What Went Wrong in 2013 Part 5: Front Office Is to Blame
This is the fifth and final part of a five-part feature series on TCL Flyers titled "What Went Wrong in 2013."
By Dan MacNeal (@Realdeal411)
The Flyers came to a crossroads two offseasons ago.
They could have gone in one or two directions. One side of the path had them rebuilding the team, pushing a youth movement that would make them a dangerous contender in a couple years. The other path was the same win-now mentality the Flyers have had for the last two decades, resulting in a couple Stanley Cup berths and a handful of Conference Finals appearances.
Unfortunately, general manager Paul Holmgren tried to travel down both paths at once and wound up falling flat on his face this season.
Starting after the 2010 Stanley Cup Final run, additional defensive depth was a priority. With only four defensemen (Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn) eating most of the minutes in the Final, the team needed to bolster the blue line.
Dan Hamhuis was the first target, but they failed to sign him after trading for his rights. The next target that summer was Andrej Meszaros, who the Flyers acquired for a second round pick.
About three weeks later, in order to free up cap space, fan favorite Simon Gagne was traded to Tampa for Matt Walker and a fourth round draft pick. Despite the large salary dump of Gagne, Walker clogged payroll and a contract slot for three years.
The 2011 playoffs brought the goaltending merry-go-round with Brian Boucher, Sergei Bobrovsky and Michael Leighton tying an NHL record with seven in-game goaltender switches in 11 games. Team Chairman Ed Snider declared it would never happen again, and the search for a number one goalie was on.
This is where Holmgren and Snider tried to go in two directions at once and it completely backfired on them.
Holmgren traded two third round picks for the rights of Ilya Bryzgalov, who was signed to a 9 year, $51 million deal. It seemed like the Flyers would be in good shape for the near future and beyond until two trades rattled the franchise to the core.
We all know now the details of the Mike Richards and Jeff Carter deals. The team decided to restock with depth and potential, also while clearing cap space and changing the pulse of the locker room.
However, the direction of the team was conflicting. With bringing in the younger players such as Brayden Schenn, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and the draft pick used to select Sean Couturier, it seemed like the Flyers were going to be patient and wait for the future.
The Bryzgalov addition was the opposite; a win-now move. So was the addition of Jaromir Jagr, which gave Flyers fans one fun season but he left for greener pastures in 2012.
As the Flyers had holes in their roster, because of the lack of prospects in the system, they had to either go the free agent route or make a trade. Both cost something that the Flyers didn’t (and still don’t) have much of; free agents get more money and trades cost assets.
Holmgren started picking up undrafted free agents hoping that some could become a solid NHL player, such as the 2011 signing of Matt Read.
Pronger’s injury was not the team’s fault. No one could prepare for him to be put into semi-retirement. Unfortunately, it left a massive hole in the defense during the season which forced the team to fill it with trades.
The Flyers gave up four picks to acquire Nicklas Grossmann and Pavel Kubina. Grossmann turned out to be a solid pickup, while Kubina was an expensive flop.
As Walker was buried in the minors, the Flyers tried to fill out their depth at defense by signing the likes of Bruno Gervais, Andreas Lilja and Kurtis Foster over the past two seasons. This clogged more roster slots and cap room, and the team ended up using young guys such as Brandon Manning, Erik Gustafsson and Oliver Lauridsen anyway.
In the 2012 offseason nothing went the Flyers’ way. After making a hockey deal with Toronto to get Luke Schenn for James vanRiemsdyk, the Flyers struck out on attempts to land Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise.
Their patience during the Suter/Parise sweepstakes allowed Carle to slip away to Tampa for big bucks, which caused another hole.
Additionally, Head Coach Peter Laviolette plays an up-tempo style. Unfortunately, one of the defensemen that fit his system well, Carle, left via free agency and the roster Laviolette was given did not have a similar player to replace Carle. Laviolette would not alter his system to fit his roster and the results were obvious.
Injuries did the Flyers no favors in 2013 with both Meszaros and Grossmann missing a chunk of the season. However, the lack of foresight that the front office had with the roster caused mass confusion on the blue line this past season.
Players were shuffled in and out of the lineup or up and down from the Phantoms. The depth that had been dealt away in the form of draft picks over the past few years had left the cupboard bare. On some nights the roster resembled a preseason game.
The front office is responsible for the mess that this season turned out to be. They didn’t know which path to take and it doomed them from the start of the season.
Fortunately, the Flyers still have plenty of youth on the current team and should add a high impact player in this season’s draft, so the future is not bleak.