Putting On The Foil with @jsaquella: Should The Flyers Fire Paul Holmgren? The Evidence
Editors’ Note: Noted Philadelphia Flyers fan John Saquella is going beyond 140 characters. The man most of you probably know from social media as @jsaquella will bring you his wide-ranging opinion and commentary on the Orange and Black in his column Putting On The Foil.
By John Saquella (@jsaquella)
Count me among those who don’t feel the Flyers will benefit by immediately firing General Manager Paul Holmgren.
However, he definitely deserves to be on the hot seat.
Holmgren has definitely left himself open to criticism, and his team has struggled mightily over the past calendar year, but people seem to forget that Holmgren took over a team in abject disarray, which was easily the worst team in the NHL, and built it into a Stanley Cup contender in a very short while. Going from dead last to being in the Eastern Conference Final is not exactly the mark of a moron who isn’t a capable manager.
That said, Holmgren has made mistakes. Some were on his own hook, others were done with pressure from above. I’d like to take a look at some of the things he’s most often criticized about and see just how bad he’s really been.
One huge criticism of Holmgren is cap management. But, he’s far from the only team that routinely is near the salary cap on an annual basis, nor is he the only GM that was forced to make questionable trades or lose players on waivers due to cap management issues. Ken Holland is widely viewed as a master GM, the standard bearer for other GM’s to emulate and copy. Well, Holmgren managed to get a a good second line scoring winger from Holland for the broken down corpse of Ole-Kristian Tollefsen because the Red Wings didn’t have the cap room to being back some of their injured stars during the 2009-10 season.
As of this writing, 10 NHL teams are technically over the cap and using LTIR to maintain their roster. Six more clubs have less than $1mm in cap space. Holmgren’s cap management has been less than stellar, but he’s not alone.
Another big criticism of Holmgren is that trades away youngsters for quick fixes. He has traded picks away for veterans, but the only deal where he really moved young players and prospects was the Pronger trade. James van Riemsdyk was traded for another young player. Ditto Scottie Upshall. Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were the oldest players involved in the deals that saw them traded out of Philadelphia. When Holmgren trades away a young player, it’s generally a trade that sees another young player, or draft pick, come back to the team.
Holmgren often gets shredded for handing out no movement or no trade clauses too freely. Well, the Flyers have 8 such players right now, with a 9th who has one scheduled to kick in next year in Claude Giroux and another who is, for all intents and purposes retired, in Chris Pronger. Compare that total to Detroit with 10. Pittsburgh with 11. Vancouver with 9. It’s fairly commonplace for teams to give their core players some sort of no trade protection.
If you have an issue with Braydon Coburn or Nicklas Grossmann having a modified NTC, how about Jonas Gustavsson or Thomas Vokoun? Both of those back up goalies have NTCs. So do Rob Scuderi, Jussi Jokinen, Jonathan Ericsson and Chris Higgins.
Holmgren has done an overall solid job of drafting, when he has had the picks. Some of the picks have been absolute head scratchers(Garrett Klotz & Tyrell Ghoulbourne in the 3rd round? Drafting Derek Mathers instead of Thomas Hyka?) But he’s never missed on getting a solid NHLer in the first round, which isn’t an exact science in the least. After all the young assests and picks lost in the Pronger trade and subsequnet moves to replace him, Holmgren has done a good job of bringing in decent prospects to refill the pipeline-Scott Laughton Nick Cousins, Tye McGinn, Michael Raffl, Oliver Lauridsen, Mark Alt, Samuel Morin, Robert Hagg as well as lesser known prospects like Valeri Vasiliev and Reece Willcox.
Want to complain about Holmgren? Go the knee jerk decision making route. After losing Pronger to injury, Holmgren spent a lot of time and money trying to fill the hole. He didn’t take the most logical route.
He acquired Grossmann in a trade and re-signed him to a 4 year extension almost immediately. Doing that used up just about every bit of tagging space Holmgren had to re-sign Matt Carle. It’s widely believed that Carle and the Flyers had a handshake deal, that would be finalized when July 1st rolled around. Well, at the draft, Calgary traded for, and re-signed defenseman Dennis Wideman to a 5 year deal with a cap hit of $5.25mm. That led Carle to realize it’d be a lot smarter to test the market. Thus, the Flyers lost a very important piece of their defense-not to mention a lot of mobility and puck movement ability-because they rushed into signing a good third pair defenseman who plays a strong physical game.
Compounding that, at the draft they traded JvR to Toronto for Luke Schenn, another physical, stay at home defenseman with average-at best- mobility and puck skills. It would have made more sense to make the JvR for Schenn deal at the TDL, rather than trade for and re-sign Grossmann. To make up for losing Carle, he jumped in and did a trade and sign to add Mark Streit. While I agreed with the Streit move, subsequent signings show that Holmgren could have been better served with a more prgamatic approach.
Holmgren’s bigger moves, the trades of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter and the signing of Ilya Bryzgalov were born from pressure from above and also from his coach below. There’s rumors about the partying ways of Carter and Richards, and stories that Snider demanded them out or that Laviolette asked for them to be moved. Holmgren got good value for them, but also was starting a youth movement on his front end, while relying heavily on two defensemen in their late 30’s to carry the mail on the back end. Pronger’s injury derailed that plan.
Bryzgalov was a mandate from Snider. Snider was embarrassed by the situation caused by Laviolette’s piss poor handling of the goalies during the 2011 playoffs. So he issued a Diktat. Holmgren signed the best goalie on the market, and it was pretty much a disaster. The team played poorly in front of Bryzgalov, and Bryz had far too many nights where he was simply average. Thus far, Steve Mason has provided better goaltending at a fraction of the cost.
People seem to feel that simply bringing in Ron Hextall as GM will solve the issues. Well, as long as Snider is in charge, he’s going to make public comments that tie his GM’s hands. The truth is, all we know about Hextall is that he’s highly regarded as a hockey guy around the NHL. He’s never been in the GM chair before. We don’t know how he will respond to mandates from a pushy owner or if he will retain the scouts who have done the work in analyzing the drafts. For the most part, he’s done a good job with the drafts in LA…but during his time there, they have had two high first round busts in Thomas Hickey and Colten Teubert, which is two more than Holmgren’s had.
As maddening as Holmgren can be when he starts making short sighted decisions, there’s no guarantees that they will get a better man in the role.