If there were any lingering doubts about who was in control of the Flyers franchise, they were answered when GM Paul Holmgren traded away team captain Mike Richards and leading scorer Jeff Carter for four 22-and-under players in Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier.
In the eyes of the Philadelphia sports world, Holmgren committed a most grievous sin: he traded proven talent for prospects. He showed the face of his franchise the door.
He traded the only natural goal scorer on his roster to Columbus. He obliterated the core of a team less than 13 months removed from a Stanley Cup Finals appearance. After he was finished there, Holmgren proceeded to ship fan-favorite Darroll Powe to Minnesota and under-performing winger Kris Versteeg to Florida. To cap it all off, he allowed 2010 playoff hero Ville Leino to walk in free agency, signing with the rival Buffalo Sabres.
In a span of less than two weeks, Holmgren turned over nearly half of his team's roster. Now, let's be clear: Philadelphia fans understand that older players on the back nine of their careers might need to be let go.
They understand that adjustments must be made to the roster in order to adapt to an ever-changing NHL game. They even understand that sometimes sacrifices must be made in order to put the best product on the ice. But they don't understand destroying a young core ready to enter its prime. Not when a team is on the cusp of winning it all.
But the reality of the situation is that the Flyers were not as close to winning it all in 2010-11 as the Philadelphia faithful believed. The team was small along the boards. The goaltending was mediocre at best. The stars were not shining. The offense was not clicking. The powerplay was powerless.
The effort on the ice was lackadaisical at best during the second half of the season. The competitive fire, that burning hunger to win that fueled the team's magical run to the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals, was gone from the Flyers bench.
None of this changes that fact that GM Holmgren blew up the young core of a team that came within two wins of the franchise's first Stanley Cup since 1974-75. And for better or worse, Holmgren's legacy as a GM will be forever tied to the moves he made this offseason.
The question now becomes: if the Flyers falter, how long will Holmgren still be the GM?
Looking back on this offseason, it has become clear that the Flyers organization is moving in a different direction. The coaching carousel that plagued the team during Bobby Clarke's tenure as GM has been eliminated. The goaltender situation has been definitively resolved for the foreseeable future.
For the first time in many years, the Flyer locker room belongs to a coach and a (presumptive) Captain who are on the same line of the same page. These changes represent the first time in a long time that the franchise has truly gone back to the basics in an attempt to re-capture the spirit that allowed it to win back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975.
The credit for these changes must go to Holmgren. Flyers chairman Ed Snider knows that. Team president Peter Luuko knows that. The Flyers faithful, deep down in places they don't talk about at parties, knows that.
This team will falter at times. There will be growing pains. But there will also be flashes of dominance. There will be victories that would not have been possible with last year's team. There will be all-out effort every night. The stomping the Bruins handed the Flyers in the 2011 playoffs will not happen again.
For the first time in a long time, the Flyers franchise is on the right path not just for one Stanley Cup victory, but for a genuine opportunity to re-establish itself as an NHL dynasty. And that potential will allow Holmgren to keep his job, even if the Flyers falter. The future is bright in Philadelphia. And that is surely to his credit.
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