Let's cut Paul Holmgren some slack Balance favors GM despite recent slips.

Posted: March 08, 2009

For all his good work in the last two-plus seasons, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren deserves a mulligan.

If managing a hockey team is described in golf terms, Holmgren has been under par on most of the courses he has played since assuming his duties on Nov. 11, 2006.

But, backed against the $56.7 million salary cap because of his previous moves, he scored a triple-bogey recently.

First, he tried to clear cap space by sneaking popular veterans Glen Metropolit and Ossi Vaananen through waivers. Both were claimed by other teams.

Second, because defenseman Kimmo Timonen was suffering from the flu, Holmgren needed to recall a defenseman from the Phantoms for last Sunday's showdown in New Jersey, but didn't have enough cap room. So down to the Phantoms went one of his most dynamic players, forward Claude Giroux, to open space for minor-league defenseman Nate Guenin.

Third, he overpaid dearly for Phoenix left winger Daniel Carcillo by sending fleet left winger Scottie Upshall and a No. 2 draft pick in 2011 to the Coyotes - all because he needed to free cap room so he wouldn't have to send down Giroux again if someone was injured.

Three moves. Bogey, bogey, bogey. Or worse.

Still, Holmgren has his team in position to make a long playoff run this season - provided center Danny Briere's latest groin injury doesn't drain his effectiveness and he returns to last year's playoff form.

Yes, that's a big if, considering that Briere has been sidelined four times, undergone two surgeries, and played in just 12 games this season.

His latest injury occurred in Thursday's listless 5-1 loss to powerful Calgary (the NHL's best team no one knows), but it wasn't as serious as first feared, and Briere is hopeful he can return Tuesday against Buffalo.

"He's a huge part of our team and our power play," veteran winger Mike Knuble said, "and if he has to take a couple of extra days to get healthy again," so be it. "Hopefully, it doesn't turn out to be a washed-out year for him."

If Briere comes back strong, the Flyers will have three dependable lines for the playoffs. If he ends up being sidelined or ineffective the rest of the season, it will make the cap moves that much more painful, and the Flyers will miss Upshall's speed and Metropolit's playoff experience and penalty-killing, along with the depth he provided at center.

The Upshall trade wasn't popular with the fans. Upshall represented the type of player who complements teams in today's speed-first NHL.

Carcillo, who took a league high of 174 penalty minutes into the weekend, represents the type of player who characterized the Broad Street Bullies in the 1970s.

To his credit, Carcillo has reduced his dumb penalties this season. That's the good news.

The bad news: He scored just three goals in 54 games with Phoenix this season. Last season, he had 13 goals in 57 games.

Carcillo, who lost three front teeth courtesy of a high stick from Anaheim's Brendan Mikkelson two months ago, cited a lack of playing time for the dip in production.

"I've never had a year where I've had three goals, and it's disheartening and it's disappointing," Carcillo said after arriving in Philadelphia. "But I just have to keep working hard, and the goals will come."

Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky has criticized Carcillo for his "selfish" penalties. But it's also worth noting that Gretzky also once compared Carcillo to a poor man's Rick Tocchet.

That was probably wishful thinking. Tocchet, after all, had seven seasons with more than 25 goals (and three seasons with 40 or more) in a 440-goal career, and his minor-league numbers were much more impressive than Carcillo's.

But Carcillo does give the Flyers a much-needed presence in front of the net - like Knuble and winger Scott Hartnell on the first two lines - and his physicality will create space for Giroux and, if healthy, Briere.

Yes, the Flyers overpaid for him. But when you consider where the Flyers were two seasons ago - 56 points, the fewest in the NHL - Holmgren deserves some slack.

Despite the failure to land a much-needed defenseman at Wednesday's trade deadline, the Flyers are in a better position than they were last year before the playoffs, and they reached the conference finals.

They are in a better position, that is, provided the team's great chemistry wasn't ruined by the three cap-related moves.

The 20 remaining players in the locker room will determine that. It's up to them to decide whether Holmgren's yearly scorecard features many birdies.

Spectrum flashback. The Flyers' played Kate Smith's "God Bless America" for the first time before their 6-3 win over Toronto on Dec. 11, 1969. That started a three-year period in which they were 19-1-1 with her recording - and 31-38-28 in home games without her song. You could look it up.

Read Sam Carchidi's Flyers blog, Broad Street Bull, at http://go.philly.com/sports.

Blog response of the week

Subject: Trading Scottie Upshall and a draft pick for Daniel Carcillo.

Posted by: yahmpy 4:57 a.m., March 5, 2009.

I can't wait to see how much time Carcillo gets in the playoffs. Wasn't one of the stigmas for Steve Downie getting shuttled out of Philly his inability to avoid stupid penalties? Especially the few times he got a chance to play in the playoffs? The Flyers didn't get [Jay] Bouwmeester because the Panthers probably kept getting dumber and dumber with their demands, and that's fine. But Homer better [darn] well make the cap space when Bouwmeester makes himself available in the summer time, and if that means moving one of those horrible contracts like Briere's, well, he better start laying the groundwork to find out where some of those NTC (no-trade clause) guys would like to get traded to.

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