Philadelphia Flyers’ GM Paul Holmgren and head coach John Stevens have taken a lot of flack for allegedly condoning thuggery on ice this year, but it’s high time these two got some credit for one of the most remarkable turnarounds in recent history.
Holmgren inherited a team that would go on to post the worst record in the league last season when his former boss Bobby Clarke resigned from the general manager’s post 18 months ago. But Holmgren took that lemon and quickly made lemonade; he parlayed Peter Forsberg into Scottie Upshall, Ryan Parent and ultimately Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen. He shipped aging rearguard Alexei Zhitnik to Atlanta for burgeoning blue-liner Braydon Coburn. Holmgren also traded Joni Pitkanen and Geoff Sanderson to Edmonton for young gun Joffrey Lupul and veteran defenseman Jason Smith. Then he stole Martin Biron from the Sabres for a second rounder, and picked Buffalo’s pocket again by signing free agent Daniel Briere to a massive contract in the off season.
Holmgren did all of this without dealing the second pick overall in last year’s draft which he used to select James vanRiemsdyk. And that’s not to mention the acquisition of Vaclav Prospal at this year’s trade deadline to compensate for the loss of sniper Simon Gagne, who played in just 25 games this season after suffering a concussion.
As for Stevens, he was charged with the task of building a cohesive unit out of these various parts and he passed with flying colours. Philly got out of the gate with one of the best records in hockey, and Stevens kept this group from choking down the stretch when everyone outside that dressing room thought the Flyers were destined to miss the playoffs.
There has already been a lot of ink spilled on the assorted heroes behind Philadelphia’s improbable playoff run, but Holmgren and Stevens deserve kudos for their roles in the Flyers’ success.
• Just when you think Gary Bettman and his cronies at head office have finally figured out how to schedule hockey games, another brain cramp occurs. Why must we wait until Thursday to resume the playoffs? There are no building conflicts in Detroit, Pittsburgh, Dallas or Philadelphia, so one can only assume that the NHL believes this break is in the best interest of the game. While I definitely want to see as many healthy bodies in the lineup as possible, this break only serves to limit the momentum created by the outstanding play in the first two rounds of the postseason.