Philadelphia Flyers: 5 Reasons This Season Will Test Paul Holmgren's Limits
Things have not been ideal for Philadelphia Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, who worked tirelessly for a big signing during the off season. With the NHL officially locked out on top of a dismal offseason, Holmgren’s limits will surely be tested in the upcoming season.
The Flyers had a good playoff start defeating Eastern Conference favorites the Pittsburgh Penguins in a scoring frenzy of a first round. Unfortunately for the Flyers, they were stopped by the New Jersey Devils in the second round.
Holmgren made some offseason moves, for better or for worse, but none were of the magnitude that he had hoped.
In an effort to add sibling chemistry to his defensive line, Holmgren traded James van Riemsdyk for Luke Schenn, uniting Flyers’ Brayden Schenn with his brother. This move should not have come as too big of a surprise as Holmgren tends to manage his team with a defensive mind—the Flyers have the most expensive defense in the league ($28,417,262) (via capgeek.com).
The odds have really been stacked against Holmgren this season and the lockout may or may not be the straw that breaks the GM’s back.
Here are five hurdles that have been thrown in Holmgren's way this season.
An Unsuccessful Offseason
Paul Holmgren was easily the most aggressive general manager during the 2012 NHL free agency. Reports and rumors swirled around the assertive general manager as he seemed to have poked his checkbook anywhere he could.
According to Philly.com, Holmgren made a play for the top two free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. The two offers were said to have been 12-year deals worth over $80 million apiece.
After the two sought-after free agents joined the Minnesota Wild, Holmgren shifted his sights toward Phoenix Coyotes' captain Shane Doan. According to many reports, Doan visited the Flyers in Philadelphia shortly after visiting the New York Rangers (via NHL.com).
Although Doan had not signed with the Phoenix Coyotes until recently, his frequent rescheduling of "sign-me" deadlines suggested that he was not going anywhere. This prompted Holmgren to make his most extravagant push of the offseason.
According to ESPN, Holmgren signed Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber to a 14-year offer sheet worth $110 million. Weber, a restricted free agent, could have been moved to Philly had Nashville chosen not to match the contract.
Much to Holmgren’s despair, the Predators matched the offer and held on to Weber. Holmgren, who did everything he could to give his team the extra edge, struck out.
2012 NHL Lockout
As if an unsuccessful offseason was not bad enough, Paul Holmgren, along with the other general managers and the players, may not have a 2012-13 season to participate in. This comes at a very inopportune time for Holmgren and the Flyers especially.
The Flyers have a lot of young, promising players who need to be on the ice. Sean Couturier (19), Brayden Schenn (21), Jakub Voracek (23) and Luke Schenn (22) are among the Flyers’ young talent—all of whom need time with their teammates and team facilities to develop.
Many of these rookies will be sent to play in the AHL at a level of competition that is much lower than that of the NHL. Playing in the AHL will keep these players in shape, but the low level of competition is not a fast enough pace to make these young guns better players.
The younger guys are not the only ones that need all the ice time they can get; Claude Giroux, who just put up the best season in his career (28 G, 65 A, 93 PTS), needs team facilities and practices to make sure his game does not lose a stride. With the loss of first-liner Jaromir Jagr, Giroux and line mate Scott Hartnell need to practice and develop chemistry with a replacement on the wing.
Holmgren needs his players on the ice right now and the lockout is not allowing them the access to do so.
A Potential Revamp of Future Player Contracts
In 2004, the last time the NHL was locked out, the salary cap was established. It changed how NHL players’ contracts were drawn up. If history is truly doomed to repeat itself, player contracts could be even more limited—a worse nightmare for Paul Holmgren.
This explains why Holmgren was so aggressive during the offseason. Holmgren’s attempts to sign Suter and Parise to long-term signings worth big bucks, as well as his huge 14-year offer sheet to Weber, were likely because Holmgren knew that such mega contracts could be history after the lockout.
Holmgren has always been a fan of long-term contracts. Prior to the 2012 season, Holmgren signed Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year contract worth $51 million.
If there is a league-wide contract revamp for players, the mega contracts that Holmgren loves could cease to exist.
The Loss of Jagr
According to USA Today, Former Philadelphia Flyers’ first-liner Jaromir Jagr felt neglected by Paul Holmgren during talks of re-signing. Jagr thought he was going to re-sign with the Flyers, but the Flyers “wanted to go in a different direction”.
"They were waiting for (free agents Zach) Parise and (Ryan) Suter,” said Jagr (via USA Today). “I would have had to wait until probably right now (July) to try to negotiate a new deal with the Flyers and I just didn't want to wait."
The Flyers' top line—formerly made up of Jagr, Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell—combined for 84 goals, 130 assists and 214 points last season. Most general managers would hate to break up such a productive first line, but Holmgren had his sights set on bigger fish in the free-agency pool.
Jagr put up a good season last year (19 G, 35 A, 54 PTS). The NHL legend came out strong, but was slowed down after a back injury kept him on the bench during the Winter Classic.
It is unsure whether or not Holmgren was reluctant to meet Jagr’s demands for a $4 million contract and purposely let him go. Whatever Holmgren’s intentions, the Flyers have to do some damage control to their first line.
Many speculate that Jakub Voracek will receive a promotion to the top line. Holmgren and the rest of the Flyers will be banking on the 23-year-old Czech to fill the skates of Jaromir Jagr.
Season Two of the 'Bryzgalov Experiment'
As stated before, Paul Holmgren signed Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year contract worth $51 million—a move that, in retrospect, might not pay the dividends that Holmgren had hoped. The move initially sounded good, but has left many skeptical after a lagging, inconsistent 2012 season from Bryzgalov.
After two very impressive seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes, in which the Russian amassed a combined 78 wins, the Flyers lured the Russian to Philadelphia with a mega contract. Holmgren had hoped that Bryzgalov would be the answer to their goaltending issue.
What Holmgren actually inherited was a nervous, inconsistent goalie, who had fleeting moments of greatness during a season of mediocrity. Bryzgalov’s on-and-off streaks were a clear weakness in Philadelphia’s game.
Bryzgalov’s only sign of consistency was during the playoffs—he was consistently awful. Bryzgalov allowed 37 goals over 11 games (3.46 GAA) and maintained a horrid save percentage (.887).
The Flyers need a more confident Bryzgalov next season. As the lockout prevents Bryzgalov from using team facilities and practicing with the team, a confident Bryzgalov could take another year to emerge.