Which team ranks as Paul Holmgren's best?

021313-flyers-holmgren-ap.jpg

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.

Hakstol intrigues with pairing, potential of Konecny, Couturier, Voracek

Hakstol intrigues with pairing, potential of Konecny, Couturier, Voracek

VOORHEES, N.J. — Travis Konecny, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek styled matching green jerseys during Friday’s practice at Flyers Skate Zone.

Together, they whipped around the ice in what head coach Dave Hakstol called a “physical, grinding, competitive day, probably the most competitive of camp … and that was for a purpose.”

Flyers fans are likely crossing their fingers, hoping the trio in green holds a purpose, as well.

The line of Konecny, Couturier and Voracek was a new wrinkle to 2016 training camp, a day before the team’s fifth preseason game. Maybe an experiment of sorts by Hakstol, but one that exudes all kinds of potential leading up to Saturday night’s contest against the Bruins at the Wells Fargo Center.

“It’s one day of practice,” Hakstol said. “They were fine. I wasn’t keying on that line in any way, I was keying on a lot of our team play. They were fine, they worked hard. To really see what kind of chemistry they have and how productive they can be, we’ll have to wait until the game [Saturday] if they’re together.”

Will we see that?

“You might,” Hakstol said. “I don’t have anything set yet.”

Konecny played left wing Friday, next to Couturier at center and Voracek on the right. If that is in fact the case Saturday, the 19-year-old Konecny will see another golden opportunity to woo management in his push for a roster spot. The Flyers purposely paired Konecny with NHL forwards Brayden Schenn and Michael Raffl in Wednesday’s 2-0 preseason win, and the 2015 first-round pick responded with a goal and an assist.

Friday marked a new day with new possibilities.

“It felt good,” Konecny said. “Just like the game [Wednesday] night, you’re playing with good players and it makes the game easier. I was just trying to keep things simple and work hard.”

Couturier and Voracek are two of the Flyers’ most skilled passers and playmakers. Combine them with Konecny — a prized prospect with the same traits — and it’s hard to measure the upside.

“It opens up a lot of space,” Konecny said. “Those guys are big out there, so when they’re going to the corners, it creates a little room for me. I’ve just got to find the holes and find the spots and the puck kind of just comes to you.”

Left wing is Konecny’s best shot at making the team’s roster and snagging a top-six role. The Flyers are heavy at right wing while light at left. Among the Flyers’ group of forwards, it’s the position of greatest need.

Like Hakstol said, Friday’s practice had purpose. So Konecny’s trying out left wing had substance, too.

“I think it’s a possibility,” Hakstol said. “I wouldn’t say that’s an absolute, but that’s one area that we’re looking at — not just for him, but for other players. So that’s one possibility.”

Konecny, more of a right winger and/or center, has no qualms with playing left. Really, a player of his ilk can make an impact regardless of position.

“I’ve played all positions through junior,” he said. “I’ve played right, middle and left, so wherever I fit in, I’d play there. I’m trying not to look too far ahead, though, just trying to play every day, and wherever I am that day, I’ll focus on that position and get the job done that day.

“I usually end up on the left wing when I’m coming across the ice anyway. I enter the zone on that side of the ice, so it helps me. I actually think I see the ice better when I play on that side of the ice.
 
“I got another day to play today. It’s just about earning each and every day.”

Voracek and Couturier, both of whom have yet to play in a preseason game because of World Cup of Hockey competition, looked at Friday as just another practice with new elements — such is life in training camp.

“It needs some work, obviously we need to get used to each other but if we skate and play with the puck, we should be fine,” Voracek said.

“Even last year along with this year, every game [Konecny has] been very solid. He’s a hard-working kid for his size. He’s very greedy, he’s not scared and he’s skating well. For a 19-year-old, he’s looking very, very sharp.”

Roster talk
According to a report by generalfanager.com, the Flyers waived forwards Petr Straka, Andy Miele, Chris Conner and Greg Carey, as well as defenseman and South Jersey native T.J. Brennan. None of the five were seen practicing Friday and the Flyers did not have an announcement. If they clear waivers — which seems likely — they’ll report to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

With the reported moves, the Flyers’ roster stands at 34, including injured players Nick Schultz, Mark Alt and Cole Bardreau. The Flyers will have to be at 23 by the season opener Oct. 14.

