Holmgren gambles with Flyers’ future

By JAY BOEHMER
Senior Hockey Insider — jboehmer@highhopesblog.com
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The Flyers' GM has banked on an uncertain tomorrow, putting his money in an unpredictable goalie and prospect corps. (Courtesy Philly.com)

Winning doesn’t matter to Paul Holmgren if it doesn’t produce a championship, which is why he’s taken his team to Vegas with the league’s gutsiest offseason moves.

The Flyers’ GM traded away a pair of expensive long-term contracts in the form of captain Mike Richards and leading scorer Jeff Carter, the faces of his franchise.  In their place he’s added a slew of unproven prospects and an arguably “elite” goaltender.

Those prospects, Brayden Schenn, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds – with whom the team is still negotiating – and draft pick Sean Couturier, go along with veteran Jaromir Jagr to form an extremely unpredictable forward corps.

Will Voracek and Simmonds continue to grow into their prime past their first few seasons?

Will Schenn, with a $3 million cap hit and less than ten games under his belt, be a boom or bust?   Will fellow first round pick Sean Couturier develop as expected, or drift away?

Will the 39-year-old Jagr be able to keep up and play his big body style, or have three years out of the NHL softened him?

These questions are simply impossible to answer right now.  The Flyers may have turned themselves into a strong, young, physically dominant team, or they may simply be stuck with a roster devoid of offensive depth.

To do away with reliable talent in Richards and Carter (and, to a much lesser extent, Kris Versteeg) takes some serious guts on Holmgren’s part.

GM’s just don’t make moves like that.

To take a chance on what is essentially an experiment, while locking yourself into it for nearly a decade – Ilya Bryzgalov’s contract doesn’t expire until 2020 – isn’t easy, yet Holmgren didn’t hesitate.

It’s a move towards a more defensive style.  Offensive playmakers like Claude Giroux and Danny Briere are still around, but big, strong wingers Scott Hartnell and James van Riemsdyk will team up with the likes of Jagr, Simmonds, and Voracek for a definitely more physical style of play.

In front of a goaltender who they have invested so much in, it’s clear the Flyers are working harder at cutting down goals against rather than upping their goals for.

But the central piece to this restructuring, Ilya Bryzgalov, is the most uncertain investment of all – and unfortunately the most long-term and expensive.

The goaltending landscape in the NHL is always interesting but never predictable.

The talent gap from the highest paid to the lowest paid goaltenders is nothing like the same gap for similarly-paid skaters.  Low salary goalies can put up great numbers, while some of the more expensive backstoppers end up being overpaid, with their stats ending up as just average.

Teams can find success with bargain netminders between their pipes if they spend the money on other, more sureshot positions on the ice.

But on the other hand, this year’s Stanley Cup Final featured two teams built from the net out.  Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo each had a cap hit over $6 million, just like Bryzgalov.

The Flyers may end up a much better team and reach that coveted Cup, they may fall through, or they might find the same level of success as if they hadn’t changed a thing.

The point is that it’s impossible to say – they’ve invested in the unknown.

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