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.

Eric Semborski, from Temple club hockey to NHL goalie for a day against Flyers

Eric Semborski, from Temple club hockey to NHL goalie for a day against Flyers

Eric Semborski woke up Saturday and drove to work in Voorhees, New Jersey.

It was just an ordinary morning for the 23-year-old, a Temple graduate with a bachelor’s degree in sports management.

Little did he know, in a couple of hours his world would turn upside down.

Semborski, who works for Snider Hockey and at Flyers Skate Zone running goalie clinics and roller leagues, hadn’t played competitively since suiting up for the Owls’ club team in the spring of 2015.

That was until Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center, where, someway, somehow he was draped in a Chicago Blackhawks jersey and squaring up blazing shots off the sticks of Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith, just to name a few.

Quite the promotion, huh?

“It’s surreal, really,” he said. “I can’t explain it.”

Could anyone?

“I couldn’t imagine the rush,” Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling said.

Incredibly and astonishingly, Semborski turned into an NHL goaltender for a day as Chicago’s second string to Darling, who suffered a 3-1 loss to the Flyers.

How Semborski was found and summoned by the Blackhawks is still somewhat of a mystery, even to the Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, native himself. Once Chicago received word that regular starter Corey Crawford had to suddenly undergo an appendectomy at a Philadelphia hospital, the Blackhawks started scrambling for an emergency backup to Darling.

“I was at work, at the rink in Voorhees just coaching,” Semborski said. “My boss called me and I missed it. I walked off the ice and started talking with someone from the Flyers, he started asking me, ‘Where’d you play hockey, what’s your playing history?’” 

Semborski was confounded.

“I didn’t even know what he was getting at,” he said. “I asked, ‘Why are you asking me this?’ And he said, ‘Oh, Chicago needs a goalie.’ I just lost it. He said, ‘Go home, get your stuff and if they’re going to use you, they’ll call you.’ I left right away.

“I was like, OK, this probably isn’t going to happen, there’s no way.”

Ten minutes later …

“I’m in the truck and I got a call from Chicago,” Semborski said.

Who was it?

“I just know his name’s Tony,” Semborski said. “That’s all I know.”

How the heck did the Chicago Blackhawks, winners of three Stanley Cups since 2010, find a regular, hard-working guy living in Manayunk to be their reserve netminder?

“No idea,” Semborski said, still in awe talking after the game outside the locker rooms. “I think it had something to do with me working with Snider Hockey, working at Voorhees. They asked around and people just threw my name out I guess. I really don’t know how it happened. I’ll have to get to the bottom of that and thank some people. I have no idea who gave them my info, but whoever did, thank you, because it was awesome.”

So Semborski hustled from Voorhees to Manayunk, packed up his gear — including his old Temple mask, sporting the words “Philly Proud” and “Temple Tuff” — and quickly made his way to the Wells Fargo Center. He arrived around 12:30 p.m. before puck drop at 1.

“I hit some traffic on 76 (Schuylkill Expressway), of course,” Semborski said. “I got here as fast as I could in my street clothes. No time to put on a tie.”

Once Semborski signed his amateur tryout, it became real. He walked into the visiting locker room and there were the Blackhawks and his NHL jersey, a makeshift uniform with Crawford’s No. 50.

“It was hanging up when I got in there,” he said. “I guess they took Crawford’s and threw a name on it and made it work.”

Prior to hitting the ice for warmups, Semborski got acquainted with his teammates.

“Dream come true,” he said. “That was so cool, just hanging out with those guys. They made me feel welcomed right away, started joking around.

“When I got there, they put my number on the board and said I’m throwing in $200 for the holiday party. That was pretty good. I told them, ‘You better take credit because that’s all I got.’”

What about his big-money contract?

“No, I should be paying them for this,” Semborski said. “That was awesome.

“I signed some stuff when I came in, I don’t know what it was. I’m happy with a hat and the memories.”

Especially taking the net in warmups.

“I was a bit rusty, but no matter how much I play, I’m not going to be ready for them,” he said. “It was fast and I couldn’t even catch my breath because I was trying to take it all in. That was the best 20 minutes of my life out there skating with them.

“You’re playing against the best guys in the world. I knew I wasn’t going to stop most of them. I was lucky if it hit me.”

As for the game, Semborski didn’t play.

“Well you almost saw it,” Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said, referring to his frustration with a three-goal second period by the Flyers.

“That probably would have been a big mistake,” Semborski said with a laugh.

“That would have been so cool, but I wouldn’t change a thing. The experience was awesome.”

What did Quenneville think?

"That’s part of the process with all of the teams, they have the local amateur guys or sometimes guys who have played pro before," he said. "But with our cap situation, we needed an amateur, so he fit all the criteria and it was a good opportunity for him. ... It’s kind of a cool experience for the kid."

