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Holmgren Conference Call/WIP Call

by Staff Writer / Philadelphia Flyers
(Voorhees, NJ, September 6) – Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren took part in a conference call with local and national media on Thursday afternoon, as set up by the NHL. Below is a transcript of the call.

Also, Holmgren called into 610 WIP's Howard Eskin on Thursday afternoon. Click here to listen to that interview, courtesy of RedLasso.

Q.      With your additions of Timonen and Daniel Briere, do you see your team's style of play changing? Will it be more offensive, puck-up-the-ice sort of game?
PAUL HOLMGREN: I think our style of play changed a little bit last year with the coaching change. I think adding Danny Briere and Kimmo Timonen, obviously your skill level is going to go up a notch. Hopefully those guys can help us play more the style we want. I think John and his staff want to play more of an up-tempo, puck-pursuit style. I think both those players could help in that pursuit. Kimmo obviously getting the puck around quicker, and Danny with his quickness through the neutral zone and starting style is going to help as well.
Paul Holmgren introduces Flyers center Danny Briere at a press conference on July  12. (Flyers Photos)

Q.      Can a team that struggled so much last year be right up at the top in one year? Is this the way things work in the NHL, if you can find the right people?
PAUL HOLMGREN: I like to believe we are a better team. I think it's safe to say we are, on paper. A lot of things have to go our way. We have to be injury-free. Our goaltending has to be good. I think every team right now is sitting here anxiously awaiting training camp hoping they're a playoff team.

I'd like to believe we can compete for a playoff spot. But that's why we play these games. We have 82 games coming up. You have to take them one game at a time and see what happens. I think the league, with the new rules package, with free agency as it is right now, you just never know. I think it's very, very evenly balanced. Parity is here. It's probably here to stay. You just got to take each game as they come and hope you can stay healthy and hope you can click on all cylinders at the right time when you need it.

Q.      Could you gauge the local buzz there's got to be for this team? Philadelphia's a passionate hockey city. Now it seems like they have their kind of team back in town again. Have you gotten any feedback going to get coffee in the morning? What kind of buzz is in town?
PAUL HOLMGREN: Well, at the end of last year I was afraid to go to the local coffee shop (laughter). I say that with tongue-in-cheek a little bit.

You know, our fans, like anybody around here, it was a very difficult year last year. To our fans' credit, even at the end of the year when we were completely out of the playoff picture, we were destined to end the season with the worst record in the league. They came out. I think with the coaching change and everything, and then some of the things we did at the trade deadline, I think it turned the excitement level up a little bit. We played a very aggressive, entertaining style till the end of the year. It didn't translate into wins a lot of nights, but we were a very competitive team at the end. I think with the additions over the course of the summer, it cranked the anticipation level up another notch for our fans. I sense a real excitement here. I sense it amongst our players, as well. I think the players who were here last year obviously have a bad taste in their mouth from what happened. They want to do something about it. The new guys coming in obviously feel that and want to turn things around, too. Right now, yeah, it's been high. The anticipation level, the excitement level, I think everybody's anxiously awaiting our training camp just to see how we do.

Q.      Upshall seems like the prototypical Flyer. Where do you see him fitting in this year?
PAUL HOLMGREN: Oh, gosh, he played so well when he came here after the trade with Nashville. Until he got hurt there at the end of the year he was a spark. He's a tremendously gifted player. He's a good skater. He's really a hard-working kid. He fit right in on one of our top lines last year. Granted, we weren't a very good team at that time. He really gave us a boost of enthusiasm and energy. The times he's been around this summer, he's a bubbly kid, very gregarious guy, gets along with everybody. I think he's fit in very well here. So I look for big things from Scotty this year.

Q.      Where do you think Jason Smith and Joffrey Lupul will fit in with your hockey team?
PAUL HOLMGREN: Jason Smith, he's always been one of my favorite players to watch because, as you know just from seeing him all those years in Edmonton, he's a heart and soul player, an old pro, more of a throwback. He's certainly going to solidify our defense. He's a stay-at-home type of defenseman, plays the body, competes, something we need. One thing, looking back on last year, heading toward this year, one area that we need to get better is we got to do a better job in our own zone. We got to cut down on the goals-against. I think Jason will be a big, big help in that regard.

