Flyers president Paul Holmgren found himself in an unusual spot this summer: Part of a quorum deciding whether the Flyers should go after free agent James van Riemsdyk — a player he once traded away for what turned out to be very little, a trade he grew to regret over the final seasons of his eight as Flyers general manager.
Despite the unflattering narrative that often accompanies those years, Holmgren was not a bad general manager. He picked up Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen for a draft pick. His unpopular trade of Mike Richards netted Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn (which in turn netted touted prospect Morgan Frost). His trade of Jeff Carter returned Jake Voracek and Sean Couturier.
And lest we forget, his trade for Chris Pronger, while costly in the long run, pushed the Flyers to within two victories of their first Stanley Cup since the mid-1970s.
But there are at least two moves he would like to have back. One was signing goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to a longterm deal, a move that followed an aborted playoff run because of goaltending issues (again) and might have been forced upon him by the impatience of his owner, Ed Snider, and Peter Luukko, the team president at the time.
The other though, was all his: Left wing van Riemsdyk, the second overall pick in the 2007 draft, to Toronto for defenseman Luke Schenn, the fifth overall pick in the 2008 draft, during the summer of 2012.
"It's a trade that obviously didn't work out," Holmgren said Monday during a media event surrounding the annual ice-making on the floor of the Wells Fargo Center. "We thought we were getting a top-four defenseman in return. Luke was a good soldier while he was here, but he didn't play at the level we thought he would play. That's the way it goes."
Signed last month by Anaheim, Schenn, 28, is still nowhere near the defenseman he was drafted to be.
JVR, meanwhile, has scored at least 27 goals in four of his last five seasons, missing only three games in those four seasons.
Last year, van Riemsdyk scored a career-high 36 goals and assisted on 18.
"I think he's a more consistent player now," Holmgren said. "When we had him, he was in his early 20s. As they mature, their consistency level goes up usually, and it did with JVR. It's hard to find guys who can score like that. That was a tremendous signing for us."
And one he wholeheartedly endorsed. For a team that finished 12th in team scoring last season, and one that could use a left wing and some size, JVR "checks a lot of boxes," Holmgren said. Van Riemsdyk, 29, can also fill a leadership role for a young team, especially when it comes to players keeping themselves healthy in a grinding 82-game season.
He also adds to one other expanding column, Holmgren said.
"All of a sudden, there's a lot of players on our team who were drafted by the Flyers,'' the Flyers president said.