“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.
For the Philadelphia Flyers, we pick… Paul Holmgren.
No GM made more big financial swings than Holmgren this summer, whether it was $66.2 million to extend Claude Giroux, or $26 million to buy out Ilya Bryzgalov and Daniel Briere, or the $21 million to sign Mark Streit, or the $22.5 million to sign Vinny Lecavalier.
That’s a lot of money. A lot of money.
While some moves were no-brainers — retaining Giroux was a must, Bryzgalov had lost the plot and needed to go — others were pretty risky ventures.
Holmgren signed Streit as a 35-plus contract, meaning Philly’s on the hook for the entirety of his deal (much like it is with Chris Pronger). What’s more, the veteran blueliner looked like he lost a step last year, especially in the Isles’ opening-round playoff loss to Pittsburgh when his ice time dropped to 20:18 a night, fifth among New York defensemen.
Then, there’s Lecavalier.
While still a skilled physical presence, the former Tampa captain turns 34 this season and hasn’t scored more than 70 points in five years. He’s also shown signs of injury proneness (missing 44 games in the last three years combined) and, as many have pointed out, didn’t really fit any of Philadelphia’s needs.
Like, say, goaltending.
In an ironic twist, Holmgren’s biggest gamble this season is one he did on the cheap. The Flyers GM is now rolling with one of the league’s least-expensive goalie tandems in Ray Emery and Steve Mason, who will earn a combined $3.15 million this year.
Both come with a fair level of risk. Yes, Emery’s proven to be one of the league’s better backup netminders over the last two years and, in a timeshare role with Chicago during the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign, put up great numbers (17-1-0, .922 save percentage, 1.94 GAA).
But Emery also turns 31 this month and hasn’t handled a starter’s load since 2007… three years before he underwent major hip surgery for avascular necrosis.
Mason faces just as many questions, if not more. His career nearly hit rock bottom prior to the trade to the Flyers — he called his final few seasons in Columbus “extremely humbling” — and many will be watching to see if he can maintain confidence in Philly, a notoriously difficult town for goalies.
(Part of Mason’s confidence issues stem from years of defeats. At 24, he’s already lost more than 100 games.)
In the end, though, all these gambles come back to Holmgren, who’s entering his seventh season on the job and can’t afford a second consecutive year of missed playoffs.
He’s spent an awful lot owner Ed Snider’s money, which has to be worrisome — even if he’s received a vote of confidence.
“‘[Holmgren’s] not on the hot seat,” Snider told CSN Philly last week. “Not at all. I don’t think anybody can look at the job Paul Holmgren did in the offseason this year and not say it was outstanding.
“Every move a GM makes isn’t going to be perfect. They all make mistakes.”
Strong message? Sure, until you remember another of Snider’s votes of confidence — the one he gave Bryzgalov seven months ago.
For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.