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Holmgren: Season will show if moves were right

by Adam Kimelman
It's been a challenging offseason for Philadelphia Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren -- both personally and professionally.

Holmgren engineered a massive re-working of his roster this summer, swapping a pair of franchise cornerstone All-Star centers in Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, while also handing out one of the biggest contracts of the summer to goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.

He repatriated Jaromir Jagr to the NHL, brought forward Maxime Talbot from one side of the bitter Keystone State rivalry to the other, and added a pair of highly regarded center prospects in Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier.

On a personal level, Holmgren is still showing the aftereffects of a horrific bicycle crash earlier this month that left him with a broken shoulder, six broken ribs, and cuts and bruises on his head, hand and leg.

Flyers GM Paul Holmgren sat down with to talk about Philly's offseason changes. (Getty Images)
Despite all that, Holmgren remains extremely excited about the opening of training camp Saturday.

Before that, Holmgren sat with for an exclusive one-on-one chat about the offseason happenings and whether all his offseason moves have pushed the Flyers closer to their first Stanley Cup since 1975.

NHL.COM: First of all, how are you feeling after your bike crash?

HOLMGREN: It's hard to gauge. I'm sure I'll get better here over time.

NHL.COM: Has the volume of offseason moves you made started to sink in now that training camp is about to start?

HOLMGREN: Somewhat. I'm not sure it will totally until we start playing games and see what we've got. I've said a number of times over the summer the proof will be in the pudding now how it all shakes out. I do think we're a different team, there's no question. You take away the players we lost, either through the trades we've made or through free agency with losing Ville (Leino) and Danny Carcillo and players like that, bringing in the new guys and we'll see how it goes. We're all excited about it. There seems to be an enthusiasm in our group. It's going to come down to coming together and getting off on the right foot together.

NHL.COM: The biggest move of the summer clearly was in goal. When did Ilya Bryzgalov become the guy the organization targeted? Why him rather than any other goalie out there?

HOLMGREN: At the end of the year you go through a bunch of different meetings with your hockey staff and at one of those meetings we came to the decision that we need to address that (goaltending). We had gone through the ranking process of the goalies that looked like they might be available at that point in time. Obviously Ilya is a guy we targeted. We were able to make the trade with Phoenix to acquire his rights and then go through the process of getting him signed. Once we did that, the other things … once we acquired his rights a lot of other things came up in other conversations.


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NHL.COM: At what point did you realize you had to trade Carter and Richards to create enough cap space to sign Bryzgalov? Could you have just moved one?

HOLMGREN: I think we probably could have done it by keeping them both, too. It just got to the point where some things that came up that looked good for us, that we liked now and liked down the road. The process, the things we were looking at, piecing it together. It's going to be a different team. We changed our whole thing; we changed our philosophy, basically, with allocating dollars to that position. We haven't done that in a while. With that came these other things.

NHL.COM: Two of the players you got back in the Carter and Richards trades were Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek. What did you see in them that made you think they could be key players offensively for this team?

HOLMGREN: I think we've known Jakub going back to his draft year (2007). He was drafted the same year (James) van Riemsdyk was drafted. Going back, leading up to that draft, Jakub was a guy that was a highly-thought-of player. He was taken seventh by Columbus, and that showed we weren't the only team that had him high. You look at the numbers he's put up in his three years in Columbus as a young player -- a non-North American player -- I think those things speak for themselves. I also think there's more there. I'm sure Columbus thought that, too. They needed a center, and one thing led to another.

Wayne is, I think, a prototypical Flyers winger -- hard-nosed, he's a good skater, he hits. He's not averse to fighting. And I think there's more there, too, in terms of what he can do with production.

NHL.COM: How did the Jagr deal come together? Everyone assumed he was going to Pittsburgh.

