Holmgren's best and worst moves as Flyers GM

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Holmgren's best and worst moves as Flyers GM

If you log the moves Paul Holmgren made during the eight years he spent as general manager of the Flyers, the good outweighs the bad in terms of sheer number of moves.

Unfortunately, the bad outweighs the good in terms of player impact and the salary cap and roster.

As a general rule, the Flyers, historically, have been too generous and too lenient with their players to sometimes make hard, rational decisions.

Example: Giving Kimmo Timonen a $6 million, one-year extension when the club was under salary cap duress and it was clear Timonen no longer warranted that kind of money.

Flyers chairman Ed Snider always took care of his players in the present and in the future with jobs and help once they retired. It’s why so many players -- even those cast aside -- rave about playing in Philadelphia.

It’s like being a city employee with outstanding benefits long after retirement. Everyone was treated like family, regardless of whether they deserved such recognition.

So when judging Holmgren’s eight years at the helm, you have to consider the culture under which he operated whereby every player was treated as family.

Holmgren’s moves in 2006-07 to get the Flyers back to respectability with the signings of Timonen, Scott Hartnell and Braydon Coburn were significant in laying a foundation of stability that righted the franchise.

Yet in subsequent years, he overspent in money and/or years in trades and free agency that still left gaping holes in the lineup.

Coming out of the lockout, the Flyers were ill-prepared to compete on defense and it showed when they failed to make the playoffs last spring.

The signing of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov represented overreaction by the organization -- and that includes Snider. The Flyers were fortunate to get out from under his nine-year, $51 million gargantuan contract only because of a lockout.

Yet the signing of Vinny Lecavalier last summer was just as bad -- five years at $22.5 million for a center who never had a guaranteed spot in the lineup.

The Flyers needed a scoring winger, yet signed Lecavalier hoping he would unseat Brayden Schenn. When that didn’t happen, they hoped he could convert to wing. Failed experiment.

That wasn’t Lecavalier’s fault. It was the organization’s fault.

Hextall’s biggest challenge moving forward is what to do with Lecavalier for the next four years unless he trades Schenn. Lecavalier’s contract is near impossible to move at his age (34).

Holmgren was blunt in assessing his own performance as GM.

“We didn’t win,” he said. “At the end of the day, that is all it’s about. ... Unfulfilled. Fulfilling personally, but in terms of what we’re supposed to do, we didn’t win.”

Here's a closer look at some of the key moves Holmgren made during his tenure:

Holmgren’s best trades
Feb. 24, 2007: Alexei Zhitnik to Atlanta for Braydon Coburn

June 18, 2007: First-round pick ('07) to Nashville for rights to Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen

Nov. 7, 2008: Steve Downie, Steve Eminger and fourth-round pick ('09) to Tampa Bay for Matt Carle

June 26, 2009: Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa, two first-round picks ('09, '10) and second-round pick ('10) to Anaheim for Chris Pronger and Ryan Dingle

July 1, 2010: Second-round pick ('12) to Tampa Bay for Andrej Meszaros

Feb. 16, 2012: Second-round ('12) and third-round ('13) pick to Dallas for Nick Grossmann

April 3, 2013: Michael Leighton and third-round pick ('15) to Columbus for Steve Mason

June 12, 2013: Shayne Harper and fourth-round pick ('14) to the Islanders for Mark Streit

March 4, 2014: Third-round ('14) and second-round picks ('15) to the Islanders for Andrew MacDonald

Jury still out
June 23, 2011: Rob Bordson and Mike Richards to L.A. for Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn

June 23, 2011: Jeff Carter to Columbus for Jakub Voracek and first-round pick (Sean Couturier); thirrd-round pick (Nick Cousins)

Holmgren’s worst trades
June 7, 2011: Matt Clackson to Phoenix for rights to Ilya Bryzgalov

June 23, 2012: James van Riemsdyk to Toronto for Luke Schenn

Oct. 31, 2013: Max Talbot to Colorado for Steve Downie

Best free-agent signing
July 1, 2007: Danny Briere

Worst free-agent signings
June 23, 2011: Ilya Bryzgalov

July 2, 2013: Vinny Lecavalier

Wayne Gretzky defends Connor McDavid's outburst over Brandon Manning

Wayne Gretzky defends Connor McDavid's outburst over Brandon Manning

PALM BEACH, Fla. — As the primary target of opponents over his Hall of Fame career, Wayne Gretzky can certainly empathize with the frustration of Oilers star Connor McDavid.

McDavid and Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning jostled all evening long in a 6-5 Edmonton loss. McDavid denounced the tactics of his opponent after the game, claiming Manning intentionally injured him last season; McDavid missed 37 games with a broken collarbone.

