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.
The Flyers had a lot of success during Paul Holmgren's tenure, and he deserves plenty of credit for that. However, it's inevitable that as a GM you are going to make some ... let's say less than ideal moves. Homer definitely made his fair share.
For me, my biggest requirement of a general manager is to simply effectively manage assets. Whether those assets are players, picks, or cap space, you only have a finite amount of them, so a GM needs to handle them carefully. With an owner as demanding as Ed Snider and a fan base that wants to win yesterday, Homer wasn't immune to making an impatient move and worrying about the consequences later.
Without further ado, Paul Holmgren's ten worst moves as Flyers general manager.
10. Waiving Andreas Nodl
My distaste for the waiving and subsequent claiming by Carolina of Andreas Nodl has little to do with hockey. Nodl was not an exceptional player. There were legitimate reasons for wanting to be rid of him. Frankly, Nodl was probably surpassed on the depth chart by better, younger, cheaper players. He could no longer be freely sent to the AHL. By being rid of him the Flyers could free up a contract spot, a little bit of cap space, and give Nodl an opportunity in another organization. That all makes perfect sense to me.
My problem is ... "gauging interest." Paul Holmgren stated that Nodl was waived so that they could "gauge interest" in him. What are the two potential outcomes here?
- If there is no interest, he is not claimed. You have learned there is no interest, and you still have the player.
- If there is interest, he will be claimed (who wouldn't want a player they were interested in, for free?). You have learned there is interest, and you no longer have the player.
Perhaps this is just a case of Homer doing some GM-speak and trying to appease the media; but this strikes against my No. 1 qualifications for a GM: manage those assets. Based on the information that Paul Holmgren gave us, the waiving of Nodl was the opposite of that.
9. Signing Michael Leighton to an extension
My issue with the Leighton extension is strictly related to timing.
Paul Holmgren, like fellow Philadelphia GM Ruben Amaro, often suffered from "first to market" syndrome. He frequently was the first to make a splash, as if he feared the market was always rising and there were never bargains.So maybe he felt compelled to sign his targets early before another bad contract drove up the price.
In theory, that makes sense, but that's not always the case.
In this case, Homer didn't even play the market. Not at all. He re-signed Michael Leighton to his two year, $3.1 million contract on the eve of free agency in 2010. For the life of me, I cannot understand why he wouldn't wait a handful of hours and see what else the market might dictate; be it with Leighton or another goaltender.
(For what it's worth, I have the same gripe with the Andrej Meszaros trade which happened about 30 minutes before free agency. You couldn't, like ... wait an hour and check out the market first?)
There were other options:
- Antti Niemi at 1 year, $2 million
- Marty Turco at 1 year, $1.3 million
- Evgeni Nabokov, who ultimately went to the KHL
- Chris Mason at 2 years, $3.7 million
- Dan Ellis at 2 years, $3 million
- Martin Biron at 2 years, $1.75 million
- Antero Niittymaki at 2 years, $4 million
My point is not that these players were necessarily any better, but simply that it showed impatience. Homer signed a career backup goaltender (at best), who caught lightning in a bottle during the 2010 postseason, to an extension on the eve of free agency, without even trying to see what the market may dictate.
Leighton then went on to play one -- yes, just one -- regular season game over the life of that contract; and he spent most of his time in the AHL.
8. Signing Chris Pronger to a 7-year contract extension
This is a tough one to include on the list because, well ... it's Chris Pronger. He's a surefire Hall of Famer. The Flyers paid a hefty price to acquire Pronger, and while some question the price, I'm okay with it. It's not everyday you can acquire a player, especially a defenseman, of Pronger's caliber.
Of course, there is a certain level of risk involved in acquiring a player who's that old: age 34 at the time of the trade in 2009. After the Flyers acquired Pronger they quickly moved to sign him to an extension. The problem is that the extension qualified as a 35-plus contract, effectively meaning there is no way the Flyers could get out of the contract, even with retirement.
