There is little question that quite a few National Hockey League teams will need to break out the “Hello…My Name Is” stickers when their teams convene for training camp in a couple of months.
The two teams that best typify this adage are the Philadelphia Flyers and the Florida Panthers. Each underwent drastic transformations in the days leading up to July 1 and the week that followed. Both completely remade their teams. Each had their own distinct reasons for why they did.
For Florida, their general manager Dale Tallon had a number of NHL player contracts expire and used it as a two-fold opportunity: to remake his team’s roster with new blood (or old blood if you consider how three of his acquisitions were players that he signed with his prior team, the Chicago Blackhawks) and to help them reach the salary cap floor (the minimum a team could pay for player salaries).
In Philadelphia, GM Paul Holmgren was left with an unmistakable edict from his boss, Flyers chairman Ed Snider after their second round sweep at the hands of the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins: Get this team a top flight netminder. Holmgren accomplished his objective in locking up former Phoenix Coyotes’ goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov with a long term contract.
The Flyers of course had the opposite problem of the Panthers: how do we avoid the salary cap ceiling?
For that to happen, as Flyers’ defenseman Chris Pronger adequately put it: “You’ve got to give to get.” And did they ever, as they traded their captain (Mike Richards) to LA, their leading scorer (Jeff Carter) to Columbus, let a key cog on their best line leave in free agency (LW Ville Leino) to Eastern Conference rival Buffalo, and Kris Versteeg, a midseason acquisition that they traded first and third round picks for (to the Panthers with a contract in tow that Tallon paid him with the Blackhawks).
So who’s taking their talents to South Beach? C Tomas Kopecky, G Jose Theodore, D Ed Jovanovski, C Marcel Goc, LW Tomas Fleischmann, LW Sean Bergenheim, and RW Scottie Upshall, along with Versteeg (acquired from Philadelphia for a second or third round pick in 2012 and a third rounder in 2013) and D Brian Campbell, who’s $7.142,875 cap hit greatly assisted the Panthers rise to the lobby level of the salary cap structure.
The new players arriving at Broad and Pattison? The afformentioned Bryzgalov, C Brayden Schenn, RW Jakub Voracek, RW Wayne Simmonds, C Maxime Talbot, D Andreas Lilja, and returning from the cold climes of Avangard Omsk in the KHL and one of the all time leader scorers in NHL history, one Jaromir Jagr.
Certainly, this is a monumental amount of change for Tallon and Holmgren and both GM’s have received praise and criticism for their actions.
Tallon unquestionably overpaid for the talent listed above, but at the same time may have constructed a playoff contender. The difference between his actions and Holmgren’s was that he’s got nowhere to go but up.
The Panthers have been an afterthought franchise for over a decade and Tallon’s taking the opportunity to change that climate is an admirable one. But the potential for financial issues for a franchise that had an average attendance of 15,685 to cover the costs of players that quite frankly amount to second and third liners, an aging defenseman, and a journeyman goaltender, are great. Miami is not the easiest market to sell hockey, no matter how well the NHL tries to spin it. So the Panthers will need to win now to justify their GM’s spending spree.
Holmgren, on the other hand, took a lineup that was two wins away from a Stanley Cup championship two years ago and for all intents and purposes blew it up. Whether there was a chemistry issue in the locker room, we may never know for certain. One could surmise that Holmgren was remaking his roster to better compete with larger, more physical teams in the Eastern Conference.
We have heard this idea before. It goes back to several decades when the Flyers were physically abused by the St. Louis Blues and the Plager brothers in the playoffs and Snider vowed to never again allow that to happen. So they got bigger and tougher and it won them a pair of Stanley Cups by the mid 70’s. Some may look at the face of the youthful Schenn and have images of Hall of Famer Bobby Clarke or look at Bryzgalov’s excellent numbers in the desert and see the Russian Bernie Parent.
No matter how the Flyers present the changes, to an outsider, Holmgren’s pursuit of Bryzgalov gives the appearance that he’s Captain Ahab trying to nail down the White Whale. It is perfectly logical to ask: how much change was too much?
In short, you have two teams who are readily rolling the dice, albeit with differing goals. One is trying to get to the dance, the other is supposed to be trying to win the whole thing. They have this in common: they are taking great risks, but if they’re wrong, the ramifications will affect them both greatly going forward.
Follow Anthony on Twitter @anthonymingioni
*photo by del Tufo (Schenn r, Voracek c, Simmonds l)
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