So as everyone is trying to figure out what Holmgren has been doing over the last two weeks, I found a quote in an article that seems to wrap it all up into a cohesive plan. The quote from Peter Luukko from an article on Philly.com is “Our whole goal in the off-season was to strengthen the goaltending, keep the defense intact, and get bigger, faster and stronger up front. Paul accomplished that."
So first let’s take a look at why the Flyers made these huge moves. First the Bruins dominated Philly all year going 3-1 during the regular season and sweeping them easily in the playoffs. The Flyers were too small on the wing and the Bruins overmatched Philly physically. Our wings were Carter, Leino, Hartnell, JVR, Carcillo, Powe, Versteeg, and Nodl. So gone from this list are the small guys Versteeg, Carcillo and Powe. While Carter is a big guy he used his size more to create shots than to punish someone physically. Leino played more like Carter using his stocky build to handle the puck, but he was not big either. If you noticed during the season the successful lines for the Flyers seemed to always have Hartnell on the wing. He creates space and with Briere and Leino they were tearing up the league. When JVR had a slow start, Hartnell played some stretches with Giroux and Carter and WHAM-O, Carter got hot. But there was just not enough Hartnell and JVR to go around the 4 lines.
Additionally at center the Flyers were not big with Giroux, Briere, Richards, and Betts. Betts is effective as a penalty killer. Briere is a special talent that plays much larger than his size. Giroux is following the lead of Briere and Richards by playing larger than his size, but there are limits to how much damage a smaller man can do to a larger man.
Somehow the Flyers had really become small on the forward line. Other teams began to use this size advantage against Philly and that could be why during the 2nd half of the season the pounding began to take effect as the Flyers played roughly .500 hockey from the all-star break into the playoffs. They barely eliminated a weak Buffalo Sabres and were quite frankly crushed by Boston.
Of course the elephant in the room is that the goaltending was not great either. This has been a long running theme around Philly and we must all be honest, the Flyers won the 2 Stanley Cups in the 1970s as a direct result of the goaltending. Parent was easily the best goalie in the league (or planet) and he along with the defense shut down two of the most offense teams of the era in back to back championships.
So now at one point Philly was 2 games from the Cup and now they knocked it all down to start over? I do not think so. Last summer there really were not any franchise goalies around but this summer there was one. Holmgren made his big move first in the summer by getting Bryzgalov negotiating rights and hammering out a contract. Then he knew what he had to clear from the salary cap during the summer.
Back to the job he was given, improve the goaltending. Complete Bryzgalov and Bobrovsky is a superior tandem in the NHL. Mission accomplished. The second part of the mission was to keep the defense together. That means that everyone that felt that Matt Carle or Braydon Coburn was casualties was flat out wrong. I was in this camp as I thought the team would promote young Gustaffson to the Flyers to fill the hole left by a departure of one of these two, but I did not hear the mandate from the boss.
So now the forwards are small and as a group did not play physically. Now it is time to make some changes. But how can you justify a trade of Richards. The only way that you can move Mike is if you get a bigger version of him back plus increase the size on the wing. The Flyers have had their eye on Simmonds for over a year and his name came up in rumors last season as well. Add to that Brayden Schenn who is easily the most coveted player outside the NHL and it became decision time. Richards played all of last season injured and perhaps the team figured that playing the game as hard as he does he will not be the effective player of 2 years ago more than the ineffective player he was last season . So the trigger was pulled. Schenn is bigger than Richards and was the #5 overall pick in the draft. After watching him at the WJC last season, that kid was clearly making a statement that he is ready for the NHL now. Simmonds plays the game like the puck is his property and if you have it he is big enough to physically take it away from you. He is a bull with enough hands to chip in 20+ goals in the mold of Scott Hartnell.
Carter presented a different problem to trade. He was easily the best scorer on the team. He can score from anywhere in the zone. So if you trade a talent like that, you better get something special back. Jakub Voracek is a guy that is coming off his entry level contract and at the same point in their careers has actually scored 2 more NHL points than Carter. Granted he has played in a smaller market team and gotten more ice time than Carter did early on, but this kid is super talented also. Not the sniper type of player but more of a big body winger than takes the puck in danger zones. In addition Holmgren got the #8 pick overall and turned that into the early #1 prospect who was ill last year early and the scouts picked him apart. I have not seen him play, but the people that have called him easily one of the top few guys in the draft and that the Flyers literally stole him at 8.
Now comes July 1 and the free agency signings. Who was the most talented and biggest winger available? Cole? Ryder? Nope Jaromir Jagr was the answer. The man has always been a bull and now at 230lbs with the same skilled hands will be next to Hartnell and Briere this season or perhaps on the right next to JVR and Giroux. I do not look at this signing as a Peter Forsberg type, I equate this more to Roenick. Clearly not the skills of the prime, but still a damn fine hockey player. The other issue with the Flyers was the grinder that just beats you into submission. Holmgren again found a classic player in Talbot to fill the Lappy role. At this point in his career, Talbot has a whole lot more left than Lappy did when he joined the Flyers and he will be a great addition. Finally they added a 6th defenseman that can skate a little more than O’Donnell and can play the game.
There are still some moves that cannot be made until the season starts. Lappy will go on LTIR. Leighton will be waived along with Shelley and sent to the Phantoms. Do any of the kids that Holmgren has signed out of college the last few springs crack the line-up? There are some late blooming blue chips in the bunch.
So how does this team line up early? Well up front only Giroux and Briere can be classified as smaller guys. All of a sudden the Flyers are big and fast up front.
JVR – Giroux – Voracek
Hartnell – Briere – Jagr
Talbot – Schenn – Simmonds
- Betts -
There are some forward spots open and the competition will be tough. Schenn is not guaranteed a spot. Reed is supposed to be a scorer. Can he push someone down a spot? Mike Testwuide is a big body. Eric Wellwood is a great skater. Do these guys or even first pick Sean Couturier crack the roster? The Hockey News last year predicted he was NHL ready. Does one of these kids crack the 3rd line and make a monster 4th line with Talbot and Betts?
The defense remains basically the same, but there will be competition for #6 between Lila and the young guys like Marshall and Gustafsson. By having the bigger wings and the ability to pound at the other end of the rink, some of the pressure should be taken off the defense and hopefully some of the pounding they absorbed last year. Also bigger stronger wings on the wall in the defensive zone should help get the 50/50 pucks out of the zone more often.
The results of this quick makeover will not be known until the next few seasons are over. Many are saying that Holmgren was crazy to make the moves he made and that a big move is still coming. I am sticking to my opinion that the trade for Bryzgalov was the BIG move and the rest were the ripples around the move. Homer also followed the roadmap that the front office created; better goaltending, keep the defense, and bigger faster up front.
Good Night and Good Hockey!