So many NHL trade deadlines in past years had been opportunities for the Philadelphia Flyers to make a big splash and grab what was viewed as necessary pieces for the latest postseason run. But the past couple of seasons have been quiet for GM Paul Holmgren.
With rumors floating around for the better part of a week that the Flyers were one of the teams that had interest in Columbus Blue Jacket captain Rick Nash, and other clubs allegedly inquiring about many of Philly's key young building blocks, the 3 p.m. deadline came and went with nary a move by the Flyers.
Holmgren took part in a conference call today to address the club's strategies, and he made it clear he was not going to mortgage the future for short-term gains.
"We received some calls about some of our players, with some scenarios that we talked about," when asked about other teams inquiring about James van Riemsdyk. "But nothing really made sense for us in the short term or in the long term. I think we've stated here all along that anything we do needs to make sense both ways for us, and nothing really came up."
"James is signed here for a long time," he added. "I can't do anything when other teams call about him. I've talked to James a number of times over the season, and I think he feels comfortable. Since he's been back in the lineup (after coming back from a concussion), I think he's been a good player for us. It's his third year now in the league, he's been involved in some playoff games over the last couple years and was a particularly good player for us last year in the playoffs, so I would expect him to continue to get better."
After undergoing a youth movement at forward in addition to getting bigger and stronger on the wings, he was staying the course.
Was there anything that was even close?
"No," Holmgren stated. "I was going to say not really, but it's easier to say no, because there wasn't anything that was pitched to us that when you put it on the big board, would have made us as good a team as what's on the board right now. We just felt more comfortable with our team the way it is, and quite frankly, since we've added the two defensemen, we've all felt that way."
The Flyers have had little problem scoring goals for much of the season, it's been keeping the puck out of their own net that has been the problem.
The deals Holmgren made last week for a pair of solid defensemen in Nicklas Grossman and Pavel Kubina were the team's deadline deals, and with the needs of his team at the time, they were they right moves.
"We made our moves a couple weeks ago, and I think adding the size and experience on defense that we were looking for with the absence of Chris Pronger for the rest of this year," Holmgren said. "We felt good with our group. We really didn't go into this trade deadline, since we made those two deals for Pavel and Nicklas, we didn't really go in with anything that really felt we needed to do."
Holmgren has liked what he has seen thus far from both of his newly-acquired blue liners.
"I think they've been very good," he said. "I think Pavel hadn't skated in four or five days before he was traded -- he practiced one day and played the next day in Winnipeg, so he'll continue to get better. I think Nicklas has done good, too. Obviously, he got a couple points last game. I'm not looking for him to score points, but he's pretty solid in our end, and he gets the puck out of trouble quickly. They're both big strong guys that can win puck battles in corners and take up space in front of the net."
When asked about such a player as Buffalo Sabres' center Paul Gaustad -- a big-bodied, rock-solid defensive pivot who can win big faceoffs late in the game, something the Flyers, who are small at center, could use -- Holmgren said the team at one point did have interest.
"He was a player that we talked about prior to making any the moves that we made with acquiring our defensemen," the GM said of Gaustad. "He's a guy that I think had a lot of interest around the league, and you saw the price that they got was pretty steep. Once we added our defensemen, we didn't really focus on that player."
But the Nashville Predators parted with a first-round draft choice for Gaustad and a fourth-rounder, a price that Holmgren was right to avoid. After having already moved four upper picks in the next two drafts, losing a first would be harsh for a club that has little organizational depth and a lack of blue-chip prospects coming up through the ranks. And without a stable of youngsters at the ready to come to the roster in the next few seasons, much of the future is already in the lineup in players such as van Riemsdyk, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek, and Zac Rinaldo.
Was he disappointed at all by not being able to add any additional pieces today?
"Absolutely not," the GM said. "Not at all. "A couple weeks ago we felt we lacked some things on our back end just because of the absence of Chris, and we addressed those issues without giving up anyone off our team.
Does Holmgren feel confident in the group he has assembled?
"I like our team," he said. "I think we're a team that obviously the group for the most part has been together all year. We've put some young guys into the lineup over the course of the year, and we like our team. We like the direction we're heading and we didn't want to do anything to disrupt anything long-term for sure."
One concern for all of Flyer Nation has been the club's inability to stop teams from scoring, and while Holmgren shared the sentiment, he thinks things can be worked out before the playoffs roll around.
Yeah, it's a function of how we're playing," he pointed out. "We're still a little loosey-goosey from time to time, and obviously our goaltending needs to be better. I think the coaches and the players have spent a great deal of time going over how we're playing, and we're trying to tighten things up. That's a situation that the team is addressing on a daily basis, and you hope getting down here where we've got 21 games left, we'll start to tighten it up and play the style we need to play to be successful down the stretch."
There was also talk that defenseman Matt Carle, who stands to become an UFA this summer when his contract expires, could have been moved. With no deal being completed by the deadline, the GM addressed the issue if there is an ongoing effort to ink Carle to an extension.
"Matt's a good player on our team," Holmgren said. "He knows we have an interest in keeping him, so we'll see how that goes. I don't know how to answer that other than to say we've talked at length. There's mutual interest on both sides. I think Matt wants to stay here and be part of the Flyers for the foreseeable future. My belief is that there's something out there that we can agree on that we can take care of that. Whether it happens in the near future or somewhere down the road here, we'll see."
As for Holmgren's philosophy at the deadline, it was spot-on. With the massive overhaul to the core of forwards over the past summer, the train of thought is absolutely correct to continue on with that rebuild. The fact that the group -- whom most hockey experts questioned would be able to generate any offense at all -- has gelled so well over three-quarters of the season, it would have thrown the roster into another measure of chaos with generating another good bit of turnover.
And finally, the wild rumors yesterday from The Fourth Period Magazine that van Riemsdyk and Sergei Bobrovsky would be packaged for help in goal -- in either the form of Colorado' s Jean-Sebastien Giguere or Edmonton's Nikolai Khabibulin. While Holmgren didn't address this one, it goes without saying the notion was strange, at best.
There's no doubt the entire organization expects much more from starter Ilya Bryzgalov, but to think the club would move a fledgling power forward and young goalie for what amounts to a rental netminder would have been grounds for the call of the Flyers GM's head.
Bryzgalov has shown signs of turning things around amid the still-remaining bouts of inconsistencies, and has 21 contests with which to get his mechanics straightened out. If it doesn't happen and he contributes to the club crashing and burning in the postseason, another plan will probably have to be explored.
But for now, this is Bryz's team.
So we head into the home stretch of the regular season schedule. And this, Flyers' fans, is your team for the rest of the haul.
As for where his team goes from here, Holmgren feels there is much room for improvement with the squad he has assembled, as is.
"We believe we have to play better, but all the coaches, I include them in that," the GM said. "I think they like our team, too. So we're happy to move forward. It's a crazy day for us here and for all the players around the league to go through that because you never know what's going to happen. But now that it's over, I think you just march ahead and get on with winning some hockey games."
And that's something that everyone in Philadelphia is hoping happens.