Joffrey Lupul, like a lot of our young players. Was in a situation last year where the expectation level was high and he didn't perform probably up to his standards and probably not the Oilers' standards of where they viewed him when they got him in the trade with Anaheim. You know, Joffrey is a lot like Carter and Richards and Umberger, some of our young guys coming back again. We counted on them more last year than maybe we should have, and they didn't perform up to their standards or ours. I think Joffrey is a very good young winger. I look for a big year from him.

Q.      If you hadn't gotten Timonen, would you have traded Pitkanen?
PAUL HOLMGREN: That's a good question. For some reason, I don't know how it started, but there was lots of interest in him last year. It just kind of came to be there right around July 1st that we made the trade. Just happened to be a couple weeks -- a week or so after we did the deal with Nashville for Timonen. We probably would not have traded him if we did not get Timonen.

Q.      Not since probably the late '90s when Eric Desjardins was still fairly healthy and still had some skill left in him have you had a chance now to have a defense that will bring you poise, skill and health on the back end you have with Timonen and Smith. Have you thought at all what that's going to mean to your team?
PAUL HOLMGREN: I don't know if you heard me earlier. The one area that we really need to get better at is our goals-against. We've just got to do a better job in our own end. I think in adding Timonen and Smith it's going to help us in a couple ways. Jason is a tremendous competitor, tremendous shut-down defenseman. He blocks shots. He just gets the puck out. Kimmo is a guy that can pass the puck out, skate it out. He's also a good defender.

Both those guys are going to help in that one particular area that we need help in. Obviously, Kimmo is going to, we believe, really help on our power-play, which is another area we really had trouble in last year as well.

Q.      Right-handed shot back there, too.
PAUL HOLMGREN: Yeah, something since Eric has retired we really haven't had that. We had Nate Guenin back there a few games last year, but we may have been the only team in the league last year that for the better part of 82 games had all left-handed shot defensemen. It makes a difference, it really does. Some guys that are left shots, you ask them to play the right side and they either have never been there before or just absolutely don't want to do it. It's a difficult job to play defense to begin with in the NHL, and you're asking a left shot to play the right side, particularly a guy that hasn't done it in the past. It's a tough task.

Q.      I keep hearing this from veteran people around the league. There's a perception Marty Biron has never been a true No. 1. Do you feel this is a chance for him to show everybody he is a legit No. 1? Do you think it's fair?
PAUL HOLMGREN: I'm not sure that's fair. I think there's a couple years in Buffalo where he was probably their No. 1 goalie. There's also a couple years he's been behind Dominik Hasek or in the last few years Ryan Miller. Those are pretty good goalies to be behind. You can't take anything away from those guys. We think Marty Biron is the No. 1 goalie. When he came here last year he provided us immediately with stability and gave us a chance to win a lot of games. So I look for more of the same from him this year.

Q.      The way the NHL style is today must seem light-years from when you played the game. Do you feel there's been a change in the overall Flyer philosophy that's going to adapt to the way the game is played now?
PAUL HOLMGREN: That's a good question. It certainly has changed a lot. No question about that. I think we sort of fell behind the eight ball here the last few years with I guess puck-moving skill guys on the back end. That was certainly an area of concern with our team last year. I think we've kind of put it on the radar screen to address. We believe we have addressed it to some degree with the addition of Kimmo Timonen in the summer, and even looking back to last year at the trade deadline in young Braydon Coburn. He's a tremendous skater in his own right, and Lasse Kukkonen, a Finnish player we got from Chicago on a trade. We do think we've upgraded in that area. I think one thing that's been kind of a staple of hockey in Philadelphia is a physical style. I still believe you can play that physical style in the NHL even though there's more speed. I think we just need to get after things and be more of a puck-pursuit team. I think with the addition of the some of the defensemen I just mentioned, they can help us get the puck to our end a little more quicker, more efficiently, so we can get down to the other end of the ice and get after things.
Paul Holmgren at the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. (Flyers Photos)

Q.      When you open camp in a week, what is the main priority you want to address with the team, both the young guys, new faces coming in?
PAUL HOLMGREN: Well, our work ethic as team, as an organization has to change. I think it did a little bit last year. A new coaching staff in place now, with both our big team and our minor league team, the Phantoms.

