PHT Time Machine: Paul Holmgren’s crazy year of Flyers blockbusters

Throughout the season we will be taking an occasional look back at some significant moments in NHL history. This is the PHT Time Machine. Today we look back at the Paul Holmgren’s busy year as Flyers general manager.

The Philadelphia Flyers, at least for now, are back in the hands of Paul Holmgren following Monday’s dismissal of general manager Ron Hextall. Until a more permanent solution is found — something Holmgren is hoping takes “weeks” and not “months” — that means he is the one in sitting in the general manager’s seat with his finger on the button when it comes to the roster.

This is exciting. This is very, very, very exciting. For purely selfish reasons I am hoping he just decides to keep the job for himself because it might mean the Flyers become interesting again.

Who doesn’t love a completely unpredictable team that could totally change directions at any moment?

When the Flyers made Monday’s announcement, Holmgren said in a statement the franchise and Hextall “no longer share the same philosophical approach concerning the direction of the team.”

During a press conference discussing the move on Tuesday, the team seemed to double down on that when Comcast-Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott said the team was looking for someone that has a “bias for action” in its new general manager.

You do not really need to reach very far in all of this to come to the conclusion that upper management did not care for Hextall’s patient, methodical approach to handling the construction of the roster, especially when it was producing mediocre results year after year.

[Related: Hextall’s patience failed to move Flyers forward]

This brings us back to Paul Holmgren.

During his tenure as general manager there was not a more aggressive team in the league when it came to trades and blockbuster roster transactions. Everything was on the table, no player was untouchable, and you should have always been willing to expect the unexpected.

One of his first moves as Flyers general manager during the 2006-07 season was to trade Peter Forsberg to the Nashville Predators for Scottie Upshall, Ryan Parent, and a first-round draft pick. That offseason, not even six months later, he sent that first-round draft pick back to Nashville for pending free agents Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell, and then promptly signed them both to long-term contracts.

A few years later he also traded Parent back to Nashville for the free agent rights to Dan Hamhuis, and upon realizing he would not be able to sign Hamhuis, traded him to Pittsburgh for a third-round draft pick.

In the summer of 2009 he pulled off the most impactful trade of his tenure when he acquired Hall of Fame defender Chris Pronger from the Anaheim Ducks, a move that would ultimately lead to a Stanley Cup Final appearance the next season.

But none of these transactions hold a candle to the madness that happened between June 23, 2011, and July 18, 2012.

That was when all hell broke loose in Philadelphia and this series of transactions took place.

Let’s try to break this down here because my goodness that is an entire career’s worth of blockbusters in one year.

Splitting Up The Core For Ilya Bryzgalov

In the summer of 2011 the Flyers were coming off of a second-round playoff loss to the Boston Bruins (a sweep) and still trying to answer the long-standing goaltending question that has hounded the organization for decades.

Despite the disappointment of that postseason defeat, and even with the unsettled goaltending questions, this was still a very successful franchise. They were just one year removed from a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, they had won another playoff round that season, and were simply beaten by a better team (one that would go on to win the Stanley Cup that year).

That was still not good enough, and in the eyes of the Flyers the one thing that was still holding them back was a franchise goalie.

So they tried to address it.

It all started on June 23, 2011, when Holmgren completely blew up his core of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter (both of whom were signed to mega-long-term contracts) and traded them within an hour of each other.

Richards was sent to the Los Angeles Kings for Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn, while Carter went to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Jakub Voracek and two draft picks, one of which would be used to select Sean Couturier.

At the time speculation was raised in Philadelphia that the “partying” lifestyles of Richards and Carter off the ice prompted the trades, speculation that Holmgren immediately wrote off as “preposterous.”

Really, though, it was probably just about not settling for anything less than a championship and doing whatever it took to land the goalie they thought would get them one.

That is where Ilya Bryzgalov comes in.

The trades of Richards and Carter coincided with the acquisition of Bryzgalov from the Arizona Coyotes. Upon acquiring his free agent rights the Flyers made him the highest paid goalie in the league — and by extension the new face of the franchise — by giving him a nine-year, $51 million contract.