Some question whether that was an oversight on Homer's part ... but we'll never know. Perhaps it was a calculated risk they opted to take for a player of Pronger's caliber. Unfortunately, the risk was real and the Flyers are still paying for it.
Chris Pronger will count against the cap for three more seasons. The Flyers can and will place him on LTIR each season but LTIR is not the same as cap space. It has some very real negative ramifications. It's a burden for sure.
7. Trading Simon Gagne for Matt Walker and a 4th round pick
In the salary cap world, especially when you mismanage the cap a fair amount, sometimes you will have to make decisions strictly because of the need for cap space.
I had completely accepted the need for the Flyers to shed cap space in the summer of 2010 so they could fix the defense. It's a simple concept really; re-allocate assets from your strength (offense) to your weakness (defense); and wouldn't you know, this is still applicable today.
I had even accepted that Gagne was probably going to be the one to go. He had one year remaining on his contract, was older than the other options, and had some legitimate injury concerns.
My issue is that it wasn't even a proper salary dump. It would have been better if he literally gave him away for nothing, because in that case, the Flyers would have seen the full cap relief of Gagne's $5.25 million.
But Homer ended up getting worse than nothing. He took back an albatross of a contract; a 7th defenseman, Matt Walker, who was making $1.7 million for the next three years. He managed to turn a sizeable expiring contract into waste for an extra two seasons.
The purpose of a salary dump, after all, is to... dump ... salary ...., not to take back a worse contract. This wasn't the bad contract for bad contract trade that you occasionally see in the NHL. This was a one-way bad contract trade, because at least Gagne's was expiring.
6. Recalling Randy Jones on re-entry waivers in 2009
When the Flyers signed Randy Jones to a two year $5.5 million contract it was pretty apparent that it was a mistake. However, I'm not writing this with that contract extension in mind.
One year after the extension, just prior to the 2009-10 season, the Flyers came to their senses and waived Jones, effectively burying him in the AHL so the Flyers could be rid of his $2.75 million cap hit.
Then, in October of that season, the Flyers did the one thing that they shouldn't have. They placed Jones on re-entry waivers for the purpose of trying to get him back to the NHL. He was promptly claimed by the Kings and the Flyers were stuck with $1.375 million in dead cap space.
Just to add a little more confusion into the mix, this transpired after an injury to Simon Gagne. I'm not a master of logic but I don't see how you get from "winger gets hurt" to "let's risk dead cap space by recalling a defenseman".
In the grand scheme of things, this means very little, but it was a silly, unnecessary risk that came back to bite.
5. Trading a 1st round pick (John Carlson) for Steve Eminger and a 3rd round pick
There's not too much to say about this one. At the 2008 NHL Draft the Flyers opted to trade their 1st round pick for Steve Eminger and a 3rd rounder (which never amounted to anything). Eminger was a former 1st round pick himself but he really had not done much of anything to distinguish himself. I can understand moving a quality asset for a young established player, but Eminger wasn't even established (or at least established as anything good).
He only played 12 games for the Flyers, putting up two assists before he was shipped off in a deal for Matt Carle. The 1st rounder the Flyers traded away? That became Capitals' defenseman John Carlson.
4. Signing Vincent Lecavalier
It's tough to include this one because it has only been one year, but it's not looking good. After Lecavalier was bought out by the Tampa Bay Lightning last summer, he quickly found himself with several suitors. Ultimately the Flyers signed him to a five year $4.5 million contract.
After getting over the initial shock of even considering him due to the Flyers' abundance of centers, many people were on board with the signing. When you looked at some of the other deals signed that offseason (hi, David Clarkson) it looked like a bargain.
Vinny started off the year pretty well but after missing some time with an injury, he never really came back around. He was, frankly, a complete burden on the team. Vinny never felt comfortable on the wing, even stating "I just completely can't play left [wing]" on an episode of Flight Plan; and yet there was really nowhere else to play him. The Flyers eventually opted to play him on the fourth line, which isn't exactly the place for someone of Lecavalier's pedigree and contract status.
