It's been rumored since Ron Hextall returned to the Philadelphia Flyers as an assistant general manager last summer. We discussed it, yet again, last week. It finally came to fruition on Wednesday with Ron Hextall being named the Flyers' general manager, as Paul Holmgren takes on the position of president.
Hextall seemed to say all of the right things in his press conference; and there is a lot to be excited about with someone who is widely considered to be a bright front-office person. But before we officially turn the page on Paul Holmgren and look forward to the Hextall era, we wanted to take a look back at Paul Holmgren's eight seasons (more or less) as GM.
The Flip Side
The Flip Side
My comrades here at BSH helped my compile Homer's top-ten best and worst moves as GM, although the order is mostly my own, so any criticism can come my way. The fun thing about these lists is that my criteria will be different from most everybody else's criteria. Some people may look strictly at biggest impact on the ice. I tend to look at things from an overall asset management perspective.
It's not a stretch to call Paul Holmgren a bit of a lightning rod as GM. He had a lot of supporters, but he may have had even more detractors. One thing you can't argue with, though, are his results. The Flyers made the playoffs in six out of his eight seasons as GM; the only exceptions being his very first (partial) season during The Season That Shall Not Be Named, and the lockout-shortened season.
When it comes down to it, while he certainly had some blunders, he had a lot more successes.
Here are Paul Holmgren's top ten moves as general manager.
10. The Ville Leino trade
When you look at the names involved in this trade it kind of warrants a chuckle. Many people might not even remember Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, the player sent to Detroit by the Flyers, exists. Meanwhile Ville Leino just completed a season in which he scored 0 goals in 58 games, and somehow only had 38 shots. On the entire season.
During the 2009-10 season, the Flyers shipped OKT and a 5th round pick to Detroit for the seldom-used Leino. While he had modest regular season success for the Flyers, he exploded in the playoffs with one of the most memorable playoff performances in recent memory. He contributed 21 points in 19 playoff games during the Flyers' Stanley Cup run.
Homer also appropriately gauged Leino's value, letting him walk after the 2010-11 season for big money in Buffalo. He now has one of the worst contracts in the entire league and is likely headed for a compliance buy-out in the summer.
9. Signing Matt Read, and his subsequent contract extension
In March 2011, the Flyers signed the undrafted Matt Read from Bemidji State University. While he wasn't an overly-hyped NCAA free-agent, he paid almost immediate dividends.
He joined the Phantoms right away and garnered 13 points in 11 games. Sure enough, he found himself with the Flyers the following season, where he ultimately ended up in the conversation for the Calder Trophy with a 47 point rookie season.
Since then, Matt Read has become one of the best two-way wingers in hockey, and is the Flyers' Swiss Army knife. He and Sean Couturier form one of the best shutdown duos in the league. They frequently shoulder the Flyers' most difficult minutes, against the opponent's best players, and they normally come out on top.
Prior to this season, Homer then signed Read to a steal of an extension at four years, $3.625 million per year.
8. Signing Sergei Bobrovsky
I know the name will cause some groans among the Flyers faithful, but mishandling by the coaching staff in 2011 and an owner's (likely) insistence to acquire the best available free agent goaltender later that summer should not prevent Bob from being on this list.
The point remains the Paul Holmgren found a gem of an undrafted free agent in Sergei Bobrovsky. He came over to North America and ended up winning the starting job when he wasn't even supposed to make the team.
He had some ups and downs, as young goaltenders do, in his two years in Philadelphia, but has since won a Vezina Trophy in Columbus.
If Laviolette wasn't so quick to bench Bob and move to Michael Leighton -- who had spent all year in the AHL -- during that 2011 playoff series with Buffalo, and if Ed Snider wasn't so dead set on never letting that goaltending fiasco happen again, maybe Bob would still be here.
7. Acquiring Matt Carle from the Lightning
The Flyers needed some blueline help in the 2008-09 season, and it came in the way of Matt Carle. After the disastrous trade for Steve Eminger, Homer rectified the situation by acquiring Carle.
Carle was the definition of a lightning rod during his time in Philadelphia. He had four very productive seasons, and yet, it seemed the majority of the fanbase disliked him because they could only seem to remember the occasional bad turnover instead of the dozens of subtle plays that resulted in positive outcomes.
Carle ultimately moved on to Tampa Bay with a six-year, $33 million deal in free agency, something I'm sure almost everyone in the Flyers' organization would be happy to take on considering Andrew MacDonald just signed for six years and $30 million. 35 to 40 point defenseman that play 22 to 23 minutes a night and are as gifted with the puck as Carle don't grow on trees. He would sure fill a need on the back-end right now.
However, losing him doesn't discount the fact that trading for him in the first place was a major coup.
6. Wayne Simmonds' contract extension
I think everybody was rightfully excited to add Wayne Simmonds to the Flyers in the Mike Richards trade. I also think that if anyone says they expected Simmonds to become a 29 goal scorer, 60 point player, and one of the league's best power play presences, they would be lying.
And yet, that's what Simmonds has become. He has grown by leaps and bounds with the added ice time and power play opportunities here in Philadelphia. The Flyers signed Simmonds after a career-high 28 goal, 49 point campaign. He had never scored goals at that rate before, so there were some legitimate concern as to whether or not it was repeatable.
Well, it appears to be repeatable, because he looked even better this past season. Now Flyers fans get to enjoy him for six more seasons at a kind of crazy $3.975 million. A ~30 goal scorer for under $4 million? Wow.
