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Holmgren talks hits, goaltending and the stretch run

by Mike G. Morreale
BOCA RATON, Fla. – While he'll never admit it, Philadelphia Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren knows his team played a big part in the top item on the agenda this week at the GM meetings here at the Boca Raton Resort & Club.

The issue of unnecessary hits to the head gained plenty of steam in October after the Flyers' Mike Richards leveled Florida's David Booth with a hard hit to the head in open ice. The collision knocked Booth unconscious, had to be taken off the ice on a stretcher and eventually missed 45 games. Richards was assessed a five-minute major for interference and a game misconduct, but there was no suspension for the hit.

Holmgren was one of eight GMs selected to review video and research over a four-month span before reporting his findings to the 22 other GMs on the final day of meetings Wednesday.

"We had a wide scope in our small group," he said. "You can't compare Brian (Burke, Toronto) with Darcy (Regier, Buffalo) because they look at the game differently. There are things that make us all uncomfortable. I like physical hockey and there are a lot of managers who feel the same way. But there's some things that made us feel uncomfortable this year -- all of us."

Holmgren spoke to on these and other issues: Was there a sense among the eight-man group that the Richards hit was the type of play that cannot be tolerated?

Holmgren: "Some things happened that made many of us feel uncomfortable about the game and the way things are going. Let's face it -- there has been a lot of change over the last few years. The speed of the game has been tremendous. We just wanted to make sure we did the right thing in terms of safety for our players moving forward." A lot was made of the fact the Flyers didn't acquire a goalie at the trade deadline. Why didn't you?

Holmgren: "I'm extremely confident in Michael Leighton and our goaltending in general. When we found out Ray (Emery) was not going to be part of things moving forward because of the hip injury, we looked at where Michael was and how he was playing and felt the chemistry of the team was good. If you look at (Leighton's) numbers, it's hard to argue that. That's not to say we didn't field calls from other teams, but I'll be honest with you, nothing made sense for us moving forward." How confident are you in your team down the stretch?

"Coming out of the Olympic break, I think every team is only bits and pieces of the team they should be playing like. Over the last three games (2-0-1), we've tightened it down a bit and have played better in our zone. It's difficult when you come out of a two-week break and have no control over your players on what they're doing or where they're at. We had four players involved in Olympics and three went right down to the last couple of days (Finland's Kimmo Timonen and Canada's Richards and Chris Pronger) and playing all the time. Now they had to jump right in and play again. We're building and trying to get our game fine-tuned for the last 17 games."

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