Which team ranks as Paul Holmgren's best?


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.

Michael Del Zotto, Scott Laughton return to practice

Michael Del Zotto, Scott Laughton return to practice

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers welcomed two more players out on to the rink for their practice following Saturday’s 6-3 win over Carolina. 

Michael Del Zotto (lower body) and Scott Laughton (lower body) returned to the ice for the first time since suffering injuries within days of each other. Before Sunday’s light practice, Del Zotto and Laughton had skated two consecutive days prior to work on their conditioning. 

“It’s nice to see them back with the group,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. 

Laughton, who injured himself during a training camp practice after losing an edge, was a bit more forward than Del Zotto on when he hopes to return. 

“I would say within the next five to seven days,” Laughton said.

The 22-year-old pointed to Saturday’s game with Pittsburgh as his target to return. 

As for Del Zotto, the defenseman didn’t want to jinx anything, saying it’s a “day-by-day” situation. He would like to think he’s working on the same timetable as Laughton. If that’s the case, he would be back either a few days before or right on cue with the projected four to five weeks he was scheduled to miss after suffering an injury to his left knee in the preseason against the New York Rangers on Oct. 6. 

“It’s kind of trial and error,” Del Zotto said. 

Above all else, though, the two were just happy to be back with their teammates. Del Zotto said that being around everyone really rejuvenated his spirits. 

“Just being back around the guys and having that team chemistry and camaraderie and being able to joke with the guys,” Del Zotto said, “it’s probably been the best thing for me.”

This past month has especially been hard on the two because of the timing and how last season ended for them. 

While there’s never an ideal time to suffer an injury, the pair saw training camp and the approaching start of the regular season in a different light than most of their teammates.

It was supposed to be their new start. Last season, Del Zotto missed the final few months, including the postseason, after ligament damage to his left wrist. He was having a strong preseason, arguably the top defenseman in camp at the time before suffering his setback.

“Being out so long last year and having to sit and watch playoffs than having six months of grueling rehab to get back into it … that made it sting that much more,” Del Zotto said. “That’s part of the game. It’s a contact sport. I signed up for this.”

The same can be said for Laughton, who experienced a scary injury in Game 4 against Washington after being dumped head first into the boards. 

“I was really excited to have camp and start the year here,” Laughton said. 

The two will be traveling to Montreal with the rest of the Flyers for Monday’s contest. They will each do the morning skate with another bag skate afterward. 

Flyers Weekly Observations: Brandon Manning, Matt Read earning their spots

Flyers Weekly Observations: Brandon Manning, Matt Read earning their spots

The second week of the season brought peaks and valleys for the Flyers. Uneven would be the appropriate adjective to describe this past week.
There was the high of Saturday’s 6-3 win over visiting Carolina when the offense exploded, the low of an uninspiring 3-2 loss to the Ducks in Thursday’s home opener and the comeback gone awry in Tuesday’s 7-4 loss in Chicago somewhere in between.
Let’s dive in to the week that was, starting with the hottest Flyers scorer on two skates.
• Matt Read has received his fair share of grief over the past few seasons. After scoring over 20 goals in two of his first three NHL seasons, the Flyers' forward struggled to produce with just 19 goals combined over the past two seasons, dealt with injuries and found it difficult to keep up with the speed of the game. Well, well, well … guess who’s tied for second in the entire league in goals with five tallies through five games this year. Yep, Read. For the first time in a long time, the 30-year-old is fully healthy, and it shows. It’s not just that Read is scoring again, it’s that he’s scoring from the tough areas the Flyers need score from. Not every goal can be a Claude Giroux-Jake Voracek passing clinic. Read has scored on deflections and in front of the net with defenders in his face. He’s proof that if a player goes to the tough areas, the player will be rewarded. His goal Thursday against Anaheim was an old-school Read goal, though, as he turned on the turbo jets, blew past a defender and made a slick deke at the net to beat John Gibson. It’s clear Dave Hakstol’s trust in Read is back, as the forward saw time on the top power-play unit this week and was even bumped up to the top line with Giroux and Wayne Simmonds when Michael Raffl left the game in Chicago with an injury. The offseason thumb surgery Read had seems like it’s done wonders, and that’s good news for the Flyers. He’s a confident player again and he’s earned his spot in the lineup.

