Busy Week for Holmgren; NHL Draft, Bryzgalov, Possible Trades

By David Strehle
ot Stove Creative Editor

With the NHL Entry Draft in his home town of St. Paul, Minnesota just two days away, Paul Holmgren is indeed a very busy man.

Matt Slocum / The Associated Press

While the Philadelphia Flyers’ GM is still dealing with some of the same issues that have weighed heavily on the organization over the past couple of decades, he has been pro-actively working to rectify his club’s shortcomings thus far.

Bryzgalov and the Flyers’ Goaltending

Already having acquired the negotiating rights to pending unrestricted free agent goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov from the Phoenix Coyotes, Holmgren is said to be close to solidifying his spot between the pipes.

Following years of neglect – mostly prior to the time that he took over the GM position from Bob Clarke - Holmgren has taken positive strides over the past year to upgrade his team’s last line of defense.

His first major venture into improving his net minders was at the end of last May, when he was able to sign a highly sought after UFA named Sergei Bobrovsky.

The Detroit Red Wings, in addition to several others, were seeking to ink the Russian youngster to a deal.  That Holmgren made the 22-year-old Bobrovsky a priority spoke volumes about his commitment to elevate the quality of his goalkeepers.

After a blistering start to the 2010-11 regular season, Bobrovsky cooled off somewhat over the season’s second half.  Although he yielded just one goal in a 1-0 loss to Ryan Miller and the Buffalo Sabres in the first game of the postseason, he was basically banished to the press box by head coach Peter Laviolette after giving up three early goals in Game 2 of the series.

It appeared Laviolette didn’t feel that Bobrovsky possessed the confidence in himself at the present time.

Despite the turmoil surrounding the situation, Bobrovsky came back into the scene when both Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton, who had played just one NHL game all season long after being so instrumental in leading the Flyers to the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals, faltered.

He got the start in Philadelphia’s final playoff game, Game 4 against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.  He played well, holding his team in the contest until Boston broke open a 1-1 tie in the third period.

The fact that Holmgren would go after the premiere free agent goaltender available in Bryzgalov is a testament to what Ed Snider vowed would happen after the postseason rotating carousel of goalies.

Reports that the two sides have agreed upon terms for a deal is good news for Flyers’ Nation – but that only means that the 55-year-old GM’s job is about to get that much more difficult.

Before any deal can even formally be announced, Holmgren must first clear salary in order for his club to remain cap-compliant due to NHL tagging rules.  That is, no team can have more salary committed to a future season than what the cap limit is set at currently.

The Philly Trade Rumors

This has led to much speculation that a trade, or possibly multiple deals, could be in the cards – even with the realization that the upper cap limit will be raised beyond expectations to $64 million.

There have been many names that have come up in the rumor mill; forward Kris Versteeg ($3.083 million), and defensemen Matt Carle (just under $3.5 million) and Braydon Coburn ($3.2 million) have been the most-mentioned.  Perhaps not so coincidentally, all three will become UFAs next summer.

With the possibility of Bryzgalov being the main man in net for the foreseeable future, there has been talk that Bobrovsky ($1.75 million), the franchise’s acknowledged goalie of the future, may be dealt.  With the prospect of Bobrovsky seeing limited playing time and the probability that it will stunt his development, combined with the fact that he will have to clear waivers before being sent to the AHL’s Adirondack Phantoms, “Bob” may be moved.

Some of the more wild rumors have included Jeff Carter ($5.272 million), who has led the Flyers in goal-scoring in each of the last three seasons (to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Jakub Voracek and the 8th overall draft pick on Friday), and even the name of the club’s captain, Mike Richards ($5.75 million), has come up ( via TSN’s Darren Dreger on Twitter).

While neither is likely to leave town, the depth that Holmgren has built at forward will allow for someone to traded.  Scott Hartnell ($4.2 million) remains the best-case scenario, but possesses one of those pesky no-trade clauses that Holmgren gave out so freely early-on in his time as GM.  While Hartnell does hold the NTC card, just remember that long-time Flyer Simon Gagne also had one last summer – before being convinced by Philly management to waive it prior to being dealt to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

With the benefit of having the excess room with the cap limit being higher than expected, there may be a chance to re-sign another pending free agent.

There are some players that we have, Ville Leino, that are unrestricted and we want to keep in our mix,” Holmgren said via conference call on Monday.  “So, we are going to have to do some tinkering here.  It’s not like we are in a position where we absolutely have to move cap space or move people to make cap space.”

But Holmgren would love to keep Leino, who blossomed under Laviolette after being acquired from Detroit for Ole-Kristian Tollefsen last February.  With Leino on a line with Hartnell and Danny Briere, the trio formed one of the most-productive units in Philadelphia.

One of the good things about having to deal a higher-salaried player is that it could benefit the club in another area that it has experienced serious deficiencies in recent decades.