HOLMGREN: That was kind of a shot in the dark. Just a text message … Voracek and Jagr are represented by the same gentleman, Petr Svoboda, our former defenseman here. I'm just like anyone else, just thinking Jaromir was going to Pittsburgh or Detroit, which would have been good teams to go to. I just took a shot, sent a text to Petr Svoboda, not sure if anything is done, but if not, would Jaromir have interest in playing with the Flyers. He texted me back, said he didn't know, why don't you give him a call, nothing's done. He sent me his number, I got a hold of Jaromir, we talked a little while. Chris Pronger and Danny Briere both either had conversations over the phone or through text messages about the Flyers and the organization. Jaromir all these years he's been in Pittsburgh and Washington and New York, he knew enough about the Flyers. My conversation with him, he didn't know a lot about our young players. He didn't know a lot about Claude Giroux, he didn't know a lot about James van Riemsdyk. At that point we had acquired the rights to Bryzgalov and signed him, and he knew him, thought that was good. Kind of went from there. I don't know who was close or money-wise at the end. We were happy we were able to get him here.

NHL.COM: What are the expectations for a 39-year-old forward who hasn't played in the NHL for three years?

HOLMGREN: It's not like he hasn't been playing. He hasn't been playing in the NHL; he's been playing in the KHL, producing at a pretty good level. I know our guys that saw him in the World Championship thought he was terrific. The one thing we can't discount is the fact that he's a highly motivated guy that wants to come and be part of something special again in the NHL. When you're a world-class talent, which he has been in the past, I know his fitness regimen and how he trains is second to none right now. We're anxious to see how he looks when he comes in. He's ready to get going being a Flyer.

James van Riemsdyk
Left Wing - PHI
GOALS: 21 | ASST: 19 | PTS: 40
SOG: 173 | +/-: 15
NHL.COM: You said the development of Giroux and van Riemsdyk made it easier to trade Carter and Richards. What have you seen from them since the end of last season on and off the ice to make you feel they're ready to be lead players on this team?

HOLMGREN: I think Claude has been there. He's a player that since after … the year after we drafted him, he made a real commitment to the training element you need to get your foot in the door with an NHL team. Claude is one of our most fit guys. He looks a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger again this year. I would go as far as to say he's probably going to test as one of our most fit guys, without question.

You see James, I think it took him a little longer probably because of the route he took playing college hockey. He's bigger, he's stronger. I think we all recognize Claude has been a pretty good player for us for a couple years, one of our key players in the last two years in the playoffs. James is a guy that really I thought stepped up his game in the playoffs for us. It's a consistency thing with him. I think he's on the right track. … It comes down to consistency. James has the ability to take his game to another level. Is he going to do it all the time? We're kind of counting on him being one of those guys, for sure.

NHL.COM: Do you have to talk to them about making sure they stay the same kind of player they've always been, rather than try to make up for the guys who left?

HOLMGREN: We did lose guys offensively, but we added guys that are going to fill some gaps. It's not like we lost those players and didn't replace them, or replace them with bad players. I still think our depth up front is pretty good. We have some young guys we like, Brayden Schenn is probably at the top of the list. We think he's ready to make the step. Ultimately he's going to answer that over the next few weeks here.

NHL.COM: Everyone has talked about Schenn being the best player not in the NHL. Do you have to worry about him putting too much pressure on himself to make the team?

HOLMGREN: I'm not worried about that. Growing up in Western Canada and being a high draft pick, paying for the World Junior team, all those things. I think Los Angeles did a pretty good job of developing him to this point. They played him a little bit last year with their team, played him a little bit last year in the (AHL) at the end of the year. I think he's ready to play. He's going to have to answer that himself in terms of what kind of impact he can make.

NHL.COM: Will Sean Couturier have a chance to make this team, either at center or on the wing?

HOLMGREN: I'm not going to say yes or no on that. I'm anxious like everyone else to see how he does. He's here now taking part in our rookie camp. He looks like a good young player. He's very strong on the puck, he's good defensively … any young player that can go to an NHL training camp and is trying to make an NHL team, coaches, it's easy for them to spot the guys that are solid in their own zone. If you look at Sean's numbers in the Quebec league, his plus/minus stat is staggering (plus-55 last season, plus-62 in 2009-10). Then you throw in the fact that he scores 90 to 100 points -- it's crazy.

