Odd Man Rush: Invoking Holmgren's reputation unfair to Downie
By Michael Rushton, NHL Contributing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Paul Holmgren has taken his share of shots from the media and Philadelphia Flyers fans alike this season, and rightfully so.
As the club's general manager, it is Holmgren's job to put together a winning product but also insure the proper flexibility and outside thinking when things don't pan out.
Holmgren's downfall really began when he traded away his two former cornerstones in Mike Richards and Jeff Carter before the 2011-12 season, only to see the two reunite and win a Stanley Cup championship with the Los Angeles Kings in their first season away from the City of Brotherly Love.
Add in the disastrous Ilya Bryzgalov contract -- mercifully wiped away thanks to a compliance buyout -- and the fact that Holmgren used his new-found cap space to sign a pair of players in their mid-30s (Vincent Lecavalier and Mark Streit) to long-term deals, and it is a wonder that Holmgren hasn't been run out of town quicker than a subpar cheesesteak.
With his club off to a 3-8-0 start just one season removed from missing the playoffs altogether, Holmgren has already replaced his head coach -- firing Peter Laviolette in favor of Craig Berube. That decision landed the GM some more flack, once again criticized from not looking beyond the organization to improve.
While Laviolette was a former coach of the New York Islanders, won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes and took the Flyers to the Cup Finals in his first season on the bench, Berube was another retread, a former Philly enforcer on the ice who has never coached outside of the Flyers' system.
The fact that Berube wasn't even given an interim tag had many thinking Holmgren had certifiably lost his mind and fans are ready to break out the straightjackets now that his first on-ice change was to bring back a former player in Steve Downie, who was acquired on Thursday from the Colorado Avalanche for blue-collar forward Max Talbot.
Downie was the 29th overall pick of the 2005 draft by the Flyers and his short tenure with the club is best remembered for his illegal hit on Ottawa's Dean McAmmond in a preseason game, a projectile-missile of a hit that earned Downie a 20-game suspension.
Downie ended up playing in just 38 NHL games with the Flyers before getting dealt to the Tampa Bay Lightning for defenseman Matt Carle during the 2008-09 campaign.
But the now 26-year-old Downie insists he has grown as a player and there is no doubt Philadelphia thinks it is acquiring the player that put up 22 goals and 46 points with Tampa Bay in 2009-10 rather than the one that once slashed at a linesman during a minor league game.
"I was 19, 20 years old the first time I was there. I was younger, probably a lot -- I wouldn't say immature is the word, but I think I've grown as a player and a person. I'm excited to show Philly what an older Steve Downie looks like," said the forward.
Yes, Holmgren parted ways with Talbot, a player key to the penalty kill whose hard-working style fit the mold that Philadelphia fans love.
But is that Downie's fault?
"It was a tough call," Holmgren said of trading Talbot. "Right now, other players are going to have to fill that hole. ... But we felt we needed something to stir the pot and I think Steve's going to help us in that regard."
It's no accident Holmgren acquired Downie just two days after a 3-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks, one in which Philadelphia failed to hold a 2-0 first-period lead and was outshot 27-13 over the final 40 minutes.
That led to Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds to say after the game that they just "stood around and were watching."
That isn't Downie's style.
So yes, Holmgren once again stayed within the system in an effort to improve, but acquiring Downie is a deal a lot of teams would have made. Philadelphia ranks 28th out of 30 teams in the NHL with just 1.82 goals per game heading into play on Friday, with Talbot having just one goal in 11 games with the Flyers this season.
Downie himself only has one goal in 11 games, but has six assists and Holmgren pointed out on Thursday that he sees the forward as a playmaker who can also score. It's no secret the Flyers are looking for ways to get captain Claude Giroux, without a goal in 11 games, going and Downie will certainly create space for the slick center.
"I play the game hard," said Downie. "I like to play a physical game, crash the net as hard as I can. I play the game on an edge. I'm just going to bring my energy and hopefully help this team win."
Also, in trading away Talbot, Holmgren has turned his $1.75 million cap hit through the 2015-16 season into $2.65 million of space this offseason when Downie's current deal expires.
Holmgren has made his made more than his fair share of mistakes, but it is unfair to assume Downie is already one of them.
11/01 13:59:53 ET