a lesser extent, Nick Grossmann and Pavel Kubina, who came in trades for draft picks acquired). But that is not all that the Mad Scientist has done.

Homer’s reign began on October 22, 2006 when then-GM Bobby Clarke resigned as part of “Bloody Sunday” which also saw Ken Hitchcock fired in the wake of a 1-6-1 start. Holmgren, who had been with the Flyers in various roles (scout, assistant head coach, head coach, and player) with only one break in Hartford since retiring as a player in 1985, had been the general manager position on an interim basis.

The native of the Twin Cities took his opportunity and ran with it.

Six weeks after being given the GM position, Homer traded for defenseman Alexei Zhitnik. Why was this important? Well, he would then turn around and trade Zhitnik to the Atlanta Thrashers at the trade deadline for an up-and-coming defenseman named Braydon Coburn.

The steely-eyed Minnesotan made a total of eight trades his first year, but none bigger than sending Peter Forsberg to Nashville for defenseman Ryan Parent, forward Scottie Upshall, a 1st round pick (later sent back to Nashville for the rights to Kimmo Timmonen and Scott Hartnell) and a 3rd round pick. That year, Holmgren also acquired goalie Martin Biron from Buffalo (who would help convince Danny Briere to come to Philadelphia).

Holmgren, in my opinion, is one of the top-flight general managers in the NHL, but he is not without faults. He is continually at the salary cap ceiling, which leads to issues acquiring players at the trade deadline or moving money around (see: Rathje, Mike and his long-term injury stay). Due to cap restraints, Holmgren has made his share of bad trades (Scottie Upshall for Dan Carcillo and a 2nd round pick or Simon Gagne for Matt Walker and a 4th round pick).

He also throws draft picks away like they’re trash (Kris Versteeg for 1st and 3rd rounders), but he has been able to keep the talent in Philadelphia fresh with his signings of undrafted college players (such as Matt Read, Mike Testwuide, Ben Holmstrom, and Harry Zolnierczyk).

Holmgren’s biggest move was at the 2009 NHL draft when he acquired Chris Pronger. With moves like the Pronger acquisition and the Richards and Carter trades, Holmgren has shown that he is not afraid of making the big move. He isn’t afraid of changing the dynamics in the clubhouse – similar to the Phillies when they traded Bobby Abreu after realizing the future of the team were soon-to-be stars Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Holmgren understood that this had become Chris Pronger’s team and that Claude Giroux was the next star.

In six short years, Holmgren has transformed the Flyers. Take a look up and down the Flyers roster and find me a player that was not a result of a move by the mad scientist (hint: you can’t). Although Holmgren was not one of the finalists for GM of the Year, he has made and remade this Flyers team, and in doing so, given them their best chance to bring the Cup back to Philadelphia.