NHL.COM: With all Couturier has already accomplished in junior hockey, does that make it ineffective to send him back to his junior team in Drummondville? Or would it be better for him to be there, as a top-line player, rather than a third-line player in the NHL?

HOLMGREN: At the end of the day, I think we'll do what's right for Sean and right for the organization. We're not going to force him into something we don't think he's ready for. We'll see how it goes. Ultimately the players answer all those questions.

NHL.COM: Five forwards you lost -- Carter, Richards, Leino, Versteeg and Nikolay Zherdev -- combined for 101 goals as Flyers. The five you added -- Simmonds, Voracek, Talbot, Jagr and Schenn -- had just 36 in the NHL (Jagr had 19 in the KHL). Do you feel this team has enough offense?

HOLMGREN: I do. I think people have questioned our offensive ability the last few years. Similar to this year. The cast of characters has changed a little bit. Obviously we're counting on Claude to score more than he did last year, we're counting on James to score more than he did last year and Jakub Voracek to score more than he did last year. We believe Wayne Simmonds will score more than he did in L.A. Then you throw in Danny Briere and Scotty Hartnell, guys like that. We think we have enough guys that certainly have the ability to score goals.

But then you look at the other side. I like to believe our goals-against will drop a notch, too, which maybe means you don't have to score as many. I like the look of our team as we prepare for training camp. The proof is going to be in the pudding in how it all comes together.

Danny Briere
Right Wing - PHI
GOALS: 34 | ASST: 34 | PTS: 68
SOG: 246 | +/-: 20
NHL.COM: With all the changes, does this team have an identity yet? Or will that be answered in training camp?

HOLMGREN: I don't think it's going to be that much different. … We still want to be a team that gets after it in the offensive zone. I think the youth and enthusiasm that we're going to have up front -- sprinkle in some of the older guys, like Danny Briere and Jagr and Hartnell, guys like that. We're going to be younger and hungrier and a more enthusiastic group up front that can get after things. That's something we've tried to do here.

NHL.COM: Is the health of defenseman Chris Pronger health a concern to you at all? Do you believe all the injury issues he had last year were just an aberration?

HOLMGREN: I do believe last year was an aberration. Chris is a guy who's the ultimate pro. He takes care of himself, he trains properly. With the injuries he had last year, there were some setbacks that pushed him back a little bit this summer in terms of how he'd normally prepare, but we don't think he's that far back and I don't believe he does, either. I'll still say he'll be ready at the start of the regular season. Whether he plays a training camp game or not is not an issue for me. He's certainly played enough of those in his 18-year career. He knows how to play the game. He also knows how to prepare and play for a regular 82-game season and playoffs. The aberration of last year, broken bones and stuff like that, how do you get away from that? It's not like he had hamstring or groin issues that kept him out of the lineup. He's the ultimate pro.

NHL.COM: You don't have a captain right now, but you do have three players who have been captains elsewhere in Pronger, Briere and Kimmo Timonen. Are you comfortable with the leadership in place on the team?

HOLMGREN: I feel very confident in the leadership in our room. You look at the guys we have that have been captains, Pronger, Briere, Timonen, they're all good pros. They all practice hard, they all train hard in the weight room, they all play hard in the games -- good role models for young guys. That's all you can ask for. Wherever direction we choose to go, I think we're covered.

NHL.COM: With all these moves and changes you've made, do you feel this team is closer to a Stanley Cup now?

HOLMGREN: That's hard to answer. I personally don't think we've taken a step back. But as I'll continue to say, the proof is in the pudding. We're a different team. We can hurt you in a lot of different ways now. We'll see. I'm really excited. I like the look of our team right now. I'm really excited about our training camp.

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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