Philadelphia Flyers: Why Peter Laviolette Is More at Fault Than Paul Holmgren
With Philadelphia closer to winning the 2013 NHL draft lottery than the 2013 Stanley Cup, Flyers fans are not exactly content with their favorite hockey team.
Though complete blame could not logically be placed on one person, there needs to be accountability somewhere.
Two central leaders within the organization are Paul Holmgren, the team's general manager (responsible for acquisition of players), and Peter Laviolette, the team's head coach (responsible for properly utilizing those players).
Detractors of Holmgren's work will point to the success of recently dealt players including James van Riemsdyk, Sergei Bobrovsky, Jeff Carter or Mike Richards, as well as struggles of recently acquired players, most notably Ilya Bryzgalov.
Van Riemsdyk, traded for hard-nosed defenseman Luke Schenn, is having the most productive season of his career in Toronto, with 14 goals and eight assists over 33 games.
Carter and Richards both won the Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings last season. Carter is scoring goals at the same pace of his career high (46), with 18 goals in 32 games. Richards is among Kings leaders with 20 points this season.
Bobrovsky may be the most disheartening. The goalie is performing as well as anyone this season with a .927 save percentage, 2.17 goals-against average and two shutouts, despite playing for a generally underwhelming Columbus Blue Jackets squad.
Comparably, Bryzgalov sports a .898 save percentage and a 2.83 goals-against average. He has one shutout in 30 games played.
For those looking to place the blame on the goaltenders, it might seem logical to suggest that the Flyers might be better off with Bobrovsky than Bryzgalov, especially considering Bryzgalov's nine-year, $54 million contract. Sensibly enough, this might seem to be an error of Holmgren's.
A closer look might put that blame on Laviolette's actions in the Flyers' 2011 playoff run.
Bobrovsky, then a 22-year-old rookie starter for the Flyers, lost the first game against the Buffalo Sabres but had given up just one goal on 25 shots. The next night, Bobrovsky let in three goals on seven shots and lost his starting job.
Consider that for a moment: Bobrovsky was not pulled for the game. He was pulled from his position as a starter.
After winning 28 of 54 games started that regular season, Laviolette took the starting job away from Bobrovsky after one bad game.
Bobrovsky was pulled in favor of Brian Boucher. While Boucher was in net for the Flyers' eventual first-round series victory, he was also the starter for the first three games of the Flyers' second-round sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins.
It was only once the Flyers' season was on the line in Game 4 that Bobrovsky was given another start. He lost, having done nothing but clean-up work for three weeks.
After a combined playoff save percentage of .894 and goals-against average of 3.19, the Flyers' embarrassing three-goalie carousel needed to be addressed.
As a general manager, Paul Holmgren couldn't ignore that abysmal playoff result, so he acquired the top goalie available, former Vezina Trophy nominee Ilya Bryzgalov.
Had Laviolette given Bobrovsky a real chance in that playoff run, perhaps the result would have been different. Perhaps Holmgren would not have had to sign a new goaltender. Perhaps the Flyers would have the improved Bobrovsky this season and not the humongous-big headcase that is Bryzgalov in net.
Richards and Carter
The Richards and Carter trades, though appearing not to favor the Flyers due to the Kings' recent success, have provided excellent players for the Flyers.
The centerpieces of those trades, Wayne Simmonds and Jake Voracek, are two of the Flyers' top scorers, with 21 and 34 points this season, respectively. Also acquired in those trades were Brayden Schenn (fifth on the Flyers with 19 points) and Sean Couturier.
Couturier has struggled this season. But he had an impressive playoff performance in his rookie year, playing very effective defense against Hart Memorial Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, helping the Flyers win that first-round series.
It is hard to argue the Flyers did not get fair value for their trades, especially considering Simmonds, Voracek, and Schenn's average production is higher than that of Richards and Carter, despite the group of three being younger and less experienced.
While the results of what Holmgren has executed are still unveiling themselves, it's hard to discredit the moves he attempted to make in this past offseason. Holmgren reportedly offerred top unrestricted free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter enormous contracts valued even higher than what they both signed with the Minnesota Wild; more than $80 million over 12 years.
Holmgren was also the only GM bold enough to present an offer sheet to restricted free agent Shea Weber, arguably the top defenseman in the NHL. Weber's Nashville Predators eventually matched the offer sheet.
Though the Flyers did not end up with the summer's top available free agents, Holmgren did more than enough in his attempts to bring in those key players.
The Flyers perform their best when they play physical. The energy that comes from checking and fighting always seems to translate into better results for Philadelphia.
For this season, the Flyers are 9-9 in games in which they fight, while they are 5-10 in games when they do not fight.
Who is more at fault for the Flyers' poor season?
Perhaps a coach who can utilize Philadelphia's efficient physical play is better suited in orange and black than Laviolette. Perhaps the team will respond better to a coach who encourages a higher level of physical intensity.
Holmgren has done what he can to deliver a team capable of competing in the NHL playoffs. Laviolette has failed to continue bringing that team to where it should be.
Jason Sapunka was previously a staffed member of B/R, covering the Philadelphia Flyers as a Featured Columnist. He is available for day-to-day Flyers and NHL updates on Twitter.
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