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Greenberg: Holmgren moves up

Flyers columnist looks at the Holmgren era as GM the last eight seasons

Thursday, 05.08.2014 / 9:20 AM / News
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Greenberg: Holmgren moves up
Flyers columnist looks at the Holmgren era as GM the last eight seasons

When Ed Snider took control of a 2-year-old franchise that had yet to distinguish itself from five born at the same time, he vowed to ask one question of every proposed move his general manager ever would bring him: Will it get us closer to winning the Stanley Cup?

At a time that moves designed to win a single playoff round would have tickled the fan base, Snider had one goal for the organization that has remained its one plan today, never mind how the numbers have made it so much less obtainable.

Thus, on the day Snider called the job Paul Holmgren did for eight years in the general manager’s chair "outstanding," he still left the job disappointed with his performance.

“We didn’t win,” Holmgren said Wednesday. “At the end of the day, we had one kick at it and we didn’t win.

“How do I feel about the job I did? Unfulfilled. Fulfilled personally but, in terms of doing what you are supposed to do, we didn’t win.”

When Snider set the agenda, the league had 12 teams. Fourteen seasons since the NHL went to 30 clubs, second place still disappoints in South Philadelphia and good for the fans of the Flyers that it does. Otherwise, the organization never would have produced six finalists, five more semifinalists, and suffered only six losing seasons since the Flyers were last champions in 1975.

You don’t get that close by trying to do only that.

In a salary-capped league that has produced just two back-to-back titlists -- Pittsburgh and Detroit -- since the last great (Edmonton) dynasty died, plus has had 10 different champions in its last 14 seasons, it has become virtually impossible to build a team that on paper should win.

The best you can do is build one that can, which Holmgren did, start with a club that would compile a franchise-low 56 points.

“By moves that he made, we were back in contention the very next (2007-08) season,” Snider recalled Wednesday.

Bequeathed cap room – plus Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne– by Bob Clarke, Holmgren turned a rental, Alexei Zhitnik, into Braydon Coburn, and dealt for useful pieces like Scottie Upshall, Joffrey Lupul, and a first rounder that were wheeled back to Nashville in the deal that brought about-to-be free agents Timonen and Scott Hartnell.

To a last-place overall team, Holmgren wooed Timonen, Hartnell and Danny Briere, who proved the best of the three coveted free agent centers available that extraordinarily successful Flyers summer. The Flyers were in the semifinals that very season and, after a gutsy trade for Chris Pronger, in the finals two years after that.

Not only did the Flyers come within one goal of Game 7, but were an inch away from the stick missing Pronger’s eye, and a ping pong ball away from being able to draft Patrick Kane.

How would a one-two center ice of Kane and Claude Giroux now look?

But how far away would the Flyers now be if, once the not-entirely hockey decision was made to move two core players (Richards and Carter) in their prime, the GM not thought young in those deals.

Holmgren essentially got back the three draft picks (that includes Luca Sbisa, whom the Flyers had chosen first in 2008) in dealing Richards and Carter for top-10 selections Jake Voracek, Brayden Schenn and (by the Flyers’) Sean Couturier.

The bottom line – still the bottom line for the Flyers, too -- was the Stanley Cup the Kings won in 2012. They may win another next month. But since the 2011 trades, Voracek has outscored Carter, Richards has become a third-line player, and if Schenn needs to play more consistently, he still is a considerable asset Ron Hextall inherits, along with a roster that is two more good players away from being capable of winning a Stanley Cup.

“We need some pieces but I think we’re going in the right direction,” said Snider.

Those pieces will not be easy to obtain, in part because Holmgren leaves contracts of length with a couple players not getting any younger. But we haven’t yet seen the best, probably, of the nucleus assembled, including a goaltender, Steve Mason, at last.

Prospects Scott Laughton, Sam Morin, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Robert Hagg will play, probably well. So Holmgren becomes the president of an organization in far better shape than when it was first entrusted to him and won seven playoff series in the interim.

How many GMs move on, or up, being able to consider all that a failure?

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - BOS 82 54 19 9 261 177 117
2 y - PIT 82 51 24 7 249 207 109
3 x - TBL 82 46 27 9 240 215 101
4 x - MTL 82 46 28 8 215 204 100
5 x - NYR 82 45 31 6 218 193 96
6 x - PHI 82 42 30 10 236 235 94
7 x - CBJ 82 43 32 7 231 216 93
8 x - DET 82 39 28 15 222 230 93
9 WSH 82 38 30 14 235 240 90
10 NJD 82 35 29 18 197 208 88
11 OTT 82 37 31 14 236 265 88
12 TOR 82 38 36 8 231 256 84
13 CAR 82 36 35 11 207 230 83
14 NYI 82 34 37 11 225 267 79
15 FLA 82 29 45 8 196 268 66
16 BUF 82 21 51 10 157 248 52

STATS

2013-2014 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
C. Giroux 82 28 58 7 86
J. Voracek 82 23 39 11 62
W. Simmonds 82 29 31 -4 60
S. Hartnell 78 20 32 11 52
M. Streit 82 10 34 3 44
B. Schenn 82 20 21 0 41
M. Read 75 22 18 -4 40
S. Couturier 82 13 26 1 39
V. Lecavalier 69 20 17 -16 37
K. Timonen 77 6 29 5 35
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
S. Mason 33 18 7 .917 2.50
R. Emery 9 12 2 .903 2.96
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