The Flyers decided to fire Peter Laviolette on Monday, three games into the NHL season. Three. That’s 3.65 percent of the season. In football, it’s the equivalent of firing a coach in the middle of the third quarter of the season-opening game.
As is the case most times when a coach is fired in the NHL, the general manager here appears to be far more deserving of being told to clean out his desk while security stands in his office, making sure nothing gets stolen or vandalized. Paul Holmgren, by any objective measure of judging a general manager, has been very bad at his job in recent years, and really should’ve been escorted out of Wells Fargo Center at the same time as Laviolette.
Trades. Free-agent signings. Assessing talent, his own and others. You name it, Holmgren has been hilariously bad at it, and it all seems to stem from the Flyers unbelievably fluky trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010 after an 88-point regular season.
If you’ll recall, the seventh-seeded Flyers, who made the playoffs by defeating the Rangers in a shootout in Game 82, beat the Devils in round one that year. In the regular season, the Flyers went 5-1 against the Devils, so really, it was about the luckiest and most fortunate matchup they could find. Then they pulled the miracle of miracles in the second round, erasing a 3-0 series deficit to beat the Bruins in seven games. The four-leafed clover on top of the horseshoe-shaped cake was in the conference final, when they got to the play the equally crummy eighth-seeded Canadiens, so yes, the Flyers actually had home-ice advantage.
Yet after losing to the superior Blackhawks in the Final, the feeling wasn’t so much, “Man, what a run. We can build on this going forward.” It was more, “Man, if only we had a real goaltender and not Michael Leighton we would’ve won the Cup.”
Putting all the blame on goaltending is a Philadelphia tradition that’s right up there with throwing batteries at baseball players, booing Santa Claus, cheering injuries and intentionally vomiting on children. To Holmgren’s credit, “finding a great goaltender” wasn’t his white whale during the early part of his tenure. Yet a year after losing to Chicago, Holmgren fell into a “goaltending above all else” trap and the Flyers have been paying for it ever since.
It’s important to note that Holmgren did a downright terrific job after taking over for Bobby Clarke during the 2006-07 season. Yeah, that Flyers team put up 56 points that season, which looks like a typo but really isn’t, but Holmgren inherited a team with aging, declining stars backstopped by goaltenders Antero Niittymaki and Robert Esche.
That team had young valuable pieces in Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, sure, but it can’t be understated how terrible that team was.
Yet the Flyers found themselves with 95 points and the six seed in the East the following season. They got all the way to the conference finals with Holmgren adding Braydon Coburn from the Thrashers, Scottie Upshall, Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell in separate trades with the Predators, and Martin Biron from the Sabres in just a few of his terrific transactions.
That Chris Pronger trade also worked out pretty well for the Flyers. Adding Ville Leino for a minor-league defenseman was mildly decent too. Signing Daniel Briere may not be universally loved and, sure, he was bought out this past summer, but he delivered a pair of 30-goal seasons.
Was every Holmgren move pre-2010 a winner? Of course not, but he had a hell of an overall track record and the Flyers weren’t just a playoff team from 2008-12 — they got out of the first round in all but one postseason.
But a disappointing 2011 postseason, based largely on unfair expectations that resulted from that 2010 trip to the Final, set the wheels in motion for turning a good Flyers team into one that now looks destined to miss the postseason for a second straight season.
The Flyers lost in round two to the Bruins in 2011 and rookie goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who had a fine first NHL season for a 22/23-year-old (28-13-8, 2.59/.915), was pretty terrible in his inaugural playoff trip. Maybe it took five years for Holmgren to finally start listening to the Philadelphia cries for an elite goaltender or maybe this was his breaking point, but this began a series of poor asset management choices that sent the Flyers down the path to mediocrity.
Holmgren felt he needed a goaltender – and sure, the handsy Ed Snider probably had his hands on this – but he had to clear cap space. He did the unthinkable, shipping Mike Richards to Los Angeles and Jeff Carter to Columbus so he could sign Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million deal. To Holmgren’s credit, he received inexpensive, quality assets in Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek, but he parted ways with two extremely talented players he essentially gave lifetime contracts in the recent past.
Of course, after Richards and Carter were traded, they were painted in the media as party guys with character issues who liked to drink booze (Hey Tyler Seguin does this sound familiar?) but oh look who won a Stanley Cup with the Kings in 2012.
