Atthis time last year, the Philadelphia Flyers had a different look. They were swept out of the second round,which prompted GM Paul Holmgren to boldly reconfigure the look of his roster inthe off-season. Holmgren receivedcriticism for the makeover he orchestrated, but it has proved to be successful– so far.
Holmgrenchanged the identity of the Flyers in a matter of moments. On June 23rd, superstars Mike Richards andJeff Carter were traded hours apart, to Los Angeles and Columbus,respectively. Those deals were succeededby the signing of Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year mega contract.
TheFlyers as we knew them were history. Gone were the doubts between the pipes (at the time). Gone were fan favorites, star forwards andthe team’s captain. But it was all forthe better.
Thecomposite package Holmgren received in return for Richards and Carter, eachfirst-round picks of the Flyers back in 2003, not only is going to help theFlyers for long haul but it made an impact this season and in their first-roundseries victory against rival Pittsburgh.
ForRichards, the Flyers absorbed Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn from LosAngeles. Simmonds, 23, doubled his2010-11 goal total with 28 tallies in his first season as a Flyer. Schenn, 20, was viewed as the NHL’s topprospect at the time of the trade and had 18 points in 54 games.
ForCarter, the Flyers obtained Jake Voracek and the eighth overall pick in thedraft, which turned into Sean Couturier. Voracek, 22, was inconsistent but finished the year with 49 points in asecond- and third-line role. Couturier,19, is mature beyond his years and boasted a plus-18 rating on the season.
Thosefour players, all young, combined for 21 points in the just-completed firstround and all contributed to an offense that finished the season with thethird-most goals. Additionally, havingSimmonds, Schenn, Voracek and Couturier has given head coach Peter Laviolettemore options and more depth to work with up front.
Thetrading of Richards and Carter also allowed Claude Giroux to blossom into oneof the league’s more dynamic, complete players.
Girouxposted a career-high 93 points, good for third in the league behind EvgeniMalkin and Steven Stamkos. Giroux alsowas a leading MVP candidate before (a) his concussion and (b) Malkin startedplaying on another planet. But Giroux,with a playoff-best 14 points, vastly outplayed Malkin in the first round.
Wouldall of this have happened for Giroux if Richards and Carter were stillaround? Maybe, but I doubt it. Giroux became the clear-cut, top offensivethreat for the Flyers, and was a matchup nightmare for opponents alongsideScott Hartnell and Jaromir Jagr. Holmgren knew the potential Giroux had, which made Richards and Carterexpendable.
Asmuch scrutiny Holmgren faced for signing Bryzgalov to his long-term contract,there were more doubters when it came to signing Jagr during the free agentfrenzy. Jagr was 39 years old at thetime and hadn’t played NHL hockey since 2008. Even more curious was the $3.3 million Holmgren paid Jagr to go toPhiladelphia instead of Pittsburgh.
Itwas a risky signing for sure, but it was a risk worth taking. Jagr displayed instant chemistry with Girouxand Hartnell on the top line. ThoughJagr tallied a career-low 54 points, his NHL comeback was more successful thanmany imagined – and that’s a testament to the Flyers organization for rollingthe dice on a high-profile individual like Jagr.
Asit turned out, though, Jagr wasn’t the highest profile signing byHolmgren. It was Bryzgalov.
MichaelLeighton and Brian Boucher may have combined to lead the Flyers to a StanleyCup final appearance in 2010, but by no means did it overshadow the fact thatthe franchise hadn’t yet solved its goaltending issues that have haunted them foryears. So Holmgren decided to signBryzgalov to be the Flyers’ goalie for the next decade.
Themarriage between Bryzgalov – as known as Mr. Universe – and the organizationhasn’t gotten off to the most ideal start. His media antics have rubbed people the wrong way, and his unnecessaryactions away from the ice may have impacted his play for the firstthree-fourths of the season.
Downthe stretch, though, he escaped from the woods and left his thermos in thelocker room. The man they call ‘Bryz’earned First Star honors for the NHL in March by going 10-2-1 with a 1.43goals-against average. It seemed as ifhis woes were solved, but his game hasn’t been the same since a late-seasonminor foot fracture. He maintained an.848 playoff save percentage going into Sunday’s contest.
However,that didn’t stop Bryzgalov from having a clutch 30-save performance in Game 6 toclose out Pittsburgh. If the Flyershappen to get through the Eastern Conference, Bryzgalov will have to play morelike he did on Sunday.
Backto the big picture with Mr. Universe.
Itcertainly wasn’t the season Holmgren imagined for his new goaltender. And who knows what kind of domino effectChris Pronger’s injury had on the rest of the back end. But signing Bryzgalov was the only routeHolmgren could take if he wanted to make a big improvement in goal withoutsurrendering anything off his roster. Time will tell whether the signing was worth it or not.
Ithasn’t taken much time to determine that Holmgren did the right thing bychanging the look of the Flyers’ roster. Some felt that Holmgren put his job on the line this season by makingthe array of moves. It has worked sofar.
Theyoung quartet of players Holmgren acquired has made immediate impacts in theirown right. Giroux obviously tookadvantage of the opportunity without having Richards and Carter – both of whomhad down years and now reside in Los Angeles – in his way. Jagr and Bryzgalov, when on top of theirgame, were clutch at key times.
Asyou congratulate the Flyers on knocking off Pittsburgh and advancing to thesecond round, give Holmgren a pat on the back as well. Without his bold off-season maneuvering, wemay be talking about a different story this season for the Orange and Black.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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