In sports, and in life, when a journey comes to a certain point, we often take for granted the steps that were taken to bring us there. As we look back on and eulogize the 2010-2011 edition of the Philadelphia Flyers, some of us with great disappointment and most of us with a smirk of arrogant content, it is easy to forget how many mind-numbing errors were made by Paul Holmgren, the team’s general manager, along the way in constructing an expensive roster of big names and small performances.
Full disclosure: I am a Rangers fan. Yes, I am well aware of who my general manager is, the inclination he has to sign big names to bigger contracts, and the remarkably consistent regularity of the failures of said big names. With that said, I find it important to recap some of the incredible misjudgments made by the general manager of my chief rival, if for no other reason than I am friends or acquaintances with many Flyers fans who consistently disregard what I have to say as the musings (fun fact: 4% of Flyers fans know what "musings" means) of a stupid Rangers fan.
If you feel that what I say here is off point, you have the stage to point that out to me, and correct my take, if you can provide facts to back up your points. I welcome that.
Today, we’re going to look at some of the horrific asset management that has plagued the Flyers organization during Homer’s Odyssey. For some Flyers fans, it truly will be a Greek tragedy. We will begin at the beginning of the 2006-2007 season, when Holmgren took over the GM position from Flyers toothless legend Bob Clarke a month into the season.
As we will see along the journey, it started off rather well.
• February 15, 2007 – Philadelphia Flyers trade Peter Forsberg to the Nashville Predators for Ryan Parent, Scottie Upshall, 2007 1st round pick, and 2007 3rd round pick.
Whenever a team is making a rental dump move such as the one in which the Flyers traded away Peter Forsberg, it is crucial to acquire building block youth in return. In this trade, Holmgren succeeded in doing that. Bringing in young talent such as Scottie Upshall (2002 6th overall pick) and Ryan Parent (2005 18th overall pick), in addition to 1st and 3rd round picks was a fine haul for an aging Forsberg on the downside of his career to a Nashville team who ended up losing in the 1st round anyway. As the story goes on, however, we will find that the three key assets acquired in this deal were later scattered for a questionably subpar return.
• February 24, 2007 – Philadelphia Flyers trade Alexei Zhitnik to the Atlanta Thrashers for Braydon Coburn
I would venture to say this was Holmgren’s finest moment. To bring in a defenseman of Coburn’s pedigree (2003 8th overall pick) for an aging rental in Zhitnik was fantastic. Kudos to you on this one, Homer. Well played.
• June 18, 2007 – Philadelphia Flyers trade Nashville 1st round pick (previously acquired in Peter Forsberg trade) to Nashville Predators for negotiating rights to Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell. Kimmo Timonen signed to 6-year, $37.8 million contract. Scott Hartnell signed to 6 year, $25.2 million contract.
I will start off by saying that I think Kimmo Timonen is an excellent defenseman. I think he is clearly in the top 20 defensemen in the game, even at his age. Having said that, this trade seems to be an over-excited one. In the time Holmgren had exclusive negotiating rights to Timonen, he offered the Finnish defenseman a 6 year deal worth $37.8 Million. Considering the free agent environment at the time, coupled with the salary cap limitations, it is widely believed that this deal was an above-market price for Timonen. The Flyers gave a 32 year old defenseman a 6 year deal paying $6.3 million per year. Had they offered this contact to a free-agent Timonen, it is without question it would have been the best deal available and he would have signed with the Flyers, without costing the Flyers one of the 3 primary assets they received in trade for Forsberg.
Additionally, the Flyers brought in power forward Scott Hartnell. Personally, I don’t like Scott Hartnell as a player, but for this team, I do see where he can be effective. However, if the Flyers had intentions of offering Hartnell a contract worth $25.2 million over 6 years, they could have done so when Hartnell was a free agent. In similar fashion to the Timonen deal, the Flyers gave an above-market contract to Hartnell when they were bidding against themselves. They didn’t have to give away a 1st round pick to do so.
What may be a little more scathing, at least to fans that have some level of acumen regarding top prospects in the sport, is that the Predators used their re-acquired 1st round pick to select defenseman Jonathan Blum, who is regarded currently as one of the top-25 prospects in hockey. The Flyers could sure use a defenseman of Blum’s pedigree at this point, given that Timonen is now 36.
• July 1, 2007 – Philadelphia Flyers trade Joni Pitkanen, Geoff Sanderson, and 2009 3rd round pick to Edmonton Oilers for Jason Smith and Joffrey Lupul.
