Which team ranks as Paul Holmgren's best?

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Which team ranks as Paul Holmgren's best?

Since he was installed as the Flyers' general manager, Paul Holmgren has been one of the NHL’s most aggressive GMs -- never hesitating to pull the trigger on a trade or to open the company wallet for a big-name free agent.

From the time he took over for Bob Clarke in October 2006, Homer has completely turned over the Flyers' roster during that time, and has just three holdovers from the 2007-08 team he assembled.

Here are my personal rankings for Holmgren’s teams season-by-season. I'll let you determine if the GM has improved the Flyers during his tenure or if the franchise has regressed.

1. 2010-11: (47-23-12), 106 points
Straight off its trip to the Stanley Cup Final, the 2010-11 team was Peter Laviolette’s first full year in Philadelphia after taking over in Dec. 2009.

The Flyers captured their first Atlantic Division title in seven years. They ranked third in the NHL with 259 goals scored, led by Jeff Carter’s 36. Danny Briere produced his best season with the Flyers, adding 34 goals, and Claude Giroux enjoyed a breakout season, leading the team with 76 points.

Defensively, the Flyers were stacked and, for the most part, healthy. Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn skated in all 82 games. Yet, Andrej Meszaros was considered their top defenseman (recipient of the Barry Ashbee trophy) in his first year in Philadelphia, as the team managed to play without Chris Pronger, who appeared in just 50 games. Rookie Sergei Bobrovsky posted solid numbers with 28 wins, a 2.59 GAA and a .915 save percentage.

Perhaps fatigued from a deep postseason run the year before, the 2010-11 Flyers ran into a Boston Bruins buzzsaw and were swept in the second round of the playoffs.

2. 2011-12: (47-26-9), 103 points
With a myriad of offseason changes, the 2011-12 Flyers matched their win total from the previous year, while also establishing a franchise-high 25 road wins. For a team many considered to be weakened offensively after trading two of their top four offensive performers, the Flyers actually scored five more goals than 2010-11.

The offseason signing of Jaromir Jagr helped stabilize the top line, and 11 different players scored double-digit goals with production throughout the lineup. Newcomers Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jake Voracek and Sean Couturier combined for 71 goals, making up for the losses of Carter and Mike Richards.

The team continued to play solid defensively despite losing Pronger to a career-ending injury. But Ilya Bryzgalov gave the Flyers some inconsistent goaltending during his first year season with the team after signing a nine-year, $51 million contract.

After knocking out the Penguins in the first round, the Flyers were surprisingly bounced in five games by the Devils in Round 2.

3. 2009-10: (41-35-6), 88 points
While an argument can be made that a team that came within two games of winning the Stanley Cup should be at the top of this list, they were also a shootout away from not even qualifying for the postseason.

Desperate for a spark, Holmgren was forced to make a change, firing John Stevens and hiring Laviolette in midseason. Clearly, the Flyers lacked unity and completely underwhelmed throughout the regular season, only to catch fire once the playoffs started.

Offensively, Carter led the way with 33 goals and Richards added a career-high 31. In his first year in Philadelphia, Pronger proved why the Flyers paid a hefty sum to acquire him.

But, to complicate matters, the Flyers were juggling three goalies on the roster and on the practice ice until Ray Emery was lost for the season with a debilitating hip injury.

Once the playoffs started, the Flyers were sparked by their epic comeback over the Boston Bruins and some outstanding goaltending from Michael Leighton, who posted three shutouts in the Eastern Conference Finals.     

4. 2007-08: (42-29-11), 95 points
This may have been the best team Holmgren has assembled when you consider the starting point from the previous season. The 2007-08 team made a 39-point improvement after finishing dead last in the Eastern Conference the year before.  

Holmgren was the architect who took a maverick mentality into free agency. He signed Briere to an eight-year contract and traded with Nashville for impending unrestricted free agents Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell, and added Joffrey Lupul and captain Jason Smith in a trade that sent defenseman Joni Pitkanen to Edmonton.