The thing that's going to be stressed more often than not right from the start of camp is that if you're going to be part of this organization, you better be prepared to work. I think the Flyers over the last -- certainly over last year, a lot of nights, too many nights, we just didn't work hard, didn't compete hard enough to win the hockey game. I think we're a better team on paper, but that doesn't really mean a lot if you don't put the work in. That's going to be stressed right from the start of training camp.

Q.      You mentioned teams on paper. Last year four teams from your division other than you made the playoffs. When you look on paper, the competition in the Atlantic Division, possible to see three or four teams in the post-season?
PAUL HOLMGREN: You know, when I look at the Eastern Conference it's going to be difficult. You've got to be prepared to work hard every night to have a chance to get to play meaningful games in March. To me we were a non-playoff team last year. We were a team that was dead last in the league. I think one of our short-term goals is to be playing meaningful games in March, meaning we're in the playoff race or in the playoff hunt.
In order to do that, you've got to be prepared right from the start. I'm sure the Western Conference, if I look closely at that, too, is going to be just as tight. Parity is here, as I said earlier. It looks like to me anyway that it's here to stay. Your team has to be ready to play every night, otherwise you're going to be behind the eight ball and you're going to be in trouble.

Q.      Last year when things started going wrong you really didn't get much help from the Phantoms. Have you taken any steps to maybe rectify that for this year?
PAUL HOLMGREN: Well, I'm not sure I agree with that, in terms of help. We had a lot of players up from the Phantoms that played last year, more of them than not were young guys that were not going to lead you to the Promised Land anyway. Ryan Potulny and Stefan Ruzicka were two players that played a lot of games for the Flyers last year just out of necessity because of injuries and stuff.

I think the Phantoms this year just out of necessity are going to be younger than they were last year. If you're going to succeed in the new NHL, the salary cap world, you have to do a couple things really well: you have to draft well and you've got to develop well. As part of that process, I think your minor league team has to be full of young guys that are learning, developing, and hopefully with a team stocked with young guys you can every year churn out a couple guys you can plug into your NHL roster.
Q.      Did you add any veteran guys that you expect will actually be in with the Phantoms this year, help bring those young guys along?
PAUL HOLMGREN: Well, our two oldest guys are there, Boyd Kane, 28-year-old forward. He was captain of our Calder Cup champion team a couple years ago. Was the captain of the Hershey Calder Cup team two years ago. We signed Boyd over the summer to a two-year contract. He's kind of a depth guy we like to have our young players around. If Boyd happens to be playing on the Phantoms, he's a tremendous minor-league player. He's a good leader at that level and a good role model for any young player. The other older player we have in the Phantoms is probably in Martin Grenier, who is a big rugged stay-at-home defenseman.

Also a good guy to have around for the young guys. He works hard, knows how to prepare, we believe can lead our young guys in the right direction.

Q.      A guy who sticks up for his teammates, too.
PAUL HOLMGREN: Absolutely.

Q.      The issue of the captaincy, when do you want it resolved? A lot of people would say that Jason Smith has always been one of the best captains in the league for a number of years. Would the club be better served having somebody like an outsider, first-year player, come in and be the captain?
PAUL HOLMGREN: That's a good question. I don't know. We've spent a lot of time here over the last couple weeks talking about it, John and myself. The coaches are all in town now getting ready for training camp. We'll be talking a lot more over the next few days or couple weeks as we get through training camp. In terms of when it's going to be resolved, we'll have a captain in place by the start of the regular season, if not before that. I think we have a number of guys that are excellent candidates, but we're going to go through a process here and just decide who we believe is the best guy.

Q.      Give me a prediction. Where do you finish in this division with the Rangers, Penguins and Devils?
PAUL HOLMGREN: I'm not going to give a prediction. We happen to be in a very difficult division and in a tough conference. As I said earlier, we've got to be ready right from the get-go to play our best hockey in order to keep up with these teams. The Rangers have improved. Pittsburgh, even if they didn't do anything, they're going to be better because their good young players are a year older, have a year of experience under their belts. We have a difficult task at hand. We need to be ready right from the start.
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