This trade, at face value, is not a total loss. Jason Smith went on to be the transitional captain to Mike Richards and Lupul was a serviceable wing until he was traded 2 years later, but I feel the Flyers gave up on Pitkanen too early. Puck moving defensemen of Pitkanen’s age at the time of the deal don’t often get traded because of their value. Pitkanen had not yet matured into the role he was expected to fill at the time he was drafted 4th overall, but the Flyers did not allow him the time he needed, and cut bait.
• December 13, 2007 – Mike Richards signs 12-year, $69 million extension.
12 years. 12 years? 12 years.
Let’s be real here. Flyers fan or not, do you feel Mike Richards, at age 24, was worthy of a 12-year contract? Really?
Financial security can change a player. When you don’t need to worry about your next contract, you don’t have to play as hard, because you know the money is coming, and is going to keep coming, because your contract says the money is coming, and is going to keep coming.
Mike Richards is a good hockey player, a very good hockey player. But is he worth that long of a guaranteed commitment from a team? I heavily question this. He’s not Sidney Crosby and he’s not Alexander Ovechkin. If you’re not in the top-10 players in the world, you’re not worthy of a contract that pays you from age 24 to age 36.
Furthermore, assigning him the captaincy at his age was an unbelievably short-sighted move. How can the Flyers take the "C" away from him now? Calls have been made by the fan base to do just that, but he’s signed until Armageddon, so they can’t really do that.
• June 20, 2008 – Philadelphia Flyers trade R.J. Umberger and 2008 4th round pick to Columbus Blue Jackets for Colorado’s 2008 1st round pick and 2008 3rd round pick.
This trade, at face value, is difficult to judge. At the time, Umberger was a expendable commodity because of the number of centers the team had on the roster. They did well in acquiring the 19th pick in the draft and drafting defenseman Luca Sbisa, who went on to play a number of games for the Flyers at the young age of 18. However, as time would move on, we would see this asset wouldn’t be Flyers property for long.
• June 20, 2008 – Philadelphia Flyers trade 2008 1st round pick (27th overall) to Washington Capitals for Steve Eminger and 2008 3rd Rounder.
For many reasons I will explain here, this trade was the 1st of many deals in which Homer damaged the future of the franchise.
First and foremost, without question, he overrated Steve Eminger. To give up a 1st round pick for Steve Eminger, even at this stage of his career, was just an absolutely gross overstatement of his value. That alone does not damage the future, but two players that the Flyers had interest in at #27 and didn’t take have proved now to be clear needs gone unfilled.
The Capitals went on to draft John Carlson, an American born defenseman who was widely regarded as one of the top-10 prospects in hockey last year, and played very well in his first year for Washington alongside fellow rookie Karl Alzner. Having Carlson on the current Flyers blue-line would have made a future costly move moot, which we will get to.
What is more damaging is who was taken a mere 4 picks later. Goaltender Jacob Markstrom was taken by the Florida Panthers at #31, the top of the 2nd round. Markstrom appears ready to take over the starting job from Tomas Vokoun, an unrestricted free agent, and is currently regarded as a top-10 prospect in the sport. Regardless of what you believe about Sergei Bobrovsky and his potential future, Markstrom has a far higher ceiling, and projects out to be a dominant goaltender in the lineage of fellow Swede Henrik Lundqvist. Markstrom’s performance in the Swedish Elite League, the 2nd toughest league in the world, continues to affirm his standing as a future #1.
Given what we saw in goal for the Flyers in this past postseason, Markstrom would be a welcome addition to say the very least.
• July 1, 2008 – Philadelphia Flyers trade Denis Gauthier and 2010 2nd round pick to Los Angeles Kings for Patrick Hersley and Ned Lukacevic.
For the readers who picked up a Hersley or Lukacevic jersey following this trade, you have my condolences.
This is what happens when you overextend yourself in a salary cap world. In order for the Kings to take Denis Gauthier off of the Flyers hands, they required a 2nd round pick as a sweetener, and also for the Flyers to take back 2 low level prospects.
In essence, the Flyers bribed the Kings with a 2nd rounder to take Gauthier and his contact off of their books. Not a brilliant example of asset management, indeed.
• November 7, 2008 – Philadelphia Flyers trade Steve Eminger, Steve Downie, and Tampa Bay’s 2009 4th round pick (previously acquired) to Tampa Bay Lightning for Matt Carle and San Jose’s 2009 3rd Rounder.
What is most damaging here is that if you replace Eminger with a 1st round pick (which is precisely what it cost the Flyers to acquire him in the first place), the trade looks somewhat lopsided given what Downie has become in Tampa.
Trading Steve Downie and a 1st round pick for Matt Carle does appear to be an overpayment. It is troubling for Homer that he soured on Eminger just over a month into the season, and replaced him with Carle, a young defenseman that Tampa had acquired as part of the Dan Boyle trade with San Jose, and it cost him Steve Downie to do so.
