Paul Holmgren Realizing The Need For Toughness

Doug DonofrioCorrespondent IJuly 2, 2009

OTTAWA, ON - JUNE 04:  General Manager, Paul Holmgren of the Philadelphia Flyers speaks to the media during the NHL general managers meeting on June 4, 2007 at the Brookstreet Hotel in Ottawa, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

I have my ideas why the Flyers lost to Pittsburgh in this years playoff series. I am sure many of the fans and media have their own views as well.

I cannot stop thinking about that series; the loose pucks in front, Crosby hanging around the crease, turnovers in the neutral zone, Briere and Gagne avoiding the likes of Kunitz, Staahl, and Talbot like the plague, and Fleury swiping pucks out of the air like a mosquito trap.

What general manager Paul Holmgren has done this offseason has been quite impressive. The acquisitions of Emery, Boucher, Pronger, Dingle, and Laperriere is a great start to changing the dynamics, chemistry, and synergy of this hockey team.

If we look back at this Flyers team now as it stacked up to that dreadful loss to Pittsburgh two years ago in the Eastern Conference finals, we are only shocked to realize that Kapanen, Thoreson, Umberger, Dowd, Prospal, Lupul, Upshall, Knuble, Cote, and Biron, all major pieces, are no longer with us.

I guess we could assume the cap issue confronting Holmgren had something to do with this. Looking deeper I think there may be something else. What Holmgren may be realizing is that although the skilled hockey player sells the tickets, it may be the gritty tough players that eventually hold the silver chalice in June.

In both playoff losses, in consecutive years, it wasn't necessarily the Crosby's, Malkin's, Gonchar's and Sykora's that did the Flyers in, it was the Guerin's, Talbot's, Kennedy's, Kunitz's, and Letang's.

Don't get me wrong, when you have Fleury, Crosby, Malkin, Gonchar, and Staal that is not a bad place to start.

In the playoffs however, it is those not so visible plays and players that make all the difference; the grit to secure the puck in the corner, the struggles along the wall leading to a goal in front, the hustling backchecker who thwarts an odd-man rush the other way, and the dropping of the gloves by Talbot in game 6 down 3-0 on the road.

Certainly the additions that Holmgren has made this offseason have gone a long way toward closing the gap with the Penguins. What will need to happen which probably won't is to move either Gagne or Briere for a physical gritty winger who can also score.

Twirling around the ice like ballerinas only gets high marks during the winter Olympic Games.

Carcillo, Dingle if he makes the club, Laperriere, Powe, and Asham will need to produce offensively as well as provide the grit and toughness this team is looking for. They will have to get the job done much like Kennedy, Dupuis, Guerin, Talbot, Adams, and Satan of Pittsburgh.

Carter, Briere, Gagne, and Giroux not only have to be counted on to score, but, yes, they have to be willing to grind it out in tough areas of the ice, hit, and take a hit much like their compatriots Richards, and Hartnell do game after game.

The message has been sent by Holmgren. When he acquired Pronger, Dingle, Laperriere, and Emery, this meant more than just four names to fill out the roster. It was a statement for this team to get tougher and play with a sense of urgency, and more emphatically play with a fire in the belly.

You cannot turn it off and on as the Flyers seem to do more than usual.

Ask Talbot, Kennedy, and Adams and they will tell you what we already know.