This offseason has been one of the busiest in recent memory, both for the Flyers and the NHL as a whole. Big moves have been made, contracts both good and bad have been dealt out, and NHL general managers have faxed in their trades. The craziness of this season (so far) reminds me a lot of the craziness that we saw 8 years ago, when Paul Holmgren decided to hit the Defcon 5 button and pull us into the twilight zone. There are definitely lessons we can take from looking at that period in time that apply in 2019. So, let’s begin by analyzing what was happening in 2011-12...
At the beginning of the season, there was a weight of expectation which grew from frustration. Just a short two years prior, the Flyers had lost the Stanley Cup Finals in stunning fashion. The year prior, they were swept in the 2nd round by a vengeful Boston Bruins. There were many questions about this iteration of the Flyers, and over the offseason, they were answered (quite shockingly) by GM Paul Holmgren.
Goaltending was the biggest issue of the time, and looking back, it shouldn’t have been. Because of poor playoff performances (which have followed him throughout his career) the team had soured on Sergei Bobrovsky, and the Flyers felt they needed a franchise goaltender. The answer to this need was Ilya Bryzgalov, signed to a 9 year contract worth $5.7 AAV. Then, Holmgren shocked pretty much everybody by trading Captain Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Though, in return they received Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jake Voracek, and a pick that would become Sean Couturier, the trades were tough to take at the time. The Flyers also signed Jaromir Jagr to play on the first line with Claude Giroux, signed Max Talbot, and signed Andreas Lilja.
This turned the Flyers’ forward corps into the following (based on games played and ATOI):
2011-12 Flyer Forwards
That’s pretty stacked. People forget how deep the Flyers were that season. This was complemented by this defense:
2011-12 Flyer Defense
Which...is also pretty good. They had a good mix of youth and experience. Young stars like Giroux (24) and Voracek (22) were balanced out by Jagr (39) and Timonen (36). Though, they would be beset by injury early on when Chris Pronger was knocked out for the season, and this would end his career. Giroux had a breakout season, scoring 93 points, and played well enough to justify his selection as captain in 2013. The Flyers would finish with the 5th seed in the playoffs, and win a bruising series against the Penguins before being knocked out in the 2nd round for a 2nd straight year, this time by the New Jersey Devils.
So, what can we learn from this? Well, the answer is that there appears to be a lack of learning in the NHL. Let’s dive in:
The Bryzgalov signing
The lesson here is that judging a goaltender, especially a young goaltender, on playoff performances alone, is a bad idea. The previous season Sergei Bobrovsky, at age 22, posted a 0.915% save percentage, 2.59 GAA, and won 28 games. For a first year goalie, that’s quite good. He may have been inconsistent, and struggled in the playoffs (0.877 SV%), but it was his first year in the NHL. I’m certainly not the first person to say this, but it still baffles me that the Flyers had already soured on Bob by that point.
In terms of Bryzgalov’s performance, obviously he left a lot to be desired. Though, you can’t blame Paul Holmgren for thinking a guy who posted a 0.921 SV% would be good. In the end, the Flyers bought out his contract, but this is certainly not as bad a move in hindsight as others. There was no reason to believe that Bryzgalov would flop as badly as he did.
Trading Richards and Carter
There’s not much left to say about these trades that hasn’t been said already. Though at the time the trades were shocking, and though they felt fair, the Flyers won both of them. At the time, Richards was the beloved Captain of the Flyers, and had come off a 66 point season. Carter, likewise, had also scored 66 points. Both players were key components of the 2009-10 Eastern Conference Champions, and the Flyers were able to fully take advantage of this. Richards would never eclipse 50 points again in his career, and Carter they managed to flip for Voracek and Couturier. Meanwhile, The Flyers received a haul for both Richards and Carter. Most of the members of the beloved core the Flyers have sent out for the past few seasons came from this trade (Voracek, Couturier, Simmonds).
Playing Zac Rinaldo
Yeah, Laviolette did this. Zac ‘Hockey man” Rinaldo played in 66 NHL games. He was fined twice and suspended once. How he ever played in as many hockey games is beyond me
Max Talbot’s Contract
The contract was for 5 years with $1.8 million AAV. That’s not a bad deal comparatively for a third liner now, but remember that back then, the cap ceiling was $64.3 million. Not only did Talbot fall off a cliff after the 2011-12 season, but he was being paid 2.8% of the cap! Not...the best deal ever.
So what have we learned?
Besides the Carter and Richards trades, which worked out for the Flyers in the long run, what do all of these moves have in common? Well, what they have in common is that GMs still do moves like this to this day! As of right now (July 1st), the Ottawa Senators just signed Ron Hainsey to a $3.5 million dollar contract, which is...pretty bad.
Ron Hainsey, one year with Ottawa at 3.5m, is quite weak offensively and weak defensively at 5v5, but can kill penalties. pic.twitter.com/L9ppuBGsdD— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) July 1, 2019
Similarly to the Bryzgalov contract, the Flyers are throwing a lot of money at Kevin Hayes. Now, these two deals aren’t completely comparable because of their positional differences, but equally, it is a risk that Chuck Fletcher is taking. Though, unlike before when the Flyers sidelined Bobrovsky for Bryzgalov, the front office is not pushing out a younger player in favor of Hayes. In fact, now more than ever, young upcoming talent is entering the league and making an impact. So, maybe then there has been a lesson learned to some extent. While GMs still value the concept of veteran presence, youth is making an impact and GMs are actively making room for their prospects to play. Though, NHL teams still have a long way to go in terms of learning from their mistakes.