The Flyers caught fire down the stretch, finishing 7-2-1 over their final 10 games, and eventually rode that momentum into the postseason before advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Martin Biron was a steady presence in net during his first full season in Philadelphia, finishing with 30 wins, a .918 save percentage and a 2.59 goals-against average.

Injuries eventually caught up the with Flyers, who lost in five games to the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals.    

5. 2008-09: (44-27-11), 99 points
A slow start (0-3-3) couldn’t slow down a team that was stacked offensively on its top two lines. The Flyers produced six 25-goal scorers and could have had seven if Briere had stayed healthy.

The team received average goaltending from the tandem of Biron and Antero Niittymaki, who finished with an identical 2.76 GAA.  

However, defense proved to be the team’s eventual downfall. Aside from their top three of Timonen, Coburn and Carle, Stevens was forced to rely on a combination of Andrew Alberts, Randy Jones, Ryan Parent, rookie Luca Sbisa and Ossi Vaanaen.

Their lack of depth was costly in the postseason, as the Flyers failed to contain Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin during a first-round loss to the Penguins.     

6. 2013: (23-22-3), 49 points
The only Holmgren-built team that failed to qualify for the playoffs. A league-imposed lockout led to a 48-game shortened season, and the Flyers' failures began the previous summer when lucrative offers for Zach Parise and Ryan Suter went unsigned. The team was unable to re-sign Jagr and the Flyers' offer sheet for Shea Weber was matched by the Predators.

A 2-6 start proved too difficult to overcome. Players like Schenn, Couturier and Matt Read regressed from their first full seasons in the NHL. Meanwhile, veterans Giroux, Hartnell and Briere couldn’t repeat their performances from previous years.

Defensively, the Flyers were absolutely ravaged with injuries, as 13 different blueliners dressed. Without a competent backup, the Flyers were forced to lean heavily on Bryzgalov, who played in 40 of the 48 regular-season games and wore down over the course of the season.  

The 2013 Flyers finished six points behind the Islanders for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Flyers suffer deflating outdoor loss to Penguins, fall in playoff picture

Flyers suffer deflating outdoor loss to Penguins, fall in playoff picture

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH – They won the battle inside the faceoff circle. Outshot their opponent badly. Blocked more shots, too.

And the Flyers still lost. Sound familiar?

Saturday's 4-2 defeat (see Instant Replay) to the Penguins at Heinz Field in the Stadium Series outdoor game likely confirms for general manager Ron Hextall it’s time to be a seller at the trade deadline with a playoff berth seemingly out of sight.

"We gotta score goals. We got good opportunities, but it’s getting old," Jakub Voracek lamented. "If we don’t find a way to win a game, nobody cares."

Not enough scoring from their pop-gun offense, which now has just 25 goals over their last 16 games. Which is a major reason why they've lost seven of their last nine.

"It's that cliché, gripping your stick and I don’t like to use that," Voracek said. "The bottom line, if we want to make the playoffs we got to score the goals. We're not scoring."

It was 36 degrees at puck drop and there were swirling wind gusts. Players said the first period was tough, but they adjusted as the game went on.

"It feels good. It feels awesome," Wayne Simmonds said. "It's the way ice hockey should be played."

So should a few wins with this club and it's not happening. They play well enough to win but ...

"We got to get going here," Shayne Gostisbehere said. "We're [five] points back and that's the biggest thing and it's in all of our heads now. It's getting down to not a lot of games left and we've got to get two points."

Goalie Michal Neuvirth did not have a strong game facing 29 shots.

"We walk away with the wrong result," coach Dave Hakstol said. "We have a day in-between to turn the page and get back at it."

Things began Pittsburgh's way with Sidney Crosby scoring at 11:18, sneaking to the low right slot near the goal line to take a perfect pass from Jake Guentzel and one-time into the far side on Neuvirth for his 34th goal.

Brayden Schenn, centering a new line with Nick Cousins and Jakub Voracek, had a solid scoring chance in the final minute of the period, but Pens goalie Matt Murray turned his shot aside. Murray also had two good saves on Sean Couturier earlier from in-tight.

