Holmgren on the deadline clock

Posted: March 05, 2014

HOMER IS on the clock. Two weeks after Sam Hinkie gutted most of the remaining fiber of the woeful 76ers, 3 weeks after Ruben Amaro Jr. flew to Florida with his fingers and toes crossed, it is Paul Holmgren's turn to restore our lost confidence - or relinquish any that remains.

Howie Roseman? He made some nice re-signings last week, but his next big splash will come with the NFL draft in early May.

This week belongs to the Flyers general manager who, like Amaro, has been toasted and roasted by fans over a tenure that is now in its eighth season. Like Amaro's, his moves and trades have led to near titles and playoff appearances as well as spectacular crashes and flops. Like Amaro, he could use a win or two, and soon.

The NHL trade deadline is tomorrow at 3 p.m. The Flyers, resurgent under first-year coach Craig Berube, are back in the dogfight for a potential playoff spot, and could sure use a push. Holmgren, I was told when I tried to speak with him yesterday, has been on the phone attempting to do just that.

He's getting scoring. He's getting goaltending. He could use another blue liner, particularly one like Winnipeg's Dustin Byfuglien, a 6-5 Mack Truck best known in these parts for battling with Chris Pronger during the 2010 Stanley Cup finals - the apex of Holmgren's tenure to this point.

When Homer traded away the farm to get Pronger during the summer of 2009, he did so under the premise he would get a few runs from the mid-30s defenseman. He might have, too, if not for Pronger's career-ending eye and head injuries. But then again, Amaro didn't plan on Roy Halladay's rapid decline or Ryan Howard's two-season injury woes or Carlos Ruiz' Adderall issues or . . . you get the gist.

But the job is about thinking on your feet, about rescuing bad situations. Pat Gillick's early tenure was marked by watching Billy Wagner walk and signing Freddy Garcia and Adam Eaton to big free-agent contracts. As bold as Hinkie's plan is, his resume gives little clue as to whether he has the acumen to make it work. And we're still not quite sure whether Howie really knows how to draft and sign players, or whether Chip really knows how to coach 'em.

In fact, there's a ton of uncertainty about all our GMs these days. At times in the past, our beam has narrowed onto one of them. Rarely has it been like this, the men in charge of the four pro sports in this town engaged in a sort of Russian roulette, each replacing the other as the subject of civic second-guessing and downright vitriol, before the next one's actions or inactions push them out of public view until it is their turn again.

There is no order to it, no season for it. Holmgren replaced Roseman when his Stanley Cup-caliber coach was fired three games into a hockey season that had all the makings of a house-cleaning disaster. Hinkie took some heat off Amaro and his underwhelming hot-stove moves 2 weeks ago when he conducted the NBA equivalent of donating unwanted clothes to the Salvation Army, trading away three players for second-round picks that he hopes will increase his purchasing power ever-so-slightly in the offseason.

Did I say offseason? Oops, sorry. This is the Sixers' offseason, just as the summer of 2012 was for the Phils, when they traded away two All-Star-caliber outfielders for the equivalent of second-round picks. But whereas Hinkie's in-season offseason is purposefully aimed at a more promising future 2 or 3 years from now, Amaro's summer clearance of Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence that season now seems premature, given his current commitment to now, not later. He is crossing any and all remaining digits that 36-year-old Marlon Byrd will continue his renaissance and that Domonic Brown can repeat the solid season he finally put together last summer, at age 25.

I say remaining digits because the Phillies GM has already used both hands and most of his toes this spring on his aging core and some high-risk pitching bets. In that, he is not unlike Holmgren, who used a big chunk of cap space last summer on free-agent defenseman Mark Streit and forward Vinny Lecavalier after buying out the contracts of wildly popular forward Danny Briere and wildly unpopular goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov - whose $7 million annual deal triggered many of the moves that have led to Holmgren's unpopularity.

The Flyers began the season 1-7, scoring 11 goals in those games. Of the 4,400 readers who responded to a philly.com poll at the time, 93 percent said Holmgren should follow Laviolette out the door. Even owner Ed Snider, while issuing a tepid vote of confidence, made it clear that Homer needed to fix things quickly - or else.

Lecavalier's overtime winner Sunday was his 14th goal of the season but second in as many games. Like the team, he seems to be gaining health and momentum at the best time. The Flyers were an easy team to play against in October. They are the polar opposite these days.

They're getting scoring. They're getting goaltending. They just need a little push.

Homer is on the clock.

You other three GMs, take a breather.

Email: donnels@phillynews.com

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