Matt Carle is not a bad defenseman. He’s rather good, given his age, but he is making in the vicinity of $3 million. In a salary cap world, it can be questioned whether a defensemen of his age should be making that money for his role, but he is not a bad player by any stretch. It is not acquiring him that is what makes the deal questionable, it’s the quick "white flag" waved on both Downie (2005 1st round pick) and Eminger (the cost of 2009 1st round pick). It would appear he may have rushed this one.
• March 4, 2009 – Philadelphia Flyers trade Scottie Upshall and a 2011 2nd round pick to Phoenix Coyotes for Daniel Carcillo.
This was also not Holmgren’s finest hour. If it was just Upshall traded for Carcillo, that’s an overpayment. If it was just the 2nd round pick traded for Carcillo, that’s still an overpayment. Trading both for a fighter with a short fuse? Inconceivable. Granted, Carcillo fits the Broad Street Bully moniker to a tee, but at what cost? Upshall was the 2nd of the big assets brought in from Nashville in the Forsberg deal to be moved out, but equally as destructive was the dispatch of the 2nd round pick.
Because the 2010 2nd round pick was sent to Los Angeles to take Gauthier away, the Flyers had to move the 2011 2nd round pick, marking a 2nd consecutive year without a 2nd rounder. The pick-trading would not end here, not by a long shot.
• June 26, 2009 – Philadelphia Flyers trade Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa, 2009 1st round pick, 2010 1st round pick, and conditional 3rd round pick in 2010 or 2011 to Anaheim Ducks for Chris Pronger and Ryan Dingle.
• July 7, 2009 - Chris Pronger is signed to a 7 year, $35 million extension. Pronger is age 35 at onset of extension.
Clearly, Homer must have been very high on Ryan Dingle, right?
When hockey historians look back on this trade and contract in a decade or two, it will be a fantastic discussion about the advantages and pitfalls of large-scale future mortgaging and how it affects franchises moving forward.
The price in talent was immense. In a salary cap world (and counting Sbisa as a 1st round pick since he was just that a year earlier), the Flyers traded away 3 high-level draft picks and a young forward for a defenseman who would be turning 35 in a few months. That price alone, in my opinion, was one that should have been cost-prohibitive for Homer.
The Flyers and their draft pick exodus mentality always puzzle me. Given the Flyers recent history of hitting gold with their 1st round picks, drafting such talent at Jeff Carter and Mike Richards in 2003, Claude Giroux in 2006, and James VanRiemsdyk in 2007, one must question the value that the Flyers are trading away when trading the picks, and if the short-term gain is worth the long-term price.
What is further damaging is that the contract extension was completely and utterly debacled, as Emmitt Smith would say. Due to an error in Paul Holmgren's interpretation of the NHL's collective bargaining agreement, the 7 year contract signed by Chris Pronger insures that, whether Pronger plays, doesn't play, lives, dies, or is abducted by aliens, will count $4,921,429 against the salary cap until the beginning of the 2017-18 season, when Pronger will be blowing 43 candles off of his birthday cake. As has been heavily documented, Holmgren intended this to be a "front-loaded" contract similar to that of Marian Hossa and his own Daniel Briere, but was excluded from that rule due to Pronger's 1st extended year beginning after he turned 35.
When you combine the cost of talent and the cost of salary cap, given Pronger’s age and anticipated decline in production over time, this deal has all the potential to be a killer for the franchise’s future.
• February 6, 2010 – Philadelphia Flyers trade Ole-Kristian Tollefsen and 2011 5th round pick to Detroit Red Wings for Ville Leino.
I give full credit to Homer here. Well done. Leino has done well for the Flyers in the time he’s spent in orange and black. It is fair to question, however, if they will be able to keep the winger in Philadelphia, given their salary cap positioning. They would benefit greatly if the salary cap does in fact increase by the estimated $3 million as is anticipated.
• June 19, 2010 – Philadelphia Flyers trade Ryan Parent to Nashville Predators for negotiation rights for Dan Hamhuis.
• June 25, 2010 – Philadelphia Flyers trade negotiation rights to Dan Hamhuis to Pittsburgh Penguins for 2011 3rd round pick.
• July 1, 2010 – Vancouver Canucks sign free agent Dan Hamhuis to 6-year, $27 million contract.
The Flyers tried to pull another Timonen/Hartnell with Nashville in shipping off Ryan Parent for the rights to Hamhuis, giving them a week or so in exclusive negotiating time with the defenseman. What the Flyers had to have been aware of was the price Hamhuis was looking for when signing the contract, a price they were not willing to meet.