So Semborski sat on the bench, padded and ready. He smiled and watched, supporting his new team.

He, of course, is a Flyers fan, but …

“Not today,” he said with a smile. “Every other day, yeah, but not today.

“When I first got out there, I was like, ‘All right, if [the Flyers] score, don’t stand up. Just relax.’”

Semborski admitted to Chicago breaking his heart in 2010 when it beat the Flyers in the Stanley Cup Final.

“That was one of the hardest things I ever watched,” he said. “But today, that’s all forgotten. I’m a ‘Hawks fan today.”

Afterward, Semborski said his phone was flooded with 70-something text messages and 20-plus phone calls.

“I’m going to have to start calling some people,” he said.

His first will probably be to a special loved one.

“It’s my dad’s birthday,” Semborski said. “So, happy birthday, Dad. Best present ever for you.”

Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny fuel Flyers past Blackhawks for season-high 4th straight win

Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny fuel Flyers past Blackhawks for season-high 4th straight win

BOX SCORE

It’s hard to get overly excited by a goal from a player who had scored just once in his previous 17 games.
 
Maybe there’s something to having Travis Konecny out there on the ice force-feeding Brayden Schenn with pucks.
 
Schenn got bounced off another top line recently by coach Dave Hakstol — just as he was bounced around the lineup under Peter Laviolette and Craig Berube. 
 
You never know where "Schenner" is going to land. 
 
Yet Konecny has taken to heart how he might get Schenn going and unleash all those goals in his stick. 
 
Saturday’s splendid pass to his new centerman that made mincemeat out of Blackhawks defensemen Trevor Van Riemsdyk and Michal Kempny was the decisive blow in the Flyers' 3-1 victory over Chicago (see Instant Replay).
 
That’s now four wins in succession for Hakstol’s club.
 
“I watched a lot of video before the game,” Konecny said. “I know that their defense dives in at you, then backs off and give you some space. When I stopped there, the defenseman did exactly what I thought. It opened up a lane to Schenner.”
 
Schenn took his pass in full stride and flipped it over Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling for what was the Flyers’ third goal on just their fourth shot of the second period.
 
“TK sees the ice pretty well, no doubt about that,” Schenn said. “Small guy who can make plays in tight spaces and you could see on that goal. Give him just a little bit of room and he’ll take advantage of it. Nice pass. A great playmaker.”
 
Hakstol has noticed.
 
“That was a good speed play by both of them,” Hakstol said. “Getting up ice and a good play by TK to get him the puck and then a great finish. 
 
“Brayden didn’t have a whole lot of time or space to get that puck away. But he got it away and put it in the one spot where their goaltender couldn’t get a piece of it.”
 
The only thing Darling expected to get a piece of in this game was the bench. He became an unexpected starter in the morning, as Corey Crawford underwent emergency appendectomy surgery during the game.
 
The second period began with the Flyers trailing, 1-0, but quickly turned around with two goals in 31 seconds from another rookie — defenseman Ivan Provorov (see 10 observations)
 
“Score one goal in a game, that’s a pretty good feeling and then score two in one shift, that’s pretty unbelievable,” the 19-year-old said.
 
Recall Provorov had a very forgettable minus-5 game in October against the 'Hawks at United Center. He fared a tad better in this one.
 
“Keep everything in perspective,” Hakstol said. “From a night like that, he’s a guy who has continued to work at his game. He’s built it. He didn’t do a whole lot different tonight from his last 10 games. It was nice to see a couple pucks go in for him.”
 
Provorov also gave goalie Steve Mason an unwitting assist. Later that period, the 'Hawks thought they had scored on a net scrum.
 
The problem was, Provorov’s glove hand was hiding the puck in the net. Therefore on replay, it was inconclusive since the puck wasn’t visible.
 
“I just have to trust they obviously look at it real closely,” Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “We wanted the goal, but you just have to trust that they are doing everything. They obviously look at is as much as they can, so they know more than I do.”
 
The Flyers did a lot of things right in the opening period and still trailed, 1-0, outshooting the Hawks, 16-6, while outplaying them.  
 
Artemi Panarin scored the lone goal for Chicago at 3:44 during a bizarre sequence in which the Flyers lost a faceoff, cleared the zone, but Duncan Keith sent it back in to Patrick Kane. 
 
Kane threw it down the right boards for Artem Anisimov, who managed to suck all five Flyers to the right side, forcing a collision between Konecny and Michael Del Zotto as Anisimov threw a pass to the opposite circle for Panarin’s one-timer.
 
That was really the last time Mason had to worry about mix-ups or heavy traffic the rest of the game. The Flyers shut things down nicely in the final 10 minutes of the period, too.
 
“When you let an early goal in, the worst thing you can do is get away from your game plan,” Mason said. 
 
“We stuck to ours, which is why we got the result there. Big second period with three goals. Overall, our effort was pretty high.”