The NHL has its fair share of cities that are great hockey markets with teams that are not locks for playoff spots year in and year out. The fans is places like Colorado, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Columbus, Dallas, Winnipeg and Calgary all have a positive energy about them because there is prosperity to look forward to — there is excitement. Calgary especially, is a city where the fans have accepted that the Flames are rebuilding yet they are still pleased with the team’s efforts despite them finishing 27th overall. The feeling in Calgary is a good one because the fans know the team is headed in the right direction and have good players that are being developed.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the Vancouver Canucks who managed to orchestrate one of the quickest downturns the league has ever seen. They went from a playoff lock and a threat to win the Cup, to a franchise in a state of complete disarray. Mike Gillis, Luongo and the Canucks is a discussion for another time, but in short, they gave good reason for their loyal fans to be frustrated.
Perhaps one of the worst of these situations, lies in the City of Brotherly Love — Philadelphia.
In 2010, when they made it to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 13 years, the Flyers had a roster that consisted of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne, a budding Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, Daniel Briere and James Van Riemsdyk. In their combined 58 games of their 2010 Cup run, Briere, Richards and Carter posted a combined 60 points. None of the above remain but Claude Giroux. That Flyers roster in that spring was a dominant force and a very complete team. They had a great balance of experienced veterans and young talent, and world class coaching in Peter Laviolette. Now picture the aforementioned players and coach with the additions of Jaromir Jagr, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier and Matt Read and Brayden Schenn. The Flyers pictured something similar: they brought guys like Jagr, Simmonds, Voracek and Schenn in — as The Replacements.
Paul Holmgren must have a hard time getting around town. He essentially destroyed the team he had built. The Flyers, around their Cup Final appearance, had a good thing going in Philadelphia. They had an exciting team with pretty much all the pieces in play to win night in and night out. It was a quick turnaround from a few years earlier when they finished dead-last in the NHL. (They suffered from awful luck that year when the lost the draft lottery to Chicago who jumped 4 places up. They took Patrick Kane and the Flyers took James Van Riemsdyk.) Fans were excited to see how their team changed over night, and then they changed over night. Holmgren was finally fired on May 7th of this year.
In late June of 2011 the Flyers woke a sleeping hockey world by announcing that they had traded their two most prolific players on the same day. Captain Mike Richards and 40-goal scorer Jeff Carter had been shipped abroad. I remember being in shock and awe, because there was really no apparent reason to do what had been done. Bear in mind that this was all but one year after they reached the Stanley Cup Final. In a totally unprecedented move their GM overhauled their entire roster, moving guys out and bringing new guys in. Richards and Carter, (Carter was eventually moved from Columbus to L.A.),
ended up winning not one, but two Stanley Cups with the Kings — both of them playing huge roles. Now they are part of a dynasty. (The Flyers also got rid of Gagne who ended up winning the 2012 Cup with his former Flyers brethren. They actually brought him back the following season funnily enough.)
Another thing Holmgren was known for in Philly, was dishing out monstrous contracts. He signed Ilyz Bryzgalov as a free agent after two impressive seasons in the quiet Phoenix hockey market. But he gave him 9 years and 51 million dollars. Well, Bryz lasted two years before he was bought out of town — he did not see much Brotherly Love unfortunately. If the Russian goaltender never plays another game in the NHL, they Flyers will still be paying him $1.6M annually for until 2027.
Then, last summer, he says, “Hey, I’m gonna go get Vinny!” In the hopes of returning to glory, which is never achieved by signing free agents, he signed the recently bought-out Vincent Lecavalier and threw 5 years and $22.5M at him. Lecavlier had never played for team other than the Lightning, and was thrown into the lineup in an awkward setting. At least Holmgren kept Bryzgalov for two years. Lecavalier was demoted to the 4th line this spring under new head coach Craig Berube, who was replacing the great Peter Laviolette. Now Vinny may be on the move already.
This has nothing to do with the Canadiens. It is simply a look-back to some of the wild and crazy things that can happen in early summer. Keep your eyes open in the coming days…