Goalie situation
Hakstol said whomever is in net Saturday will play the entire game. He would not say if it would be Steve Mason or Michal Neuvirth. An announcement will be made Saturday morning. Neuvirth is back from the World Cup and has yet to play a preseason game.

Gudas update
Defenseman Radko Gudas (wrist), who said Wednesday he’s “pretty close” to 100 percent, will “definitely” play in a preseason game, Hakstol said. The coach would not say whether it would be Saturday or next week.

Canada wins World Cup, rallying to beat Europe

Canada wins World Cup, rallying to beat Europe

TORONTO -- Canada was not the best team on the ice until it mattered.

Down two goals with 3 minutes left, the high-powered Canadians kicked it up a notch and Team Europe simply couldn't stop them.

Brad Marchand scored a short-handed goal with 43.1 seconds left after Patrice Bergeron tied it with 2:53 to go on a power play, lifting Canada to a 2-1 victory and the World Cup of Hockey title Thursday night.

Sidney Crosby's line with the Boston Bruins pair of Marchand and Bergeron dominated in the final minutes as the trio did throughout the two-week tournament.

"They're addicted to winning and they just make it happen," Canada coach Mike Babcock said.

The Canadians won the best-of-three finals 2-0.

They've won 16 straight games, including Olympic gold medals at the Sochi and Vancouver Games, since losing to the U.S. in the 2010 Olympics.

"It's pretty special," Crosby said. "It's not easy to do and for a good chunk of us, a lot of us were there in Russia."

Europe seemed as if it had a chance to score a go-ahead goal late when Drew Doughty was called for high-sticking with just under 2 minutes left, but Canada was the team that took advantage when Marchand got the puck into open space and beat Jaroslav Halak with a shot from the slot to win the first World Cup since 2004.

"It's just crazy the way everything worked out," said Crosby, selected the MVP of the tournament after scoring three goals and finishing with a World Cup-high 10 points. "When you get a penalty that late in the game, you're just trying to force overtime."

After Crosby got his latest personal reward, he was presented with a silver World Cup of Hockey trophy and skated with it around the ice just months after hosting the Stanley Cup for the second time in his career.

He set up the tying goal, passing the puck off the boards to Brent Burns, whose shot just inside the blue line was redirected by Bergeron's raised stick.

"In the biggest moments, he turns it up," Babcock said.

Carey Price made 32 saves for the Canadians, who started slow before ending the tournament with a furious rally that fired up a once-quiet crowd.

Zdeno Chara scored early for Europe, and Halak made 32 saves for the eight-nation team .

"It's a tough loss because we were able to push them all the way to the limits," Chara said.

In front of an unenthusiastic crowd and a lot of empty seats in the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Canadians started flat and the Europeans made them pay for their apparent apathy.

Unlike the last two times Canada trailed briefly to the U.S. and Russia, it could not come back against Europe quickly.

It looked as if it wasn't going to be Canada's night when John Tavares had a wide-open net to shoot into, but hit the right post from the bottom of the right circle. Earlier in the same shift, the New York Islanders forward missed the net on a one-timer opportunity.

Canada averaged 4.4 goals over the first five games of the tournament, giving Price plenty of support. It didn't score as much in the final game of the tournament, but two goals were enough to win thanks to Price.

Europe outshot the Canadians 12-8 after the first period and 27-21 after the second before they closed well enough to finish with one more shot.

Canada had a man advantage again early in the third period, but only got one shot on Halak, a Slovak and Islanders standout, on the possibly pivotal power play.

Crosby had a chance to score with 7-plus minutes left, but Halak kicked the shot away with his right skate.

In the end, Halak could not keep the puck out of his net twice.

"The way it turned out at the end is very painful," Europe coach Ralph Krueger said. "But you need to open eye to big picture and the journey. How we played was amazing. They played their hearts out. ... We beat the odds and we turned this into a hell of final, which nobody expected."