"I guess we can put the whole 'if he did it' thing to rest because what he said out there kind of confirmed that," said McDavid, who taunted Manning after scoring the second goal in the Oilers' loss.

"I think anybody who knows me or who has played with or against me along the road here, knows that I am not that kind of player," Manning said, according to a statement released by the Flyers. "I am not out there intentionally trying to hurt people. I'm a guy who plays the game hard and I take pride in that."

Gretzky didn't mind seeing that fire in McDavid, saying competitiveness is part of what makes the great ones great. And he said the targeting comes with the territory of being a superstar. It was something he and Mario Lemieux dealt with, too.

"And Connor, he's going to get tested every night, but this is not new for him," Gretzky said Friday at the NHL board of governors meetings. "He's been tested since he was a kid and then playing junior hockey and now in the NHL and he's always responded and done his part."

Michael Raffl's power moves impressing Flyers, adding another element to top line

Michael Raffl's power moves impressing Flyers, adding another element to top line

He did it last Sunday in Nashville.

And he did it again Thursday night against Edmonton.

Michael Raffl displayed power and speed to send the Flyers to their seventh straight victory and longest winning streak since 2011 Thursday with a 6-5 win over the Oilers.

"Raf has this stutter step that's undercover speedy," goalie Steve Mason said. "He used it in Nashville to get a big goal and then here tonight.

"It looks like he's going to stop fully up, but he finds another gear and he really adds another element to that line that brings physical play.

"He has that sneaky talent, too, that can make you pay."

Raffl received a bank pass off the wall from Jakub Voracek, stutter stepped and then blew by Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom, protecting the puck along the way before flipping it over goalie Jonas Gustavsson for the game-winning marker with 1:29 left in the game.

It was his sixth goal of the season and his second game-winner in three games.

"Jakey has been hard on me for three years now," Raffl said, referring to Voracek's pass, "and it's actually the first time it worked out.

"He wants me to make that play all the time. He's been hard on me. I threw a little fake in there, got around their D-man and chipped it up high."

Voracek, who tied a career high with four points (one goal, three assists) said after the game his pass was not as perfect as it appeared on tape, as it didn't hit Raffl in stride.

"I think we should use it a little bit more to be honest," Voracek said, "because if their D wants to have a gap on that, you know you put it off the boards, it's tough to handle for the defenseman. [Raffl] had to slow down a little bit, so next time I've got to put it better."

Juggling his lines in an attempt to find chemistry, Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol moved Raffl up from the third line to the top line with Voracek and captain Claude Giroux on Nov. 27. Coincidentally, that was the start of this seven-game winning streak.

On Thursday night, Raffl showcased the reasoning behind the move to the top line, a spot he's familiar with, having played with Giroux and Voracek in seasons' past.

"He's good from coming off either way as he enters the zone," Hakstol said. "He's got the ability to take it to the net. 

"Obviously at a critical time of the hockey game. But, that's Raffl when he's at his best. He's a power forward that can do those type of things offensively."

In his fourth season with the Flyers, the 28-year-old doesn't possess jaw-dropping skill. He's better suited for a third-line role, but drives play at 5-on-5 and is strong on the puck to move up into the top six. His style complements Giroux and Voracek's game well.

"[Raffl] complains a lot on the bench," Giroux quipped. "Nah, he was fired up there in the third. He is so strong on the puck. That's a big goal for us. He's been playing some great hockey right now for us. I think me and Jake are lucky to play with him right now."

"He does every little thing right," Voracek said. "He wins the battles. He wins so many puck battles in the corners and on the boards and gives me and G a lot of space to work with. He knows what to do to have success with us and he's been doing that."

Against the Oilers, Raffl was one of two European free agents the Flyers found to contribute to their win, with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare slowing down Connor McDavid.

It's been an avenue the Flyers have found some success in recent years. Raffl was a Paul Holmgren signing, while general manager Ron Hextall plucked Bellemare from the SHL.

"Since we signed him, I think he surprised everyone," Voracek said of Raffl. "He's got a lot of talent. He's a strong guy on the puck. He's skating well. He's got a great shot.

"I think he's one of the good players."

The Flyers described Raffl as a sneaky talent, someone who may not demand the respect from defensemen but has the ability to surprise and make them pay for playing lax against him.

But it's really simpler than that, according to Raffl.

"Just puck possession," he said. "Just focus on being the first on forecheck, digging out pucks. It's not a fun job to do, but somebody has to do it.

"They're two great players with the puck, I try to dig it out and get it to them and get in an open area and they'll find me eventually."

And they found him Thursday night when it mattered most.