Now the talk is about what can the Flyers do, if anything, to rid themselves of the contract. With Peter Laviolette's hiring in Nashville, some wonder if they might be interested in acquiring him.
It certainly looks like the signing is a failure, and if the Flyers want to be rid of the contract they are almost certainly going to need to adsorb some dead cap space in some way, shape, or form.
3. Acquiring and signing Ilya Bryzgalov
The Flyers' goaltending carousel in the 2010-2011 playoffs was embarrassing. You can fault Peter Laviolette for being too quick to sit Sergei Bobrovsky if you'd like, but the end result was that Ed Snider vowed that that would never happen again.
We'll never know if the Ilya Bryzgalov fiasco was Paul Holmgren's doing or a mandate from Ed Snider. But it happened. The Flyers ended up trading Matt Clackson and two 3rd rounders for Bryzgalov's rights. They then signed him to a 9 year, $5.667 million contract.
It was a disaster almost from the start. His play was poor, his personality rubbed some people the wrong way, and the media seemed to have a field day with him.
After two seasons, including save percentages of .909 and .900, the relationship was over and it was an utter disaster. The Flyers gladly used one of their two compliance buy-outs from the new CBA on Bryzgalov. If not for those buyouts ... ugh, don't even want to think about it.
2. Trading James van Riemsdyk for Luke Schenn
I will readily admit that I had an almost irrational dislike for JVR as a player. I just couldn't take that he would be the most dominant player on the ice for two games, and then be completely invisible for ten. By the summer of 2012 I was more than okay with trading JVR in a deal for a defenseman.
Yet, when the trade occurred even I thought "Wait ... no picks? That's it? Nothing else?"
Luke Schenn actually had a pretty darn good season in his first year in Philadelphia. The problem is that it nose-dived quite quickly. By the beginning of this season, he found himself on the third pairing, he was a healthy scratch at times, and there were even rumblings that some NHL personnel didn't think he was an NHL regular. I wouldn't take it that far, and I actually thought Schenn had an okay playoffs, all things considered.
Meanwhile van Riemsdyk has turned into a 30 goal scorer and 60 point forward with potential for even a bit more. He would sure look good on a line with Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek wouldn't he?
I think in the right situation Luke Schenn can be an effective player, but at this point, it's quite clear that this trade is a big time loss.
1. Trading Scottie Upshall and a 2nd round pick for Dan Carcillo
On March 4, 2009 the Flyers traded Scottie Upshall and a 2nd round pick to the Phoenix Coyotes for Dan Carcillo. The trade was, quite frankly, a move for cap space. It was the culmination of a complete lack of foresight with regards to the salary cap, and it should have never gotten to the point where it was necessary.
Early in 2008-09, the Flyers had a rash of injuries to their defenseman. With several players on LTIR they went ahead and acquired Andrew Alberts and Matt Carle in separate deals. When the players on LTIR returned, it led to a string of maneuvers to stay cap compliant.
They waived Ossi Vaananen and Glen Metropolit, who were both claimed.
They had to repeatedly send Claude Giroux back to the AHL, even though he clearly belonged in the NHL at this point. He was, I believe, the only waiver exempt player that made enough money to allow them to recall defenseman on the several occasions they needed another defenseman.
Ultimately, they made the Upshall trade because they needed the ~$300k in cap space so desperately that they not only gave up the superior player, but had to throw in the 2nd round pick as well.
If that wasn't bad enough, later still, in the midst of a playoff push, the Flyers were signing guys off the street (David Sloane and Jamie Fritsch) to ATO's because they still did not have the cap space to recall players.
The Scottie Upshall trade epitomized the "make one move, then two others to fix it" mentality that was all too prevalent in Holmgren's tenure.
All in all, it's pretty a pretty darn successful eight seasons under Paul Holmgren. When I was coming up with my lists there were more "good" moves to choose from than "bad" moves. I think that we saw that on the ice as well with making the playoffs in six of his eight seasons -- and truthfully, it's more like five of six seasons considering his first was a partial season. Paul Holmgren isn't an easy act to follow as GM, but I'm excited for it.