Subsequently, his rights were traded to Pittsburgh for a 2011 3rd rounder. In effect, Parent was traded for a 3rd rounder. That’s not a bad deal, but I would have kept Parent to see what he can do. I do, though, think the 3rd rounder is key, since in a future deal, their own 3rd rounder was sent to Toronto.
• November 13, 2010 – Jeff Carter signs 11 year, $58 million extension.
See Richards, Mike.
• July 1, 2010 – Philadelphia Flyers trade 2012 2nd round pick to Tampa Bay Lightning for Andrej Meszaros.
• July 19, 2010 – Philadelphia Flyers trade Simon Gagne to Tampa Bay Lightning for Matt Walker and 2011 4th round pick.
Let’s just combine these 2 deals for analysis sake, since they were 18 days apart and were between the same 2 teams. What is particularly damning here is that Meszaros is making $4 million per season for 3 more years from now to be a 5th defenseman, and the Flyers chose to not make a solid attempt at bringing in a goaltender.
Additionally, because they had now increased their payroll from the Meszaros deal and the signing of enigmatic winger Nikolay Zherdev (who was a failure that was eventually waived), the Flyers essentially gave away long-time heart and soul player Simon Gagne, who had a decent year for Tampa.
This trade is an unnecessary expense that would have been moot if the Flyers had drafted John Carlson. In addition to having an affordable, young defenseman with a bright future, they would also have kept Simon Gagne and could have allowed his cap hit to come off naturally at the end of his contract, which would have provided valuable flexibility. This did not happen.
• February 14, 2011 – Philadelphia Flyers trade 2011 1st round pick and 2011 3rd round pick to Toronto Maple Leafs for Kris Versteeg.
The most recent trade for the Flyers, and one of the more questionable, given the price.
Kris Versteeg is a complimentary player. He’s a 2nd/3rd line winger that can score some if given the opportunity, but not really a necessity for a team with the forward depth the Flyers had this year. In this case, what on Earth did Homer think when he gave away ANOTHER 1st round pick (4 in a row) and a 3rd to bring in a guy making $3 million next year when he was already up against the cap? Ironically, Versteeg scored exactly 1 more goal in the playoffs than the 1st round pick that was traded away.
And, following a short playoff run in which coach Peter Laviolette was forced to swap his goaltender during games 6 out 11 times, the season is over, and Homer must assess where this roster is in relation to where they need to be to win a championship. There are no high ceiling offensive or defensive prospects currently in the system for the Flyers, and given that their 1st pick will not be made until the middle of the 3rd round this year (Pittsburgh's pick from Dan Hamhuis deal), it's hard to project that the Flyers will add to that extremely thin stable. Following Kimmo Timonen and Chris Pronger, both of which are solidly on the wrong side of age 35, the Flyers don't have any other defensemen that a non-Kool Aid drinking, non-fan can say with any certainty can fill a top-2 role.
The salary cap is not going to be the Flyers’ friend in future years. From a financial standpoint, in addition to Pronger's contract, the Flyers have 6 other players being paid upwards of $4 million annually for at least the next 2 seasons. Combining the dollars paid out to Daniel Briere, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timonen, Chris Pronger, and Andrej Meszaros, the Flyers will pay almost $37 Million to 7 players for both of the next 2 seasons, leaving $20 Million to construct the rest of the team. Of that $20 Million, Kris Versteeg (for next year), Claude Giroux (new contract), Braydon Coburn, and Matt Carle account for approximately $13.5 Million. Combining those 11 players, the Flyers will be paying out $50.5 Million, and have half a team left to construct.
It is when these contracts preclude the Flyers from bringing in any more free agent players that the depth from within, and lack thereof, will be exposed. There isn't a Claude Giroux or James VanRiemsdyk coming up anytime soon. There isn't even an Andreas Nodl! Due to the repeated mortgaging of the future, the system is as bare as it's ever been for this team. If they do not complete their goal of winning a championship, the next 5-10 years of Flyers hockey may be defined by having too many high priced players and not enough depth. Being a fan of the New York Rangers, the 1998-2004 era taught me all I need to know about financial mismanagement, and that team didn't have to worry about a salary cap. They could pay $45 Million over 5 years to Bobby Holik or $36 million over 6 years to Darius Kasparaitis, and all that the Ranger fan had to worry about was an unwatchable product on the ice and increased ticket prices due to a $90 Million payroll.
For the Flyers, though, Homer’s Odyssey appears to be continuing into the 2011-12 season. Given his propensity to trade value away, would you be surprised if he traded next year’s 1st round pick for some magic beans?
All of this, and they don’t even have a freakin’ goalie. What a tragedy.
Contributor to Blueshirt Banter Radio