The NHL Column: Flyers Ready to Strike Before Trade Deadline
Of course, when it comes to Philadelphia's hockey franchise, this should not come as a surprise. Although the Flyers have not won a Stanley Cup since 1975, the commitment of owner Ed Snider to provide his hockey operations staff with the resources to build a contender has never been questioned. Philadelphia has lost in the Stanley Cup Final five times in the last 35 years.
The waiving of goaltender Michael Leighton and his $1.55 million hit gives Holmgren all the salary cap flexibility he needs to add a significant player to the roster by the Feb. 28 trade deadline. Cap space and money will not be an issue. Under Snider, the Flyers have always spent money to make money and again their fans have responded, filling the more than 19,000 seats at the appropriately-named Wells Fargo Center to 100.5% capacity through 20 home games.
The general manager will also be operating from a position of power; the fact is, the 24-10-5 Flyers are strong enough at every position that Holmgren does not have to make a trade. Philadelphia has been well-stocked at forward for over a year. Last summer, Holmgren strengthened the defense with a trade for Andrej Meszaros and free agent signing of Sean O'Donnell. A mid-season injury to Chris Pronger -- he will resume skating on Thursday -- gave the 36-year-old defenseman the kind of break he would never ask for but could use at this juncture of his Hall of Fame career.
Still, Holmgren has never been the kind of manager to settle. He also has been a tough executive to read. When the rest of the league thought Holmgren would (and should) go after an established goaltender at last year's trade deadline, he expressed confidence in Leighton and Brian Boucher and they backstopped the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final. Instead, seemingly out of nowhere, the GM took a low-risk chance on wing Ville Leino, giving up just a fifth round pick to acquire the talented Finn. After earning the trust of coach Peter Laviolette, Leino was a vital part of the run to the Final and this season is the Flyer's fifth-leading scorer.
What will Holmgren do to improve his contending team over the next six weeks? The bet here is an upgrade at right wing. Despite scoring 13 goals (and two assists) in 35 games, Nikolai Zherdev clearly has not won Laviolette's full-time faith. Zherdev is averaging just 12:18 of icetime per game, lowest among the Flyers' top-nine forwards.
Most importantly, by placing cap space in daily reserve while Leighton plays in the minors, Holmgren is giving himself insurance should the Flyers' lineup be affected by injuries. Either way, the Flyers -- every bit deserving of being mentioned with the Penguins, Capitals (and arguably the Lightning) as the cream of the East -- should have everything they need for a second consecutive run for the Stanley Cup.
Hero of the Week
At the NHL Winter Classic, Sidney Crosby did not forget where he came from. Crosby invited his hometown team from Cole Harbour to participate in the youth tournament leading up to the event. Cosby hosted all the players and coaches at the Penguins' game earlier in the week at home against Atlanta and gave them a personal tour of the Consol Energy Center. Perhaps best of all, when Cole Harbor played an outdoor game on Friday, Crosby went directly from practice to a spot behind the youth team's bench.
-- Congratulations to everyone involved from the NHL, the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins on another successful Winter Classic. I'm very intrigued by where the league goes next with it. The pressure to not screw it up is building.
-- Half-season nominee for NHL Executive of the Year? Joe Nieuwendyk, general manager of the 24-13-4 Dallas Stars, has done a remarkable job during an unstable period with ownership and after saying goodbye to Mike Modano, Jere Lehtinen and Marty Turco.
-- Count on a memorable 2012 World Junior Championships in Edmonton and Calgary. Canada and USA should battle again for the gold and the people of the province of Alberta will undoubtedly be gracious hosts. Best of all, Hockey Canada put the right man in charge: Al Coates, a longtime NHL executive who has been part of Stanley Cup teams in Calgary and Anaheim and is one of the classiest gentlemen in the hockey business.
-- NHL Elite Four -- 1. Vancouver 2. Philadelphia 3. Detroit 4. Pittsburgh
-- NHL Bottom Four -- 27. Islanders 28. Toronto 29. Edmonton 30. New Jersey
-- Today's Three Stars -- 1. Kelly Hrudey 2. Kevin Weekes 3. Glenn Healy.