Paul Holmgren, mindful that the Flyers have one of the NHL’s deepest farm systems, believes this season could be the launching point for his franchise.
The club president isn’t predicting that the Flyers’ four-plus decades without a Stanley Cup are about to end. That, he knows, would be foolish. But he likes the direction in which the team is headed under general manager Ron Hextall. He thinks the likely injection of several rookies will complement the core that features Wayne Simmonds, Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, and Ivan Provorov.
“Obviously, our plan is to make the playoffs this year and see what happens,” Holmgren said Wednesday in his Wells Fargo Center office. “I think what Ron is doing, and has been doing, is put our team in a position where we can make multiple playoff runs with the hopes of winning Stanley Cups along the way. That was his goal when he took over three-plus years ago. I think if you look at our team now and where we are from this moment out, that’s kind of where we’re at.”
Holmgren, who recently had cornea surgery to try to improve the almost-lost sight in his right eye, said the Flyers are a “team that’s setting ourselves up for multiple playoff runs with the idea of winning a Stanley Cup or two along the way. … I think we’re a team that’s poised to take some steps forward over the next number of years. Could it be this year? Yeah, why not?”
While most of the Flyers’ rivals in the loaded Metropolitan Division got better in the off-season, the Orange and Black didn’t make many eye-opening moves. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Flyers, who will start training camp Sept. 15, will miss the playoffs for the third time in the last four years.
Talented young players such as Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere, Travis Konecny, and Jordan Weal should continue to improve, and several rookies, headed by center Nolan Patrick and left winger Oskar Lindblom, are expected to make an impact. Patrick was the No. 2 overall pick in the June draft.
If the young players do their part and Giroux bounces back, it should be an interesting season at the House that Ed Snider Built.
The farm system is loaded — when is the last time you could say that about the Flyers? — so if this team shows substantial growth, it could be in position to make a serious Stanley Cup challenge in a few years.
“I expect us to be a competitive team,” Holmgren said. “I think a lot of questions will be answered in training camp. Right now, we have some of these young kids, who we’re excited about and looking forward to seeing how they do in training camp. Players answer these questions for us as to whether they’re ready to take a spot and become productive.
“It’s exciting. To me, youth and enthusiasm is a good thing.”
Like Hextall, Holmgren doesn’t like using the R-word, even though more than one third of the Flyers’ roster could include players in their first or second full season.
“I don’t think we’ve ever gone through that rebuilding phase,” Holmgren said. “Ron and his staff have done a great job of really supplying us with this pipeline. You look at last year with Provorov and Konecny, and Ghost [Gostisbehere] came in the previous year. This coming year, we could have four or five [rookies] — who knows? We got an unexpected gift when we moved up in the draft” to get Patrick, who Holmgren said is completely healthy after sports-hernia surgery.
Holmgen said “lots of good things” are happening, “and I think the hockey world has kind of taken notice of what Ron and his staff have done in terms of where they rank our prospect system.”
ESPN rates the Flyers with the league’s top prospect pipeline.
“Internally, we’ve been excited for a few years now, and we’re starting to see the fruits blossom,” Holmgren said. “Hopefully, there’s more of these good, young players coming, and I think there will be. Again, they’re the ones that ultimately either make or break it.”
That doesn’t mean there aren’t several questions heading into camp. Among them:
- Will a young defense, which could have four regulars in their first or second full season, lead to a multitude of errors, especially in the first part of the season?
- Can Patrick make the jump from juniors to second-line NHL center?
- Is the goaltending duo of veterans Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth good enough to compete with the division’s big boys, such as Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky, Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray, Washington’s Braden Holtby, and the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist?
- Is Giroux starting the Big Fade, or was last year — he scored 14 goals, the lowest total in any full season in his career, and had a minus-15 rating — an anomaly?
Holmgren said Giroux, who will turn 30 on Jan. 12, is “absolutely” going to regain the form that made him one of the league’s best centers.
“Claude is his biggest critic. I’m sure he went back home this summer and realized he has to be better. I have full confidence that he will be,” Holmgren said. “I’m sure he’s doing his work right now to prepare for the season.”
Giroux had hip and abdominal surgery last summer and said it affected his performance last season.
“He had a couple of serious injuries, probably more serious than a lot of people know about,” Holmgren said. “Maybe he didn’t have the proper time to train last year. I know this summer he has had the proper time to train, so I expect him to bounce back.”
Holmgren thinks that Hextall has put the pieces in place and that the road to NHL relevancy has been paved.
We shall see.
“Ron’s done a great job, and he’s one of the up-and-coming top general managers,” Holmgren said. “… He’s put the team in a good spot, and it’s up to the team now to kind of move this forward.”