5. The Mike Richards trade
June 23, 2011 was one of the biggest days in Flyers' history as they traded the two faces of their franchise, including Captain Mike Richards. For whatever reason, Paul Holmgren, Ed Snider, and the rest of the front office decided that they needed a major change; and that's what they got.
Richards and Bordson were shipped to Los Angeles for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn (at the time, the best prospect in hockey) and a 2nd round pick.
Our Richards-Carter trade story
•Broad Street HockeyHere's our post from June 23, 2011 following the Flyers' trade of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.
Richards went on to win a cup in L.A., and for that many fans will claim the trade is a loss. I'd argue it's not that simple. The situation in L.A. is different than it is in Philadelphia.
Richards has had three underwhelming seasons in LA, while Simmonds has outproduced him offensively all by himself (while being younger and cheaper). Schenn has probably not performed to expectations, and may find himself the subject of trade rumors this summer, but he's a quality NHL player at worst.
The trade has probably been a win for both teams. Richards is probably better suited for a secondary role in LA, and he's won the Cup. The Flyers acquired two of their key young forwards who should hopefully continue to get better, even though their production is already greater than Richards'.
4. The Jeff Carter trade
The other half of that June day was Jeff Carter. He was shipped to Columbus for Jake Voracek, the 8th overall pick in that year's draft, and a 3rd rounder.
Voracek has blossomed into a true first-line winger, who fits perfectly with Giroux. His speed and puck possession ability is sorely needed among Flyers forwards. While Carter can, and does still produce offensively, Voracek's play took a leap from his time in Columbus. After 46 points in 48 games last year, Jake followed it up with 62 points in 82 games this season.
With that eighth overall pick, the Flyers had Sean Couturier fall into their laps thanks to a bout of mononucleosis he suffered that season that caused him to fall in the draft. He made the team as an 18-year-old and immediately found himself in a shut-down role. While his offensive game is still growing, he has become one of the prime defensive centers in hockey, even earning himself some Selke trophy talk.
Call me crazy, but a 24 year old ~60 point winger and a 21 year old, ~40 point, shutdown center seems like a pretty good haul.
3. Acquiring Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen from Nashville
After the Flyers' dreadful 2006-07 season, some drastic changes were needed. It began when Homer traded Peter Forsberg to Nashville for Ryan Parent, Scottie Upshall, and 1st and 3rd round picks.
It continued when, that summer, he traded that same 1st round pick back to Nashville for the rights to pending unrestricted free agents Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell. The trading of a 1st round pick for the rights of players was, and still is, a bit unprecedented, but it has worked out.
Timonen was the top defenseman on the market and Hartnell was one of the first players to benefit from the new free agency rules in the then-new CBA, hitting UFA status at age 25. Both players were signed to six year contracts.
Hartnell had, and continues to have, a bit of an up and down ride. He's been excellent some seasons, and disappointing in others, but on the whole, you can't argue with what he's meant to this franchise over the past seven seasons.
Timonen, meanwhile, continued to be one of the league's best and most under-appreciated blue liners. Year after year Timonen puts up points while playing a ton of minutes and being the Flyers' most consistent presence on defense. Whether or not this past season was Kimmo's last, we'll have to see.
2. Signing Claude Giroux to his second contract
In November 2010, Claude Giroux was in his third season in the NHL. He was coming off of a 47 point effort in 2009-2010, and a 21 point campaign in 23 playoff games. He also started the season strong with 14 points in 15 games. Quite simply, Giroux was starting to come into his own.
Even more important than the statistics is the fact that Giroux was in the last year of his entry-level contract, and was four seasons away from unrestricted free agency. Everybody was eager to get him locked up -- the question was just going to be what it would cost.
So Paul Holmgren signed Giroux to an extremely reasonable three-year contract at a $3.75 million per year cap hit. The cap hit was right in line with what was expected, and more importantly, the three years meant Giroux would still be under control as an RFA at the end of that contract. At the time, it was perfect.
In the context in which that signing was made, it was as good as move as you could hope for, and one of the smartest, most well thought out moves Homer had made. It showed the forward thinking I always want out of a GM. As a salary cap/CBA nerd, this one is one of my favorites.
Giroux went on to have seasons of 93 points in 78 games, 48 points in 48 games, and 86 points in 82 games; all while costing a minuscule $3.75 million against the cap. The Flyers still controlled Giroux's rights and have since signed him long term for eight years and $66.2 million.
1. Trading Alexei Zhitnik for Braydon Coburn
Coburn's detractors can't even argue with this one. Not long after Homer started the Flyers rebuild from their horrendous 2006-07 season by trading Forsberg, Homer committed absolute robbery of the Atlanta Thrashers.
The Thrashers were desperate to make the playoffs and make a deep run that spring. Holmgren capitalized by offering the veteran Zhitnik in exchange for the former first-rounder Coburn, who had really not been given much of a shot in Atlanta.
The rest is history. Coburn immediately found himself playing over 20 minutes a night in Philadelphia. The following season he had probably the best season of his career at age 23, a 36 point season. While the offensive promise never came along, Coburn has been an absolute rock for the Flyers.
He's massive and he might very well be the best skater on the team, and he has all of the physical gifts in the world. Because of that, it's frustrating that he'll never be the No. 1 defenseman that is so coveted.
But let's not focus on what he isn't, but rather what he is: He is a shoo-in for 22-plus minutes a night against the opponent's best players, something that is rare and fantastic and that Holmgren acquired for next to nothing.
He's the longest-tenured Flyer, and sure, his decision-making might make you facepalm from time to time. But you can't argue with his body of work. When you consider that all it took to get him was Alexei Zhitnik ...good on ya, Homer.