You can’t use the fact Richards and Carter won Cups in Los Angeles against Holmgren, but you can blame him for believing that youngsters Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier (the pick acquired in the Carter trade) could fill the gap left by Richards and Carter. The idea that 30-goal scorers are that easy to replace is silly, yet that’s what Holmgren believed he could do with Schenn, Simmonds and Voracek.
I know people make the argument that they’d do Carter for Voracek/Couturier again today, even outside of the context of the Richards deal and Bryzgalov signing, but that seems fueled mostly by Voracek’s very good 48-game season and not his decent ’11-12 season where he was a second-/third-liner. Personally, I’d rather have Carter, his $5.27 million cap hit for life and his 38 goals per 82 games since 2007-08 than Voracek and Couturier, who could be absolutely anything at this point and will combine for a $6 million cap hit starting in 2014-15.
The mismanagement continued. After spending the year backing up Bryzgalov, Bobrovsky was traded to the Blue Jackets for three draft picks. We all know how that worked out. James van Riemsdyk, who has a fair shot of being the third 30-goal scorer dealt by Holmgren, was sent to Toronto for Luke Schenn, who is unbelievably terrible and probably belongs in the AHL. While worrying about replacing the production of Richards and Carter and plugging a leak in net, Holmgren let his defense turn into a dumpster fire but hey Jaromir Jagr actually worked out real well before he walked in the offseason.
The coup de grace for Holmgren was when he had to do what he does best – get himself out of a lengthy contract he just gave to a player like 15 minutes earlier. He bought out Bryzgalov this past summer, leaving the Flyers with Steve Mason and Ray Emery in net playing behind an aging, slow, unskilled group of defensemen among the worst in the league. The elite goaltender Holmgren thought he was getting when he made over a roster that challenged for the Presidents’ Trophy most of 2010-11 turned out to be more of a product of the system in Phoenix than an elite talent.
Coming off an embarrassing effort in a 48-game season, what did the Flyers do to bolster the defense? Sign Mark Streit. How did they replace a declining Briere? By signing a declining Vinny Lecavalier. How did they fix the goaltending? Ray Emery.
After all that, what is a more likely reason for the Flyers’ decline the past two-plus years?
Laviolette, who found a way to take an 88-point team to within two wins of a Stanley Cup three years ago, became so bad at coaching that he now runs the worst training camp in hockey history and had to be fired after three games.
Holmgren’s chasing of goaltending ghosts and dealing away so much talent for 70 cents on the dollar has left the Flyers as nothing more than a team that is middle-of-the-pack in the East at best.
Holmgren blowing up his team to get an “elite” goaltender two years after losing in the Cup Final because of a lack of said goaltender would be like me still trying to get Dana Kuckzynski to go out with me after she rejected me in middle school because I was a poor doofus who wore crappy clothes by purchasing Z Cavariccis after she got married last year.
It’s over. Let it go. Look forward, not backward. That’s what good GMs do, and that’s something Holmgren stopped doing in the summer of 2011.
I would be remiss to not mention what the loss of Pronger has meant to the Flyers. But it’s not as if Pronger was at the height of his powers when concussions ended his career. He was 36 years old and played in just 50 games in 2010-11. That’s not to say Holmgren should’ve predicted the end of his most important player’s career, but the writing was on the wall.
And oh by the way, a seven-year, 35-plus contract that takes Pronger into his age 42 year, even if he remained healthy, isn’t exactly Holmgren’s best idea, either.
It’s Holmgren’s job to maximize return in trades, and it’s clear he’s done the complete opposite on all his big moves since Laviolette took the Flyers to the Cup Final, which is why it makes no sense Laviolette is unemployed and Holmgren still has his finger on the button in Philadelphia.
FOUR LETTERS: Best defense, Devils hockey, universes, Jussi
Love the posts, etc.
We had an interesting thread going which team has the best top 6 d-men in the league..
Who’s your top 3 teams?
Here’s where we left off at before the season starting..
1. St Louis (finished 12-3 with Boumeester & Leopold added at trade deadline, that’s 120+ points pace LOL)
3. LA Kings
You seem to have it figured out. I think I’d put the Kings at No. 1, followed by the Blackhawks and Blues. Jake Muzzin and Matt Greene operating as your fifth and sixth d-men is pretty ridiculous. I could really go either way with the Blackhawks and Blues because I prefer Chicago’s top four, but St. Louis looks better to me at the bottom. I’d drop Vancouver and Phoenix at Nos. 5 and 6.
