I meant to post this a few days ago, but I forgot (memory is the first thing to go, right? or is it hearing?).
Anyway, I wrote a column for Friday’s paper about the Flyers standing pat (except for one minor trade) at the trade deadline and it being a good idea. Here it is in all its glory (I swear its much better than the Flyers’ embarrassing second period against Winnipeg on Saturday).
Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline came and went with the Flyers making the smallest of moves that won’t drastically improve the team now or down the road and that’s OK.
General manager Paul Holmgren wisely didn’t mortgage the future for the short term to get a much-needed defenseman because there just wasn’t a game-changing one on the market. Instead the Flyers, who are five points out of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, shipped out one backup goaltender for another (Michael Leighton along with a 2015 draft pick to Columbus for Steve Mason).
Nothing Holmgren could have done would have solved the woes of his defense, which has been the Flyers’ biggest issue this season. Part of that is poor performance, part is bad personnel decisions and the last part is the organization’s continued run of bad luck with concussions to franchise players.
When the Flyers traded for Chris Pronger in 2009 they thought they had shored up their defense and point on the power play for seven years (the length of the contract the Flyers gave Pronger when they acquired him from Anaheim). The move paid off immediately when Pronger helped the Flyers reach the Stanley Cup finals in 2010, but everything came crashing down at the beginning of the 2011-12 season when Pronger sustained a concussion after being hit in the eye with a stick.
Pronger, who was the Flyers’ captain for just 13 games before the concussion, hasn’t played since thanks to post-concussion symptoms and will likely never take the ice again. That puts him in an unenviable class of past Flyers captains like Eric Lindros and Keith Primeau, who both saw their careers destroyed by concussions.
With one hand tied behind his back thanks to Pronger’s hefty salary, Holmgren succeeded in adding young scoring punch as he tries to bring a Stanley Cup to Philadelphia for the first time since 1975.
He did well by getting rid of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and their God-awful contracts prior to last season, netting Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek and a draft pick that became Sean Couturier in return. Holmgren also strengthened his blue-line by trading talented, but underachieving forward James van Riemsdyk to Toronto for defenseman Luke Schenn prior to the start of this season.
It’s Holmgren’s move for goalie Ilya Bryzgalov prior to last season that has netted the harshest response from media and fans, although a bit unjust.
Bryzgalov, whose exclusive free-agent rights Holmgren traded for from Phoenix before giving him a nine-year, $51 million contract last year, hasn’t been the equivalent of Martin Brodeur or Henrik Lundqvist (who is really?) during his short stay in Philadelphia, but he’s been good enough that the shortcomings of the Flyers shouldn’t only rest on his shoulders. There is some thought the Flyers might amnesty Bryzgalov and give Mason a shot, but that would be a huge gamble.
Where Holmgren has really struggled, though, is assembling a defense in front of Bryzgalov minus Pronger.
The backline Holmgren has put together is either old (Kimmo Timonen), immobile (Nicklas Grossmann) or bad (Braydon Coyburn and Bruno Gervais, who are combined minus 25 this season). The worst part is Coyburn, Grossmann and Timonen are all signed through next year thanks to contract extensions given to them by Holmgren. There’s no top prospect on the way either and this year’s free-agent defensemen class doesn’t inspire much confidence (Edmonton’s Ryan Whitney would be a nice addition, but he’s 30 and will command top dollar, and that’s not available with money already committed by the Flyers).
Holmgren’s only chance to get a defender who can help the Flyers challenge for a Cup would be to use a talented young scorer (Matt Read, Brayden Schenn or both, maybe?) as a trade chip, but I’d only be guessing as to who would be available. Like pitching in baseball, teams aren’t exactly lining up to give away talented defensemen either.
One smart thing Holmgren did do was to stand pat Wednesday and that’s a good start.