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 answer Ron Hextall's plea with comeback OT win over Islanders

Flyers answer Ron Hextall's plea with comeback OT win over Islanders

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Shayne Gostisbehere’s fist pump was so vicious and mighty, the celebration was probably felt back in Philadelphia.

This was an exultation the entire Flyers felt, too.

When it started to look like the bye week wasn’t the break they needed, the Flyers reached down deep and got one Sunday night at the Barclays Center in the form of a 3-2 overtime victory over the Islanders (see Instant Replay).

“It allows you to take a breath,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “That’s one thing for sure.”

A sigh of relief for a team beaten and bruised — losers of three straight by a combined score of 15-4, not to mention 3-9-3 in its past 15 games. The Flyers had lost the day prior on home ice to the Devils, 4-1, with a performance not exactly inspiring confidence following five days off.

On Sunday, they trailed 2-0 in the second period.

“We've got to get better at dealing with adversity when something goes wrong,” general manager Ron Hextall said bluntly before the game. “We need to get back on the horse and get back going. Big deal, a team scored a goal. We need to react better to it.”

Finally, the Flyers reacted the way their GM had been hoping.

They flipped the deficit into a victory when Gostisbehere skated behind the net and put the puck on Claude Giroux’s stick for the game-winner with 1:40 left in the extra session. Gostisbehere whipped his arm through the air and embraced Giroux, along with Jakub Voracek, who started the play by stripping Islanders captain John Tavares.

“On a lot of different levels, it’s an important win,” Hakstol said. “It’s huge. And more importantly for us, a great effort. Thought we deserved the two points. Sometimes maybe that’s what it takes to get over the hump — a tremendous effort for 60-plus minutes. I thought we got that out of everyone tonight.”

For Giroux, it was his first goal since Dec. 21.

For Steve Mason, his first win since Dec. 21.

And for the Flyers, their first road victory since Dec. 14, as they went 0-6-3 in the previous nine games away from home.

Yeah, “it was needed,” as Wayne Simmonds said of the win.

“We’ve been fighting it lately and I thought that was a good game from start to finish,” he said. “I thought everyone played well. I think we made bounces go our way tonight instead of hoping and waiting.”

Simmonds scored what might have been the biggest goal of the game. The Flyers, down 1-0 in the second period, came up empty for 33 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play and the proceeding 5-on-4 advantage. The Islanders then padded the lead to 2-0 moments later, putting the Flyers’ backs against the wall.

But Simmonds kept his team from uncoiling with a goal at 14:10 of the period, giving the Flyers life at second intermission. If not for that score, who knows how the Flyers come out in the third period, trailing by multiple goals yet again.

"I think we were plying well,” Giroux said. “We had a lot of chances and [the puck] wasn't going in. Everybody on the bench was frustrated. When Wayne got that first goal, I think [there was] a little relief on the bench. I haven't seen a team celebrate so much just for a first goal. It was kind of a relief and we had a little boost out of that.”

Ivan Provorov scored the equalizer 1:47 into the final period when he maintained possession from the blue line to the circle, adeptly skating around two Islanders to put the puck on net. Provorov’s pass to Travis Konecny hit off the skate of New York’s Adam Pelech and into the net.

“I came off the bench and I saw [Brayden Schenn] was going into the zone, so I took a few hard strides, got the puck from him and I saw it was kind of an odd-man situation,” Provorov said. “I held on to the puck a little bit, saw T.K. going backdoor, passed it there and it went off their D skate.”

Just as important as the timely goals was the Flyers’ discipline. Against the Devils, the Flyers compiled 19 penalty minutes, forcing them on seven penalty kills. This time, the Flyers sharpened up, not allowing the Islanders a power play until midway through the third period. In total, they had just four penalty minutes and killed off both power plays faced.

That gave them a chance.

“We just kept saying it the whole time, ‘Keep going, keep going, guys,’” Simmonds said. “We just need one [goal] and from one comes two, and Mase held the fort.”

Mason made 17 of his 36 saves in the third period and overtime combined.

Now, the Flyers at least go into another important back-to-back — starting Wednesday at the Rangers before welcoming the Maple Leafs Thursday — with some confidence instead of a lost weekend.

“I thought the focus was purely on going out and playing well,” Hakstol said. “And you know, that’s harder to do than you might know — when you start to feel some of the pressure without a win in a little bit. I really liked that side of it. Even in that situation, all the guys played well. Hopefully that puts our entire team in the right direction.’’

Best of NHL: Crosby scores league-leading 28th goal in win vs. Bruins

Best of NHL: Crosby scores league-leading 28th goal in win vs. Bruins

PITTSBURGH -- Conor Sheary scored two goals, Sidney Crosby added his league-leading 28th and the Pittsburgh Penguins won their fourth straight game, 5-1 over the Boston Bruins 5-1 on Sunday.

Pittsburgh led 2-1 through two periods before breaking out in the third with three goals in a span of 2 minutes, 57 seconds.

Sheary scored his 17th and has nine goals in nine games. Bryan Rust added his 12th and Patric Hornqvist his 11th for the Penguins, who won a season-high seventh straight at home. Pittsburgh the NHL's best home team, is 13-0-1 in its last 14 home games.

Evgeni Malkin had two assists for a season-best seven-game point streak. Crosby added two assists for a three-point game. Matt Murray made 44 saves to win his fourth straight game.

David Krejci scored his 11th for the Bruins, who have lost four straight and five of their last six (see full recap).

Rangers shut out Red Wings in 1-0 OT win
DETROIT -- J.T. Miller scored at 1:56 of overtime to lift the New York Rangers to a 1-0 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday.

Henrik Lundqvist made 21 saves for his second shutout of the season and 61st of his career. The Rangers managed only 19 shots in a game that featured few memorable chances by either team.

The winner came when Mats Zuccarello and Miller swooped in alone on Detroit goalie Jared Coreau. Zuccarello made a simple pass to Miller, who lifted the puck over Coreau for his 16th goal of the season.

Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall played for the first time since Jan. 4, returning from a lower-body injury. The Red Wings put forward Drew Miller on waivers (see full recap).

Atikinson lifts Jackets over Senators in wild OT win
OTTAWA, Ontario -- Cam Atkinson's second goal of the game at 1:09 of overtime lifted the Columbus Blue Jackets a 7-6 win over the Ottawa Senators on Sunday night.

Atkinson had a breakaway after a shot by Senators captain Erik Karlsson missed the Columbus net and went around the boards out to Atkinson, who was at center-ice.

The Blue Jackets trailed 5-3 after two periods before Lukas Sedlak and Matt Calvert scored 31 seconds apart to tie it less than 2 1/2 minutes into the third. Atklnson then gave Columbus a 6-5 lead with 9:10 remaining, before Kyle Turries tied it for Ottawa on the power play less than 2 minutes later.

Nick Foligno, Scott Harrington and Zach Werenski also scored for the Blue Jackets, and Joonas Korpisalo finished with 28 saves.

Zach Smith and Mike Hoffman each had two goals and Mark Stone also scored for the Senators. Mike Condon had 22 saves (see full recap).