Nick Bonino, one of the heroes from the Stanley Cup Final last season, made it 2-0 at 6:44 of the second period on the power play. He scored almost from the same spot where Crosby scored.

Minutes earlier, Guenztel took a questionable hit to the head area from Brandon Manning which the Penguins felt was illegal (see video). Pittsburgh came back with Chris Kunitz rocking Ivan Provorov two shifts later.

Manning’s hit energized the Flyers, who owned the second period.

Hours before the game, Voracek said what most people were already thinking.

"I would expect this to be the biggest game of the year," he said. "You look at the standings. We can’t afford to lose."

Voracek wasn't kidding when he said the Flyers needed to do something here. He went behind the net 4-on-4 with Justin Schultz and came around the front with the puck to muscle it past Murray at 11:14, cutting the Flyers deficit in half.

Voracek's goal, his second in three games, gave the Flyers even more of a lift and they made a strong push to tie the game before the period ended.

"We spent a lot of time in their zone and we were very strong on the forecheck," Voracek said. "We had comebacks early in the season … but two penalties in the end, it's tough … How do you rebound? You have no choice. We're not out. We have to start winning."

The Flyers killed off a carryover penalty to start the third but immediately after, the Pens got a strong forecheck with Eric Fehr behind the net, getting the puck over to 40-year-old Matt Cullen, who snuck up on Neuvirth and stunned him with a wraparound.

That was a terribly costly goal and made it 3-1 but Gostisbehere got it right back minutes later with his first goal in 34 games off a point shot during the power play.

It was as close as the Flyers got. Pittsburgh scored off a faceoff to make it 4-2 in the final six minutes. Sean Couturier lost a draw to Evgeni Malkin and the Pens scored off a point drive Neuvirth couldn't find.

"That was deflating," Gostisbehere said. "We can be sad for ourselves all we want … bad bounces or we can say, 'well, it's lucky.' But you know, it keeps happening for a reason."

Instant Replay: Flyers fall in Stadium Series to Penguins, 4-2

Instant Replay: Flyers fall in Stadium Series to Penguins, 4-2

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH – The Flyers still haven't won an outdoor hockey game.

They dropped to 0-2-1 lifetime after Saturday night’s highly-competitive 4-2 loss to the Penguins at Heinz Field in the NHL’s Stadium Series.

Given the Flyers came into play five points out of the wild card and desperate for points, this was a fairly significant loss and sixth in their last eight games.

Shayne Gostisbehere's power play goal drew the Flyers to 3-2 at 6:48 in the third period, but the Pens scored a late goal off a faceoff to put it away.

Michal Neuvirth did not have a very strong outdoor showing.

Questionable hit
The Penguins thought Brandon Manning hit Jake Guentzel with a high elbow to the chin in the second period (see video). You can be sure the NHL will review it on Sunday.

Numbers
As cool as the Flyers' jerseys looked, it was nearly impossible to identify numbers from the press box because they blend into the jersey. White numbers would have been better for ID purposes.

Notable goals
Sidney Crosby's opening goal at 11:18 of the first period was his 36th lifetime against the Flyers in 57 games.

Goalie report
Matt Murray played well. Not much Neuvirth could do on the Pens' first two goals but clearly he fell asleep on Matt Cullen's critical wraparound goal early in the third period that made it 3-1.

Power play
Flyers had one good chance on their first power play with a shot from Mark Streit from the circle on Murray. Gostisbehere made it 3-2 with his first goal in 34 games from the point. Flyers were 1 for 4. 

Penalty kill
Penguins got a power play goal from Nick Bonino in the second period that made it 2-0, off a Guentzel assist, his second in the game.  Pens were 1 for 5.

Injuries
Michael Raffl was speared by Evgeni Malkin in the second period without a call. He limped to the bench but stayed in the game.

Fights
There was a scrum between Dale Weise and Chris Kunitz in the second period.

Scratches
Defensemen Nick Schultz and Michael Del Zotto – both healthy; forward Travis Konecny (knee and ankle).

Up next
Flyers are off on Sunday and resume practice Monday at Skate Zone. They will host Colorado on Tuesday.