Paul Holmgren has been known to be one of the most unpredictable General Manager's in the game. He has made great moves that left fans singing in the streets, and others that made you flat out face palm. But, in short, Holmgren's tenure was one that was filled with numerous ups and downs.
Holmgren inherited a car-wreck of a hockey team in 2006-07 that former Flyers General Manager Bob Clarke had assembled. They were old, slow and had a disastrous goaltending duo between the pipes in Robert Esche and Antero Niittymaki. Holmgren did all he could in that season (which ended with Philly in 30th place with their worst season in franchise history), as he slowly began to re-build. Over the course of the season, Holmgren acquired Martin Biron, Braydon Coburn, Ryan Parent, Scottie Upshall and Lasse Kukkonen. He got young, cheap players while also getting a stable goalie between the pipes to close out the season.
The 2007 off-season is where Homer began to pick up the tempo. He traded a 1st round pick to Nashville to obtain the rights to Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell. He then moved Joni Pitkanen, Petr Nedved and a 3rd round pick to Edmonton for Jason Smith and Joffrey Lupul. Homgren concluded everything by nabbing Danny Briere, the most coveted free agent, on July.1.
The Flyers were competitive for two more seasons, but they never quite got over the hump due to sub-par goaltending and mediocre defense. Holmgren had arguably his best off-season in 2009 when he addressed these issues.
Holmgren traded for star-studded defenseman Chris Pronger, which instantly made the Flyers cup-contenders. He followed it up by signing goaltenders Ray Emery and Brian Boucher, while adding veteran Ian Lapperiere to an already all-star forward core. Holmgren had built a team that featured Mike Richards, Danny Briere, Simon Gagne, Jeff Carter, Scott Hartnell, James van Riemsdyk and Claude Giroux on the top three lines. In addition, Pronger led the way on defense, which also featured Timonen, Coburn and Matt Carle. Throw Emery (a solid starter) in the net, and they were cup bound. This is arguably the best roster Holmgren ever assembled.
But after a great push to the Cup Final, the Flyers fell short to the mighty Blackhawks. With Emery sidelined, Philly was forced to role with Michael Leighton and Boucher in net. The Flyers goaltending was greatly exposed by Chicago, as well as their lack of depth on the third defense pair that featured Lukas Kraijcek and one of Oskars Bartulis or Ryan Parent.
The summer of 2010 is where Holmgren began his downward spiral as the Flyers' General Manager. A series of moves in the summer following the cup-final appearance is what ruined the Flyers' cup hopes. They needed to add defensive depth and grab a starting goaltender, plain and simple. He added Andrej Meszaros and Sean O'Donnell in decent moves to sure up the back-end, but lost the confidence of the fan base when he re-signed Leighton as the starter and signed Jody Shelley to a lucrative contract that put them over the salary cap.
Now it was evident that Holmgren needed to move a big-name forward to shed salary; everybody knew it. But he chose the wrong player to trade, which ended up being Simon Gagne. In one of the most infamous trades in Flyer history, Gagne was shipped to the Bolts for Matt Walker and a 4th round pick. Not only did Homer get nothing for Gagne, but he acquired yet another awful contract that was possessed by Walker. Aside from all this, Gagne was on an expiring contract, and shouldn't have been the one traded. The player that was the right man to deal was Jeff Carter. Carter had no place in Philly (with Richards, Briere and Giroux playing down the middle on the top three lines), and would've gotten a monster return in a trade. In addition, it was reported by several sources that the Kings were offering up one of their two net minders (Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier) and a roster player for Carter, a deal that could've solved the Flyers' main issue. But for whatever reason, Holmgren held on to Carter (for a season).
After being embarrassed against Boston in the 2011 playoffs (again due greatly to goaltending), people knew changes were coming. Holmgren blew everything up in the 2011 off-season. He completely hit the reset button, as he dealt Richards and Carter respectively, and acquired Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, a 1st round pick (Sean Couturier), a 2nd round pick (later traded for Nicklas Grossmann) and a 3rd round pick (Nick Cousins). In addition to this, Ilya Bryzgalov was signed to a mammoth contract of $51 million over nine years on that same day. No matter how you feel about the moves that day, it made the Flyers better for the time being. They shed a ton of salary, added four young players and got a starting goaltender.
He continued the re-build on free agency day, as he signed Jaromir Jagr, Max Talbot and Andreas Lilja.With a rock-solid defense (Pronger, Timonen, Carle, Coburn, Meszaros and Lilja), a (supposed) all-star goalie in Bryzgalov and a great crop of forwards, the Flyers were a better team in 2011-12 than they were in 2010-11.
But everything came to a screeching halt in November of 2011, when Pronger abruptly had his career ended. Since his last game, the Flyers have yet to be that same cup-contending team that they were from 2009-2011.
Over the past two years, Holmgren tried to replace Pronger (aka trying to buy Ryan Suter and Shea Weber) and re-build a cup-contender, but it never panned out. The fact of the matter is this: Holmgren blew his opportunity in the summer of 2010, plain and simple. That was the key off-season, and Holmgren just completely ruined his cup-contending team then.
As a whole, I'd give Holmgren a B as during his time as General Manager, as he did make the Flyers a competitive team for the majority of his time in charge. But some of his moves and miscalculations (Bryzgalov says hi) tainted his reputation. With Homer now stepping aside, it is time to see what Ron Hextall has up his sleeve.