The Flyers and the 2011 NHL Entry Draft

Another general area of failure that Holmgren is reportedly attempting to recify is Philadelphia’s propensity for dealing away high draft picks.  The perennial win-it-all-now-at-all-costs philosophy that the organization has employed is always much appreciated in the Flyers’ community, but it often comes with a price tag.  The cost for the immediacy of their acquisitions usually comes in the form of the team’s top drafting positions.

The skeletal remains of this years picks is exhibit one which puts an exclamation point on that fact.  Here are the picks that Holmgren and his scouting staff possess at the present time:

3rd Round – #84
4th Round – #116
4th Round – #118 (From Tampa Bay)
6th Round – #176
7th Round – #206

Look at where we are at this year, we have five picks right now,” Holmgren pointed out.  ”Next year we are missing a couple already.   Obviously we can’t continue to do that.  We need to, especially the higher picks – we can’t keep giving them up.”

He cannot honestly hope to replenish the pipeline of the system with the availability of players that will be left at the five picks he owns this weekend.

Holmgren says even though this is not the deepest of drafts, there are some interesting players that can play next year.

There are drafts that have been better, think back to the draft of 2003,” the GM said.  ”It’s not looking like that but there are a lot of good players and I think there are some players that if they are drafted on the right team, they will have the chance to play right away.”

It’s funny,” Holmgren continued.  ”You go back to last year’s draft and you look at guys that you think are going to go in the first round and you look at what came out of that round and played right away.  I don’t think anyone would have said Jeff Skinner was ready to play in the NHL, and he gets drafted by Carolina, they put him in and he makes their team and has a tremendous year.  You just never know.”

Holmgren was asked if he thought any one player impressed him as being ready to step right into an NHL lineup for the 2011-12 season.

Gabriel’s (Landeskog) name comes up early because he looks like he is physically ready right now,” he said.  ”I think that is why people say that about him being NHL-ready.”

And there is an obvious incentive to want to move up.

It’s a fairly good draft, there are some good top-end guys and as I mentioned from 17 down, you might get the same player,” the GM noted.  “They are all good prospects, so it’s a considerable draft.  We’re drafting at 84 (third round) right now and we’d like to move up, absolutely.”

When asked if he could envision the Flyers making a move to get a pick in the first two rounds, Holmgren was optimistic.

I don’t think it is out of the question, but you never know what’s going to happen,” Holmgren said.  ”It’s something we are certainly trying to stay involved with just to see what people are talking about, more than anything.”

As for what he could be looking for in building at a certain position, Holmgren referenced his blue line.

I think if you look at our team right now, we are very strong down the middle and I think our NHL team we have a couple older guys on the back end, Kimmo (Timonen) and Chris (Pronger),” said the GM.  ”But we do have some good guys that are fairly young, Braydon (Corburn), Matt Carle and (Andrej) Meszaros, are still all still fairly young if you consider their age, but I don’t know if there is any none, obviously we are going to try to draft the best player available regardless of the position.”

But even if he cannot get a pick in the first two rounds, Holmgren may look to acquire multiple choices.

We probably need to strengthen all areas, and that’s kind of where the open mind comes in,” Holmgren added.  ”When we get to that point we’re not just going to try for one position. If you look on our reserve list we could probably add something in every category.”

Which makes the Flyers’ allowing the rights to expire for top-ranked goaltending prospect Joacim Eriksson – and to a lesser extent defenseman Simon Bertilsson, goalie Nic Riopel, and forward David Lebrecque – all the more confusing.

There is no doubt that this will be an eventful week in the NHL universe.  The NHL Awards Ceremony.  The NHL Entry Draft.  But it will be even busier if your name is Paul Holmgren.

Taking a Flyer:  The 2011 NHL Awards are tonight in Las Vegas, and the only representative of the Orange-and-Black is forward Ian Laperriere.  ”Lappy” is up for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the player that best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.  Laperriere goes up against two former-Flyers; goaltender Ray Emery of the Anaheim Ducks (returned after a grueling rehabilitation from surgeries to correct a degenerative hip ailment), and forward Daymond Langkow of the Calgary Flames (returned from a serious concussion that threatened his career).  Laperriere suffered two devastating concussions last year after being hit in the face with slap shots; the first by Buffalo’s Jason Pominville where he lost seven teeth and required 100 stitches to close up his face – and yet returned for the third period with a full face shield; and the second in the first round of the 2010 playoffs when then-New Jersey Devils’ defenseman Paul Martin’s slapper broke Lappy’s orbital bone.  Laperriere’s passion and dedication to his team saw him return – albeit, too soon – in the Eastern Conference Finals during Philadelphia’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals.  There is no doubt that both Emery and Langkow are very deserving nominees, but there should only be one possible winner tonight – and that is Lappy.

If you have any comments or questions, you can email the author at dstrehle@nhlhotstove.com.  You can also follow him on Twitter – @David_Strehle