After disposing of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter via trades last June, Philadelphia Flyers fans thought their team was done for—that Paul Holmgren had lost his mind, much like he did behind the Flyers' bench as head coach once upon a time.
People who follow the team in depth knew there was a method to Holmgren's madness. We knew the trades were actually an addition via subtraction.
And while none of the players acquired in the trades may actually fill the skates left vacant by Richards and Carter, rookie Sean Couturier may have something to say about that.
The new guys will provide a nice backdrop to the rising stars already in the Flyers' ranks.
They said the Flyers wouldn't be able to score without Richards and Carter, that James Van Riemsdyk and Claude Giroux wouldn't be able to score on opposing teams' top defenses, and that Philly would struggle to make the playoffs.
Apparently, they paid too much attention to fantasy league stat sheets because, right now, the Flyers are in first place in the Eastern Conference.
Boy, were the critics wrong.
But I have to admit that I, too, expected them to be around fourth or fifth place. Being wrong never felt so right.
Holmgren knew exactly what he was doing. He signed all-time leading scorer Jaromir Jagr—who, by the way, is averaging just under a point per game—to a one-year, $3 million deal.
The skeptics had a field-day with the Jagr signing, too. While I admit their skepticism was warranted regarding what Jagr could still do after three seasons outside the NHL playing for Avangard Omsk in Russia's KHL, the fact that this move was viewed as foolish now seems silly.
Jagr was a point-per-game player in Russia last season. Did the Flyers expect him to be that here? No, but they did expect him to replace the scoring role left by departed Ville Leino.
Leino, who left the Flyers for a $4.5 million-a-year deal in Buffalo, only has five points so far this season, while Jagr has 17.
Getting back to the Richards and Carter-less Flyers not being able to score theory, Philly is currently tied with Chicago for most points scored, at 67.
There are currently nine players on the Flyers roster who could conceivably score 20 or more goals. I don't think all nine will, but I believe at least five will reach that plateau.
Claude Giroux could possibly win not only the Art Ross trophy, but the Hart or Lindsay trophies too. He could also possibly hit the 50-goal mark this year.
The other skeptical concern for the orange and black was netminder Ilya Bryzgalov's ability to perform in Philadelphia. That worry was nothing but total misguided conjecture.
Is there some sort of magical force-field that would supposedly prevent Bryzgalov from succeeding in the City of Brotherly Love?
Despite Philly beating Phoenix last night, Bryzgalov is clearly on a better team in terms of depth and scoring. Last season, the Coyotes only had one forward able to surpass the 20-goal mark, Shane Doan.
That means, without a potent offense, Bryzgalov had to be lights-out, which he was. How else do you explain Phoenix making the playoffs?
Bryzgalov's tenure in Philadelphia has already seen a couple bumps in the road.
Since his poor outing in relief of Sergie Bobrovsky against the Winnipeg Jets, Bryzgalov's numbers are 1.66 GAA, .943 save percentage, and a record of 5-0-1.
His signing was mandated when team owner and president Ed Snider said, "You will never see that again," following the Flyers' atrocious playoff exit after starting three different goalies.
Something had to be done about the uncertainty in net. Just as a football team can't win without a quarterback, or a baseball team without pitching, a hockey team can't win without a good goalie.
Ilya Bryzgalov is just that—an elite starting goalie. You could argue the Flyers overpaid for him, but look around the NHL; quality net-minders warrant a cap hit above $5 million.
The term is quite long, but in nine years, will the Flyers suddenly not need a goalie? If Bryzgalov thinks he can under-perform and be tolerated with that contract, he should go ask Carter and Richards about that.
I seriously doubt Carter is enjoying his stay in Columbus. Richards, on the other hand, probably does enjoy his new home, but his pride is no doubt still bruised.
The bottom line is it's Snider's money paying Bryzgalov, and if push comes to shove, the Flyers have shown they can move huge contract players who don't perform as desired.
Sometimes we have to refrain from falling in love with players. The stat sheets only tell so much of the story.
In sports, there are other things than points and records. There is coming through in the clutch, sticking up for teammates, and just plain getting it done. These things are not tangible stats.
As a general manager it was Holmgren's job to see these things. He did.
For now, the doubts in Philly have been put to bed; Holmgren isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
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