Saturday, March 10, 2012

Holmgren's re-engineering deserves end-of-year hardware

As we move into the final fifth of the NHL season, the awards races have pretty much taken shape. Henrik Lundqvist and Evgeni Malkin will probably battle it out for MVP (sorry, G, but without a big stretch run I don't think you've got the votes). Lundqvist is far and away the front-runner for Vezina. Ken Hitchcock has got to be considered the favorite for the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year.

But one deserving candidate isn't getting any of the publicity he absolutely deserves. How is Paul Holmgren not among the top names mentioned for GM of the year?

Here's a story from CBS Sports about the top candidates for the award. Holmgren doesn't make that list?

Not ahead of Glen Sather, who signed the top free agent on the market and otherwise made no major changes from last year's team? Not ahead of Doug Armstrong, whose team was totally floundering before a coaching change (Hitchcock) kicked them into high gear?

Compare the Flyers 2010 opening day roster to its 2011 opening day roster.

Gone are Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Ville Leino, Dan Carcillo,  Blair Betts, Darroll Powe, and Nikolay Zherdev. That's seven out of 12 forwards that have been replaced. Also gone are Oskars Bartulis, Sean O'Donnell, and Brian Boucher.

Meanwhile, plenty of new faces have made major contributions. Holmgren stole Jaromir Jagr, who's proved to have plenty left in the tank, from under the division rival Penguins' nose. He shrewdly signed Matt Read, an undrafted rookie free agent, who turned out to be a leading candidate for the Calder trophy and takes some of the toughest shifts on the team.

After Chris Pronger went down for the year, Holmgren worked the cap to bring in huge veteran defensemen Nicklas Grossmann and  Pavel Kubina, who have been excellent. Max Talbot, also stolen from the Penguins, is having a career year in Philadelphia. Holmgren brought in Ilya Bryzgalov, who has been nearly impregnable since the All Star break.

And, oh yeah, Holmgren traded Carter and Richards, the franchise's two cornerstones, in separate deals on the same day in the offseason, and managed to fleece both other teams in the process!

Richards left for Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds. Carter left for Jake Voracek and the eighth overall pick, which turned out to be invaluable rookie and penalty-killer Sean Couturier. Carter was so unhappy and unproductive in Columbus that he lasted only half an injury-plagued season before being sent to join Richards in Los Angeles.

If you think the Flyers would reverse the terms of either of those trades, you haven't been paying attention.

Holmgren managed to turn over the Flyers' roster by a full 50 percent before the season, added new pieces at the deadline, made the Flyers considerably younger and deeper at forward, and brought in a veteran starting goaltender to boot.

After all that upheaval, the Flyers find themselves with the fourth most points in the conference despite playing in the East's toughest division. Some of the credit needs to go to coach Peter Laviolette, whose steady hand has been instrumental in the team's success.

But Holmgren is the key player.  He did a fantastic job evaluating talent and understanding how it would fit into Laviolette's system, and brought in a lot of players who have made a major impact in their first year with the Flyers.

The Flyers will always spend right up to the cap, which gives Holmgren a competitive advantage over some other teams and will hurt him in the awards voting. But it would be a challenge for any executive to engineer so complete a transformation without the team skipping a beat. And for that, Holmgren deserves the honor.

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't agree more Haas. Here's ESPN's GM Ranking and you'll notice someone inconspicuously absent.
    Sorry this wouldn't let me use a hyperlink for this.
    Any way I don't understand why a team with so many new faces is getting no love for this award. I mean if you read that article the most moves any GM does is 2. Hell David Polie is in second because he didn't do anything. Now while that does take courage it doesn't mean you're good at your job and it could mean that you're highly incompetent. Holmgren looked saw trouble was building in little Italy and acted swiftly robbing both LA and Columbus. Then after losing his captain signs two guys, and while they might (probably) won't be back next year they were definitely worth the risk. I mean how is Holmgren not even an honorable mention when the GM for the Kings is.
    Sidebar Laviolette should also be in the running for coach of the year for the very same reasons.