For the record, I do not hate Paul Holmgren and I do not think that he should be fired immediately. Over the years he has made some very shrewd moves and he has made some moves that have come back to bite him. Overall, the youth on the Flyers roster and the fact that Chris Pronger’s career ended five years before his contract expired have more to do with the Flyers early season struggles than mismanagement by Holmgren. And yes, Holmgren is well aware of the fact that the Flyers need a new #1 defenseman. You don’t throw $100 million+ at Shea Weber on a whim.
If there is any issue that I have with Holmgren’s management in recent years it has to do with the abundance of centers that he has assembled on the Flyers. On the Flyers roster Claude Giroux, Vincent Lecavalier, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Matt Read, Kris Newbury and Adam Hall naturally play center. That is not to mention prospects like Scott Laughton and Nick Cousins who are up and coming in the organization. I understand that the center position is essential to a teams’ success, but having too many of them causes other unforeseen problems.
First, it forces players to play out of their natural position. Both Brayden Schenn and Vincent Lecavalier have been shuffled between center and the wing this season. They have both played effectively in either situation, but it is not ideal for either player. Matt Read has been on the wing since he got to Philadelphia and has played there effectively, to the point that most people forget that he can even play center. Although it does not have negative effects on veterans like Lecavalier, I would submit that part of the reason for Schenn’s slow development over the last few years is due to the fact that he has been shuffled around the line-up since he arrived in Philadelphia.
Second, it slows down the development of key prospects. Scott Laughton is a quality young player. Is he NHL ready? I’m not sure. However, he was not given the chance to play in the NHL this season because of the extreme depth the Flyers have at center. Why Holmgren would choose Laughton at 20th overall (especially when defensive prospects like Maatta and Matheson were on the board) after choosing both Couturier and Cousins in the 2011 draft baffles me. I like Laughton, but I am afraid that his development is being hurt by the depth that the Flyers have at center.
Finally, it opens up other areas of weakness. With their depth at center, and also at right wing, the Flyers have neglected other areas of growth. The Flyers have an old, slow defense. During the three game stretch in which Gustafsson and L. Schenn were scratched, their youngest defenseman was 28 years old and they started two defensemen who are 38 years old. The Flyers also lack a true top line left wing. Don’t get me wrong, I like Scott Hartnell and Brayden Schenn. However, Hartnell is slowing down (it is not unusual for power forwards like Hartnell to start wearing down in their early thirties) and Schenn is more comfortable at center.
Overall, I am one of the few Flyers fans who is not against Paul Holmgren. I trust Homer and I am happy that he is being patient with the young guns, even as fans cry for his head. However, this organization needs to flip some of their depth at center for some defensive/left wing help to show the Flyers Faithful that there is a plan. But right now, it looks as if the Flyers are hoarding young centers at the expense of more pressing needs.