These moves turned out to be a mixed bag that for a short period of time completely altered the balance of power in the NHL.

First, for as bold as the Richards and Carter trades seemed to be at the time the Flyers did end up getting great value in return as Simmonds, Voracek, and Couturier are all still outstanding players for them today.

Bryzgalov was also a really good goalie at the time and was coming off two outstanding years with the Coyotes where he finished in the top-six in the Vezina voting each year, including one year where he was the runner up.

Once he arrived in Philadelphia, though, his game almost immediately collapsed on itself resulting in a buyout just two years in to the massive contract.

Following that buyout he would only play 40 more games in the NHL.

The real gut-punch here for the Flyers isn’t just that Bryzgalov failed to fix the goalie situation, it’s that he failed to fix the goalie situation while Carter and Richards were ultimately reunited in Los Angeles later in the 2011-12 season (Columbus traded Carter for defenseman Jack Johnson) and won the first of their two Stanley Cups together.

The other gut-punch, in hindsight, is that one year after signing Bryzgalov they traded his backup, Sergei Bobrovsky, to the Blue Jackets for three draft picks.

All Bobrovsky has done since then is win two Vezina Trophies in Columbus and become one of the best goalies in the league.

It was a wild year.

The James van Riemsdyk saga

Just a little more than a month after trading Richards and Carter to make room for Bryzgalov, the Flyers made another huge move that summer by signing James van Riemsdyk to a long-term contract extension that, in theory, made him a significant part of their core going forward.

That contract was set to kick in at the start of the 2012-13 season.

He would never play a game in Philadelphia on that contract.

Following the 2011-12 season (which was another second-round exit) the Flyers traded him to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a one-for-one swap for defenseman Luke Schenn.

If we’re being honest here, this trade seemed like a bad idea from the start and it would never get any better as van Riemsdyk would eventually go on to become a top-line goal-scorer for the Maple Leafs.

Schenn’s contract became one of the albatross deals in Philadelphia that Hextall would have to jettison early in his tenure as part of his initial organizational clean-up.

What’s amazing about this series of transactions is that van Riemsdyk’s exit from Philadelphia was nearly identical to Carter’s. Just like van Riemsdyk, Carter had signed a long-term contract to remain with the Flyers only to be traded just months before it was set to start.

Bringing van Riemsdyk back to Philadelphia in free agency this past summer was one of Hextall’s last moves in charge of the Flyers.

The Shea Weber Offer Sheet

Every summer we look at the list of restricted free agents and like to pretend one of them might actually sign an offer sheet. It almost never happens. In the salary cap era only eight players have actually signed an offer sheet, and all but one was matched (the Anaheim Ducks did not match Edmonton’s contract for Dustin Penner).

The most notable of the offer sheets that did get signed was Philadelphia’s decision to go after Shea Weber on July 18, 2012, signing him to a gargantuan 14-year, $110 million contract.

This was a delicate time for the Predators because they had just lost Ryan Suter in free agency to the Minnesota Wild, and losing Weber would have been a crippling blow to the franchise. So they matched it, setting off an incredible chain of events in the years that followed.

Had the Predators not matched it, they would not have P.K. Subban today (Weber was traded for Subban a few years later).

They also may have never traded Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen because they would not have had the depth on the blue line to pull it off.  As a result, they may not have been a Stanley Cup Final team or a Presidents’ Trophy team the past two years.

It also may have left the Flyers, and not the Canadiens, as the team that is left trying to deal with the remaining years of Weber’s contract today.

And none of this takes into account what Columbus would look like today if it didn’t get involved in all of this.

In the end that is a lot of “what ifs” and is nothing more than a fun discussion. But it just added to the unpredictable madness that was the Paul Holmgren era in Philadelphia.

Did any of it make the Flyers any better? Tough to say because some of the moves worked out great, while some of them failed spectacularly.

They were certainly a far more interesting team thanks in large part to a general manager that had an extreme “bias for action.”

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

    The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

    Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

    Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

    Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

    The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.