Why Paul Holmgren Is the Real Problem with the Philadelphia Flyers

Rick SadowskiFeatured ColumnistOctober 9, 2013

Now that he's fired his second coach in four years, Philadelphia Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren should be on the hot seat.
Now that he's fired his second coach in four years, Philadelphia Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren should be on the hot seat.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Maybe this time Paul Holmgren's moves will pay off. Maybe this time the Philadelphia Flyers general manager will have done enough for his team to return to the Stanley Cup playoffs after a one-year absence.

It should be his last chance to set things right, especially with former Flyers star goalie Ron Hextall, now assistant general manager and director of hockey operations, waiting in the wings.

You can't just keep firing coaches every couple of years and expect things to get better, and Craig Berube has become the Flyers' third head coach since Holmgren succeeded Bob Clarke as GM on Nov. 11, 2006.

Holmgren hasn't shown any more patience with his coaches—firing Peter Laviolette after three games this season, John Stevens before him after 25 games in 2009—than he has with the players he's acquired through trades or free agency.

It remains to be seen if changing coaches again turns out to be tantamount to moving deck chairs around on the Titanic, but at least Berube has the rest of the season to make his mark and push the Flyers in a positive direction.

If this doesn't work, Flyers chairman Ed Snider will have no choice but to start looking at Holmgren, the person responsible for putting the roster together. Or dismantling it, as the case may be.

Holmgren looked like a genius when the Flyers made their surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010 after he replaced Stevens with Laviolette. They lost a six-game series to the Chicago Blackhawks, but it appeared the franchise was on its way to rejoining the NHL elite.

Perhaps that would still be the case if Holmgren hadn't traded so many key members of that Eastern Conference championship team—Jeff Carter and Mike Richards can show off the Stanley Cup rings they won with the Los Angeles Kings two years ago—allowed others to leave via free agency and was forced to use compliance buyouts to unload lucrative contracts he was responsible for in order to get under the league's $64.3 million salary cap.

Aside from a rash of injuries, mediocre goaltending and a porous defense were the main reasons the Flyers failed to make the playoffs last year. Goaltending wouldn't have been such a concern if Holmgren hadn't traded Sergei Bobrovsky to the Columbus Blue Jackets. All Bobrovsky did was help turn a perennial doormat into a playoff contender and win the Vezina Trophy.

Now the Flyers are banking on Steve Mason and Ray Emery in goal. Mason has struggled mightily since winning the Calder Trophy with Columbus in 2008-09, and Emery was terrific as a backup in Chicago last season but doesn't have the benefit of playing behind the Blackhawks' rock-solid defense.

Holmgren didn't do much to upgrade a blue-line corps that would be considerably stronger if Chris Pronger was healthy. Sadly, concussion and eye issues have effectively ended his career.

In fairness, Holmgren did try to snare Shea Weber from the Nashville Predators when the stud defenseman became a free agent two summers ago, tendering a 14-year, $110 million offer sheet that Weber signed. But Nashville matched the offer, having already lost Ryan Suter, who left to sign with the Minnesota Wild.

There were no such defensemen available this offseason, and the Flyers defense just got older with the free-agent signings of Mark Streit, 35, and Hal Gill, 38. At least Kimmo Timonen, 38, only has one year left before his contract expires.

In short, the Flyers are banking on yet another new coach, a couple of journeymen goalies and a suspect defense in an attempt to regain some of the glory that has been so elusive since the team won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975.

Good luck with that.