Hello Mr. Lozo
The Devils have yet to pick up a win in four contests. Do you think Pete Deboer should be the next coach fired? A few things lead me to believe he needs to go. First the refusal to admit that Martin Brodeur has been terrible. Second he is not getting any production from players returning from last year(no production specifically from Zajac and Henrique). Third inconsistent team defense. Fourth and what I am most concerned about is the harm he is doing to Adam Larsson. The only potential franchise player on the team. He’s not getting a chance to play his game and work through his mistakes. Not mention guys like Harrold and Volchenkov are playing over him.
Sent from my iPhone
Well, Sent from my iPhone, you seem to be really worked up into a lather after four games, as is your right as a fan of the sports. I’ve been paying close attention to the Devils’ first four games, and I truly don’t think now is the time to panic or fire anybody. Ask me again in a month and my answer might be different, but right now, I think there’s plenty of positives.
From the get-go, it was unfair to think the Devils were just going to roll into the season like a wrecking ball. Consider all the new faces they have up front — Jaromir Jagr, Michael Ryder, Damien Brunner, Ryane Clowe. It’s going to take time for the Devils to click on offense, as they essentially have three lines (excluding the Carter-Bernier-Gionta unit) still getting to know each other. Heck, Jagr didn’t play in the preseason. On top of that, they have a brutal schedule to open the season. Three points in four games isn’t great, but it’s hardly the beginning of the end. Hell, they’ve led in three of four games. Once they learn to close games out, they’ll be fine.
I don’t know what to tell you about Brodeur. Like Jagr, he basically had no preseason. Sure, his slow start could be the product of him being 41, but it could also be the product of the lack of work during the exhibition schedule. Having said all that, it’s not as though Cory Schneider has been electric in his two starts. I can’t read DeBoer’s mind, but if Schneider catches fire and Brodeur remains wobbly, the goaltender who is making saves will make more starts.
As for the defense, I don’t know what DeBoer is supposed to do there. It’s not a great crew. Anton Volchenkov has looked slower than usual and Peter Harrold is playing poorly. Adam Larsson has potential, but I can recall two bad plays in four games that have led directly to goals. DeBoer can’t just throw him out there for 25 minutes a night if he’s still making rookie mistakes.
I still think they’ll come around. I don’t know Adam Henrique will — that contract seemed a little misguided to me, considering his great rookie season came while playing almost exclusively with Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise — but you shouldn’t be panicking with 78 games to play.
If the universe had hockey teams by each planet, we would obviously have Captain America, but who would the alternate captains be? Would we go with the really good kid but not really a leader like Sweeden or a wild card like Russia where you never know what they’re going to do, so you just respect him out of fear? I’m also assuming Canada is an “A” because if not their parents would bitch because they “live and breath hockey,” but maybe I’m wrong there.
Thanks for the letter. This question seems like a good time to discuss a topic that is near and dear to my heart, so let’s turn down the house lights a bit so Uncle Dave can dig into this.
Don’t do cocaine. It’s bad. It’s not a fun drug like Tylenol PM or Robitussin or Doritos. It’s really bad for you. I had friends in high school who would do cocaine and say things to me like the stuff in this letter, and let me tell you, it’s scary. I just want to sit on the couch with my Robitussin and Cool Ranch Doritos and not have my brain attacked by thoughts like this. I have read this letter three times and I’m unsure and terrified. I’m especially confused by the fact you signed the letter “Keith” when the name in the e-mail address is “Kyle.”
In the hope that I have encouraged you to get help, I’ll answer by saying we will go with the Edmonton Oilers method by making America the captain, then giving ‘A’s’ to every country in Europe. We will let Canada wear an ‘A’ when we play away games in the Margplock Universe.
Just how bad was Jokinen when he was with Carolina that they were willing to pay $900,000 for him to go play for the Pens? Are we just witnessing a change of scenery improvement?
He was never “bad,” per se, but he was never great, either. The Hurricanes were looking to get under the descending salary cap this year, and the Penguins were looking to stay under it with all of their acquisitions last year, so the Hurricanes shed salary and retained salary. A win-win for both teams.
He scored 30 in 2009-10, but he clearly wasn’t meshing with new-ish coach Kirk Muller. Sometimes a change of scenery helps. Sometimes playing with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin helps, although that was only the case on one of his goals last season and two of the three on Tuesday against Carolina.
The biggest reason for his goal barrage? It’s probably because he now gets to play the Hurricanes, a brutal defensive team. He has five of his 10 goals as a Penguin against the Hurricanes.