Inside the Flyers: Slumping Flyers put Holmgren on the hot seat

Paul Holmgren engineered a dramatic turnaround when he became general manager of the Flyers, but the team has regressed since reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010.
Paul Holmgren engineered a dramatic turnaround when he became general manager of the Flyers, but the team has regressed since reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 21, 2013

About a month ago, the big boss, Ed Snider, was the picture of optimism.

The Flyers chairman said that last season was an aberration, that the players had a much better rapport this year, that the three newcomers - Vinny Lecavalier, Mark Streit, and Ray Emery - would contribute mightily to a turnaround.

Snider also insisted that, even if the Flyers got off to a shaky start, coach Peter Laviolette and general manager Paul Holmgren had job security.

The Flyers began the season 0-3. Laviolette was fired.

The Flyers are now 1-7 and have scored a total of 11 goals. Is Holmgren next?

No, said Peter Luukko, president of the Flyers' parent company, Comcast-Spectacor.

Though obviously not satisfied with the early-season results, Luukko said that Holmgren's job is not in jeopardy, that the team just needs time to adjust to new coach Craig Berube's system.

Luukko was not alarmed by the results of a recent philly.com poll. Heading into the weekend, more than 4,400 people had responded when asked if Holmgren should be replaced.

Almost 93 percent said yes.

"When things aren't going well, the timing of the poll is what directly relates to the answers," Luukko said the other day. "To us, it doesn't mean anything."

Fans are angry - not just because the team isn't winning and isn't entertaining, but because of a lack of a 60-minute commitment. The Flyers disappeared for an entire period in a lot of games last season, and that head-scratching trend continued in Thursday's 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh. It's one thing to have a lackluster period in a midseason game in, say, Buffalo. But to be embarrassed in a second period - the Penguins had a 17-5 shots advantage and looked as if they were on a power play for almost the entire 20 minutes - in a home game against your bitter archrivals?!

The knee-jerk reaction is to blame the general manager for the Flyers' fall - from a Stanley Cup finalist in 2010, to winning one playoff round in 2011 and 2012, to missing the playoffs in 2013 for just the second time in the last 18 seasons, to this 1-7 disaster.

Holmgren is the one who gave the crazy contract to Ilya Bryzgalov (nine years, $51 million). The Flyers ate the final seven years of the deal, costing the franchise $23 million.

Holmgren is the one who traded away last season's Vezina-winning goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky - though, from here, more blame has to go to Laviolette for the way he lost confidence in him in the 2011 playoffs, causing a panic signing of Bryzgalov.

Holmgren is the one who has assembled an offensively inept team, while traded-away players such as Jeff Carter, Joffrey Lupul, James van Riemsdyk, and Mike Richards are flourishing around the league. And he's the one whose slow, aging defense is the highest-paid in the NHL, thanks to some extremely questionable contracts he handed out. (See Kimmo Timonen's $6 million extension.)

But Holmgren is also the guy who turned around the NHL's worst franchise. In 2007-08, his first full season as the GM, Holmgren's team made a 39-point improvement and reached the conference finals. Holmgren's the guy who brought in productive players and transformed the Flyers from a 22-48-12 team in 2006-07 to four straight seasons of 40-plus wins - and two seasons of 100-plus points.

That past success is why Holmgren deserves to have this season to try to turn things around.

And Holmgren, who is in his 35th year with the organization, was a victim of circumstance: The concussion that ended Chris Pronger's career set the Flyers back dramatically because of the players and draft picks they had given up for the future Hall of Famer.

The Flyers have not been the same team without Pronger. His leadership, as much as his dominance on the blue line, has been sorely missing. If the Flyers took a period off, as they did Thursday, Pronger would be in their faces. Compounding matters is the fact the Flyers' young players have regressed since they stunned the Stanley Cup-favorite Penguins in the first round of the 2012 playoffs.

That regression got Laviolette fired and, despite the front-office denials, appears to have Holmgren on the hot seat.

The ironic part about the Flyers' 1-7 start is that one of Holmgren's better moves - acquiring Steve Mason late last season - has gotten lost because of the team's inept offense. Yes, Mason's sample is small, but the Flyers seem to have finally found a gifted young goalie to build around.

Maybe the pieces around Mason will fall into place as the players adapt to Berube's system and veteran forwards Lecavalier and Scott Hartnell return from injuries.

If they don't and this team misses the playoffs for back-to-back years for the first time since 1993 and 1994, Ron Hextall is waiting in the wings.

The general manager is on the clock.


scarchidi@phillynews.com

@BroadStBull

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