General manager Paul Holmgren has done a masterful job reviving the Flyers. Two years ago, they were the NHL’s worst team, and then they reached the league’s Final Four last season.
This year, they are among the Eastern Conference elite and have a legitimate chance to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.
But one has to wonder if their chances were diminished a bit on Friday.
Not because of the team’s 4-3 overtime loss to Montreal, but rather because management had done a lousy job managing the salary cap, causing the Flyers to lose a pair of veterans on waivers. Center Glen Metropolit was claimed by Montreal, while defenseman Ossi Vaananen was picked up by Vancouver.
And then Saturday, came this stunner: Rookie sensation Claude Giroux was being sent to the Phantoms. That frees $850,000 in cap space, but GM Paul Holmgren insisted the move had nothing to do with salary-cap issues.
Why, then, was Giroux, who has been one of the Flyers' top offensive players recently, demoted?
"It was in the best interest of the team," said Holmgren, who would not elaborate.
As for Metropolit and Vaananen, they were hard-working, blue-collar players. They weren’t marquee players, but they were the type of character guys that every team needs.
Metropolit, whose climb out of the Toronto projects has become one of the NHL's feel-good stories, was used as a fourth-line center and penalty killer, while Vaananen had recently been demoted and had become the Flyers’ No. 7 defenseman _ though you can argue he should have been in the top-six.
Their departures hurt the Flyers’ chemistry. Both were deeply respected and well-liked. Vaananen was on his way to joining the Canucks and wasn’t around Friday night, but Metropolit ironically played against the Flyers _ and after the game a big group of his ex-teammates met with him in the hallway outside the home team's locker room.
The player they call “Metro” was scrappy, gave the Flyers experience and was one of their best at winning faceoffs. Those qualities will be missed in the playoffs.
Vaananen gave the blue liners a much-needed physical presence, and his good humor kept the locker room loose.
Losing the two players will obviously hurt the team’s depth.
And how will it affect the team’s close-knit chemistry?
"Any time there are changes, there's a little bit of concern," coach John Stevens said. "But at the same time, we feel we have a group here that can absorb these kinds of things. . . . They're certainly disappointed to see friends move on, but they know it is part of the business."
A bad part of the business.
_ Sam Carchidi