Paul Holmgren – Candidate for GM of the Year?BREAKING NEWS, Flyers, News, NHL Thursday, March 8th, 2012
The “General Manager of the Year” award in the NHL isn’t a particularly exciting award. Most fans couldn’t care less, as it’s only two years old and is only voted on by the thirty general managers and a handful of league executives and broadcasters.
For the sake of discussion, though, I think Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren should be included in the conversation.
Every general manager in sports is faced with tough decisions. How do you replace players that seek free agency? How do you handle injuries? Have all the roles been clearly defined for the players you signed? Are the players buying into the coach’s system? Can you do all of the above on the budget you’ve been handed? Under a salary cap?
The first two recipients of the award were Don Maloney (Phoenix Coyotes) and Mike Gillis (Vancouver Canucks). Maloney has received much credit for building a team under a number of restrictions that has remained competitive in spite of the odds against them. Gillis earned the nod for simply building an incredibly deep team in all areas of the game.
Last year, Holmgren received one vote for second place.
In December, Pierre Lebrun of ESPN listed his top five early candidates for the award. Holmgren received an honorable mention. The suggested candidates include Chuck Fletcher (Minnesota Wild), Dale Tallon (Florida Panthers), Peter Chiarelli (Boston Bruins), Brian Burke (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Doug Armstrong (St. Louis Blues).
With three quarters of the season wrapped up, it’s become clear that Fletcher as a “feel good” candidate no longer fits the bill. The Maple Leafs and Panthers, while markedly improved from their previous iterations, may not even make the playoffs. Only Chiarelli and Armstrong could really still be considered from that list.
The first reason that Holmgren is deserving of recognition is that he could have very easily kept the Philadelphia Flyers as they were in 2011 and made minor changes to plug in holes or replace players heading into free agency. Instead, he blew up a team that small markets only dream of assembling and replaced them with younger, cheaper assets, further extending the organization’s window of opportunity to seriously compete for the Stanley Cup.
Coach Peter Laviolette, when asked about Sean Couturier after Tuesday’s win against the Detroit Red Wings, stated, “He’s getting better, and you know, he’s only going to get better, and stronger as he gains more experience and as he develops through the years here.”
You could easily apply that statement to Wayne Simmonds, Jake Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Matt Read and Erik Gustafsson.
Holmgren also replaced Ville Leino, Darroll Powe and Sean O’Donnell with Jaromir Jagr, Max Talbot and Andreas Lilja through free agency. Lilja hasn’t been much of an improvement over O’Donnell, but Jagr and Talbot have become great teammates both on and off the ice.
As bad as the contract for goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov is, nobody held it against Gillis that Roberto Luongo is signed through 2022 on a contract paying him $64 million. If you look at contracts as a measure of a general manager’s quality, you could easily go the other direction and credit Holmgren for the signings of Talbot and Read, who have combined for 37 goals and 68 points for a $2.65 million cap hit.
By the trade deadline, Holmgren brought in two top four defensemen, at the expense of four draft picks and a minor leaguer, that have become invaluable in light of the recent injuries to Kimmo Timonen and Andrej Meszaros. As reports come in that the 2012 draft is not looking as deep as previously thought past the first round, the loss of those assets appears marginal at best.
Factor in the amount of rookies iced this season, the severity and quantity of injuries throughout the roster and the team’s overall record (38-21-7), and Holmgren has done a pretty good job.
As Flyers fans, there are still moments that make us “facepalm”; the decision to keep Matt Walker over Oskars Bartulis in September, the waiving of Andreas Nodl (I know, I know, let it go Josh) and the preseason mishandling of junior forward Tomas Hyka come to mind.
In the big picture, though, these are all relatively minor quibbles. Holmgren has painted himself as a strong candidate for the annual GM of the year award and should be part of the conversation in June.
For the latest Flyers news and updates, you can follow me on twitter (@JoshJanet).
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