Paul Holmgren was the general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers for eight years; which is the third longest tenure behind Bobby Clarke and Hall of Famer Keith Allen. Like Clarke and Allen, he helped to build a team that went to the Stanley Cup finals, but unlike Allen, they did not win. During those years, the Flyers made the playoffs in six of eight seasons at the helm. And while that is good, the seeds for the Flyers demise started with Paul Holmgren’s term. Let’s take a deeper look into what happened.
Reshuffling the Deck
First of all, Holmgren is a disciple of Clarke. And like Clarke, he was focused on building a team that was big and physical. Now, it kind of worked for Clarke. Under Clarke, the Flyers were almost always a playoff bound team loaded up with stars. However, they were usually bounced out of the playoffs by a team that they should have beaten (like a Toronto, Ottawa, Florida, Tampa, Buffalo) or the New Jersey Devils. Every year under Clarke, it felt as if they were just “one player away” from winning it all; but they never found that guy.
And much like with Clarke, it was always that they had “a bad goalie”. During Holmgren’s time as GM, the Flyers had 17 goalies: Antero Niittymaki, Robert Esche, Martin Biron, Michael Leighton, Martin Houle, Scott Munroe, Brian Boucher, Ray Emery, Johan Backlund, Jeremy Duchesne, Carter Hutton, Sebastien Caron, Sergei Bobrovsky, Ilya Bryzgalov, Jason Bacashihua, Steve Mason, and Cal Heeter. Now while some of them are forgettable, most of these guys had decent seasons. Some, like Leighton, couldn’t stay healthy, but few of these guys are what I would consider “bad”. But, much like Clarke again, sometimes the trigger was pulled too soon on some of these guys.
And also like Clarke, Holmgren perpetually put the Flyers near the salary cap. In fact, I don’t think I can remember a moment in my life that the Flyers haven’t been near the salary cap threshold. But when Holmgren resigned, it put pressure on Ron Hextall, his successor as GM, to fix the financial mess the Flyers have been in. And recently departed GM Chuck Fletcher spent the bulk of his career fixing up the mistakes that Hextall put the team in.
So, we see Holmgren making many of the same mistakes that his predecessor had. But again, we can see the thinking. The Flyers were usually “close” enough to the Stanley Cup finals. Maybe one more player could put them over the top. So, if it (sorta) worked, why change things?
But it wasn’t all bad under Holmgren. He did make some bold moves.