- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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With the Flyers about to miss the playoffs for only the second time in 18 seasons, the focus in Philadelphia turns to what has to be done for the team to avoid a similar fate a year from now.
This isn't a town where missing the playoffs is taken lightly. Owner Ed Snider wants to win -- now.
Having said that, there's the danger of overreacting to a lockout-shortened season when a lot of strange and surprising things happened around the league.
"There's a fine line between winning and losing in our league, that's how tight it is," Flyers GM Paul Holmgren told ESPN.com Monday. "You don't have to look very closely at the standings to recognize that. There's a few teams that had runaway years, you look at Pittsburgh and Chicago in particular, but everybody else is fairly close.
"I look at our team, it's amazing that's where we're at with the power play and penalty killing near the top of the league; but 5-on-5 goals, we're way down. That's probably what did us in, more than anything."
Indeed, it's hard to believe a team that Monday morning sat third overall on the power play and sixth on the penalty kill will miss the playoffs. However, when you look at the 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio (one of my favorite stats), the Flyers sit 28th overall at 0.82, just ahead of the Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers.
"We changed the way we played a little bit in our end and I think it affected us offensively," Holmgren said. "We didn't really get the hang of how we were trying to play, I think."
Not re-signing Jaromir Jagr last season has been pointed out by many as a mistake, as the future Hall of Famer meshed very well with Claude Giroux last season. Trading James van Riemsdyk to the Toronto Maple Leafs last summer has also been linked to the Flyers' offensive struggles.
Losing Scott Hartnell for a month early in the season to a broken foot was a huge loss to the top line. It was the beginning of a long list of injuries to the Flyers in general that certainly impacted the team.
"Obviously losing people at different times of the year doesn't help," Holmgren said. "But you have to find ways to fight through that stuff, and we didn't."
"We rely a lot on Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier, they both played significant minutes this year," Holmgren said. "They probably had similar years than they had last year in terms of numbers if you pro-rate it, but obviously when you're playing those minutes maybe you expect a little more. Maybe our expectations were a little bit too high for those young guys. I think they're both good young players; they're going to continue to grow and get better. Sometimes you can't speed up that process no matter what you do. You just have to let time take care of it."
Sometimes when young players don't develop as quickly as the team had hoped, the coaching staff feels the heat.
And certainly with the pressure to win in Philadelphia, missing the playoffs is usually a dangerous thing for a coach. But when asked about the future of Peter Laviolette, Holmgren denied the speculation about the coach being in trouble.
"I've never even thought along those lines," Holmgren said. "I think Peter's a good coach, I think our coaches have done a good job under the circumstances. Nobody's happy with the position we're in and not being in the playoffs. We need to sit down at talk at the end of the year and figure out a way to get back in. That's what we do."
There's been just as much if not more speculation about the future of Ilya Bryzgalov, who is wrapping up Year 2 of a nine-year, $51 million deal with the Flyers. Some believe the proper thing to do with the Russian netminder would be to use one of the two compliance buyouts the NHL offered up in the new CBA which don't count against the cap. All it would cost is money, as in $23 million over the next 14 years according to capgeek.com, if the Flyers were to buy him out.
That talk intensified at the trade deadline after the Flyers acquired goalie Steve Mason. But as Holmgren put it Monday, he was only trying to strengthen the team's depth of the position, not replace Bryzgalov. People should not have read more into it than that, the GM said.
"Steve is a guy that we've liked. When the opportunity came up to make the trade for him, it was the intention of having good goaltending," Holmgren said. "I think right now with Ilya and Steve, we've got good goaltending moving forward. Any talk of anything other than that I think is out of bounds."
The point, Holmgren said, is to protect Bryzgalov next season so he doesn't have to play too many games.
"Ilya played a lot of games this year, but he's not going to play 82 games next season," Holmgren said. "You need a guy that can go in. Steve's a young guy still, he's had some success at an early age in our league. I think working with (goalies coach) Jeff Reese he can get back to a good level. He certainly has the right attitude about it. He's been great since he's been here."
To be clear, I asked Holmgren if there was any basis at all to the speculation of a Bryzgalov buyout.
"No," he said.
But there is offseason work to be done for a Flyers team that is just three years removed from a berth in the Stanley Cup final.
"Now we have to figure out a way to get back in the thick of things," Holmgren said. "I like our group moving forward. We'll look at a number of different things through the draft and through the rest of the summer and come up with something that will help us get back in the mix."
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