• Speaking of earning a spot in the lineup, how impressive has Brandon Manning been on the Flyers’ blue line early on this season? It’s safe to say the 26-year-old has been the best defenseman on the team through the first five games of the season. He’s played a smart, stay-at-home style and not tried to do too much. That goal he scored against the Hurricanes on Saturday night was a thing of beauty, though. Who knew he had the deke and backhand tuck in his repertoire? He’s also got three assists on the young season. Manning leads the Flyers with a plus-5 rating early on and it just seems like good things are happening when he’s on the ice and around the puck. It’s going to be interesting to see what Hakstol does when Radko Gudas is eligible to play Tuesday vs. Buffalo when the burly defenseman’s suspension ends. Manning is staying in, and that was true even before Saturday’s stylish goal.
• Another week, another set of slow starts for the Flyers, who fell behind in all three games this week. It’s troubling trend they have to get control of soon. Constantly battling uphill is no way to play in the NHL and the Flyers know it. They fell behind 4-0 to Chicago, 1-0 to Anaheim and 2-0 to Carolina. The counterpoint here is the Flyers fought back in all three of those games and had legitimate chances to win in third period against both the Blackhawks and the Ducks. You have to like the never-say-die attitude they showed in Chicago when they scored four goals in just under six minutes to tie things up after a lackluster showing for most of the first two periods. Chicago is a tough place to play, but still, the starts have to be better. It’s frustrating because these kinds of comebacks show what the Flyers are capable of when they turn it on and leaves you wondering where it’s at from the beginning of the game.
• That 1-for-7 showing on the power play against the Ducks was flat-out ugly. Just brutal. It cost the Flyers the game. Think about this: the Flyers had seven power plays and finished the game with 22 total shots on goal. That just can’t happen. It was a game reminiscent of the playoff series vs. Washington when the power play haunted the Flyers and really cost them the series. They came back with a 1-for-4 showing against the 'Canes, but things still weren’t great. The man advantage is stagnant. Teams are keying in on Giroux at the half-wall and Shayne Gostisbehere at the point and putting pressure on them immediately, which throws all the timing off. It might be time for the Flyers to switch something up and try to focus on starting from below the goal line out. The kinds of dirty goals Simmonds scored on the power play this week are the ones the Flyers need to score. The pretty ones aren’t always going to be there. Get the shots through and go to work.
• It was a good week in net for Steve Mason, who was saddled with two hard-luck losses to the Blackhawks and Ducks. In Tuesday’s relief effort vs. Chicago, his defense did him no favors on the ‘Hawks’ late goals and his forwards didn’t help with neutral-zone turnovers, either. Giroux’s turnover at center ice on Chicago’s winning goal was ugly. Mason was hung out to dry against the Ducks, as the Flyers’ defense had a bad night. He was really good against the ‘Canes and that third-period save he made on his back during a net-front scramble could have been a game-saver. Michal Neuvirth struggled in his start in Chicago, giving up four goals on 16 shots. The ‘Hawks’ skill can do that to goalies. The Flyers have a back-to-back set Monday and Tuesday this week, so I expect the goalies to split those starts. But it seems, as of right now, Mason is the guy Hakstol is most comfortable with. And Hakstol has shown he’s not afraid to ride the hot hand in net.
• I’ve given the NHL’s Department of Player Safety plenty of grief in the past. Its inconsistency in suspension rulings can be dumbfounding at times. And the fact that whether or not a player is or isn’t hurt on a play factors into a ruling is just ridiculous. A guy isn’t hurt, so the dirty hit is OK. Right, whatever you say. That said, it got the three-game suspension on Dale Weise right. He left his feet and drilled Ducks defenseman Korbinian Holzer right in the head Thursday. It’s a textbook illegal check to the head. He didn’t have to leave his feet and eventually follow through to the head. Factor in that Weise was suspended in 2013 when, as a member of the Vancouver Canucks, he delivered a hit to the head of Taylor Hall that garned a three-game suspension, and the three-game ban here fits.
• I have a confession to make. After finally seeing the Flyers’ gold-trimmed 50th anniversary sweaters in action on Thursday, they’re really growing on me.
Coming up this week (all games on CSN): Monday at Montreal (7:30 p.m.), Tuesday vs. Buffalo (7:30 p.m.), Thursday vs. Arizona (7:00 p.m. – 50th anniversary celebration night for hall of famers), Saturday vs. Pittsburgh (7:00 p.m.).