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

Steve Mason rediscovers himself in New York just before Flyers return

Steve Mason rediscovers himself in New York just before Flyers return

It had been a while since Steve Mason saw himself.

Walking into the Barclays Center on Sunday, the Flyers’ goalie was 0-6-2 with a 4.03 goals-against average and .844 save percentage over his last 10 appearances (see more recent Flyers numbers and stats).

A far cry from how Mason truly sees himself in net.

But heading into Wednesday’s rivalry clash with the Rangers, Mason will have something to build on, something he couldn’t say since Dec. 21 — the last time he had earned a victory. He’s fresh off his first win in over a month, a gigantic one for Mason considering all the key moments on Sunday the Flyers hope invigorate his confidence.

Without numerous clutch stops from their goalie, the Flyers don’t come back from two goals down to beat the Islanders, 3-2, in overtime. Mason made four saves  — three on four-time All-Star John Tavares — in just over a minute of a third-period power play. The Flyers ended up having to kill two New York man advantages in the final 10 minutes of regulation in order to force overtime.

The extra session is when Mason was just as good, if not better, stoning Tavares on a breakaway attempt that had game-winner written all over it. Mason made four saves in overtime after 13 in the third period.

“I was happy with the way that, personally, this game went for myself,” Mason said Sunday. “It’s been a tough stretch and this is more the type of game that I expect of myself. In recent games, the team was lacking the big saves and tonight it shows what kind of difference it can make.”

It was a massive performance heading into a massive three-game stretch against the Rangers, Maple Leafs and Hurricanes.

“Mase made some huge saves for us,” Simmonds said. “It allowed us to get back in that game.

“It’s not just Mase [with the] ups and downs. Everyone in here has been kind of fighting it and squeezing sticks pretty tight. That one felt good and I think Mase led the charge for sure.”

Mason understands just one game doesn’t turn around a season.

“It’s nice to feel good after a game,” Mason said. “At the same time, whether you’re winning or losing, you have to have a short mindset and get ready for the next one.”

That brings the Flyers to Madison Square Garden Wednesday to face the Rangers, who they’ve lost five straight games to dating back to last season. Mason hasn’t had much luck against New York this season, allowing seven goals in two losses with an .860 save percentage. However, in 2015-16, Mason put up a 1.74 goals-against average and .941 save percentage in five games against the Rangers.

“That’s going to be a tough game going into MSG,” Mason said Tuesday (see story).

The good thing: Mason was in New York two days ago, remembering what he can be.

Flyers in familiar spot in standings as critical games before break await

Flyers in familiar spot in standings as critical games before break await

While many people believe the Flyers are in far better shape right now than where they were a year ago, the fact is, they are pretty much the same.
 
After 48 games played, the Flyers have the same number of points now as they did last season – 52.
 
The critical difference – and this is why fans say they’re better off – is that a year ago at this juncture, the Flyers were five points behind Pittsburgh in the wild-card chase.
 
Right now, they own the second wild-card spot, but there are five teams behind them within four points or less of catching them, two of which have games in hand.
 
Earlier this week, Toronto was ahead of them and the Maple Leafs have three games in hand, which makes Thursday’s showdown against the upstart Leafs at Wells Fargo Center a very critical game.
 
That game represents the back end of the Flyers' 13th back-to-back set, which starts Wednesday with a date at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers.
 
If ever two games in a short week prior to the All-Star break were of prime significance, these next two seem to qualify.
 
“A hundred percent,” said Jakub Voracek, the Flyers' leading scorer with 42 points. “It’s the same for every game. Practice and come to the rink with a win in your head.”
 
To a man, the Flyers go into the nationally televised showdown with the Rangers feeling great about themselves because of the extraordinary effort they showed in Sunday’s 3-2 comeback victory against the Islanders in OT.
 
“I felt like we won the Stanley Cup with that overtime goal,” Voracek kidded. “That’s how happy we were. There was a lot of relief. Now we have to keep going.”
 
Just five points separate nine teams from the second wild-card position right now. The Eastern Conference is just as tight as it’s always been. Within the Metropolitan Division, just five points separate the Flyers from the three times tied for last in the conference – the Islanders, Sabres and Lightning.  
 
“It’s been that way,” said coach Dave Hakstol. “Right from the drop of the puck in October, it was going to be a battle. You can’t get too distracted by it. You worry about the job in hand and that’s tomorrow.”
 
The focus this week is rather narrow: two games left before the All-Star break begins on Friday.
 
“Yeah, both these games have implications directed to us in the standings,” said goalie Steve Mason, who will start against the Rangers. “Both being Eastern Conference teams and they are right with one another.
 
“We have to have a short mindset. We have the Rangers and that’s going to be a tough game going into MSG. Once that game is over, we focus on the Leafs.”
 
The Rangers have beaten the Flyers twice this season already – both in South Philly. While the games were mostly competitive, there remains a huge disparity in one critical area for both teams this season: goal differential.
 
The Rangers have a plus-40 differential while the Flyers check in at minus-18. As poor as Henrik Lundqvist (2.75 goals against average) has been this season – although his recent performances are trending upward – he still owns the Flyers.
 
In his last 15 games against the Flyers, going back to Jan. 1, 2013, Lundqvist is 11-3-0 with a 1.91 GAA and .938 save percentage.
 
“This is huge, especially in MSG,” Voracek said. “We lost two games in a row to them at home. Hopefully, we get points.”
 
In his last three starts this month, Lundqvist is 3-0 with a 1.32 GAA and .952 save percentage. In other words, the “old” King Henrik appears to have regained his throne just in time to face the Flyers.
 
“Their goaltender has been outstanding over this past stretch for them,” Hakstol said. “Their team is playing well.
 
“We have to worry more about our team. We’re not going to control what their side is going to do. We can control what we do.”