By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
Paul Holmgren: A hero to some, a villain to others. Most will quiver when they hear his name after his eight years as the Flyers general manager left the franchise in shambles. Some mistakes were worse than others and are still felt today. This is the top 5 biggest mistakes of Paul Holmgren.
Number 5- Chris Pronger Contract
While Chris Pronger temporarily solved the Flyers’ search for a top defenseman, It quickly turned into a burden. Pronger’s his cap hit wasn’t awful ($4.935mil), it was the length of the deal that just didn’t make sense. Signing him for seven years at age 35 was a huge mistake. When his career ultimately ended less than two years into his seven-year deal, the Flyers were forced to eat his cap hit every year thanks to the plus-35 rule in the 2005 Collective Bargaining Agreement, until they traded the remainder of his contract to the Coyotes in the summer of 2015.
Number 4- Schenn for JVR
After the wretched 2006-07 season came to an end for the Flyers, they ended up with the second overall pick in the draft and took the highly touted Van Reimsdyk. After dazzling during the 2009-10 pre-season, he made his NHL debut that October. With his star on the rise and a brand new six-year contract, Holmgren stunned the fanbase when he traded JVR to the Toronto Maple Leafs for defenseman Luke Schenn straight up. Schenn would never quite develop into the top defenseman that the Flyers expected, and the trade stung more as Van Reimsdyk has since had two 30-goal and two 60+ point campaigns.
Number 3- A 1st and a 3rd round pick for Eminger
The Flyers were in serious need of a star defenseman and Holmgren thought he found a diamond in the rough, not knowing what he was trading away. Eminger had a disappointing 2007-08 season, playing just 20 games as he found himself in the press box after not living up to his high expectations. Eminger would take a big role for the Capitals during the playoffs thanks to multiple injuries on the Caps blueline, which was enough for Holmgren to trade a first and third round pick to the Capitals for Eminger during the summer of 2008.
That first round pick became stud defenseman John Carlson, while Eminger only played 12 games for the Flyers before being dealt to the Florida Panthers. It’s been almost a decade since that deal and the Flyers are still struggling to find a true top defenseman.
Number 2- Bobrovsky to Columbus
This was a hard pill to swallow. The promising young goaltender had a terrific rookie season, going 28-13-8 with a 2.59 GAA and a .915 SV%. In that time, he uprooted Brian Boucher as the starting goalie. But during the summer of 2011, the Flyers signed Bryzgalov to be their new starter, which meant Bobrovsky was resigned to a backup role, something he wasn’t thrilled about. After playing only 24 games during his sophomore campaign, he was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for three draft picks that became Anthony Stolarz, Taylor Leier, and the last was used to re-acquire forward Simon Gagne from the Kings.
Bobrovsky was 24 at the time of the trade and still had a huge ceiling, but given they inked Bryz to a huge deal, and Bobrovsky’s less-than-stellar numbers when called upon as his backup, Holmgren’s hands were tied. The return was lackluster at the time and has not grown better with age. Neither Stolarz nor Leier have developed to be a serious threat at the NHL level, which makes this trade sting that much worse. Bobrovsky has gone on to win the Vezina Trophy twice while the Flyers are still searching for a reliable starting goaltender.
Number 1- Ilya Bryzgalov contract
Speaking of Ilya Bryzgalov, he is easily Holmgren’s biggest mistake. Even with promising young gun Sergei Bobrovsky in tow, Holmgren felt he need to make a big splash and sign what he felt was a starting goaltender, rather than a veteran to teach Bobs. Enter Ilya Bryzgalov. The 31-year-old was signed to a massive nine-year $51 million deal.
There are so many aspects of this deal that ruined the Flyers. It forced Holmgren to trade Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, eventually caused the trade of Bobrovsky, and through it all the Flyers never ended up with a true starting goalie.
Randy Jones two-year $5.5mil contract- Randy Jones was a disaster of a defenseman, leading the team in turnovers twice, and was in the top three all four years he was in Philadelphia. Jones was sent to the AHL during his second season of his new contract, and was claimed on re-entry waivers meaning the Flyers were stuck with half of his cap hit for the remainder of the season.
Andrew Macdonald contract– Even though the Flyers were starved of a top defenseman, MacDonald was clearly not the answer. Holmgren apparently thought differently. He rewarded AMac with a six-year $30 million contract that continues to bog down the team, and will until it expires in 2020.
Simon Gagne trade– Thanks to the acquisitions of Nikolay Zherdev and Andrej Meszaros, the Flyers were over the salary cap and needed to clear some space. Even though Gagne was passed his peak, he was a fan favorite and a long-tenured player. He was dealt to Tampa in return for Matt Walker and Marcel Noebels, who between them played eight games for the Flyers.
photo credit: nbcsports.com